Probe shut down: Former ADA allegedly forced to resign after investigation into narcotics detective
For more than a year, Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell has maintained that a controversy regarding the credibility of narcotics detective Jason Mackey was manufactured by defense attorneys in an “ill- advised” attempt to discredit the investigator in a number of criminal cases.
These attorneys have filed multiple motions designed to elicit potentially negative information about Mackey, a Nevada County Sheriff’s deputy who has been on the Narcotics Task Force since late 2014.
Newell said an internal affairs investigation — sparked by an issue with one of Mackey’s warrants in early 2015 — was a training issue blown out of proportion by then-Assistant District Attorney Glenn Jennings, his second in command.
Mackey reportedly was cleared this year of wrongdoing after the investigation.
Newell has said that the mistake on the warrant — which led Jennings to dismiss the criminal case so that Mackey would not have to testify — was an innocent one that simply involved the defendant’s address. Newell said the error, which created a discrepancy between the warrant and a sealed portion of the affidavit, did not stem from intentional deception.
According to Newell, Mackey asked Jennings to dismiss the case for several reasons, including his relative inexperience — and Jennings “jumped to conclusions and called Mackey a liar.”
Jennings, however, disputes the characterization and has a far different version of events.
“My name got thrown out there, and I want to defend myself,” he said. “I didn’t jump to any conclusions.”
Jennings spoke at length to The Union regarding the investigation he launched regarding Mackey. In the middle of that, Jennings said, he was directed to shut down his investigation by Newell. Eventually, he said, he was forced to resign because he would not sign off on Mackey’s warrants.
The Bell case
The criminal case that led Jennings to look into Mackey’s warrants started in January 2015, after Mackey authored a methamphetamine sales search warrant for the residence of Andrew Bell. The warrant was based on information from a confidential reliable informant, and that portion of the affidavit was sealed. The warrant was reviewed and signed by a Nevada County Superior Court judge.
After Bell’s arrest, his attorney filed a motion to unseal the sealed portion of the warrant, with the motion to be heard on May 21, 2015.
That day, according to a memo sent that fall by Newell to Sheriff Keith Royal, Mackey approached Jennings outside the courtroom.
“Jennings’ recollection is that Deputy Mackey said … there was ‘something untruthful in the warrant at the time he sealed the affidavit,’” the memo states.
Jennings did not review the warrant or make further inquiries, but dismissed the case after Mackey told him he was uncomfortable going forward with the hearing and asked that the case be dropped, the memo states.
According to the memo, Newell subsequently met with administrators from the Sheriff’s Office, including Royal. A decision reportedly was made that Newell would look into the warrant issue and the Sheriff’s Office would handle any other allegations of misconduct.
Jennings’ recollections match Newell’s memo — to an extent.
Jennings had transferred from the Truckee office into the No. 2 slot in the District Attorney’s office in March 2015.
On May 21, Jennings went to the courthouse to handle the motion on Bell’s misdemeanor case.
“Mackey shows up and says we need to talk,” Jennings said. “He tells me he can’t take the stand. He shows me the warrant and points to a section where it states the address, and says, ‘I didn’t know this information at the time I wrote the warrant.’ It’s a way of saying he lied.”
Mackey told Jennings he needed to dismiss the case, which he did.
“Under Brady v. Maryland, I have the duty to investigate,” Jennings said. “I didn’t know if this was a one-time deal, a screw-up about whatever … I want to know if I have a dirty cop.”
So, Jennings said, he began an investigation, with the help of District Attorney investigator Randall Billingsley.
“Three prior coworkers were interviewed,” Jennings said. “We found that two of them had filed complaints about Mackey being untruthful in other matters.”
Jennings said he decided to expand his investigation and look at all of the warrant affidavits authored by Mackey.
“It was my opinion that we had uncovered Brady evidence,” he said.
Soon thereafter, Jennings said, Newell directed him to shut down his investigation.
“The door was slammed shut,” he said. “They probably found out deputies were being interviewed, so they decided to do an internal affairs investigation.”
Jennings said the IA investigator from the Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with county counsel, interviewed him, but only seemed to want the names of the witnesses who came forward.
Jennings said he initially was asked to put his investigation on hold, but was subsequently told by Newell that it was over.
About three weeks later, Billingsley came into Jennings’ office with a stack of documents relating to Mackey, including transcripts of the interviews conducted.
“He said, ‘All of this is Brady material that would need to be turned over (to defense counsel),’” Jennings said.
After meeting with Newell, however, Billingsley changed his tune, Jennings said. Suddenly, the information they had gathered was unimportant.
Mackey placed on ‘rehabilitation’
During the internal affairs investigation launched by the Sheriff’s Office, Mackey was never placed on suspension or moved off the Narcotics Task Force, a detective position considered elite.
Jennings confirmed that for at least a period of time, Mackey was placed on some sort of informal “rehabilitation” — meaning he couldn’t write warrants and have them signed off on by the DA’s Office without another sheriff’s deputy present to vouch for the evidence in the warrant.
“I had never heard of such a thing,” Jennings said.
Requiring another deputy to vouch for Mackey’s veracity should have been included on all the warrants he was writing, Jennings said.
And, once Mackey was accused of lying on one search warrant, that jeopardized all of his future cases, Jennings added.
“Now he’s writing all the warrants? The office was aghast,” he said.
On one occasion, Jennings said, Mackey came to him after another attorney refused to look over his warrant.
“I asked where the other deputy was, to vouch for him, and Mackey’s response was that he didn’t know he needed that,” Jennings said.
When Jennings refused to sign the warrant, Mackey left his office.
Newell brought Jennings the memo that he eventually sent to Royal in October, that found no wrongdoing on Mackey’s part. Jennings refused to approve it, he said.
Meanwhile, Jennings says, he was angering the Sheriff’s Office on several other fronts.
That same month, Jennings was called into Newell’s office.
“He told me, ‘You’re pissing off a lot of people at the Sheriff’s office,’” Jennings recalled. “‘They’re telling me you won’t sign off on their warrants.’
According to Jennings, Newell told him to resign — or he would be fired.
“I told him I couldn’t put up with a dirty cop.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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