War on Drugs

Ryan Frederick Update


Lots of interesting new information came out at a pre-trial hearing yesterday in Chesapeake, Virginia for Ryan Frederick, the man charged with capital murder for killing Det. Jarrod Shivers during a botched drug raid on Frederick's home last January.

To briefly catch you up: Police were acting on an informant's tip that Frederick was growing marijuana in his garage.  They found no plants, and only a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, which Frederick concedes was for personal use.  Both I and the Virginian-Pilot newspaper have since reported that the informant in the case, "Steven," and another man who also says he was a police informant, Renaldo Turnbull, illegally broke into Frederick's home three nights before the raid to look for probably cause, likely with the consent or at least the knowledge of the police.

Here's what we learned yesterday:

• The State is now conceding that the police informant in the case illegally broke into Frederick's home three nights before the raid.  Until now, they had either denied the connection or refused to comment.

• Frederick's attorney released an audio recording taken in a police car shortly after the raid.  In it, Frederick tries to explain that he was confused and frightened because someone had broken into his home earlier in the week.  A police detective replies, "We know that."  In a second recording, the detective says again, "First off, we know your house had been broken into. OK?"

• Yet according to the Virginian-Pilot, the State still insists that, "there is nothing whatsoever to suggest police knew at the time who broke in or who was involved. They said police learned months later that the parties involved included one of their informants." (Emphasis mine.)

This doesn't make any sense.  The affidavit the police filed to obtain the warrant notes that the police informant was in Frederick's home three nights before the raid.  That's exactly when the burglary happened.  The State is trying to argue that even though (a) the police knew their informant was in Frederick's house three nights before the raid, and (b) the police knew someone had broken into Frederick's home three nights before the raid, they apparently believed at the time that these two incidents were entirely coincidental, which is why they didn't include on the search warrant affidavit the fact that their informant illegally broke into Frederick's home to obtain probable cause. 

There are two options here.  The Chesapeake police are either corrupt, or they're naive to the point of incompetent.  The State apparently believes its case is better served by arguing the latter.

But there's one other niggling detail that throws the State's argument into a tailspin: Ryan Frederick never reported the break-in.  How, then, could the detective who questioned Frederick the night of the raid have known about it? 

• Despite all of this, Judge Marjorie A.T. Arrington still denied a defense motion to suppress the warrant.  Which if nothing else I guess gives Frederick an early issue to put in his appeal should he be convicted.

• There's now more than enough evidence to suggest that Chesapeake police had knowledge that the probable cause for the search warrant to Frederick's home was obtained illegally.  Moreover, Turnbull's interviews with me and with the Virginian-Pilot also raise the possibility that this wasn't the first time a Chesapeake police informant burglarized a private residence to search for probable cause.  According to Turnbull, this was common practice.  And the police encouraged it. 

It's past time for an outside investigation, preferably from the Justice Department.

• Special Prosecutor Paul Ebert subpoenaed Virginian-Pilot reporter John Hopkins, the other journalist to speak to Turnbull. Ebert never called Hopkins to the stand. But the possibility that he could have caused Judge Arrington to bar Hopkins from the courtroom.  Hopkins—who has covered this case as well as I've seen any journalist cover one of these raids—now won't be able to attend next month's trial, either.

• The plants the informant Steven claimed to have found in Frederick's home were never turned over to the police, and thus were never tested to confirm that they were actually marijuana. For all we know, they could still have been Japanese Maple saplings.  Turnbull says Steven turned the plants over to the police.  The State is either arguing that the police didn't know Turnbull and Steven removed the plants, or that they were aware, but never got around to asking Steven to turn them over.  Again, the choice here is corruption or incompetence.

That also means that this entire raid was conducted solely on the word of the informant Steven, a shady character who at the time was facing his own criminal charges for credit card fraud.  There were no controlled buys, and no significant surveillance.  The only corroborating investigation the police did were a few drive-bys of Frederick's home. According to the affidavit, that should have lessened their suspicion, because they noted no unusual activity.

Prior posts on the Frederick case here.

MORE: Chesapeake-area blogger Rick Caldwell writes:

Ryan Frederick is being harassed by the city of Chesapeake, through code enforcement. His sister has recently moved back to the area, having lived overseas for several years. Since her arrival, she has received numerous notices from the city's code enforcement division, regarding siding in disrepair, the condition of the pool in the back yard, and demanding the removal of two signs expressing support for Ryan from the front yard. The city has been sending these notices to Ryan at the jail as well, and is even threatening to sue over the pool.

Nice touch.