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Child pornography charges thrown out

Thu., June 9, 2011

Judge rules search warrant was obtained using faulty witness

Felony charges against a registered sex offender have been dismissed on technical grounds after a federal judge ruled that the search warrant used to find hundreds of images of child pornography on the suspect’s computer was invalid.

Andrew V. Davis, 34, of Deer Park, faced at least 15 years in federal prison if convicted, but U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush concluded that police failed to disclose when seeking the search warrant that key information came from a girl who had lied to detectives in other cases. Throwing out the search warrant rendered the evidence against Davis inadmissible.

“Of course he is relieved that the case was dismissed,” said Davis’ defense lawyer, Aaron Rasmussen. “It’s embarrassing because of the nature of the charges.”

Davis, who was convicted in 1998 in Thurston County of two counts of rape of a child, was indicted in February of receiving child pornography and possession of more than 600 images of child pornography.

The case was based on a search warrant obtained by Stevens County Sheriff’s Detective Iain Ashley in 2008. The search warrant indicated that a 15-year-old girl claimed to have had sex with Davis, without disclosing that the girl had made similar allegations against others that were later determined to be unfounded.

Quackenbush wrote a scathing 14-page opinion about the way Ashley relied on the girl’s statement even though he had personal knowledge of other cases where she made false claims. He also noted that Ashley never spoke to the girl and relied mostly on a report, written by Spokane police Officer Brian Eckersley, containing the allegations.

At an April hearing, Ashley testified about a 2006 report where the girl, called “GT” in the court records, claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a classmate, only to recant later. The girl’s foster mother told the detective that the girl had mental and emotional problems, according to court records.

“None of this critical and highly relevant credibility information of prior false sexual assault allegations by GT, which was within Deputy Ashley’s knowledge, was disclosed by Ashley to the judge who he was asking to issue a search warrant for Davis’s personal computer,” Quackenbush wrote.

Ashley “conducted virtually no investigation” to verify what the girl said or even contact Eckersley, who initially obtained the statement from the girl, Quackenbush wrote.

Under questioning at the federal hearing in April, Ashley said the only search warrant training he had prior to this case was at the police academy in 2001, and then some “on-the-job” training that he did not categorize as “formal.” In addition, he had only prepared about five search warrants before the Davis case, the judge wrote.

In the search warrant, Ashley included copies of online chats between Davis and the girl on My-Space, in which Davis referred to the girl as “hott and tempting” but never made any reference to having sex with the girl.

“Everything in the Ashley affidavit, except the criminal history, is tainted by the deliberate or reckless omission of GT’s prior credibility problems,” Quackenbush said. “Judges depend on law enforcement to provide truthful information about a complaining witness’s credibility.”

As a result, the judge approved Rasmussen’s request to suppress the evidence from the warrant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lister immediately filed a motion to dismiss the case, which Quackenbush signed on May 27.

Davis declined to comment.

Stevens County sheriff’s Sgt. James Caruso said Ashley was off until Friday and unavailable: “Due to the sensitive nature of the case, we are unable to comment on the details of this investigation.”

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