For some time now the Examiner has been hearing rumors of investigations into local asset forfeiture abuses and what can only be called “shake down” operations. This story strikes pretty close to home.
Here’s a nice little story from the Del Norte County Triplicate. It never made the news down here, even though it should probably be on CNN nightly! This behavior is indicative of the underbelly of law enforcement, especially among the “drug warriors”. Although this happened in Del Norte, it should give pause to many in Humboldt. The local “Drug Task Force”, which primarily now focuses on marijuana and “asset forfeiture”, is exactly the type of unit that would lend itself to those cops with “sticky fingers”. In fact, the whole philosophy of Humboldt County “asset forfeiture” is really a reflection of the story below.
“Hidden camera footage showing two law enforcement officers pocketing cash they found in a wallet during a Sheriff’s Office drug bust in March prompted an FBI investigation this week into the incident, and now additional questions are being raised about what happened that evening.
The video, which was shown to the Triplicate on Friday, wasn’t shot on the cameras that James Banuelos had mounted around his house — law enforcement knocked those down and took them as evidence when they showed up with a warrant to search the residence on March 9, which ultimately led to Banuelos’ arrest on suspicion of possession and sales of a controlled substance. As far as anyone knew, nothing was being recorded, but no one knew about the hidden cameras that Banuelos had tucked away around the house, wirelessly downloading everything they witnessed to his iPod. That footage, now in the hands of the FBI, shows an officer taking out what appears to be cash from a wallet that he found during the search, counting it out to “300” and laughing while splitting it with another officer and stuffing his share in his vest.
What’s also not shown on the video — nor on the sheriff’s evidence/property report that investigating officers use to identify what is taken during searches as evidence — are the items Banuelos said used to be in a safe located in the floor of his mobile home, which he gave officers the combination to on the night of the search.
“Rings, bracelet, passports, keys, cash, gold,” Banuelos said. “They took a lot of gold.”
Also missing: His collection of $2 bills, he said, as well as a 14-karat, 84.4-gram gold chain. Banuelos said he has a picture of him wearing the chain that pre-dates the search.
But the chain, or at least its identical twin, did show up somewhere — on Craigslist, only days later. The local Craigslist ad — $3,000 for an 84.4-gram, 24-inch gold chain — instructs interested buyers to “leave contact information or be ignored” and is exactly like the one that went missing from his house the night of the search, Banuelos said. A map accompanying the online listing points back to 981 H St. — the Flynn Administration Center, where the County of Del Norte conducts government business.
“It goes missing and a week later (Banuelos) sees it on Craigslist, locally, and it comes back to a local address — the Flynn Center,” Banuelos’ attorney Mike Riese said. “I don’t believe in coincidences, and maybe there’s an explanation of why it’s missing and why it’s on Craigslist and why it comes back to that address. But if there is, I’d like to hear it.”
The Sheriff’s Office stated it couldn’t comment on the incident because it was an ongoing federal investigation.
Think that can’t or doesn’t happen here? Think again.