Monday, January 7, 2013
Case Dismissed-Darrell Lea The False Arrest of a student-athlete
On August 14, 2012 R. Lowell Thompson the Assistant Criminal District Attorney of Navarro County Texas filed a motion to dismiss criminal charges against Darrell Lea. Lea had been charged with possession of marijuana and felony possession of a controlled substance. In explaining his reason for the dismissal the prosecutor said that another defendant "took responsibility." However, our review of the evidence shows that this is a case that should never have been brought forward to the DA for prosecution. Darrell Lea had a prescription for the medication that the police recovered and later used as evidence against him. The information that Lea had a prescription was offered to the police and school officials shortly after his arrest. The police were unaffected and the prosecution went forward.
Under normal circumstances, with competent well trained police officers, evidence demonstrating innocence would stop the pursuit of a criminal prosecution. However there may be other reasons for this prosecution and arrest. The Lea case made news headlines for the Sheriff and Police Department drug task forces. Darrell Lea was a high profile student athlete and the football program is the most visible component of the school community. It was also an election year in Navarro County. The arrest of a student athlete could be viewed as politically beneficial to the Sheriff. We cannot say if election year politics was a motive for the pursuit of this false criminal charge. Nevertheless, the evidence I have reviewed leads me to conclude with a reasonable degree a professional certainty that Darrell Lea was falsely arrested and wrongfully charged for a crime he did not commit. In my professional view no one should be prosecuted based on the evidence and information collected by police officers in the Darrell Lea case.
Ms. Lea contacted my office after prosecutors offered her son a deal to plead guilty to possession of marijuana or to face more serious felony charges for possession of prescription drugs. Ms. Lea provided documents demonstrating that her son had a medical prescription from a doctor for the drugs recovered by the police. Moreover, through our review of the evidence it was evident that the police departed from appropriate standards in drug investigations in pursuit of Lea's prosecution. For example, the police entered the student's apartment without permission and without a warrant. As a police officer you are trained to appreciate that citizens have a right to privacy. Police officers cannot walk in through an open door unless there are specific circumstances meeting requirements identified in standard police training. To enter a home a police officer must have one of three things; permission from the occupant or homeowner; a legal warrant to search or to make an arrest; or exigent circumstances. The last of the three "Exigent Circumstances" is what most police officers rely on when they are in active pursuit of a suspect or if they hear or see something indicating the commission of a crime or a threat to public safety.
Police officers are also required to follow training guidelines consistent with the constitutional rights of citizens against illegal search and entry. It appears that the officers departed from such guidelines in this drug investigation. None of the aforementioned conditions for a legal search existed in the Darrell Lea case. The police chose when to make contact with Darrell Lea. There was no emergency, consequently, they had time to get a warrant. Despite their lack of authority to enter Lea's apartment they searched and recovered a minuscule amount of marijuana. Based on the small recovery of marijuana they also searched Darrell Lea's car without a warrant or permission. The small amount of marijuana found in the apartment did not belong to Darrell Lea. Though we filed a records request to review police reports and other records explaining the arrest the police have not produced any records supporting the legitimacy of this drug investigation. Darrell Lee did not possess marijuana on the date of his arrest. He has never been in trouble with the law before and he had a prescription for medication found in his car. There are professional integrity questions raised by the continued prosecution of this case in the face of evidence proving Lea's innocence.
The production of a prescription for the drugs found in Lea's car should have eliminated the pursuit of this case. Still the Navarro County drug task force and prosecutors spent months pressuring the Lea family to accept a guilty plea for something that Darrell Lea did not do. We asked Ms. Lea if she wanted her son to plead guilty. We also offered our investigation and expert testimony in support of their case. When she told us that she did not want a plea deal we instructed Mrs. Lea to inform her attorney that the deal offered by prosecutors was unacceptable. Lea and her son told prosecutors though her attorney that Darrell Lea was ready to go forward to trial. Weeks later the prosecutor dropped the charges but only after Darrell Lea declined their plea offer. We believe that the decision not to prosecute was based on the obvious and convincing deficiencies inherent in the Navarro Sheriff office drug investigation.
This expert report summarizes my findings with regard to our investigation of Darrell Lea's arrest. We reviewed 45 emails approximately 50 pages of documents and court records. We also conducted seven interviews with the Lea family and we reviewed relevant policies from the international Association of Chiefs of police for this report. We requested records from the Police Department but the police refused to provide records regarding their training education and their investigative materials concerning the Darrell Lea matter.
Opinions and conclusions
As an expert it is my professional opinion that Mr. Lea was charged and arrested without a proper police investigation. The police did not behave consistent with standards and guidelines for drug investigations. My credentials can be found in full on the website PoliceAbuse.com however I will provide a shortened summary. I hold a Masters degree in criminology and criminal Justice from Penn State University I am a retired undercover detective with service for the Hawthorne Police Department and the LA County Sheriff's office. I have conducted more than 500 undercover investigations both as a police officer and a journalist. As a journalist my investigations have won four Emmy awards and four Edward R Murrow awards for investigative journalism.
Prosecutor's motion for dismissalMotion to Attorney