From the Blogs: Dalton Denied in Federal Court

by Tim Stelloh, May 10, 2010

John Dalton, whose travails with Mendo's drug cops more than a decade ago led to a civil rights lawsuit filed last November, was denied in San Francisco Federal District Court April 21.

The suit cast a wide net--naming everyone from ex-Attorney General Janet Reno to Sheriff's Lt. Rusty Noe--but focused on the relationship between a DEA agent named Mark Nelson and his relationship with Dalton's ex-wife, Victoria Horstman.

To recap, Nelson--who was investigating Dalton for running a pot grow in Branscomb--did all manner of strange things after turning Horstman into an undercover informant. Among other things, the agent encouraged her to secretly record bedroom conversations with her husband by attaching a recorder to the bed, a violation of marital privacy rights. He took her to the drug cops' secret safehouse, gave Horstman--a recovering alcoholic--booze and allegedly carried on an affair with her. He supposedly pressured her to leave her husband (which she did) and drove her to the divorce lawyer when she was ready to sign the papers. Nelson admitted to much of this in court, but disputed the depth of his misconduct: Yes, he'd taken her to the safehouse, given her booze and kissed her, for instance, but no, he'd never slept with her.

Dalton, who tried having the government's case dismissed due to Nelson's "outrageous" conduct, was denied and sentenced to 27 years in federal prison in 1999. Horstman's son, Josh Corrigan, says his mom never recovered from what she'd done. She left California for Montana in the early oughts and slipped into a haze of paranoid delusion: She thought Russian spies were after her. She thought she still worked for the DEA. Horstman's body was found floating in a river in Missoula in 2007. She'd drowned, and her death was classified "undetermined."

In her decision to deny Dalton's suit, Judge Susan Illston wrote that Dalton had dressed up a wrongful conviction claim in civil rights clothing. "The suit does not raise any claims pertaining to alleged violations of Mr. Dalton’s civil rights in prison," Illston wrote. "Rather, in the present action, Mr. Dalton is attempting once again to attack the validity of his conviction and sentence by challenging the DEA agent’s conduct leading up to his arrest. Such a challenge must be brought in a habeas [corpus] petition."

The problem? Dalton is all out of habeas petitions. He's filed four, all of which have been denied.

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