Drug Policy

Ryan Frederick Trial Begins Tuesday

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Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of Ryan Frederick, the Chesapeake, Virginia man accused of killing a police officer during a drug raid on his home. Police didn't find the marijuana grow they claimed on the warrant they would find, and prosecutors now concede that two men—at least one of them police informant Steven Rene Wright—broke into Frederick's home three nights before the raid. It was during that illegal break-in that Wright claims to have found marijuana plants—the probable cause for the raid.

Frederick, who had no prior criminal record, says he had no idea the men breaking down his door were police, and that he fired because he thought he thought his home was being invaded—not an unreasonable thing to think, given that he'd been burglarized earlier that week. Both I and the Virginian-Pilot newspaper have since spoken to the second man who broke into Frederick's house, Renaldo Turnbull. Turnbull told the newspaper, and confirmed to me, that he too had worked as a police informant, and that the police regularly sent he and the other informant to illegally break into private homes to obtain probable cause for search warrants. He said the police consented to the break-in on Frederick's home.

Here are the latest developmetns, with some commentary:

• Local TV station WAVY has obtained copies of the proposed juror questions from the defense and prosecution. It's interesting that Special Prosecutor Paul Ebert feels the need to ask prospective jurors if they have read about or have ever posted about the case "on the Internet."

The Virginian-Pilot reports Steven Wright was prepared to talk with the paper last week, but then backed down.

• If we are to believe the prosecution's theory of events leading up to the raid, Steven Wright and Renaldo Turnbull broke into Frederick's home without the knowledge or consent of the police. The police say they weren't aware that their probable cause was obtained by way of an illegal break-in until months later, which is why they didn't bother mentioning it on the warrant. They also apparently never tested or possessed the marijuana plants Wright and Turnbull allegedly found.  Which puts the total number of actual marijuana plants found in Frederick's possession at zero. 

But all of this also raises an interesting question: If the prosecution's story is accurate, why haven't Turnbull and Wright been criminally charged for breaking into Frederick's home?

The Pilot also reports another new development that, when I read it, actually gave me a chill:

Also subpoenaed for the trial were five jail inmates who evidently had conversations with Frederick about the shooting. One of them is Marlon Reed, a Norfolk gang leader who already got one break on his sentence after testifying against co-defendants in his federal racketeering case.

Add "use of jailhouse snitches" to your list of injustices on display in this case

For months, now, we've had serious allegations of civil rights violations here, including the possibility of corrupt, even criminal acts by members of the Chesapeake Police Department. Moreover, Ryan Frederick's freedom could depend on whether Renaldo Turnbull and Steven Wright can testify truthfully, without feeling coerced by the other criminal charges on their respective records. If Turnbull's story at trial differs significantly than what he told me and the Virginian-Pilot, something's amiss, and I think you could make a pretty good case that he has more incentive to lie now than he did then.

Unfortunately, I've yet to hear anything about an outside investigation, either from the U.S. Department of Justice or from the office of Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

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  1. “just enforcing the law….”

    “we’ll just let the jury decide….”

    “the police would never tell someone to break in to someone’s home…”

    There can be no justice as long as there is (1) drug prohibition and (2) credit given to criminals for their testimony (snitching).

  2. There’s no way in hell Ryan Frederick can get a fair trial in Virginia. If the thugs aren’t going to do the decent thing and drop the charges, then this case should be tried in California or Alaska.

    -jcr

  3. Send more cops

  4. I’ve got a couple of questions for the jury that might prove helpful to the prosecution:

    “Are you willing to convict an innocent man for defending his life, if the judge orders you to do so?”

    “Do you understand that the police always tell the truth, and that even if the physical evidence seems to indicate otherwise, that you must believe the police over your own ability to perceive the obvious?”

    “Do you hate guns so much that you will happily punish anyone who has one, unless they’re a state employee?”

    “Even if Ryan acted in good faith, isn’t it morally necessary to punish anyone for failing to submit to agents of the state, even if they didn’t identify themselves, and broke into his house in the dead of night?”

    -jcr

  5. The fact, given the admitted facts, that this man is on “trial” at all, means we are all in worse shape than we think.

    Maybe the great and mighty Obama will save us.

    Bill Walsh

  6. Well, I guess if he “lubed” the right pockets, he will be OK.

    RT
    http://www.online-privacy.cz.tc

  7. The use of jailhouse informants or “snitches” is troublesome, but unfortunately necessary in some instances. The question is, will the jury and the defense know what the deals are?

    That is the difference between a tainted witness and a bought one.

  8. I expect there will be some law or precedent that prevents the defense from mentioning the payoffs to the “witnesses”.

  9. Has anyone asked if the state attorney’s office knows about the break-in? Surely, there has to be an honest soul somewhere in Virginia. As terrible as this case is, it does offer an opportunity to put a spotlight on the broken system. If we could get people to pay attention, there could be progress. Scream louder, Radley.

  10. Why can’t stories like THIS ever be the plot of Law & Order? Maybe if people could ever see a story in which the prosecutors are not Righteous Angels of Justice, there’d be more sympathy for the accused when a real case comes along.

  11. JCR, please don’t phrase your questions that way to a jury. I have very little faith in people’s intelligence if they aren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. Speak slowly and lead without sarcasm. Thanks.

    Radley, if Frederick loses this case, I hope you have Obama’s phone number (I hear he won’t give up the blackberry). A pardon would be in order.

  12. Keep it up Radley

    Sooner or later people may pay attention

    I am still confused on the “police approved of the break-in” line. Is this an end-around on the idea of unreasonable search? Meaning, they evade the need to get a warrant by ‘endorsing’ illegal break ins by snitches? Is this becoming standard operating procedure? I can’t believe this thing has gone so far without people looking at that issue more closely.

  13. Turnbull told the newspaper, and confirmed to me, that he too had worked as a police informant, and that the police regularly sent he and the other informant to illegally break into private homes to obtain probable cause for search warrants. He said the police consented to the break-in on Frederick’s home.

    Will the snitches be testifying? What is the likelihood the defense can keep testimony of this type from being excluded?

    It seems to me the feds should have one or more somebodies sitting in that courtroom every day, taking notes.

  14. Those federal “somebodies” should be, if not anonymous, completely walled off from any contact with the prosecution.

  15. I am still confused on the “police approved of the break-in” line. Is this an end-around on the idea of unreasonable search? Meaning, they evade the need to get a warrant by ‘endorsing’ illegal break ins by snitches?

    No. If the break-in was conducted with knowledge and consent of the police, then they were acting as their agents, and need a warrant.

  16. I can’t believe this thing has gone so far without people looking at that issue more closely.

    You shouldn’t be. Gaining revenge for a dead police officer trumps all other issues in cases like these.

  17. A few legal facts in response to the above statements:

    1. Obama can only pardon federal crimes. He can’t do anything in this case.

    2. The defense can, and will, impeach the testimony of the snitches for bias using the deals they’ve been given. The evidence is very admissible.

    3. If the informants were acting under the direction of the police, they were agents of police. This would make the break ins government actions in violation of the fourth.

    Disclaimer: I am a lawyer in VA but the above is for entertainment purposes only. Consult an attorney for legal advice.

  18. It’s only possible for a defense to impeach the testimony if the agreements are known. That’s assuming the agreements are finalized, which isn’t always the case. Prosecutors are able to get the witnesses to say what they want them to say, then enact the deal after the trial. It’s leverage, and the defense may or may not know about it. But it’s hard to get things into a trial when there’s only a wink and a nod between the prosecutors and their witnesses.

    Prosecutors have more power than most of us will ever have the displeasure of finding out.

  19. It’s clear that the process leading up to the warrant was tainted and that the raid was in violation of the Fourth.

    What’s not clear is how that helps Frederick’s defense against the murder charge. Are you telling me that it’s not OK to shoot a cop serving a good warrant, but it’s OK to shoot one serving a bad warrant?

    I believe this shooting was justified, but the goodness of the warrant is irrelevant to this. The guy had reason to believe these were robbers, not cops.

  20. cunnivore,

    He needs all the help he can get. The deck is stacked against him because a cop is dead and he’s just a lowly citizen. A jury of 12 other lowly citizens still will see it this way unless Radley is doing jury selection. (I can dream, can’t I?)

    The most amazing thing in this whole story is how the rest of the cops didn’t turn the poor guy into Swiss Cheese after he killed their partner. I am still amazed at this.

  21. someone i don’t know banging on the door of my house and someone broke in a couple of days before?! i’d gun them down too.

    silly cops getting all shot up over some weed that wasn’t even there.

  22. It’s clear that the process leading up to the warrant was tainted and that the raid was in violation of the Fourth.

    What’s not clear is how that helps Frederick’s defense against the murder charge. Are you telling me that it’s not OK to shoot a cop serving a good warrant, but it’s OK to shoot one serving a bad warrant?

    I believe this shooting was justified, but the goodness of the warrant is irrelevant to this. The guy had reason to believe these were robbers, not cops.

    At one point, the prosecution in this case was claiming that Frederick knew the police were coming and said something to the effect of “I’ve got something ready for them” to Steven Wright.

    You’re right about the legitimacy of the warrant having no bearing on the case. It’s more an indictment of how bad the system is when police are excusing and even endorsing burglary in order to inflate their drug bust statistics.

  23. The break-in helps the defense in three ways. First, it make his use of force seem more reasonable. Second, if the informant was acting as a police agent, the small amount of marijuana that was found can be excluding since the police were knowingly acting on a bad warrant. Without the drugs, the Commonwealth will have a tougher time painting Frederick as a bad guy. Third, the entire smell of the police actions can be used to impeach their credibility.

  24. That Ebert is aware of the facts in this case and is still proceeding is prima facie evidence of prosecutorial malfeasance. Christ, they should just handed this case over to special guest prosecutor Mike Nifong! Maybe call in the medical examiner from Mississippi too.

  25. At one point, the prosecution in this case was claiming that Frederick knew the police were coming and said something to the effect of “I’ve got something ready for them” to Steven Wright.

    According to Steven Wright, correct? Now THERE is an unimpeachable witness if there ever was one. I imagine the defense is praying that he gets to cross-examine him.

  26. This is why we installed a security gate.

    Kick that down.

  27. I hope you have Obama’s phone number (I hear he won’t give up the blackberry). A pardon would be in order.

    The President doesn’t have the power to pardon someone convicted on charges at the state level.

    -jcr

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