A Clark County District Court judge accused of bias against Henderson police has thrown out the evidence in a large-scale drug trafficking case, ruling that nearly 60 pounds of marijuana was found through illegal searches.
Judge Abbi Silver's ruling essentially torpedoed the case, so Clark County prosecutors in September sought to disqualify the judge, accusing her of making disparaging remarks about Henderson police.
Silver ruled last week that Henderson police did not have probable cause to stop Michael and Tamara Farrell's vehicle on March 4, 2009, and that Las Vegas police had no right to enter the Farrells' southern valley home that same day.
Twenty-three pounds of marijuana was found in the vehicle, almost 37 pounds in the home. Investigators also recovered $300,000 in cash.
Michael Farrell, 51, and Tamara Farrell, 38, were charged with four felony counts, including unlawful possession for sale of marijuana, and conspiracy. Authorities in court papers describe the two as "large traffickers of marijuana."
In a message relayed by an assistant on Tuesday, Silver declined comment because the case is ongoing.
The bias allegation stems from a September bench conference with Chief Deputy District Attorney Sandra DiGiacomo and defense attorney Dominic Gentile during which Silver said Henderson police "do things they should not be able to do."
According to a sworn affidavit by DiGiacomo, the judge said that "she knows things are done differently when dealing with a city department (other) than the (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police) and that the city police do things they should not be able to do, i.e. improper, unethical or illegal, because the judges let them do it."
The affidavit said that the judge is friends with Henderson municipal judges "and had knowledge that (Henderson) officers do things that they should not do, i.e. improper, unethical or illegal, because one of the judges is a former police officer and another one of the judges is married to a police officer."
Silver in court papers responded to the accusations, saying that prosecutors "misinterpreted and mischaracterized" her comments and that she had no bias toward Henderson police.
Prosecutors, who declined comment for this article, still can appeal her ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Chief Judge Arthur Ritchie in September denied the prosecutors' disqualification motion and noted the judge had ruled in favor of prosecutors early on in the Farrell case.
Silver threw out the evidence because she said Henderson officers were acting on a "hunch" when they pulled the Farrells' vehicle over.
Investigators began following the Farrells on March 4, 2009, after seeing Michael Farrell with a duffel bag leave an apartment in the 5800 block of Boulder Falls Street, near Russell Road and Boulder Highway, according to court documents.
The day before, they had received an anonymous tip that someone was selling a large amount of marijuana from the apartment.
According to court documents, the officers told the Farrells they were being pulled over for not using a turn signal while making a right turn, but there is no record of a citation being issued.
During that traffic stop, a drug dog sniffed out a "23 pound brick of marijuana" in a duffel bag in the trunk of the Toyota Camry, according to court records.
Silver said in her ruling that the reason the officers gave for stopping the vehicle "appears to be an afterthought.
"Clearly, the officers suspected the defendants had drugs in the vehicle which did not rise to the level of probable cause," Silver said.
The same day, Las Vegas police conducted a welfare check at the Farrells' home in the 10000 block of Placid Street, near Cactus Avenue and Bermuda Road, because the couple failed to pick up their daughter from school, according to court documents.
When no one answered the door, the Las Vegas officers entered the home, where the smell of marijuana led them to the garage. They checked several freezers there and discovered more than 36 pounds of drugs, according to court documents.
Silver ruled that the Las Vegas officers had no evidence the couple were in danger to support their entry into the home without first getting a search warrant.
The house appeared in good order when officers looked through a window, she said. There were no bloodstains, bullet holes, overturned furniture or disarray in the home.
"The (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department) had no objectively reasonable basis to believe there was an immediate need to protect the lives of the defendants," Silver ruled.
Prosecutors tried to argue that police inevitably would have served a legal search warrant on the home based on the discovery of marijuana in the Farrells' car.
Silver called that argument erroneous: "Even if this Court had found the defendants' arrest and search of their vehicle lawful, there was no probable cause to believe that marijuana/drugs would be found within their Placid Street residence."
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.