Illegal arrests alleged

SAN BERNARDINO - A San Bernardino police sergeant has accused a narcotics team supervisor of illegally arresting two men without citing their crime, a violation of state and constitutional law.

Patrol Sgt. Mike Desrochers' accusation against narcotics Sgt. Bradley Lawrence arose from the events before a July 2 raid on an Eastside apartment complex.

Seven men were arrested on suspicion of possession of cocaine base for sale, possession of marijuana for sales, street-gang participation and conspiracy to distribute narcotics, court records show.

In a recorded conversation before a drug raid at the apartment complex, Lawrence asked Desrochers to jail two men, whom he had just detained after a traffic stop and keep them from making phone calls so they couldn't warn other suspects.

Minutes after the raid concluded, Desrochers e-mailed San Bernardino Police Department Assistant Chief Walt Goggin, claiming Lawrence detained the two men improperly by neglecting to arrest them for investigation of a specific crime before ordering them into the back of a police car and taking them to the city jail.

In the memo -- a copy of which was obtained by The Press-Enterprise -- Desrochers says the action "constitutes an illegal arrest." Desrochers accused the sergeant of similar, repeated violations in the past.

In an interview, he called the alleged detention without charge a violation of state laws on arrest procedure and "a rights violation at the very least."

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Bibring said by phone that the actions described in the memo "violate the basic protections in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution against baseless arrest." The ACLU is investigating, he said.

Lawrence declined to comment Tuesday. Goggin said he couldn't discuss Desrochers' complaint because it's part of a confidential personnel investigation. The department does not tolerate the sort of actions Desrochers describes, he said.

Police union president Rich Lawhead said Tuesday that Lawrence is entitled to legal representation at the union's expense but had not requested it.

In an interview, Desrochers said he wrote to Goggin because Lawrence ignored legal limits on arrest powers.

Police records obtained by The Press-Enterprise show Lawrence detained the men about 90 minutes before the raid, in a traffic stop at East Temple Street and North Waterman Avenue. That location is about five miles from the targeted apartment complex in the 3200 block of East 21st Street.

Lawrence could have legally detained the men at the scene of the stop, Desrochers said. He said if the two men agreed to accompany Lawrence to another location, he would have been under no legal obligation to arrest them.

But the moment he invoked his police authority to take them to jail, the standard changed, Desrochers said. At that point, he said, Lawrence should have placed the suspects under formal arrest for investigation of specific charges before moving them against their will. Instead, Desrochers alleged, the narcotics investigator used a tactic that he has used before.

He put the suspects "on ice," a term Desrochers remembers from a jailer's booking form from another investigation Lawrence oversaw last September.

Desrochers said the memory of the booking sheet documenting that incident helped prompt his July 2 memo.

Desrochers first objected to Lawrence's actions in a pair of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Press Enterprise and verified by Desrochers. Police departments routinely tape calls.

In the first recording, Lawrence tells Desrochers -- who as watch commander that day had authority over patrol operations -- that he and his officers have just detained two men whose homes they are preparing to search.

Lawrence says he's sending the men to the city jail with one of the patrol officers assigned to Desrochers, to be held without charges or phone calls "until we can get out to their house and go say good mor ... afternoon to the rest of their people."

Desrochers initially approves the detention, ending the conversation. Then he calls back.

"Tell me that story again. Is this guy in custody for something?" Desrochers asks.

"He ... he will be as soon as we get to his house to execute the warrant," Lawrence answers.

"What if you don't find dope?" Desrochers asks.

"I'll cross that bridge when I get there," the narcotics supervisor replies.

"I want you to know, that's going to be an issue with this guy being in custody with no charges," the watch commander says.

Desrochers presses Lawrence to get approval from the captain overseeing narcotics operations.

"Yeah, I'll tell him. I'll figure something else out then," Lawrence answers. He hangs up.

In an interview, Desrochers said the conversation alarmed him and doesn't represent "the way the department does business."

"The ends do not justify the means," Desrochers said. "We can't arrest somebody with no charges in the hope that we'll find something later at their house. It's wrong. It needs to be addressed."A log obtained by The Press-Enterprise and verified by three police sources shows the patrol car holding the two men next moved to the parking lot outside the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office at 3rd Street and Mountain View Avenue.

At that point, Lawrence hadn't completed paperwork for a search warrant or obtained a judge's signature on the search warrant required for the police raid. sources said.

The next record of the patrol car's movements comes shortly after 5 p.m., when it arrived at the address being searched. Police department records show the seven suspects, including the two detained from the car, were arrested minutes later

Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, agreed with Desrochers' explanation of arrest laws as they apply to the July 2 case.

"Transporting (suspects) when you have no charges for several hours may expose you and your department to a liability," he said in a July 10 telephone interview. .

Cottingham, a 30-year veteran of the San Diego County Sheriff's department, said instead of holding a person while gathering evidence, officers can cite Penal Code section 849, which lets police detain and release a suspect, then arrest him again. "In this process, there is a record kept, so you have a paper trail on it," he said. "You just can't put somebody in jail and then come back and say, 'Never mind. Go home.'"

In addition to his reservations about the July 2 detention, Cottingham questioned a San Bernardino jail record obtained by The Press-Enterprise from Sept. 19, 2007.

The record shows that then-Rialto resident Greg Parker was in custody. But the spaces on the form for recording when, where and why the person was arrested are marked either "unknown" or "pending." The final space, intended for the case number, reads "Unknown. Subject is on ice."

A police report shows Lawrence's squad had arrested Parker in connection with a narcotics-trafficking investigation. Parker said authorities didn't tell him that at first.

When police delivered him to the city jail before 4 a.m., jailers said an arrest warrant against him alleged a driving violation. Parker said he pays all traffic citations and knew he had no such warrants, a fact his attorney, Gary Wenkle Smith, later confirmed through a court records check.

Parker said in the first four hours after the cell door closed he pushed an intercom button repeatedly, asking to call his family. Jailers didn't allow him to call until 6 p.m., Parker said, minutes before transferring him to West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

Arrestees are entitled to a call within three hours, Cottingham said.

Goggin, the assistant police chief, said he hadn't seen the booking record and could not comment. He said civilian jailers fill out the forms.

Reach Chris Richard at 909-806-3076 or crichard@PE.com

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