Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2012
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2012 St. Petersburg Times
Note: Named the St. Petersburg Times from 1884-2011.
Author: Stephen Nohlgren


LARGO =AD Amid allegations that narcotics deputies
trespassed and lied to gather evidence, the
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office announced
Tuesday that it is dismissing charges against an
accused St. Petersburg marijuana grower and will
reconsider dozens of similar cases.

The dropped case was against David Cole, 60, who
said he was growing pot in his shed to treat his multiple sclerosis

His attorneys were scheduled Tuesday to grill a
key deputy under oath about possible misconduct
within the narcotics unit. But that opportunity
evaporated along with the case.

"Information came to light Friday that calls into
question the veracity of those involved in making
that case to the point where I believe the right
thing to do is to have that case dismissed,''
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said on Tuesday.

Gualtieri would not give more details because his
internal affairs office is now investigating how
the Cole case and others stemming from the
two-year surveillance of a Largo hydroponics store were handled.

Sworn search warrant applications by deputies
Paul Giovannoni and Michael Sciarrino =AD the lead
detectives in the grow house cases =AD said they
could smell indoor pot farms from public
sidewalks and neighbors' yards. But defense
attorneys think that the two deputies and at
least one supervisor trespassed to get their information, which is illegal.

Neither Gualtieri nor Beverly Andringa, executive
assistant state attorney, could pinpoint Tuesday
how many grow house cases are in jeopardy, saying
only that they number in the dozens.

"We need to look at them all,'' Gualtieri said.
"Because the information we have goes to general
veracity. Once there is that allegation, then it
touches anything that certain people may have touched.''

Giovannoni and Sciarrino declined to comment.

Cole said he was relieved to have the charges
dropped. He was caught with 87 plants at varying
stages of growth and acknowledges that medical
marijuana is illegal in Florida. He had no
criminal history in Florida and says his attorney
advised that he probably could have plea
bargained for nothing more than probation as punishment.

But when he heard the deputies might have
trespassed and lied about it, Cole said, he told
his attorney to reject any plea bargain and use
his case to pressure the Sheriff's Office for
answers. He was particularly angered by concrete
blocks stacked in stair-step fashion on his
neighbor's property next to his fence. Cole
thinks officers might have put them there to vault his fence.

"We have to make sure that the people we employ
for our protection acted appropriately,'' Cole
said Tuesday. "That's more important to me than what happens to me.''

Cole's case is where Tuesday's canceled
deposition of former narcotics deputy Kyle Alston came in.

Alston had already been deposed in February, in a
Tarpon Springs grow house case. Defense lawyer
Newt Hudson asked if Alston had ever seen
Sciarrino and Giovannoni "climb over fences,'' shorthand for trespassing.

Alston refused to answer.

Hudson is now trying to use this refusal, along
with other information, to have his Tarpon
Springs client's search warrant thrown out, killing any prosecution.

Hudson also alerted other grow house lawyers,
some of whom are sharing information and call
themselves the Scent of Justice Gang in mocking
reference to the marijuana sniffing.

Clearwater lawyer Douglas deVlaming scheduled
Alston to give testimony in Cole's case on
Tuesday, this time with a judge standing by to
rule on whether Alston had to answer questions.

"We believe Kyle Alston was going to come in and
testify to the truth . . . that these guys were
jumping fences,'' deVlaming said Tuesday. "And I
also believe Kyle Alston has told that to internal affairs.''

Alston declined to comment.

DeVlaming applauded the sheriff and the state
attorney for re-evaluating all the grow house
prosecutions but said defense lawyers will
continue to subpoena Alston for testimony in
other cases as long as any charges are pending.

DeVlaming also said State Attorney Bernie McCabe
should convene a grand jury to examine the grow
house cases, or federal prosecutors should weigh in.

"We want to have confidence that we can trust
police officers,'' deVlaming said, "and quite
frankly, dropping cases and throwing a few
underlings under the bus isn't going to cut it with us.''

Gualtieri estimated it would take about three
weeks to complete an internal affairs investigation.

"I met with my captain this morning. We are
trying get it done fairly, but also as quickly as
possible,'' Gualtieri said. "I don't want a rush to judgment.''

Besides re-evaluating pending grow house cases,
both he and Andringa said they will also examine
investigative techniques on cases recently
resolved through plea bargains or convictions.

"Many (cases) may be involved before it is all
said and done.'' Gaultieri said. "Many may go.''

Information about alleged trespassing surfaced in
the last few weeks, he said. Cole's case was one
of several under scrutiny when deVlaming subpoenaed Alston for deposition.

The timing of Tuesday's scheduled deposition
accelerated the decision to drop Cole's charges, Gualtieri said.

"Depending on what questions are asked in
deposition it could frustrate our investigation
because (defense lawyers) don't know what we
know,'' Gualtieri said. "They don't know where we
are going and what we need to do. That could
cause information to get out and affect other
witnesses in this investigation.''

That argument is not swaying defense attorneys to back off.

Clearwater lawyer Bjorn Brunvand said he will
seek an expedited deposition in the next few days
of Alston, Gualtieri and a Progress Energy
Florida employee who helped officers find out how
much power grow house suspects were using.

"I would not be surprised if the same thing
happened in my case,'' Brunvand said, referring
to charges against Cole being dropped.

Largo lawyer John Trevena said complaints against
the grow house deputies date back to 2008. One
client was caught with 93 plants and sentenced to
three years in prison after a detective secured a
search warrant by stating that he could smell marijuana from a sidewalk.

Trevena said he had a National Weather Service
meteorologist ready to testify that the wind was
blowing away from the detective that night, but
nobody in the court system would listen.

He will also seek depositions if his clients'
cases aren't resolved, Trevena said. "I am not
going to let my clients' futures rely on (the
sheriff's) investigation. I am going to conduct my own investigation.''
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