A court dispute over secret documents the Sacramento Police Department maintains on its informants has been settled for now, and prosecutors will be allowed to call a purported witness to a north-side killing last year who was the subject of one of the so-called “red files.”
Defense attorneys sought to exclude the witness, a North Sacramento prostitute who once worked as a paid informant for the police, on grounds that her red file was missing.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan rejected the exclusion motion on Thursday, the culmination of 13 pretrial hearings she conducted into the red files over the past seven weeks, ahead of the murder trial of Lionel Lee Jenkins and his co-defendant Muhammad Joseph Ivy, who is accused of dissuading a witness to the killing.
Jenkins, 33, is charged in the April 19, 2013, shooting death of Jordan Parker, 26, in the Cancun Palace Apartments on Plaza Avenue in the north area. Authorities say the killing resulted from a $40 dispute over a hair weave that Parker’s girlfriend gave to Jenkins’ daughter.
When his girlfriend wasn’t paid for the job, Parker went to the Cancun Palace to try to collect the money. He wound up getting shot five times, including twice in the back, according to Deputy District Attorney Jeff Hightower’s trial brief.
The dispute over the red files erupted when defense attorney Linda Parisi, who is representing Jenkins, and Assistant Public Defender Rod Simpson, who represents Ivy, learned that one of two reported eyewitnesses to the killings had once worked as a paid police informant but had since been discredited for lying to her handlers.
A note attached to a district attorney’s file that was turned over to defense lawyers in the discovery process said that as a result of the informant’s conduct, an undercover police officer who was making a controlled drug buy eight years ago had been placed in physical danger, the defendants’ attorneys argued in court.
Parisi said said the file likely contained “a treasure trove of items” the defense could have used to discredit the prostitute’s testimony. Sacramento Superior Court online records show 24 filings against the woman since 1989, most of them for prostitution and drug-related offenses, including one as recently as Tuesday.
“It was either negligently or intentionally destroyed,” Parisi said in court. She said that department protocols on informants demand that the files on “unreliable” informants “shall be maintained for 15 years,” unless the informants die.
Hightower countered that prosecutors have already provided the defense team with plenty of information on the prostitute that could damage her credibility in the eyes of the Jenkins jury. The panel selection starts Monday.
Information that the informant lied to her police handlers is “the golden goose of witness impeachment,” Hightower said in court. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
As for the prostitute’s red file, “The fact of the matter is that the red file doesn’t exist,” Hightower said, although he added that “there is a complete absence of evidence on when it was destroyed.” He cited police testimony at the pretrial hearings that detectives hadn’t worked with the woman since 2006.
Hightower suggested that even though the prostitute became a problem for police, “she was never officially classified as unreliable.” The lack of such a designation would have allowed for the destruction of her red file under police protocols five years after she became “inactive” as an informant, according to the prosecutor.
Judge Meegan said from the bench Wednesday that she was “confident those files do not exist, and therefore there is no information to be disclosed from those files.”
Parisi responded by filing a motion to have charges dismissed outright or at least have the prostitute’s testimony excluded from trial. In asking for sanctions, Parisi’s motion said “the prosecution has destroyed material evidence that clearly would have played a significant role in the defendant’s defense.”
Meegan on Thursday said the defense did not prove “a bad-faith destruction of evidence” that would have helped their clients. She denied the motion to dismiss the case or exclude the prostitute as a witness.
“She will be permitted to testify,” the judge said.
The prostitute came to the attention of Sacramento police detectives some four months into the homicide investigation that had stalled from the outset due to a lack of cooperation from the residents of the Cancun Palace Apartments, according to the DA’s trial brief.
Detectives got their first break in the case a little more than two months after the killing when an admitted drug dealer was arrested in possession of some 135 grams of crack and $2,000 cash. The dealer, after his arrest, contacted homicide investigators, told them he had witnessed the Parker shooting and identified Jenkins as the gunman.
Police questioned the dealer the night of the shooting, but he didn’t divulge any information. The dealer told them “I was basically using (his eyewitness account of the killing) for leverage” in case he got arrested on crack charges, he later testified at Jenkins’ preliminary hearing.
The dealer said in court that he made $25,000 to $30,000 in drug sales in the two months before his June 2013 arrest. Court records show he pleaded no contest to the drug charges and was sentenced to five years probation and a year on the sheriff’s work project. He said he did his custody time on electronic monitoring.
Besides telling detectives what he saw, the dealer also identified several other potential witnesses among the 30 or 40 people he said saw the 7:53 p.m. shooting. He named one of them as the prostitute who became the subject of the red-file controversy. She since has identified Jenkins as the shooter, according to Hightower’s trial brief.
Officials in the District Attorney’s Office said that naming the witnesses in the newspaper at this point could endanger them. The Bee agreed to withhold their names.
Muhammad Ivy, the co-defendant, was arrested and charged last November with dissuading a witness after threatening the drug dealer who identified Jenkins.
The dealer later testified at the preliminary hearing, “I got stood up at gunpoint” while on an outing with his two small children in a North Sacramento park.
“I heard two guys walking up saying, ‘You told on my cousin, you told on my cousin,’ the dealer testified. “I turned around. He pulled up his shirt. I seen a pistol.”
He identified the man with the gun as Ivy.
Jenkins’ wife, Rose Williams, 41, also was charged with dissuading a witness. According to Hightower’s trial brief, she copied police reports on the case that identified the cooperating witnesses and distributed them around the apartment building.
Williams in April pleaded no contest to the dissuading charge. She is scheduled to be sentenced next April.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916)321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.