September 30, 2020
By KAREN VELIE
In a new court filing, the attorney for Cheyne Orndorff and Vanessa Bedroni is challenging a claim by police that they acted in good faith when they conducted a warrantless search of the couple’s home. That search led to child neglect charges.
Peter Depew argues that the failure of the police to obtain a warrant means the search and any evidence can not be used in the case. Officers searched the couple’s home as they tried to find a pistol that San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrel lost in the bathroom of a fast food restaurant.
The exclusionary rule, based on Supreme Court precedent, prevents the government from using any evidence obtained through violation of defendants’ constitutional rights, here the 4th Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Where police had reasonable good faith that they were conducting a proper search even without a warrant, case law allows evidence to be used in prosecutions. Depew argues that the officers did not have a good faith belief.
The officers who searched the couple’s home relied on their belief that Cheyne Orndoff was on probation because they found information in a database that listed him as a probationer. Probationers cannot prevent searches of their property.
But Cheyne Orndorff was not on probation. He was improperly listed as a convicted criminal who was on probation when he was, in fact, the victim of the crime. But the database included a correction of the database entry.
During a Sept. 24 hearing, county technical employees testified the law enforcement database included a tag noting Cheyne Orndoff was not on probation. Officer Josh Walsh viewed that database before telling officers at the scene they did not need a warrant.
Cheyne Orndoff pleaded with officers to look at court records he had in his car, which showed he was the victim of the crime, and not on probation. The officers refused to look.
Several officers made the observation that Orndorff did not look like a man in a surveillance video that police obtained from the restaurant. The video showed three people entered the bathroom after Cantrell exited. The man in the video was clean-shaven. Orndorff had a full beard and mustache.
In his filing, Depew argues the officers were not acting in good faith and were instead motivated by a desire to keep information private that Chief Cantrell had left her loaded firearm in a restaurant bathroom. Officers may not rely on the good faith exception if through their own fault, they failed to correct the record.
“State and federal case law upholds the principal that for the prosecution to prove a “good faith exception” to a warrantless search, the prosecution must prove the good faith of all officers involved as well as the good faith of their agencies,” according to Depew’s motion.
Police searched the home even though they did not have a warrant. They didn’t find the chief’s pistol but they did find needles and a small amount of an opioid in the parent’s locked bedroom. Officers also took a video of the paraphernalia and the filthy living conditions before arresting the parents on child neglect charges.
In his motion, Depew also says law enforcement has twice provided “false inculpatory laboratory evidence.”
After the SLO County District Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor child neglect charges, SLO Police Detective Suzie Walsh ordered a urine test on a family member, which came back positive for methamphetamine leading prosecutors to file felony charges. But the sample was retested by a private lab and it tested drug free. The SLO Police Department said it may have mixed up urine samples.
An allegation that methamphetamine was found in the couple’s home, was later determined, by authorities, to have been a clerical error.
“Then on Sept. 18, just six days before the suppression hearing, Defense Counsel was given a report from the county’s crime lab stating that a baggy previously reported as containing methamphetamine did not contain methamphetamine,” according to the motion.
In another attempt to show methamphetamine possession, Detective Suzie Walsh reported officers saw what appeared to be a meth pipe in the home. It was not taken into evidence.
On Oct. 1, the court is scheduled to resume the hearing on the motion to suppress the evidence collected during the warrantless search.