By Royal Calkins
MAIN STORY: The Cop Who Broke All The Rules
Rangel was suspected of being a significant methamphetamine dealer. A search of his home turned up two ounces of meth and a handgun. He confessed to having dealt drugs for the past decade. Sgt. Brian PIckens released him without charges or a court date after he promised to become an informant.
Later, Pickens learned that Rangel was continuing to sell meth and was trying to get money together to flee to Mexico. Pickens arranged another buy but he argued with prosecutor Todd Hornik about details of search and arrest warrants. Pickens argued that including storage lockers in the warrant would be adequate if drugs or Rangel were found in a motel room. He was arrested again after selling a small amount of methamphetamine and volunteering again to become an informant.
He promised to show up in court but he didn’t.
The DA’s Office “has never been made privy to any agreements with or promised benefits to Mr. Rangel.
In the end, Rangel was arrested and incarcerated again but Hazel determined he could have been sentenced to an additional four years if the case had proceeded properly.
During a surveillance, Pickens and other detectives spotted Reyes, a suspected drug dealer. He attempted to flee but was stopped. Meth was found in his car and a companion of Reyes acknowledged it was hers. She and another suspect weren’t arrested.
“We simply don’t know why these defendants were released, which is itself unacceptable, but it is reasonable to infer from their subsequent warrant status that the decision was unsound.”
Reyes case, part two
The same Reyes complained of chest pains after being arrested for his part in a subsequent kidnapping. He was taken to a hospital and released without charges after treatment. A woman who had been with Reyes in the car in the previous case also was released without charges despite having been found with methamphetamine.
Caseras and Maldonado
Following a random car stop, driver Maldonado consented to a search and was found to be in possession of a pipe. Passenger Caseras was found to be chewing cocaine base in an apparent effort to destroy evidence. Additional cocaine was found and Maldonado admitted to transporting drugs for Caseras.
Caseras consented to a search of his home, where Pickens and other detectives found more narcotics.
“Caseras was released without charges or future court dates. Only after he was released did detectives learn the true identity of Caseras . . . . It was subsequently determined that Caseras was on two separate grants of felony probation with a total executed suspended sentence of seven years” in prison.
“Maldonado would likely be given a felony probation term, assuming he is eventually arrested . . . . Although detectives did not know about Caseras’ probation status when he was released, the case highlights the risk of a catch and release approach when a suspect’s identity is not sufficiently investigated until it is too late. In short, a defendant who should be in custody on his way to prison is not and his whereabouts is unknown.”
Avila was arrested while on probation for drug charges with a gang enhancement. Sheriff’s detectives said he was holding eight grams of methamphetamine and a revolver. Pickens checked Avila’s criminal history and found that he was on felony probation. “Nonetheless, Detective Pickens released Avila.”
Later, Pickens asked prosecutor Hornik if he wanted to turn Avila into an informant. Hornik told Pickens he needed to check with a gang specialist in the DA’s Office, Chuck Olvis.
“Olvis has never been contacted on this matter by anyone from the Sheriff’s Office. Avila’s whereabouts are unknown.”
Hazel wrote that it was not clear why Pickens chose to release Avila, but “it is our belief that in making such judgments, competing interests are either not being considered or are blithely dismissed as unimportant.”
“Presumably the danger to the public from a drug dealing gang member who was armed before his release and the substantial prison commitment he faced was subordinated to different, unspecified interests of an individual officer in the field who apparently made the judgment to release the defendant on his own and without consultation.”
A search of a house in Salinas turned up methamphetamine and other drugs. Three people were arrested. While detectives were at the house, a fourth person showed up, Sanchez, who admitted she was holding methamphetamine. Pickens found two ounces of the drug in her purse along with photographs related to another house that detectives had searched earlier. That second case had resulted in the discovery of 12 ounces of methamphetamine, two handguns and $20,000 in cash.
Sanchez told Pickens she had additional drugs at her home and she agreed to set up her supplier. Pickens asked her permission to search the home, telling the woman he could obtain a search warrant if she declined.
“It should be noted that under case law, a threat of a search warrant used to obtain consent vitiates that consent.”
At her home, Pickens found five pounds of methamphetamine, one of the largest drug seizures in county history. Because of the amount, Pickens contacted the federal Drug Enforcement Administration but that agency wasn’t able to respond until the next day. Sanchez promised to meet with federal agents then and was allowed to leave. Detectives gave her back her car and her cell phone.
“Not surprisingly, she failed to keep her promise . . . .”
Drug charges were later filed against Sanchez but “her whereabouts are presently unknown,” Hazel wrote, adding that it was likely she was in danger because she would have a hard time explaining to her supplier what had happened to the drugs.
Tetrick was a Salinas truck driver who pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to 120 days in jail. But before he was taken into custody, Pickens approached prosecutor Rick Storms and asked how he might be able to arrange for an unnamed informant to avoid jail time.
Soon thereafter, Tetrick gave his probation officer an application for modification of his sentence. The form said Storms had approved a reduced sentence although Storms had not done so and was unfamiliar with Tetrick. While the form was signed by Tetrick, someone else filled it out and, Hazel wrote, the handwriting resembled Pickens’ handwriting.
“If Detective Pickens fabricated the concurrence of the District Attorney’s Office and facilitated its false presentation to the Probation Department or the court, this is a serious matter.”
If PIckens or the Sheriff’s Office ever replied, it isn’t noted in Hazel’s letter. Tetrick died of an apparent overdose a few months after his trial.
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