Sheriff: Narcotics officer cleared of misconduct after months-long investigation | TheUnion.com

Sheriff: Narcotics officer cleared of misconduct after months-long investigation

A narcotics detective at the center of a legal battle over a number of felony drug cases — whose credibility was called into question by a number of defense attorneys — has been cleared of misconduct after a months-long investigation, Sheriff Keith Royal said.

At issue are a half-dozen criminal cases in Nevada County Superior Court involving eight defendants with arrests stemming from search warrants authored by Nevada County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Mackey, a member of the Narcotics Task Force. Their alleged crimes include cultivating marijuana for profit and possessing controlled substances for sale — as well as possession of weapons and child porn.

If the credibility of the officer who authored and signed the search warrant affidavits is impugned, and that information is not noted in the warrant, a judge could suppress evidence on those grounds alone, said attorney Heather Burke, who represents three of the defendants. In one of those cases, Mackey wrote the warrant and the only police report on the arrest.

During several hearings — involving an unusual request by District Attorney Cliff Newell to have a judge determine if he had "Brady" information that potentially could affect Mackey's cases and that needed to be released to the defense — several defense attorneys cited a complaint filed against Mackey by a fellow officer and a subsequent internal affairs investigation.

Attorney Greg Klein also referred to a possible FBI investigation, adding, "Police officers are public servants. If there are bad apples, this shouldn't be hidden from the public … This is causing an odor of something underhanded."

Nothing could be further from the truth, said Royal, adding that an exhaustive investigation was launched as soon as questions cropped up.

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"There were allegations that were coming up, of potential misconduct," he said. "We took this seriously — we always do."

According to Undersheriff Joe Salivar, in May of last year, Newell came to the Sheriff's Office with some information he acquired through his own department regarding a warrant. That search warrant and a sealed affidavit relating to the warrant — as well as a memo from Newell to Royal — were ordered by a judge to be disclosed to the defense counsel and were in the process of being released this week.

"That information came in to our office as well," Salivar said. "That caused us to initiate an investigation."

Salivar said that his office is bound by law and governmental code in how they proceed through an internal affairs investigation, and what they can reveal as to their findings.

The investigation took approximately seven months and generated a 900-page report, he said.

"It was very detailed, very involved," Royal said. "We wanted to ensure, if there were allegations, that we addressed them. We interviewed many, many subjects. We wanted to make sure we didn't leave any open doors. It was a very thorough investigation — we owed it to that employee.

"In the end, we found no misconduct," he said.

Royal declined to comment on the specifics of the memo released by Newell regarding the issue with a search warrant, but said there was nothing other than the warrant that prompted the internal affairs investigation.

"We wanted to make sure no stone was left unturned," Salivar said. "We have an equal duty under the law, to turn over any Brady material to the prosecution. We can't just turn a blind eye. If there's something there, we need to find that out."

Both Salivar and Royal said the allegations that sparked the internal affairs investigation did not warrant reassigning Mackey out of the narcotics task force.

Salivar explained that such a transfer could be viewed as punitive and that the officer is entitled to due process, unless there is gross negligence or something criminal.

"The allegations in this case never came close to warranting that," he said.

Royal took great exception to the comment by Klein regarding the FBI, saying, "The courthouse is a rumor mill, and attorneys will throw anything against the wall to see if it will stick. There is no investigation by the FBI — we have no investigation, there is nothing they will be investigating."

The entire issue that culminated in a hearing on April 22 and the ordered disclosure of documents relating to Mackey "was an attack by the defense bar," Royal said. "Their goal is to make the officers look bad and their clients look better."

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.