Good faith meant a poor outcome for motions filed on behalf of former Cotton Valley fire chief Dennis Meshell and assistant chief Adam Hurley.
Attorney Marty Stroud attempted to quash two of the pair's charges and suppress a search warrant which uncovered much of the evidence against them. However, while Judge John Robinson acknowledged some "troubling" aspects, he still ruled in the state's favor.
In his motions to quash, Stroud claims that each count "is fatally defective as (they do) not set forth the nature and cause of the accusation in keeping with the Constitutional requirement that the charge be sufficiently definite to permit a defence, to sustain a plea of former jeopardy and to permit the Court to properly regulate the evidence sought to be introduced at trial."
At issue is the general nature of the bill of information, which is the document that lays out the charges in a criminal case
Assistant District Attorney Jack Montgomery argued for the state that similar general charges are standard operating procedure and that a separate petition for a bill of particulars is usually filed if more detail on charges is required.
Robinson agreed that simply citing the relevant statute, as was the case in the bill of information against Hurley and Meshell, was insufficient.
However, he disagreed with the motion to quash and ordered the state to produce bills of particulars within 15 days.
Stroud's motion to suppress asserts an incorrect address on the search warrant for the Cotton Valley Fire Protection District 8 building.
"The law enforcement officials had no warrant to search 20947 Highway 371, Cotton Valley, Louisiana 70018 (sic)," according to Stroud's motion. "Rather the law enforcement officials obtained a warrant for 22390 Highway 371, Cotton Valley 71018. For whatever reason, law enforcement agents went on to search the wrong location."
According to testimony of multiple witnesses, the 22390 address is for a FPD8 substation north of Cotton Valley and 20947 is the main fire department building.
Webster Parish Sheriff's Office lead detective Dustin Reynolds said the 22390 address was obtained from 911. However, he said the warrant clearly stated it was for the Cotton Valley Fire Department and not for a substation thereof, and as such there could be no reasonable uncertainty as to the intent of the warrant.
Stroud's motion also referred to the "broad authorization" provided by the inclusion of "Any other items of evidence deemed relevant to this investigation" in the warrant.
"Effective judicial oversight is thus impossible," according to Stroud's motion, "thus making the warrant defective."
Reynolds answered that the warrant would only apply to evidence relevant to the specific charges being investigated.
"If I had seen a pound of marijuana I would have gotten another warrant," he said.
The remaining elements of Stroud's motion to suppress relate to the affidavit providing probable cause for the search warrant's issuance – claiming it lists five "errors and mis-statements."
First, is the assertion that Hurley resigned on January 31, 2012 at a special meeting of the FPD8 board.
Hurley denied resigning on the stand and said rather that due to his civil service status he had been illegally fired by the board and subsequently reinstated.
FPD8 board secretary at the time, Judy Maxwell, agreed in an October interview.
"(FPD8 board member) Herman (Coleman) asked him twice to turn in his resignation," she said. "Adam said I will need to speak to my attorney. He never resigned."
Maxwell said the board then proceeded to place Hurley on administrative leave for 30 days at which point his employment would be terminated.
Next, the motion addresses Coleman's reported attempt to access FPD8 financial records from Hurley.
"Mr. Hurley had been terminated the night before and was prohibited from going to the fire station unless he was accompanied by another member of the fire department," according to the motion.
Coleman confirmed in October that Hurley turned in his station keys at the January 31 meeting, but said nothing one way or the other about Hurley being limited in access.
Finally, Stroud's motion points to the gas that was used as probable cause for the warrant. The gas was alleged to have been used to fill Hurley's personal vehicle.
The motion alleges a lack of corroborating evidence of Hurley's personal use of the FPD8 gasoline, such as video records "or any other physical evidence relating to date and time of the alleged taking."
Hurley and Meshell both testified in court that the gas was purchased to fill FPD8 cans used for equipment such as chainsaws, weed-eaters, lawn mowers, generators and an extrication tool.
Robinson acknowledged issues with the warrant, calling the probable cause element "troubling." However he said the issues were not substantial enough to suppress the warrant.
He cited the allowance of good faith in service of the warrant on behalf of the investigating officers – saying that because, as was acknowledged in court by Stroud himself, the investigators had no intent to deceive the court or misapply the law the motion to suppress was denied.
A new status conference for the case was set for Jan. 7, 2013 and the trial date of Feb. 25, 2013 was retained.