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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jury acquits Burnsville man in Gang Strike Force drug case

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Anonymous Star Tribune said...

"This is the best feeling I've ever had" Cortez Moore said after the Metro Gang Strike Force's case fell flat.

By ROCHELLE OLSON, Star Tribune

Last update: July 23, 2009 - 7:40 AM

Cortez Moore cried with relief as he crouched on the courthouse floor Wednesday and talked on a cell phone to one of his lawyers.

A Hennepin County District Court jury had taken only an hour to acquit him of a felony drug possession charge stemming from what his lawyers claim was a sloppy, misdirected investigation by the scandal-ridden and disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force.

"This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life," Moore said.

The 29-year-old Burnsville man has worked for the past 11 years as an emergency-room technician and said he has no criminal convictions. Had the jury found him guilty, he would have faced seven years in prison.

Thanks to the jury he'll keep his freedom, but it was unclear if or when he'll get back the property the Strike Force seized when it arrested him, including $200 cash, a laptop computer and cameras. His attorneys said the officers failed to catalog or inventory the property, and they had been unable to determine its whereabouts. A recent state audit cited similar failures by the Strike Force in many cases.

Also unclear was whether the quick acquittal represented an indictment of the methods of the Strike Force, or simply a weak case.

"Clearly, the jury decided in a very short period of time the testimony of the officers was not believable," said defense attorney Scott Strouts. During the trial he and co-counsel Larry Rapoport made an issue of the credibility of the officers who testified.

Deputy County Attorney Pat Diamond said: "Our office does not believe these officers' employment for the Gang Strike Force had anything to do with the acquittal." He said it had more to do with "the way the case came in and the rulings that were made." He declined to elaborate.

Attempts to reach several of the jurors were unsuccessful.

Bruised by 'questioning'

State Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion disbanded the 34-member Strike Force last week, saying it had lost credibility. The special unit was supposed to investigate gangs and feed information to police and sheriff's offices around the Twin Cities, but officials now say it appeared to spend less time building cases than it did taking people's cars and money, frequently without arresting them.

Before the trial started Monday, Judge Beryl Nord asked the pool of 22 prospective jurors if any were familiar with recent publicity regarding the Strike Force. None raised a hand.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous story continued said...

Nord denied a pretrial request from Assistant County Attorney Patricia Rogin to bar defense lawyers from using the Metro Gang Strike Force name. Rogin asked that they refer only to the "task force" or "collaborative unit" or each officer's individual unit. She said that the publicized allegations against the Strike Force are "irrelevant" and "prejudicial" and that the case against Moore "has nothing to do with gangs."

54 grams of cocaine

The complaint Minneapolis police officer Mike Nimlos filed against Moore said Strike Force officers attempted to search Moore's home and vehicle on Feb. 24, and as they watched his house, they saw Moore and another man leave in an SUV.

The officers followed the vehicle and saw what appeared to be an exchange of money for narcotics involving Moore, who was riding in the passenger seat of the SUV, Nimlos wrote.

Police stopped the vehicle in south Minneapolis, opened the passenger door and saw Moore drop two baggies, the complaint alleged. Tests showed they contained 54 grams of cocaine, authorities said. Prosecutors charged Moore with first-degree felony possession.

The vehicle's driver, Paul McDavid, is related to Moore's girlfriend. The officers released him, though the complaint said he tried to flee the officers -- a felony.

Meanwhile, police took Moore to his basement for questioning. Strouts said that after the questioning his client had a swollen eye and bruised and bloody nose from being pulled out of the SUV. Jurors saw the pictures.

Selling or moving?

Officers alleged that while watching Moore's house they saw visitors conduct "hand-to-hand" drug buys. Strouts said the defense produced witnesses and receipts from a moving van and furniture delivery service, coinciding with the time of the alleged drug-dealing.

Moore testified that McDavid was with him that day to help him move. McDavid, in testimony, acknowledged having drug convictions. When asked whether the cocaine in the car was his, McDavid invoked his right against self-incrimination.

In connection with Moore's arrest, the Strike Force officers seized his 2005 Dodge Magnum, $200 cash, an Apple laptop and two digital cameras. None of the property was listed on the search warrant log, nor was it logged into evidence. Strouts said cash is visible in Strike Force photographs from the search, but never appeared on any log and has not been returned.

Strouts said Moore told him a bank eventually repossessed the Dodge from the Strike Force because Moore couldn't make the payments because of legal fees. Strouts said Moore still wonders where the computer and cameras are and will seek their return.

"This is one of those cases where the right guy was in the wrong car," Strouts said.

Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said none of the department's officers could comment on past Strike Force cases.

Moore said that he had been so upset that he had not eaten since Sunday. He was eager to go home, have a drink and dinner, and then get to bed so he could get to work "bright and early" today.

He still has lawyers' fees to pay and appeared shaken.

"These past six months have been hell for me," he said. "The officers lied. It was a bald-faced lie."

An FBI probe and state investigation of the Strike Force are continuing.

Staff writer Randy Furst contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of their million dollar arrests?

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Name of the game is sieze the merch not get convictions. These gang cops never get anything in the way of convictions. Even the Force cops in St. Paul don't get many convictions. They are mainly a harrassment squad designed to move crime from one neighborhood to the next at the direction of whatever city council person has their undies bunched up that day.

1:50 PM  

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