by Bruce McEwen, January 28, 2011
Isaac Campbell’s pot farm got busted early in November. He wasn't arrested for brewing up his family's soup.
He's one of those Campbells. It seems that young Isaac’s access to some of his grandma’s fortune might have enabled him to install a state-of-the-highly-advanced-art surveillance system at his ostensibly modest farm in Potter Valley.
It's this sophisticated surveillance system may put the cops in a very tight spot because it seems to have captured COMMET officers plundering Isaac’s place like the Vandals sacked Rome.
I say "seems" because we haven't seen the movie.
Of course everyone who has ever been busted by the local gendarmerie can be depended on to take this line: "Pillage and plunder is part and parcel of the drug war. To the victors go the spoils and the hidden fines and fees -- imposed by grasping cops on the scene of the bust -- are never calculated in open court or publicly acknowledged. Anything that can be supposed to have been purchased with drug money is droits d’etat, ipso facto, forfeit under the asset forfeiture laws. All the sundry curios that officers ‘cause to disappear’ are merely added punishment meted out to the perps by the cops, and whatever the cops can take home is incentive to do a thorough job."
These allegations are as old as law enforcement.
A hundred thou cash on the doper's kitchen table is signed in to the evidence room as fifty grand.
If the stories were true, most cops could retire after a year on the job.
But the other day in Mendocino County Superior Court it looked mighty like some cops were helping themselves to Squire Campbell's personal property. Not that it matters much because the judges have made a habit — a precedent, they call it — of ignoring such claims, no matter how much evidence there is that this or that cop just might have helped himself to the "evidence."
And the DA certainly would never dream of alienating the cops by prosecuting such an abuse by badged authority. He's got to work with these guys, but we have a new DA who is unlike the previous DA. This new DA, Mr. Eyster, seems ready to take on wrongdoing wherever it occurs. .
So live-at-five-quality pictures of cops running amok were not allowed in court. The cops weren’t on trial, after all — Isaac Campbell was.
Campbell's lawyer was Patricia Littlefield, a striking figures with about two meters of Rapunzel-quality sandy blonde hair, is quite tenacious. If there are pictures of cops frieze-framed in the act of personal pillage, count on Ms. Littlefield to make that unhappy fact public.
Ms. Littlefield often gets appointed as a public defender to indigent defendants, although if this guy is indigent he's spilled an awful lot of soup on his way to Potter Valley.
The defense had her hair swept up in a series of lacquered combs as she grilled the legendary Special Agent Peter Hoyle about the alleged but incriminating pictures of police officers behaving badly.
Ms. Littlefield said, “So you were in the office where the surveillance system computer was?”
“Did you disable it?”
“Did any of your officers disable it?”
“So you have no knowledge of anyone disabling the system?”
“Nobody told me if they did.”
Hoyle had already testified that the bust netted over 294 pounds of marijuana, an ounce of meth-amphetamine, a 9mm pistol, and some shotguns and .22s. There were three trimmers on the scene and Mr. Campbell’s girlfriend, his father, perhaps others, all of them in the soup, so to speak.
The guns, the prosecution was contending, were used to protect the marijuana grow and the methamphetamine sales. Which seemed plausible regarding the 9mm pistol kept in a backpack. But the shotguns, .22s, and a hunting rifle were all oiled up and stored in gun cases. Then there was the pair of night vision goggles, which supposedly one of the officers had coveted.
“Did you seize a pair of night vision goggles,” Littlefield asked Hoyle.
“I didn’t seize any,” Hoyle answered. “But I know a pair were there.”
“And what use would night vision goggles have.”
“To protect their garden at night.”
Hoyle is a master at minimalist irony. He's made testifying into an art form.
“What do you mean? How do they use the goggles to protect the garden?”
“Well, because you can see somebody stealing your marijuana at night,” Hoyle said, clarifying the obvious.
“What was the date on the photos you printed out from Mr. Campbell’s camera?”
“I didn’t print any photos from the camera."
“You didn’t download it?”
“Well, I took the camera; it’s in evidence.”
“Now, it was in the office that you found the expired medical marijuana recommendations?”
“Yes. I seized all those documents.”
Deputy Raymond Derek Hendry was called.
“You were the case agent?” Littlefield asked on cross.
“So if a pair of night vision goggles were seized they would be in your report?”
“Yes. I did not seize any night vision goggles.”
“So you were responsible for everything seized?”
“Do you have a recollection of the officers who were there?”
“Were deputies Wells and Massey there?”
“Probation Officers Costa and Leon?”
“Did any of them seize the night vision goggles?”
“The other officers do not seize anything. If they find it, they bring it to me and I seize it.”
“So you make the determination?”
Right here is where accusations of cops stealing stuff goes awry. You're going to steal with a whole bunch of other cops looking on? They'd all have to be crooks which, you can say, is your basic statistical improbability.
Hendry said he's the Seize Guy but Hoyle had just said he had seized the camera and the medical marijuana recommendations.
A tiny contradiction was undoubtedly noted and filed away by Ms. Littlefield.
I’ve heard defense lawyers ask about all kinds of missing things — cash money, guns, eyeglasses, billfolds, passports, jewelry, keepsakes — you name it. But allegations by crooks that the cops are crooks too have almost always been found to be false. Defense attorneys bring the accusations up as distractions, diversions, hoping they'll work to the advantage of the defendant.
But if the cops are stealing we're here to write up the specifics.
Judge Richard Henderson found sufficient evidence that Isaac Campbell was selling weed and crank, and using the guns to protect the operation.
I hope Campbell goes to trial. And I certainly hope if he goes to trial the surveillance tape is admitted into evidence. We'd all like to see that movie. I hear there’s some great scenes of one of the officers trying the night vision goggles on for size and the others damning their luck for not finding the goggles first.
That's hearsay, of course.