Prosecutors are hoping to exclude video footage of an officer allegedly stealing cash from the defendant during a drug raid, concerned that it will compromise the outcome of their case.
Crescent City resident James Banuelos is scheduled for a Jan. 25 jury trial on charges including methamphetamine possession and operating a drug house.
Earlier this week, Deputy District Attorney Annamarie Padilla filed a motion to exclude evidence pertaining to alleged officer misconduct during a March 5 raid in which more than a pound of meth was allegedly seized from a safe hidden in Banuelos’ floor.
The raid was subject to an extensive FBI investigation after Banuelos presented footage recorded on a hidden camera during the search. The video appears to depict multiple officers taking cash from Banuelos’ wallet, laughing, and pocketing the money.
“The fact that there may have been officer misconduct has very little effect on the issues in this case and would tend to evoke an unfair emotional bias against the People’s case,” Padilla argued in her motion filed in Del Norte County Superior Court.
Former Pelican Bay State Prison Correctional Officer Matthew Yates, who assisted in the raid as part of a special team from PBSP, was charged with misdemeanor theft late last year in relation to the video. He admitted taking the money during questioning by FBI agents, according to reports the FBI filed with District Attorney Dale Trigg’s office.
“But for the video, this would have never been caught,” said Michael Riese, Banuelos’ attorney.
Riese said there were also inconsistencies with items missing from the residence after the raid and those that were documented in the initial search returns.
Among them, was a gold chain belonging to Banuelos that appeared to go for sale on Craigslist days after the search, with a geo-tag location for the online post indicating it was made by a county employee, Riese said.
According to Padilla’s motion filed Wednesday, the FBI investigation determined the chain was being sold by an unrelated third party who claimed to have bought it years ago.
“In this case, my client says that it becomes ‘interesting’ that his jewelry shows up on Craigslist and it does not show up on the evidence listing until the FBI becomes involved,” said Riese.
Riese also takes issue with a trailer seized from Banuelos’ property ending up in the possession of one of the Sheriff deputies who assisted in the search. The deputy claimed to have owned the trailer years ago before it was “junked” by a local tow service, says Padilla.
The trailer was not documented on the initial search return itemization, said Riese, and was returned to the deputy without the proper legal recourse.
“The proper way of doing this was that they file a report instead of his colleagues giving him authority to re-acquire what was his by questionable ownership,” added Riese.
Padilla’s motion requests to exclude any and all evidence pertaining to “any and all allegations regarding other stolen property,” including the jewelry, the cash, or the trailer.
The reasoning outlined in the court document is that to include those details “would create an undue consumption of time, and would create a substantial danger of undue prejudice to the people.”
Riese called the motion “dubious at best,” since the evidence of officer misconduct compromises the credibility of any officer testimony from the raid.
“This,” said Riese, “is a system that is supposed to get to the truth, and you want to hide the truth from the jury?”
Padilla said she wouldn’t comment on a case in progress.
A decision by Judge Darren McElfresh is expected during a Jan. 12 readiness conference.