Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Judge finds drug case testimony 'incredible'

Last fall, members of the St. Petersburg Police Department's street crimes unit converged on a green sport utility vehicle spotted making a rolling right hand turn at a red light.

The driver, Emanuel Bell, had just left a suspected drug dealer's house.

Bell pulled into a McDonald's at Fourth Street and 38th Avenue N and held out his driver's license for the officer who approached his window.

The officer made Bell get out, then searched a center console after seeing Bell moving his hands near there.

Finding nothing, he went to his cruiser to write Bell tickets for the missed stop and not wearing a seat belt. Other officers arrived and asked Bell to further search his Ford Escape. He said no.

Several minutes later, Officer Brandon Bill approached the SUV and said he smelled faint marijuana and vanilla air freshener. He searched the Escape and found cocaine behind the passenger seat. He also found prescription pills in Bell's pocket.

Bell, 26, was taken to jail on drug trafficking charges.

But the case collapsed earlier this month after an unusual finding by a Pinellas judge who didn't believe Bill. None of the other officers reported smelling marijuana and none was found.

"It stretches the limits of credulity for this court to believe that the search of the defendant's vehicle was based upon the odor of marijuana," Circuit Court Judge Michael Andrews wrote. "Here, Officer Bill's testimony is 'discredited, controverted and contradictory within itself,' and as such is incredible."

Prosecutors dropped the case.

Andrews' order, rare for its tone and content, created a buzz among local defense attorneys.

"I have never, in 5 ½ years of practice, seen a judge do this," said St. Petersburg attorney Jordan Tawil, who represented Bell. "They just didn't have what they needed to get into that car. … When it comes to narcotics, some officers are willing to take that extra step. If that's a cowboy mentality then I think that's what you have there."

Tawil and other defense attorneys said the ruling should prompt prosecutors to examine other cases involving Bill.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery disagreed, saying he doesn't see the judge's order affecting other cases.

"This is a fact-specific scenario in which there's a conflict in the evidence and the judge made a ruling," he said Thursday. "I don't think that that applies to the officer's credibility in general"

• • •

Tawil said he saw holes in the case from the beginning. He said on that evening, Sept. 24, the traffic stop should have lasted only as long as it took for an officer to write the tickets.

Instead, in a defense motion, he said officers detained Bell for more than 25 minutes. One officer threatened to use "sniff dogs" to get the probable cause needed for a search and referred to Bell, who is black, as "boy."

Another officer asked Bell, who has past convictions for obstruction and drug possession, if he was a confidential informant. And when Bell wanted to call a lawyer, police refused to return his cell phone.

Those details, included in a defense motion, are not in police reports, which indicate the stop lasted for only a few minutes.

• • •

Tampa attorney Jim Jenkins said it will take time to determine if the case and the judge's May 7 order have any ripple effects. But he predicted many attorneys may try.

"When something like this happens word travels pretty fast," said Clearwater lawyer Jason Mayberry, who checked to see if he had any pending cases involving Bill. He didn't. The order also could be used by attorneys with similar drug cases, even if they don't involve Bill, Mayberry said, because the odor of marijuana is a common basis for searches.

"It's kind of a go-to for a lot of this kind of stuff," he said. "I don't think all officers stretch the truth, but I think that some do."

• • •

St. Petersburg police have not launched an investigation into Bill's actions that day or his discredited testimony. "We learned of the judge's ruling yesterday and are in the process of getting a copy of his order and speaking to the State Attorney's Office about the case," police spokesman Mike Puetz said. "Since we are conducting a preliminary inquiry we do not feel we or Officer Bill can respond to questions about the ruling at this time."

Bill was hired in 2008 and joined the 12-member street crimes unit two years later. His personnel file includes a letter from a resident praising how he worked to clean up a suspected drug house.

His latest evaluation, from December, praised his "thorough, detailed and accurate" investigative skills, specifically mentioning other drug cases.

The only discipline in his file is from last year, when he was reprimanded for shooting at a pair of teenagers in a stolen car.

Comments
Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

After a two-hour weather delay Saturday evening at USF, the remote local threat of lightning finally dissipated.The postseason intensity never did.For the second consecutive night, the UCF-USF baseball series delivered, this time with the Bulls (25-1...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe a path for wildlife across Interstate 4

Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe a path for wildlife across Interstate 4

The original Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 was inspired by the how the Florida black bear roamed — and the space it needed to do so successfully. In 2010, expedition team member Joe Guthrie conducted research through the University of ...
Published: 04/22/18
Athletics’ Sean Manaea no-hits Red Sox

Athletics’ Sean Manaea no-hits Red Sox

OAKLAND, Calif. – Sean Manaea watched as Marcus Semien fired a ball from short to second baseman Jed Lowrie, turned around, and jumped into the arms of catcher Jonathan Lucroy. History was made at the Coliseum.Manaea no-hit the Red Sox on ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Maple Leafs force Game 6 with Bruins

Maple Leafs force Game 6 with Bruins

BOSTON — Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk scored 1:19 apart in the second period, and then the Maple Leafs killed off a 5-on-3 and three more power plays in a row to beat the Bruins 4-3 in Game 5 on Saturday night and avoid playoff eliminatio...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

* Is it time to take the leap and believe this is the real Blake Snell? He talked a good game this spring and pitched well in his debut, but that rough second outing raised old doubts. But a good outing in Chicago and two dominant ones on the homesta...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

When the Rays, in the opening weekend of their 20th anniversary celebration season, brought back and honored the inaugural 1998 Devil Rays squad, it got us thinking unexpected thoughts, such as which was a better team:The first one, or the current on...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

ST. PETERSBURG – Let's be clear here, the Rays still have a long way to go, and a lot of ground to make up.But seeing them play like they did Saturday in beating the Twins 10-1, putting on a solid all-around show in cobbling their first three-g...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Lightning-Devils: How the NHL’s top offense went on the defensive

Lightning-Devils: How the NHL’s top offense went on the defensive

TAMPA — It was a couple of days after the Lightning beat the Bruins at home late in the regular season when associate coach Rick Bowness talked about how the defensive effort used in that shutout victory was the one the Lightning would need in ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays will go forth with four starters

Rays will go forth with four starters

ST. PETERSBURG — Three weeks was enough for the Rays to officially ditch their three-man rotation plan.Starting Sunday, they will go forth with Yonny Chirinos as their fourth starter.Which is a five-star idea.The flaws in the three-man plan ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rookie? Lightning D Mikhail Sergachev’s playing like a seasoned pro

Rookie? Lightning D Mikhail Sergachev’s playing like a seasoned pro

TAMPA — Pardon Mikhail Sergachev if he isn't so good at one of hockey's greatest traditions. After all, growing a Stanley Cup playoff beard isn't easy when you're still just a teenager.As he stood in the Lightning locker room Saturday evening w...
Updated: 8 hours ago