Mimesis Law
16 September 2019

Is It Still An Anonymous Tip If It’s Me?

September 26, 2016 (Fault Lines) — In Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, two police officers found a way to get around one of those annoying loopholes that prevent them from locking up people who are guilty, guilty, GUILTY!!! The loophole is known to the rest of us as “The Fourth Amendment,” which states (among other things) “that no warrant shall issue except upon probable cause.”

Detective Harold Zech and Lawrence Spathelf didn’t have probable cause to search the homes of Albert McCullough and Dakeem Booker, so they made their own. They phoned in “anonymous” tips to McCullough’s and Booker’s parole officers, who searched their and found some heroin.[1]

While parolees give up some rights as a condition of being on parole, this isn’t kosher.

[T]he law is clear that police cannot use parole agents as an arm of law enforcement to initiate a search to get around the stricter probable cause standard they must meet[.] Multiple appellate courts ruled that practice, known as a “stalking horse,” illegal.

In other words, if you’re a police officer and you’re investigating a parolee, you can’t use the parole department as a “stalking horse” to violate the defendant’s rights. This should be obvious, and it was, at least to the judge:

Lackawanna County Judge Vito Geroulo indicated he had serious concerns about Mr. McCullough’s case during his suppression hearing on Oct. 16.

“I have to tell you, I find the facts here to be very, very disturbing,” Judge Geroulo said, according to a transcript of the hearing obtained by The Sunday Times. “The person providing the information for the affidavit of probable cause, that was the person who provided the anonymous tip. How that can be claimed to be anonymous is really beyond me.”

Well, Judge Geroulo, maybe that’s because you lack sufficient imagination. The District Attorney is happy to explain it you:

“Do I think in any way, shape or form this was an effort to be dishonest or an intentional act? I don’t,” [District Attorney Shane] Scanlon said. “I think it was an attempt to comply with the stalking horse law that was just done wrong.

“Not an intentional act?” Seriously? How exactly does that work? Did Zech and Spathelf accidentally trip over something and accidentally hit the speed dial for the parole office and accidentally leave an anonymous voice mail about the McCullough and/or Booker? the only the good thing about such a tired excuse is that this time it’s only being used to justify an illegal search instead of a dead black guy in the middle of the road.

Scanlon tells a few more whoppers for good measure:

The statements the detectives made in the arrests affidavits are not false just because they did not disclose they were the sources of the tips, he said.

Oh, really? I have an anonymous tip that Zech and Spathelf conspired with Roxane Gay to kill my non-existent puppy. And that’s not a false statement, either, because I’m the anonymous source and I totally tipped myself off to this vast conspiracy.[2]

Another one:

The district attorney’s office initially did not disclose that Detective Zech and Patrolman Spathelf made the calls. Mr. Brier and Mr. Bolock only learned that after they fought for phone records.

Mr. Scanlon, who prosecuted Mr. Booker when he was an assistant district attorney, said there was no intent to withhold that information. The district attorney’s office did not learn Detective Zech and Patrolman Spathelf were the sources of the tips until months after the arrests when they told prosecutors what they did, he said.

This is actually somewhat plausible, as prosecutors typically only know what the police tell them, and Zech and Spathelf probably didn’t include the details of their little scheme in their report. But their coming clean probably wasn’t motivated by an attack of conscience, but a result of the defense attorneys getting copies of the phone records of the “anonymous” calls and filing a motion to suppress.

But surely, Zech and Spathelf have been punished for their misdeeds?

Mr. Scanlon said as far as he knows no disciplinary action was taken against Detective Zech. Chief Graziano declined to say whether any disciplinary action was taken against Patrolman Spathelf.

And, lastly:

“This is one case in (Detective Zech’s) career where maybe someone would say he was dishonest,” Mr. Scanlon said. “They can look at hundreds of other cases. There is no reason to doubt his credibility. He is one of the best I’ve worked with. I trust his work.”

Wow. Ol’ Shane must have really done his homework to speak with such confidence.

He acknowledged he has not done any research to determine if there are other cases. Since these cases, Mr. Scanlon said he advised detectives this is not an appropriate way to act.

Well, okay then. Problem solved.

[1] Okay, a LOT of a heroin.

[2] Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get my puppy.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • angrychiatty
    28 September 2016 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    “Do I think in any way, shape or form this was an effort to be dishonest or an intentional act? I don’t,” [District Attorney Shane] Scanlon said.

    I’m a lawyer too. And I’m always curious to hear other lawyers’ view on where the line is drawn between “making an argument” and “lying.”

  • angrychiatty
    28 September 2016 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    “Do I think in any way, shape or form this was an effort to be dishonest or an intentional act? I don’t,” [District Attorney Shane] Scanlon said.

    I’m always curious to hear other lawyers’ view on where the line is drawn between “making an argument” and “being a lying douchebag.”

  • angrychiatty
    28 September 2016 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    “Do I think in any way, shape or form this was an effort to be dishonest or an intentional act? I don’t,” [District Attorney Shane] Scanlon said.

    I’m always curious to hear other lawyers’ views on where the line is drawn between “making an argument” and “being a lying douchebag.”

    • angrychiatty
      28 September 2016 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      sorry for the stupid duplicate posts- total accident

  • Links 1/10/2016: Linux 4.7.6 and 4.4.23, Blender 2.78 | Techrights
    1 October 2016 at 4:24 am - Reply

    […] Is It Still An Anonymous Tip If It’s Me? […]

  • Iamevilhomer
    1 October 2016 at 10:53 am - Reply

    “The district attorney’s office did not learn Detective Zech and Patrolman Spathelf were the sources of the tips until months after the arrests when they told prosecutors what they did, he said.”

    I imagine anyone who reads this blog already knows this, but the Fourteenth Amendment does not care, and this statement – even if if true – does not let the prosecution off the hook. See Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 421 (1995).