“BLUE WALL OF SILENCE” IN MASON COUNTY, WA (continued from front page)
(REPRINTED FROM THE SHELTON JOURNAL)
Deputies and a jail guard testifying for the state said they found a plastic bag of marijuana in feces in Leffler's backside while he was taking a shower to wash off pepper oils that officers sprayed in his face after they entered his house and broke up an altercation between the defendant and his girlfriend.
Defense Attorney John R. Scannell of Seattle suggested repeatedly one of the officers may have "planted" the illegal weed on Leffler.
Deputy Prosecutor Dione Ludlow presented the state's case and argued that five men with a combined 50 years of experience in law enforcement would never risk their careers by fabricating evidence and then lying under oath. Sheriff's Sergeant Shawn Donnelly rejected Scannell's suggestion that police officers operate behind a "blue wall of silence" that prevents jurors from hearing evidence that might put another police officer on the wrong side of the law. The phrase has been used to describe New York Police Department officers who refused to testify against an officer accused of beating a black man.
"It's a fictitious remark by dime-store novelists or people writing television programs," Donnelly said, adding later, "If your question is, 'Is there some sort of police cover-up in this case?' then the answer is no."
Jurors were selected and sworn in Monday, July 8, and listened to three days of testimony July 9-11 before deliberating their verdict for most of last Friday. By the end of the day they announced the unanimous verdict that Leffler was not guilty of all charges filed in connection with the events of February 8.
Deputy Bradley Mandeville of the sheriff's office was the first witness called to the stand Tuesday morning, July 9. He testified that he and deputy Douglas Smith responded at about 9:30 p.m. February 8 to the report of a disturbance on Cook Plant Farm Road, where Leffler has his home and a sawmill. "As we approached we heard what appeared to be a scuffle going on inside," Mandeville said.
Mandeville said Smith looked through a window, drew his fire arm and ran to the front door. Mandeville said he also looked in and saw Leffler upright over a woman who was "down on the floor."
He said Deputy Smith grabbed Leffler by the hair, told him to stop resisting arrest and sprayed him in the face with liquid pepper.
After Leffler was handcuffed, the deputy said, he talked to the alleged victim, 29-year-old Rhonda Roberts, who he said bruises on her right arm and a cut inside her lip. Leffler had been named in a no-contact order that prevented her from seeing her. Mandeville said he took photographs of the woman and her injuries.
The deputy told jurors he talked to Leffler the following day and was told that the defendant wanted to file a complaint against Roberts. The defendant, he said, told him Roberts had moved out of his house after the December court order was issued. He said Leffler had some bruises on his right arm and some redness around his left eye.
Asked why he didn’t call the sheriff’s office when Roberts showed up at his house, Leffler "told me he loved Miss Roberts and that he did not want her arrested for being at his residence," the deputy said.
Cross examined by the defense attorney, Mandeville talked about the use of pepper spray and said Deputy Smith told him Leffler had rushed at him after he entered the house. I did not see Mr. Leffler rush Deputy Smith," Mandeville said.
Tuesday afternoon, Deputy Prosecutor Ludlow called to the stand Tom Robinson, a corrections officer on duty at the Mason County Jail when Leffler was brought in around 10 p.m. February 8. He said Leffler appeared to be "highly intoxicated," ranting about his girlfriend’s addiction to drugs and his belief that no one seemed to care.
Robinson said he patted Leffler down and took him to the shower area to wash off the pepper spray. He said he put Leffler’s clothes in a biohazard bag and gave him some baby shampoo after noting feces smeared from the defendant’s backside to the back of his knees. After he left Leffler alone in the shower for five minutes, he said he looked inside and saw a plastic baggie stuck in excrement on the defendant’s backside.
He picked the bag off while he was "gloved up," Robinson said, adding later, "It was in plain view." He said the baggie appeared to contain four buds of marijuana which he transferred from the dirty baggie to a clean baggie, disposing of the one contaminated with feces. He said he and the other deputies did plant the drug on Leffler.
Ludlow called Carol Ann Roberts to the stand to identify her daughter, Rhonda, from a photograph.
Sergeant Donnelly, the next witness, said he was in the jail on other business when Leffler was brought in and that he was asked to witness the seizure of "some suspected contraband."
Donnelly said he saw a baggie near Leffler's anus and had not placed any contraband on the defendant's body. He said he talked to the alleged victim the next day and saw bruises on her forearm and neck.
In cross examination by Scannell, the sergeant testified that he saw a baggie encrusted with feces protruding from Leffler's buttocks but didn't see other feces on the defendant's body. Under further questioning by Ludlow he testified that he did not ask Smith or Robinson or Deputy Luther Pittman to plant the marijuana on Leffler and didn't hear any of them ask anyone else to do that either
Steve Ellyson, sheriff's evidence officer, told the jurors he is trained in the identification of marijuana. He said he tested the substance in the case, describing it as a few grams of pot.
Ludlow then called Deputy Smith to the stand. Smith described hearing "yelling and screaming" when he and Mandeville arrived at Leffler’s residence. He said he saw Leffler "on top of the female with the collar of her shirt clutched in his hands." After the couple was separated, he said, the defendant "had his hands up in an aggressive manner," lunged at Smith and resisted arrest
"At that point Mr. Leffler’s pit bull came in and I was trying to focus on him as well as Mr. Leffler," Smith said. He told the court he sprayed Leffler with pepper and then he and Mandeville put him in cuffs and took him to jail for decontamination. While he was at the jail, he said, Robinson informed him that he had found some marijuana.
Under cross-examination Smith testified that he did not plant marijuana on Leffler. Asked if he smelled alcohol on the defendant, he said, "All I could smell was the pepper spray." Smith said Roberts was distraught and crying and that he did not get close enough to her to smell any alcohol.
The deputy then testified about an earlier incident in which he confiscated a chainsaw that may have belonged to Leffler or his employee. To questioning by Ludlow he answered that Donnelly, Mandeville or Robinson did not order him to plant marijuana on the defendant.
When the trial resumed on July 10, the state called Deputy Pittman to the stand. He said he and Donnelly were at the jail when Leffler was brought in, and testified that a jailer opened an area to the shower area and said he needed a witness. He described Leffler as "wet from taking a shower." He said he saw "a small plastic bubble that big," holding his thumb and forefinger a few inches apart," protruding from his anal area.
Questioned further by Ludlow, the deputy testified that he did not plant the marijuana on Leffler and did not see any other officer of the jail or the sheriff’s office do so.
Asked by Scannell if he had ever heard the term "blue wall of silence," Pittman said he had heard the term in training at the police academy "about the New York Police Department’s attempt on the part of some officers to cover up for other officers. When Scannell asked if there is a blue wall of silence in this county Pittman answered, "Absolutely not. Its ludicrous to even think that."
After Ludlow rested the State’s case, Scannell then called Raymond Bisser of Belfair to the stand as the first witness for the defense. He said he picked Leffler up from the jail and took photographs of the defendant. In cross-examination by Ludlow he testified that he had a business relationship with Leffler.
Scannell then called Raymond Bisser to the stand as the first witness for the defense. He said he picked Leffler up from the jail and took photographs of the defendant. In cross-examination by Ludlow he testified that he has had a business relationship with Leffler.
Scannell then called Rhonda Roberts to the stand and she testified that she entered Leffler’s house without his knowledge to get some of her things and left when he came home and asked her to, but came back later.
"I was drinking so I don’t really recall all of it but I remember I got really upset," she said. She told jurors Leffler grabbed her after she started throwing punches in the air. "He got me to the floor and held onto me for a while because I was so angry and then the police came, she said.
She described how deputies entered the house, pulled Leffler off her and sprayed him with pepper. She said the house belongs to Leffler and that she lives with her mother now.
When Roberts was late returning to court after the lunch break, Ludlow called Smith back to the stand. He testified that he has no reason to dislike Leffler and he would not risk a 17 year career in law enforcement for a bag of pot. Smith also said he had never heard the term "blue wall of silence."
When Roberts returned, she was called back to the stand and testified that she has had two altercations with Leffler since meeting him "I have serious mental issues that cause anger that is almost rageable. I have delusions", she said.
Cross examined by Ludlow, she testified that Leffler was assaulted for assaulting her December 24, and he continues to give her financial assistance. Roberts said while she remembers talking to deputies, she doesn’t recall telling them that Leffler bent her fingers back or that he had punched her in the arm and hurt her lip.
"Its really hard for me to believe that I would say things like that but I was under a lot of stress," she said, adding that Leffler "wants to protect me and I want to protect him."
Scannell called Sergeant Donnelly to the stand for the defense and asked him about official contact he had with Leffler before February 8. Donnelly testified that he responded to a number of calls having to do with Leffler’s ex-wife and their children and had pulled Leffler over for "a violation of something" having to do with his truck.
"Mr. Leffler expressed displeasure with the sheriff’s office," Donnelly said.
Under cross-examination from the prosecutor, Donnelly said he had no ill will toward Leffler and no reason to plant pot on his person. "That would be foolish," he said.
After Carol Roberts testified that her daughter has lived with her since Christmas, the defendant took the stand and testified on his own behalf. Leffler said the alleged victim has had more violent outbursts than he could count since they met one another at a Shelton motel. "Mainly she hurts herself," he said. She’ll pull her hair, hit herself, scratch her face.
Leffler said he paid to have her see a psychiatrist and told the court "she was experiencing a severe delusional episode" on the night of his arrest. "She is very hard to contain when she has gone into a fit of rage," he said.
Leffler described how he got "my hair pulled back and sprayed in the eyes" after deputies arrived on at his house. He said he didn’t have any feces on his body and he didn’t know anything about the marijuana that was introduced into evidence.
At this point the trial adjourned for the day and continued on the morning of July 11 with more testimony from Leffler about his various encounters with the sheriff’s deputies. Under cross-emanination he said he doesn’t have anything against the deputies.
"It’s not that I don’t like the sheriff’s department," he said. "In my opinion they’ve done nothing in my behalf."
After the Defense rested its case Ludlow called Mandeville back to the stand where he testified that there is no "blue wall of silence" in the sheriff’s office. He gave a statement against another officer about three years ago, he said. "There had been an allegation that a specific officer had been driving in a manner that was not necessarily conducive to public safety and I had an observation that that was a true story," he said.
This concluded the testimony in the case and the two attorneys made closing statements.
Deputy Prosecutor Ludlow said, "There is not one shred of evidence of a blue wall of silence." And added that there was nothing to support Leffler’s claim that four deputies and a guard at the jail fabricated the evidence of the baggie of marijuana. "He would have you believe that those four deputies and a corrections officer would risk 50 years of law enforcement experience on one bag of marijuana by planting it there," she said of Scannell.
But Scannell suggested another theory to support Leffler’s claim that the officers fabricated the case against him. He told jurors it had to do with the pepper spray and the 20 minutes that Leffler waited before he could wash out the substance in the jail’s shower. "Police officers aren’t going to jeopardize their careers over a bag of marijuana but they will try to not get sued for excessive use of force," he said.
"There’s bad blood there," Leffler’s defender told the jurors, adding that the officers needed to have the pot "hanging out" of Leffler’s buttocks because they didn’t have the authority to search his body cavities. "Is there reasonable doubt in all this? Is there a blue wall of silence in Mason County?" he asked.
The jurors, who announced their verdict at 3:15 p.m. Friday, were Ruth irish, Zella Bingen, Karen Haser, Brenda Andersen, Ruth Ann Davis, Jacqueline Stracke, Lance Talley Sr., Bonnie Miller, Donald Oars, Glenda Sewell, Ray Norton and Rebecca Collins. Marvin Lund was the alternate juror.