Phony photo sparks courtroom drama in drug case
Before it was all over, Richard Brown would face additional felony charges after his attorney alleged a conspiracy to commit perjury by four law enforcement officers from three different agencies and the Lassen County District Attorney’s Office based on allegedly fabricated photographic evidence.
The Susanville couple faced a jury trial on Tuesday, Nov. 28, on felony drug possession charges. Approximately 100 potential jurors packed the court room, and the prosecution was ready to proceed with the jury selection and the trial.
Then David Williams, the Brown’s defense attorney, asked for a continuance based on new evidence the defense had acquired on Sunday evening, two days before the trial was set to begin.
According to Williams’ motion, the newly discovered and previously unknown evidence “irrefutably proves that four police officers involved in this case deliberately lied under oath during a 1538.5 suppression motion held between 10 October and 13 October. Said evidence is in the form of a photograph taken on the night of the arrest of the defendants, at the time of the arrest, at the location of the arrest, by an independent third party witness, competent and willing to testify. Further, argument will be made that the only person who had access to all four officers, who understood the legal importance of their combined and corresponding testimony regarding certain ‘facts,’ and was capable of orchestrating their testimony, was the Senior Deputy District Attorney, Dean Archibald. Thus, clearly implying a conspiracy to commit perjury took place.”
The newly-discovered photograph depicted the defendant’s one-ton pickup truck on a tow truck trailer. In the photograph, the pickup truck clearly has mud flaps.
The original probable cause for the traffic stop which led a search of the Browns’ pickup truck and residence — and the eventual discovery of a quantity of methamphetamine for sale — was that Brown briefly swerved over a double yellow line.
Williams successfully argued in court that crossing over a double yellow line once does not by itself constitute probable cause for a traffic stop.
Then all four officers testified Brown’s vehicle did not have mud flaps as required by the California Vehicle Code the night of the stop. The absence of mud flaps would be probable cause for the traffic stop.
Lassen County Superior Court Judge Larry Dier believed the officers’ testimony and ruled, as a matter of fact, that there were no mud flaps on the truck at the time of the Browns’ arrest.
But the newly-discovered photographic evidence derailed the proceeding.
Dier thanked the potential jurors for coming to the court to perform their civic duty. He explained to them some new evidence had come up in the case and he was granting a continuance. Then he apologized for the inconvenience, excused the potential jurors and vacated the jury trial.
Dier continued the hearing until Thursday, Nov. 30, so he could make a decision as to “the proper thing to do” and to give the district attorney’s office an opportunity to investigate the newly-discovered evidence.
Lassen County District Attorney Bob Burns said he’s uncomfortable bringing stories to the media, but he couldn’t let Williams’ allegations of a conspiracy between law enforcement officers and the deputy district attorney go unanswered.
“You know I’m not one to run stories in the paper,” Burns said, “but I know these guys. I work with these guys every day. Whenever somebody makes allegations like these, I have to look into them. Stories about bad cops really hurt me.”
Burns put his investigator, Kevin Jones, on the case, and Jones quickly discovered the photo was allegedly fraudulent and unraveled a tangled web of alleged deceit by several individuals.
Burns said the investigation into the photograph continues and additional charges may be filed against other individuals.
According to an affidavit in support of a search warrant served on the Brown residence the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 29, Jones discovered one of Brown’s friends arranged to have the pickup truck towed on Thanksgiving evening and then took photographs of it being loaded onto the trailer tow truck because “the photograph was needed for his current case with the Lassen County District Attorney’s Office.”
The friend told Jones he took a number of digital and Polaroid photographs and gave them to Brown. Jones believes one of those photos is the one Williams said presented to show the officers allegedly lied under oath.
“I believe Richard Brown provided these photos to his attorney, David Williams, for the purpose of committing perjury, by submitting the false photogram and indicating the photo was taken on June 12, 2005, but was actually taken on Nov. 23, 2006.”
Williams acknowledges the allegedly false photo makes it much harder for him to argue the officers lied under oath about the mud flaps.
Despite the controversy over the issue and the recent developments, Williams simply said, “The truth is the truth.”
Williams said he believes Brown’s truck had mud flaps the night of the traffic stop. He said he has two other photos — one taken two days before the stop and one taken two days after the stop — and the truck has mud flaps in both of those photos.
He asked anyone who has had negative contact with local law enforcement officers to contact him at 257-0333.
Dier was ill and unable to attend the hearing on Thursday, Nov. 30. Lassen County Superior Court Judge Stephen Bradbury continued the case until 9 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7.
Burns said after Jones’ investigation on Wednesday, Nov. 29, Brown was arrested at his home on felony charges of subordination of perjury, preparing false documents and offering forged documents.
Brown also faces a felony enhancement charge for committing another felony while facing other felony charges.
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