Drug task force taken to task — and court — by Port Townsend lawyer
By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
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Michael Haas filed a motion Nov. 14 in Jefferson County Superior Court to have the case against his client, Steve Fager, dropped because of alleged abuses of law.
Fager is charged with manufacturing marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver in Jefferson County and possession of more than 40 grams of marijuana in Clallam County.
The 55-year-old Sequim resident had both his home on Glendale Drive and medical marijuana cooperative in Discovery Bay raided in October 2009.
In his 70-page motion, Haas makes a litany of claims that OPNET, a drug task force made up of law enforcement agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula, acted negligently or maliciously at nearly every turn of the investigation.
“The best-case scenario is they are incompetent,” he said in an interview. “If I sound disgusted, it’s because I am.”
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said in an email: “The Clallam County sheriff on behalf of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team (OPNET) most strongly denies the allegations and will fight the matter in court.”
On Saturday, he said: “I’m confident we will be exonerated.”
OPNET commander Ron Cameron, also the chief criminal deputy with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, said he cannot comment due to the ongoing litigation.
“We don’t do our cases in the media,” he said.
Haas says that the case started in October 2008 when OPNET detectives began using an informant who they knew was a convicted sex offender and had a warrant for failing to register.
The informant was identified in court documents as Joseph Haynes, who died Oct. 9, 2009 from an apparent drug overdose, the day search warrants were executed against Fager.
Haynes’ warrant was never acted upon, according to Haas.
Haynes was living with a couple and their nine-year-old daughter who were left unaware of his first-degree sexual abuse conviction from West Virginia, according to the motion.
While conducting surveillance of the cooperative in Discovery Bay, Haas said there is no doubt on his mind that the detectives repeatedly trespassed.
He points to a pocket knife engraved with “U.S. Border Patrol” found in the brush at the cooperative location and claims that detectives could not have taken their photographs or made their observations without crossing the boundary line.
The Border Patrol participates in OPNET.
The knife was found 28 feet away from where detectives said was the closest they got to the property, according to the motion.
The attorney also claims that some of the marijuana seized at Fager’s Sequim home was actually taken by the authorities from the cooperative and planted to get additional charges against him.
Haas said he is “quite certain” that this occurred and points to a bag of frozen marijuana authorities say they found at the home.
His client maintains that marijuana was frozen at the cooperative but not at his home.
Haas also cites in the motion discrepancies in the weight of the marijuana seized at the home.
He said authorities weighed 3,768 grams during the search, but when re-weighed six days later, the amount seized totalled less than half that amount: 1,537 grams.
“Either that significant chunk of marijuana went missing from their evidence room or they never collected as much as they said out in the field,” Haas said.
Additionally, the attorney claims that detectives perjured information to get search warrants by saying they could smell marijuana, a claim he disputes if they were not on the property, and that OPNET has flawed procedures for handling evidence.
Haas said he understands the seriousness of the allegations.
“I spent 11 years as a prosecutor,” he said. “I’ve never made an allegation like this in my entire career.”
Haas said he is consulting with “outside law enforcement agencies” as to whether to seek a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of OPNET.
The attorney said he is not seeking to have the case in Clallam County Superior Court dropped at the same time because it will likely be dismissed if he wins the motion in Jefferson County.
Port Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith said he was “absolutely” surprised by the allegations made against OPNET, which the Port Angeles Police Department is a member agency.
Smith said he could not offer specific comments on the case since he is not in command of the agency.
He added, “These are statements made by someone who has an interest in this situation, which they have every right to make.”
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at email@example.com.
Last modified: November 26. 2011 5:27PM