Yolo judge throws out 2 drug cases for improper searches

Published: Thursday, Jul. 18, 2013 - 5:58 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 18, 2013 - 11:59 pm

A Yolo County judge dismissed two drug cases just days apart last month after he ruled that sheriff's deputies had improperly searched motorists and misrepresented what occurred in written reports, according to recently released court transcripts.

Yolo County sheriff's officials are reviewing both of the cases tossed out by Yolo Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg on June 4 and June 6, said Yolo County Sheriff's Lt. Dale Johnson.

Yolo County prosecutors are also reviewing the cases, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven.

The deputies in the cases, Daniel Del Castillo, Gary Hallenbeck and Almir Dugonjic, remain on duty.

"The judge has a right to rule on cases," Johnson said today. "We take all of these matters seriously. Motions to suppress go on all over California. We want to learn why the evidence was suppressed. We want to be in compliance."

Veteran Deputy Hallenbeck and trainee Dugonjic stopped two women on Interstate 5 north of Woodland on Dec. 9, 2012, after their car drifted in and out of traffic lanes while traveling about 73 mph - 3 mph above the posted speed limit.

Both of the women had been on probation for past drug arrests, appeared to be under the influence and had drugs and paraphernalia in their car when deputies searched the vehicle. The two women were arrested on allegations of drug possession, according to testimony.

But the case crumbled in court.

Dispatch and dashboard recordings showed that one of the deputies improperly detained one of the women by standing outside her car door.

The senior deputy told the other woman that she had to submit to a search of her car as a condition of her probation, even as sheriff's dispatchers told the deputy the woman was not on "searchable status."

"I think what is very troublesome to the court is Deputy Hallenbeck's flat-out misrepresentation to the defendants," Rosenberg said, according to the transcript. "He stated in no one (sic) certain terms on two or three occasions that we have a defendant on searchable probation and effectively used that as a bludgeon to intimidate the passengers."

Rosenberg ruled the search was illegal, granted a defense motion to suppress evidence found in the car and dismissed the case.

"That kind of conduct is just unacceptable to the court," Rosenberg said, according to transcripts of one of the cases heard June 6. "Citizens should not be treated that way."

In a similar case near rural Esparto that Rosenberg heard on June 4, Yolo County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Del Castillo pat-searched a man without reasonable cause during a traffic stop, also saying it was required as a condition of probation. Del Castillo said in his report that the man had agreed to the search.

But audio and video recorded by the dashboard camera in the deputy's cruiser showed the man did not consent to a search. At one point, the man told the deputy, "No, I am not on probation. You cannot search me."

Prosecutors later argued that Del Castillo saw what appeared to be an item - later found to be a glass pipe - in the man's pocket and searched him in the interest of officer safety.

Rosenberg rejected that argument and sharply criticized Del Castillo.

"What is really troublesome to the court is the deputy's misrepresentation in the incident report, which brings into question the deputy's credibility from the get-go," Rosenberg said, according to the transcript.

Rosenberg suggested law enforcement in the field is an inexact science, but he said that was no excuse for an improper search.

"I am cognizant of the fact that law enforcement in the field, their conduct doesn't have to be perfect," Rosenberg said in the case heard June 6.

But, he added, "It does have to be good enough to not violate the Constitution."

Call The Bee's Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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