A former Novato detective who worked for the county drug squad is suspected of stealing narcotics that were supposed to be destroyed and using them himself or supplying them to other people, it was disclosed Tuesday.
Jehan "J.J." Amdjadi, an eight-year member of the Novato Police Department, also tested positive for cocaine use, attorneys said. District Attorney Ed Berberian confirmed that his office is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.
The allegations, based on the findings of an internal investigation, were revealed Tuesday during a court hearing in the Tong Van Le murder case. Amdjadi, 35, was a lead detective on the case, so attorneys for the four men convicted of killing Le are digging for more information to impeach Amdjadi's credibility and possibly demand a new trial.
Defense attorneys also want to find out whether any authorities knew about Amdjadi's alleged misconduct while the trial was in progress, but kept a lid on the information.
"If these allegations are true, any appellate court is going to see cause for a retrial -- to have a felon, a potential felon, testifying in a first-degree murder case," said defense attorney Tara Higgins.
Amdjadi attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson, who was not in court Tuesday, said she could not comment on the allegations because the matter is under seal.
The four murder defendants -- Larry Blay Jr., his brother Deandre, Kevin Abram and C. Autis Johnson III -- were scheduled to be sentenced a month ago, ending a case that took nearly four years to get from Le's death to verdicts. But shortly before sentencing, authorities disclosed that an internal investigation had implicated Amdjadi in alleged drug violations.
The hearing Tuesday was the first time the internal investigation was discussed in open court. The purpose of the hearing was to determine how much additional information should be turned over to defense attorneys -- including prior internal investigations in Amdjadi's employee file, the names of witnesses who accused him of drug misconduct, and the scope of his work in the county.
To that end, defense attorney Mary Stearns filed subpoenas with police departments throughout Marin to troll for information about Amdjadi, a three-year member of the county's multiagency drug unit.
Thomas Bertrand, attorney for Novato and other cities, asked Judge Terrence Boren to quash all of Stearns' subpoenas, calling them a "crude attempt to bypass" the normal barriers to obtaining police personnel records.
"I think this was a mindless attempt to shotgun the entire county with subpoenas," Bertrand said.
Stearns, who represents Abrams, accused the government of "stonewalling" defense attorneys to prevent them from seeking a new trial.
Carl Gonser, who represents Deandre Blay, said lawyers need to find out when Amdjadi's alleged misconduct took place, when law enforcement knew about it, and whether the prosecution failed to disclose it. Prosecutors are required to share information that could exculpate defendants or impeach the credibility of witnesses.
"I believe that we're entitled to that information," Gonser said.
Judge Boren rejected subpoenas for some materials but granted motions for others, including personnel files, internal-affairs logs and citizen complaint logs. He also granted some access to policy manuals and information about contraband disposal by the county drug unit, formally known as the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force.
The judge set another hearing for Oct. 31 to decide the next steps in the case. District Attorney Berberian said he will also seek to release more information based on the findings of his office's investigation.
The hearing highlighted the difficult legal balance between the rights of the criminal defendants and the near-impenetrable confidentiality of police personnel files. In addition to the four murder defendants and their lawyers, the parties in court included Bertrand; Berberian and two deputy prosecutors, Dori Ahana and Kendra Rudolph; Deputy County Counsel Renee Giacomini Brewer; Novato police Capt. Dave Jeffries, who was carrying Amdjadi's confidential files in a briefcase; sheriff's Lt. Don Wick, the current supervisor of the drug squad; sheriff's Lt. Scott Anderson, the department's custodian of personnel files; and private detective Dennis Finnegan, a retired undersheriff who conducted the Amdjadi investigation. Novato police Chief James Berg observed the hearing from the courtroom gallery.
Amdjadi's name was never used during the hearing because of the court seal, but numerous sources confirmed previously that he is the focus of the drug allegations.
Amdjadi, who started as a Novato officer in 2004, was assigned to the drug task force from July 2009 to early July of this year. Then he returned to his full-time job at the Novato Police Department, but his employment ended four weeks later in the midst of the internal investigation.
Because Amdjadi served on the task force, prosecutors also could face challenges to numerous drug cases in which he was involved.
Amdjadi was the initial lead investigator in the case of Tong Van Le, 44, who was gunned down at his Novato home in 2008 to prevent his testimony about a robbery at his liquor store in San Francisco, authorities said. One of the alleged killers, Sean Washington, eventually admitted his involvement and testified against the other suspects in exchange for a manslaughter conviction.
In May, a Marin County jury convicted the other alleged conspirators -- the Blay brothers, Abram and Johnson -- of murder and related charges. Johnson's mother, Anchulita Uribe, was convicted of being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced in July.
Contact Gary Klien via email at email@example.com
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