Lawsuit: Audio depicts another police conspiracy to plant drug evidence

From a lawsuit filed in a California federal court:

A police car dash cam captured Santa Clara deputies plotting to plant drugs in a woman’s home after their first illegal search turned up nothing, the woman claims in court.

Allison Ross, who was arrested after the second search of her home, sued the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, its crime lab, Sheriff Laurie Smith, and 12 of her officers, in Federal Court.

Ross says that the deputies came to her home around 11 p.m. on New Years’ Eve, 2009, after arresting her husband several houses down the street from their family home. When the deputies approached, Ross was outside talking with a neighbor.

The deputies “unlawfully detained Ross while they proceeded to illegally enter and conduct an illegal search and seizure of her home. This was done under the false pretense of conducting a ‘safety sweep’ of the home for an attempted ‘home invasion,’” the complaint states . . .

Deputies then re-entered the home and ransacked it, opening and rummaging through drawers in the bedrooms and kitchens. They placed personal property from around the house into one area in an effort to make it appear that the items were in plain sight, the complaint states.

While Ross was being held outside, she says, she overheard a deputy say that they had been denied a search warrant for the home.

Because the deputies failed to find any drugs in the home, “they planted narcotics which were kept in one of the sheriff’s vehicles. Statements to this effect can be heard over the vehicle dash camera on one of the defendant’s vehicles,” the lawsuit states.

“The Incident Report states that two bags of white powder were found and confiscated. However, pursuant to the vehicle dash camera video and transcript, the officers are heard on the recording saying: ‘the house is clean, there is no meth in the house’, ‘we’re gonna spike that and we’re gonna spike him.’ ‘I got the meth in the ——- car,’” the complaint states. (Epithet deleted in complaint.)

Of the 25 pictures taken of Ross’s home — including those of the kitchen counter where the drugs were supposedly found — none depicted the narcotics, Ross says.

“Moreover, at the preliminary hearing, the defendants admitted to not finding any narcotics inside plaintiff’s home,” the complaint states.

Ross believes that two blood samples she provided to the sheriff’s department were tampered with by the Santa Clara County Crime Lab.

Santa Clara County “improperly trained its phlebotomists and toxicologists to create negligent and/or false information and fabrications on toxicology reports,” she says.

Ross was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of methamphetamine, a charge of which she was “completely innocent,” according to the complaint.

Four days into Ross’s criminal jury trial, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges after the supervisor of the D.A.’s Misdemeanor Team became aware that false statements had been presented to the jury, according to the complaint.

This, of course, is merely one half of a lawsuit. We don’t have the police reply. But if the depictions of the audio, the warrants and the test results are accurate, it’s difficult to imagine an explanation that doesn’t look like a conspiracy to plant drugs on this woman. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time drug cops have been caught doing so. Nor would it be the first time a crime lab analyst has been caught faking the results of drug tests.

I’ve also always been troubled by so-called “internal possession” laws, or laws that make it illegal to have drugs in your system, regardless of whether police find any drugs outside of your body. It’s too easy to arrest someone merely on suspicion of being high.

The suit also brings up two other questions: If the district attorney’s office dismissed the charges due to false statements, why haven’t the people who made those false statements been prosecuted for perjury? And why are these particular police officers still on the job?

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko | April 23