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Gun charge dismissed over officer's contradictory testimony

Parolee's defense attorneys say a police radio recording shows that the Culver City officer falsely testified, but prosecutors say he made an honest mistake and had no reason to lie.

July 26, 2009|Jack Leonard

A Los Angeles County judge has dismissed a felony gun possession charge against a parolee after a police radio recording contradicted testimony by a Culver City police officer who arrested him.

Defense attorneys accused Officer Derek Brown of falsely testifying so that he could justify a search of the suspect's motel room, where a semiautomatic pistol was found.

But prosecutors and police defended the officer, who has been on the force less than a year, saying he made an honest mistake and had no reason to lie.

The dispute centers around the April 3 arrest of Tor Bishop, 29. Bishop, who also uses the last name Gines, has served prison time for evading police and drug possession, prison records show.

Brown and a colleague stopped Bishop in the parking lot of the Half Moon Motel on Sepulveda Boulevard after noticing that his car had a broken headlight.

The officer testified that a dispatcher told him Bishop's driver's license was suspended. He said he found a motel key in Bishop's pocket and used it to open the room Bishop was renting, where police found the handgun.

But during Bishop's recent trial, prosecutors turned over a recording of the police dispatch communications the night of the arrest. The tape showed that the dispatcher reported that Bishop's license was valid.

Bishop's attorneys argued that police violated their client's constitutional rights by detaining him without justification and continued searching until they found evidence of possible wrongdoing.

After learning about the dispatch tape, Superior Court Judge Cynthia Rayvis ruled July 16 that the search of Bishop's motel room was improper and that prosecutors could not use the firearm evidence.

In response, prosecutors announced that they were unable to proceed and the case was dismissed.

After the dismissal, defense attorneys accused Brown of testifying falsely about the driver's license. They also alleged that Brown never found a motel key on Bishop, citing testimony from a motel clerk who said an officer asked for a key to enter Bishop's room.

"They were making up these little lies to justify their fishing expedition," said Deputy Public Defender Hope Vannorsdall.

She said Bishop shared the motel room with a girlfriend and that there was little to prove the gun belonged to him.

But prosecutors said they believe the officer made a mistake.

Head Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lynch noted that the dispatcher told the officer that Bishop was on parole, which Lynch said justified the motel room search whether Bishop's license was valid or not.

He said he believed the judge's decision was wrong.

"The parole status allows you to search," Lynch said. "The fact that [the officer] got it wrong is absolutely irrelevant."

Culver City Police Capt. Dave Tankenson said Brown would receive additional training as a result of the case.

He said he believed the officer misheard the police dispatcher.

"There is no intent, no fabrication, just a mistake," Tankenson said. "We absolutely believe this was a valid arrest."

--

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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