An Orange County public defender is seeking new records from the sheriff’s department they say will prove deputies illegally used the same evidence to try and convict two different men in separate cases.
The incident in question happened Oct. 19, 2020 during the raid of the Coral Motel in Buena Park, where Orange County sheriff deputies searched the room of a man named Royal Baker and found 17.8 grams of meth, according to a court filing by public defender Tammy Nguyen.
Baker was charged with two felonies for his intent to sell the drugs, one of which he pleaded guilty to while the other was dropped. He ultimately was sentenced to two years of probation.
But after the evidence was booked in Baker’s case, Nguyen says that sheriff investigators Matt LeFlore and Arthur Tiscareno took the same meth and booked it in the case of Ace Kelley, another man who was arrested at the motel on the same day in the room next door.
To read the full filing, click here.
Kelley was also arrested for two felony counts of possession of drugs with intent to sell and pleaded not guilty to both counts and is still fighting his case.
Previously, Kelley pleaded guilty to four felonies across 2017 and 2019 for possession of drugs with an intent to sell, along with three misdemeanors and a parole violation, according to court records.
LeFlore and Tiscareno have both since been promoted to sergeant according to the court records.
The sheriff’s department did not return requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
In the court filings, Nguyen said a key to the case is a new discovery in the county’s Crime Lab records, which shows the meth in Baker’s case was rebooked under Kelley’s.
But the records don’t mention that the meth was booked two weeks after it was collected at the scene, or that it was originally booked under Baker’s case.
The evidence was booked by Tiscareno, but both LeFlore and Tiscareno participated in the raid of the motel room, according to LeFlore’s reports attached to Nguyen’s legal filing.
In LeFlore’s report, he claims that they watched Kelley go in and out of the hotel room repeatedly and they raided his room because he was on probation and was open to a legal search.
LeFlore said he found Kelley in the bathroom attempting to “conceal an item.”
After handcuffing Kelley and carrying him out of the room, LeFlore went back to search.
“I located a black zipper pouch on the floor of the shower. Inside the pouch was three baggies containing methamphetamine,” LeFlore wrote. “Along with the narcotics there was about 100 new small baggies and a working digital scale.”
LeFlore also said he found more meth and some heroin in Kelley’s bedside table, and confiscated $1,000 Kelley had on him at the time.
But the meth wasn’t booked under Kelley’s case for another two weeks according to Nguyen, who also attached records showing the times and dates the evidence was allegedly moved from Baker’s case to Kelley’s.
The evidence was moved by Benjamin Laguna, a legal property technician in the sheriffs’ department, who Nguyen alleges conspired with LeFlore and Tiscareno to move the evidence discreetly.
“The movement of the methamphetamine would have logically been carried out at the direction of and in coordination with Sergeant LeFlore and Sergeant Tiscareno,” Nguyen wrote. “Sergeant Tiscareno then manipulated the Remedy Report to make it appear that the methamphetamine was timely booked.”
“But in doing so,” Nguyen continued, “Tiscareno made a revealing error. He listed himself as collecting and booking the evidence, when the incident report indicates that Sergeant LeFlore was responsible for both the collection and booking of the methamphetamine.”
Now, Nguyen is asking OC Superior Court Judge Jonathan Fish to order the release of more records that could confirm her claims.
That request includes LeFlore’s initial report that he found 17.8 grams of meth in Kelley’s motel room and that the Remedy Record system, which documents who logs evidence, can be manipulated, Nguyen said in her filing.
This isn’t the first time LeFlore’s conduct has been called into question by the public defenders’ office.
He was initially one of the investigators into the 2019 sheriff’s evidence booking scandal, but was removed after officials learned he had mishandled evidence and lied about it according to another motion from public defender Scott Sanders.
In her court motion, Nguyen claims there were allegedly 17 other times where LeFlore failed to book evidence properly, he also said that Tiscareno failed to properly book evidence 40 times according to the sheriffs’ evidence audit attached to the motion.
LeFlore was also lambasted by the public defender’s office last month.
Sanders alleged LeFlore illegally listened to phone calls at the county jail in 2017, until he was told by name on one of the calls not to by an inmates’ attorney.
[Read: Did An Orange County Sheriff Illegally Eavesdrop on a Prisoner He Was Investigating?]
“This is a telephone call between attorney/clients, attorney Jon Andersen … and his client,” said attorney Jon Andersen in a call recording included with the court filing from Sanders.
“Anyone attempts to listen to this, especially that five foot tall, deceitful, lying Orange County Sheriff named LeFlore, we’ll seek prosecution, guaranteed. So don’t listen in.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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