Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cop who faked search warrant documents should be prosecuted

Here's a rather astonishing and unsettling story of a veteran officer's abusive exploitation of a confidential informant at the Edinburg Police Department from the McAllen Monitor ("Police officer faked drug warrants, exposed informant," July 10):

Edinburg police uncovered the staggering list of suspected abuses in an internal investigation launched last year when a confidential police informant claimed he was kidnapped and beaten after Sgt. Santos Leal, 42, revealed his identity.

No charges have been filed against Leal, who admitted during a lie detector test earlier this year that he falsified warrants and probable cause affidavits to search suspected drug houses, according to the documents, which were obtained this week following an open records ruling from the Texas attorney general. ...

[I]n a March 26 memo to Diana Salas, the city's civil service director, the chief explained the grounds for Leal's suspension. Investigators found that the sergeant had used drug evidence with the wrong cases, disposed of narcotics evidence and improperly stored evidence envelopes in his desk.

The probe also revealed that Leal could not account for drugs allegedly purchased by a confidential informant and used by Leal as the basis for five search warrants.

During a subsequent polygraph test, Leal admitted that for at least two of those, he had merely cut and pasted information from other warrants and that no drug purchases were ever made, the memo states.

He also admitted to reprinting prior warrants from other cases and changing times, dates and locations to obtain legal permission to search other suspected drug houses, according to the memo.

"You admitted that you knew the information was incorrect, but left it as is and never took any corrective measures," Muñoz writes.

Edinburg police launched the internal investigation into the sergeant in October after one of his confidential informants claimed that he was kidnapped and beaten after Leal revealed his identity. ...

The informant also told investigators Leal allowed him to keep drugs he purchased as part of police investigations and encouraged him to deliver cocaine to homes the sergeant later searched, according to the memo. Leal is also suspected of allowing the informant to smoke cocaine and drink alcohol in his unmarked police car.

None of the cases the sergeant built with this confidential source in a two-year period ever resulted in prosecution.

Leal has contested his suspension from the department and is expected to plead his case before the city's civil service commission next week, Muñoz said.

My question: If this officer admitted in March to falsifying documents in order to obtain search warrants, getting fired should be the least of his worries. Why isn't he being prosecuted? If he already admitted the offense, what could be the holdup?

Oh yeah ... Edinburg is in Hidalgo County. The DA there apparently doesn't cotton to prosecuting folks with badges.


Anonymous said...

He fessed up in a Garrity statement. The department had no clue what was going on and obtained all of the evidence as a result of that statement. Trust me, I know.

Robert Langham said...

Law Enforcement is burning it's credibility as fast as they can feed it into the fire. It's a huge problem for the citizenry and the Republic.

Anonymous said...

Please tell us what you think a Garrity statement to be.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Doran, I'm sure Txbluesman will be along soon with a more detailed explanation, but here's an explanation:

"By invoking the Garrity rule, the officer is invoking his or her right against self incrimination. Any statements made after invoking Garrity, may only be used for department investigation purposes and not for criminal prosecution purposes. The Garrity Rule stems from the court case Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967), which was decided in 1966 by the United States Supreme Court. It was a traffic ticket fixing case of all things."

Garrity is proof positive, if it were needed, that police only SELECTIVELY hate the exclusionary rule ... right up until they benefit from it.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker, AKA Persnickety codger from the Panhandle, chiming in:

I'm not a lawyer, but I can read the 4th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and if this guy created false warrants, he clearly subverted the US constitution which he swore to uphold and defend, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

TxBluesMan said...

Grits has it right.

Edinburg is a Chapter 143 department, and which if I recall correctly, is a TMPA affiliate/local. If Munoz is a member, then he probably had legal representation, and would have refused to answer any questions until compelled to do so under Garrity and Spevack v. Klein 385 U.S. 511 (1967).

Basically you cannot coerce a confession from a police officer by threatening to fire him, and then use that confession in a criminal investigation or prosecution.

Although Robert apparently doesn't realize it, (and as Justice Douglas so eloquently stated) "policemen, like teachers and lawyers, are not relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights." I wonder if Robert is advocating only protecting the rights of 'normal' criminals and just throwing the rights of police under the bus?

Charles, I agree that he should be prosecuted. What are you going to use for evidence? Nothing that Munoz admitted to under Garrity can be used, nor can anything be used that was developed from that coerced confession. As Grits said, we only "SELECTIVELY" hate the exclusionary rule....

Anonymous said...

Yes, Edinburg is a TMPA affiliate, but Leal was not a member.