The assault case against Eureka Police Department Sgt. Adam Laird is moving forward.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Miles denied a defense motion Friday seeking to have the case dismissed because EPD officials initially ordered witnesses not to discuss the case with the defense. In denying the motion, Miles ordered the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office and EPD to tell all witnesses that they are permitted and encouraged to speak with the defense.
”A trial is a quest for the truth,” Miles said. “Witnesses should be available to either party.”
Laird, who has been with EPD since 2005, has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of assault under the color of authority and falsifying a police report stemming from allegations that he kicked a juvenile suspect who was lying on his stomach being handcuffed by another officer on Dec. 6, 2012.
Friday's hearing wasn't a total loss for the defense.
Miles granted a motion seeking to compel prosecutors to turn over an array of documents that Laird's attorney Patrick Griego believes will show his client is being discriminated against and singled out for prosecution based on his political activities, union involvement and strong support of controversial former EPD Chief Garr Nielsen.
Miles said she felt Griego's motion -- which came with sworn declarations from Nielsen, Laird and former Eureka City Councilman Larry Glass -- showed enough evidence of the essential elements of a discriminatory prosecution defense to warrant granting the access to a host of documents in order to fully explore the issue.
With her ruling, Miles ordered prosecutors to find and turn over a wide range of paperwork, including correspondence about Laird from Nielsen, former Eureka City Manager David Tyson, former Police Chief Murl Harpham, Lt. Tony Zanotti, city council members and city officials regarding Laird from 2007 to present. Specifically, Griego is looking for documents related to Laird's demotion or promotion, political views, endorsement recommendations in the city council and mayoral races, association with Glass, attendance of political events and support of Nielsen.
Prosecutors also now have to turn over all EPD internal affairs investigations going back 10 years, as well as citizen complaints against the department and excessive force allegations. Griego said he believes the documents will show that excessive force complaints against EPD officers have historically been dealt with internally, and that Laird's case is being handled differently.
In his opposition to Griego's motion, prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees argued that prosecutors have no general obligation to seek out information from police agencies and third parties for the benefit of the defense, and, in some cases, disclosing such evidence could violate privacy rights.
Also Friday, Miles denied another defense motion that specifically sought to throw out the charge that Laird filed a false police report. In the motion, Griego argued that the wording of the charge was so overly broad that it hampered Laird's right to mount a defense. In court Friday, Griego said the charge isn't supported by evidence.
”Whether or not the charge can be proven by the people is a completely different issue,” Miles said, finding that the charge doesn't violate Laird's rights.
Laird was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 16, 2012 -- a designation that remained in place as of Friday. He was arrested April 16, and the city served him with a notice of intent to terminate his employment on Oct. 3.
Former EPD Chief and current Capt. Murl Harpham and representatives of the city's personnel department held a Skelly hearing with Laird on Nov. 1 to allow Laird a chance to respond to the allegations contained with the notice of intent to terminate his employment. Griego said Laird has received no word from the city regarding his employment status since the Nov. 1 hearing.
This week, Laird filed a claim against the city -- the first step in bringing an unlimited civil lawsuit -- alleging that the city attorney's office and EPD violated his rights by turning over statements to the District Attorney's Office that he was compelled to make during EPD's internal affairs investigation into the December 2012 incident.
”This was done without my permission,” Laird wrote in the claim. “This was private information from my personnel file. This action by the city has caused me to lose my right to privacy, created emotional distress and violated my constitutionally protected rights under the Fifth and 14th amendments.”
Eureka City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson was not immediately available to comment on Laird's claim by deadline Friday.
Laird is next due in court Jan. 3.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThadeusGreenson.