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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 06:18 pm

Cocaine case starting to crack

Test of evidence in case against alleged dealer comes up negative

When Springfield police raided the Guemes Court home of Larry Washington in the early morning hours of March 17, 2005, they found a half-kilo of cocaine powder hidden in a box of graham crackers. Washington’s arrest made front page news the next morning, with one officer telling the State Journal-Register that Washington was “huge, probably the biggest [dealer] we’ve pulled down,” and adding, “We hit him on a light day.”

But in the 20 months since Washington’s arrest, the case against him has been called into question. The two detectives who instigated the case — Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham — have been fired from the department for numerous policy violations, and several high-ranking officers involved in the case have been cited for failure to supervise.

Now, the very evidence used as the basis for SPD’s search warrant — a few plastic bags containing cocaine residue allegedly found in Washington’s trash — has failed to show any sign of a scheduled substance when tested by the Illinois State Police lab.

Washington, a convicted felon who says he cleaned up his act more than a decade ago when he moved to Springfield to raise his two children, has never before faced a drug charge in Sangamon County. He has consistently claimed the cocaine found in his home in 2005 was planted there by an unknown third party.

In a status hearing last month, Washington’s attorney, Jon Gray Noll, told Sangamon County Circuit Judge Robert Eggers that he planned to request a Franks hearing to determine whether the search warrant that led to the discovery of the cocaine was valid.

The search warrant was based on Graham’s sworn affidavit in which he told the court he and Carpenter had picked up Washington’s trash, which was sitting out on the curb, and found in it “two quart sized plastic bags with large corners cut from them and a small amount of suspected cocaine residue on the bags and one whole plastic baggie.” According to Graham’s affidavit, Carpenter field tested the residue and found a “positive indication for the presence of cocaine.”

However, a report from the ISP forensics lab examining those bags and residue found “no scheduled substance.”

Graham’s affidavit also stated that a 1999 investigation showed a gun bought “on the behalf of” Washington had been used to kill a Chicago police officer. The fact that the gun in question had been recovered in 1999 — and that the killer was still behind bars — was not mentioned.

Graham obtained a search warrant that gave SPD authority to look for both drugs and guns in Washington’s residence. No firearms or ammunition was found.

Washington had first questioned the authenticity of Graham’s affidavit more than a year ago, producing a document from a waste hauler purporting to show that his trash cans were not on the curb at 9:55 a.m. on the morning of March 16, 2005. Graham’s report claims he picked up Washington’s trash that day at 10 a.m.

However, Carpenter and Graham’s official SPD activity logs show that both officers spent most of the day “code 45,” doing administrative work in the detective bureau, never notifying dispatch that they left their desks to conduct a trash rip. Carpenter’s log mentions Washington’s case at 5:45 that evening, about the time Graham was meeting with a judge to obtain a search warrant for Washington’s residence.

Carpenter and Graham were fired as the result of a lengthy investigation conducted by the internal affairs division of ISP. Carpenter has also been indicted for wire fraud and official misconduct for faxing an officer in another state a false time card showing a probationer had completed community service hours when in fact he had not. Carpenter has pleaded not guilty.

According to a summary of the ISP report, investigators never looked into the two detectives’ handling of the Washington case, perhaps because of timing. The ISP investigation began after another SPD officer, then-Sgt. Ron Vose, sent Chief Don Kliment a 20-page memo on March 1, 2005, listing problems with the detectives’ work. Vose was, at that time, supervisor of SPD’s narcotics unit, and his complaints included allegations that Carpenter and Graham regularly flouted SPD policy requiring registration of confidential sources, filed “factually inaccurate, misleading or false affidavits”; and obtained search warrants through the use of questionable “trash rips.” The raid on Washington’s residence and his arrest occurred two weeks after Vose submitted his memo.

The resulting ISP investigation did re-examine another case involving a drug bust subsequent to a trash-rip. In September 1999, Carpenter and Graham claimed they found cannabis stems and plastic bag with cocaine residue in the curb-side trash of a man named Reco Faine. The detectives used that trash-rip to obtain a search warrant for Faine’s residence, where they found a semiautomatic handgun, cash, and cocaine. However, Faine insisted he had never left his trash by the curb, and an investigator working for federal prosecutors verified Faine’s claim. Consequently, charges against Faine were dropped.

ISP investigators found that Carpenter and Graham’s actions in the Faine case violated five SPD policies, including Rule 4, which simply requires police officers to obey the law [see Dusty Rhodes, “Above the law,” Sept 28].

At Washington’s status hearing last month, Assistant State’s Attorney Amy Wolff acknowledged that without the trash rip, there would have been no probable cause to issue a search warrant for Washington’s residence. However, Wolff assured the court that this trash rip was legitimate.

“We actually have the garbage,” she said.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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