Sheriff’s office showed ‘reckless disregard for the law,’ judge says

Published 8:06 am Tuesday, June 24, 2008

All charges against Steve Marlowe in a marijuana case were dismissed Monday after the informant the Polk sheriff&squo;s office used to obtain a search warrant was deemed by a judge to be not credible.

Judge Marlene Hyatt granted a motion to suppress the evidence in the case against Marlowe, 59, of Mill Spring. Marlowe was charged in November, 2007 with possession of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for the use or sale of marijuana and manufacturing marijuana.

Before announcing her decision to suppress the evidence, Judge Hyatt said the Polk sheriff&squo;s office had showed &dquo;reckless disregard for the law.&dquo;

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Defense attorney Ben Scales, in his closing arguments, said the sheriff&squo;s officers made up the story about Marlowe and pressured informant Grady Shehan to lie that he had seen marijuana plants at the home of Marlowe, who is an advocate for medical marijuana.

&dquo;What I think happened is the police in this county are suffering from a lack of leadership,&dquo; Scales said. &dquo;They want to make arrests to either move up or get a job elsewhere when the sheriff is arrested, and Steve Marlowe was an easy target.&dquo;

Scales was referring to Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril&squo;s upcoming trial on statutory rape charges from alleged incidents in the late 1980s. Abril&squo;s trial on those charges will begin Aug. 4.

Scales said all the sheriff&squo;s office had to do in the Marlowe case was to &dquo;get their favorite stoolie to make up a story and go get him (Marlowe),&dquo; said Scales. &dquo;The police made this story up and for that reason the evidence should be suppressed.&dquo;

During testimony, both Lt. Trent Carswell with the sheriff&squo;s office and informant Shehan testified that Shehan has been used as a confidential informant for the sheriff&squo;s office about 25 times.

Shehan testified that he has purchased drugs for the sheriff&squo;s office and he is a neighbor of Lt. Carswell.

According to the defense&squo;s motion to suppress the evidence, Shehan said he was harassed by sheriff&squo;s officers to say he saw marijuana growing in Marlowe&squo;s house. The case file included a videotape of Shehan saying he was pressured by officers.

But Shehan&squo;s testimony took a turn on Monday when he testified that he told the officers the truth when he informed them about marijuana plants at Marlowe&squo;s house. He said he changed his story only because Steve Marlowe&squo;s ex-wife, Jean Marlowe, took him at gunpoint to Silver Creek Campground. Shehan testified he was called by Jean Marlowe and asked to recant his story.

In testimony Monday Steve Marlowe offered a different version of the events. He said Shehan called him apologizing for saying false statements against Marlowe to the sheriff&squo;s office. The Marlowes also claimed that they had not seen Shehan in seven or eight years.

Defense attorney Scales questioned why the sheriff&squo;s office had not charged Jean Marlowe with kidnapping at gunpoint if Shehan was a reliable informant.

&dquo;Have you ever used Grady Shehan as an informant before?&dquo; Scales asked Carswell. &dquo;Yes, for 25 cases,&dquo; Carswell said.

&dquo;Did he (Shehan) tell you that Jean and another man kidnapped him at gunpoint?&dquo; Scales asked.

&dquo;Yes. He didn&squo;t say kidnap, but he was taken at gunpoint,&dquo; Carswell said. &dquo;He said he feared for his life.&dquo;

&dquo;A state&squo;s witness said he feared for his life and you did nothing?&dquo; Scales asked.

&dquo;I had no evidence,&dquo; Carswell said. &dquo;All I had was a statement.&dquo;

Additional testimony came from Jennifer Bailey, who Shehan said drove him to Steve Marlowe&squo;s house on the day in question last November when he saw the plants. Bailey testified that she has never driven Shehan to Steve Marlowe&squo;s home.

Shehan also testified that he saw more than 50 plants in Marlowe&squo;s house about 6 ft. tall each, and they were in bedrooms. Scales said the plants found in the home were one to three ft. tall and they were not in the bedrooms.

Shehan also testified that he was taken to the home of Max Bailey, another man arrested in the same raid last year. Scales asked Shehan to describe Bailey&squo;s house and Shehan testified that it was a single wide trailer.

&dquo;What if I told you Max lives in a two-story house?&dquo; Scales asked. &dquo;What would you say to that?&dquo;

Lt. Matt Prince, who executed the search warrant against Marlowe, also testified on Monday and said there was only one occasion that Shehan lied to the sheriff&squo;s office, and that he otherwise was a reliable informant. The one occasion was when Shehan was asked if he had marijuana in his house and Shehan at first said no but later admitted to having marijuana. The officers also testified that Shehan gave them no indication he was lying to the officers about Marlowe.

&dquo;Do you recall threatening or forcing (Shehan)?&dquo; Assistant District Attorney Doug Mundy asked Lt. Prince.

&dquo;No, sir,&dquo; Prince replied.

Prince also said when the officers executed the search warrant, the scene was consistent with what Shehan had told officers. Prince described a colored glass pipe, marijuana plants at the residence (57 in total), two hidden rooms, aluminum foil on the walls and another hidden room off the living room. The hidden rooms included two rooms whose doors were the same as the walls and one room that had a bookshelf with a hinge that had to be lifted up to enter, according to Prince&squo;s testimony.

Assistant D.A. Mundy asked Shehan Monday whether he recalled seeing those things, but the judge rejected Mundy&squo;s line of questioning, saying he was leading the witness.

In closing arguments, the state said there was no evidence that any false information was included in the affadavit. The state argued during testimony that what Shehan said he saw in Marlowe&squo;s home was what officers found in Marlowe&squo;s home.

&dquo;We have heard no evidence that Lt. Matt Prince, who executed the search warrant, included any false statements in the affidavit,&dquo; Assistant District Attorney Doug Pearson said. &dquo;This informant was a reliable informant.&dquo;

Following the judge&squo;s ruling, the district attorney&squo;s office decided to drop the charges against Marlowe. Both Marlowe and Scales said they were pleased with the ruling by the judge and the decision of the district attorney&squo;s office.