Pubdate: Fri, 18 Jun 2010
Source: Calaveras Enterprise (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Calaveras Enterprise
Author: Joel Metzger


After filing numerous complaints with Calaveras County about a member
of the Sheriff's Office, Robert Shaffer said he learned Monday that
the Calaveras County grand jury would hear his case.

Shaffer, 44, Ione, claims that his identity was stolen and medical
records illegally made public by Calaveras County Sheriff's Deputy
Steve Avila as part of a sting operation executed in January.

Avila posed as Shaffer, who had been arrested for selling marijuana
and had his doctor's recommendation seized as evidence. Avila used
Shaffer's legitimate medical recommendation, after altering the birth
date, in order to appear to be a legitimate patient. The sting
operation resulted in the arrest of San Andreas resident Jay Smith,
who is now embroiled in a court fight over whether he was operating a
legitimate collective.

Shaffer cried foul when he was made aware that his identity had been
used by Avila, which led to his campaign to have Avila removed from
the Sheriff's Office. A petition for Avila's removal containing
hundreds of signatures was presented to the Calaveras County Board of
Supervisors last week.

"It (the complaint) states that one of the Sheriff's Office employees,
Avila, used my identity without my permission or authorization,"
Shaffer said.

Shaffer said that he was called by Sheriff's Detective Chris Villegas
Monday and informed that an internal investigation was being
conducted, which was initiated by the complaints from Shaffer.

"He said he received a packet from the grand jury requesting him to
investigate the complaint," Shaffer said. "He wanted to gather some
more information and wanted to speak with me."

The two have yet to meet and Shaffer said Villegas has not contacted
him since Wednesday.

When Sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo was contacted, he said he would not
comment on grand jury investigations. He did say that an internal
investigation is in process that is related to the complaints by
Shaffer. He would not specify whether Avila was being investigated,
stating, "It's not appropriate."

The grand jury investigation was announced to the Board of Supervisors
Tuesday during public comment by Mountain Ranch resident Tom Liberty
of Calaveras Patient Resources.

Liberty said that while he welcomes the internal affairs investigation
within the Sheriff's Office, he is concerned that Villegas is the one
performing it.

"(Detective) Villegas is a known friend of Deputy Avila," Liberty
said. "They keep in contact on Facebook," adding that after the
investigation was launched, the two men terminated their friendship on
the social networking site.

"There seems to be a huge conflict of interest here," Liberty

He went on to say that Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum stated
publicly before the board that there was nothing wrong with what Avila
had done.

"I think that the sheriff sets the tone for the whole department,"
Liberty said. "If the sheriff has expressed this sentiment publicly,
than there is nothing wrong with what Avila has done, I think you can
reasonably conclude that that's the message all the deputies have
gotten. How can you properly investigate something that you have
already decided is OK?"

According to Shaffer, the Sheriff's Office isn't the only authority
that believes Avila's actions were "OK."

Shaffer said he presented a copy of his complaint to the District
Attorney's Office, which was given to investigator Mike Whitney, who
has since spoken with Shaffer several times.

The complaint was referred to the Attorney General's Office because
the issue was within the Sheriff's Office and may present a conflict
of interest if investigated locally.

"Whitney said he heard back from the AG that there was no crime based
on the information we gave them," Shaffer said. "That's either not
true or it's not the full story. I'm waiting to see what the grand
jury comes back with."

Since grand jury investigations are secret, the Enterprise could not
independently confirm the claims made by Shaffer and Liberty.

While Downum did not respond to several messages for comment, he had
earlier defended the actions of his law enforcement officer as
completely within the law when viewed in the context of a ruse. He
also stressed that Avila had changed the birth date on Shaffer's
recommendation, effectively changing the identity.

"It is very appropriate for people to use a ruse," Downum said. "It
can never cross the line where we are breaking the law to go arrest
somebody for breaking the law." 
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