Judge tosses out evidence in 8 ‘Gang Green’ cases




This map shows which homes authorities raided in the Oct. 13, 2011 "gang green" raid.

This map shows which homes authorities raided in the Oct. 13, 2011 “gang green” raid.

A judge on Monday threw out critical evidence against eight people busted during last year’s massive “Gang Green” marijuana raid. The decision means prosecutors will dismiss charges against eight of the 56 people arrested.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Rich Melnick ruled that the search warrants leading to the arrest of eight people were not issued lawfully. Police officers raiding the homes of those eight did not have enough evidence establishing “probable cause,” the legal threshold for arrests and warrants.

Still, the decision doesn’t mean the cases against the eight are over. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Tonya Rulli said the defendants could now be charged in federal court, which has more lenient search-and-seizure laws.

“The federal court is perfectly willing and able to file charges against those we dismiss,” Rulli said.

Charges will be dismissed against Yolanda Tran, Tui Buy, Phung Phan, Huot Van Tran, Suu Cong Le, Tau Ngo, Dustin Nguyen and Phil Nguyen.

The bust on Oct. 13, 2011, the largest in Clark County’s history, netted more than 7,000 marijuana plants following raids on 56 Clark County houses. About 300 police officers worked the raid.

Dubbed “Operation Gang Green,” the raid was the result of a two-year police investigation. After police gathered evidence that the homes might have marijuana grows, they requested search warrants for the raids. District Court Judge Vernon Schreiber signed the search warrant affidavits after being provided a roughly 280-page outline of evidence. That 280-page affidavit was the same for every defendant.

In his written decision, Clark County Superior Court Judge Rich Melnick said that in the eight cases, police relied on information that those people were associates of other drug dealers; lived in homes with high electric consumption, a sign of a drug house; or relied on “stale” evidence.

“Facts are required,” Melnick wrote. “Labeling a person as a suspect and using that as a justification for probable cause is overbroad and impermissible.”

Of the 56 arrested, 13 defendants filed the motion, saying the search warrants were -unlawful. However, the judge said five of them had no case.

Meanwhile, 16 “Gang Green” defendants have been charged federally, five have already pleaded guilty, one case was dismissed and the others are pending.

Rulli said the cases against the others are going forward and the judge’s decision doesn’t have an immediate affect on their prosecution.

Defense attorney Jack Green, who represents Ngo, said of the judge’s decision: “From the outset of the case it was clear that there were significant issues with the search warrant affidavit. This ruling shows that the system works and when -police overstep their bounds, the courts are there to protect individual liberties.”

Cmdr. Mike Cooke, who heads the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force, said considering the number of defendants and complexity- of the case, the ruling isn’t unexpected.

“All of the evidence in this case was solid and the result of good police work. The court did take issue with some of the timelines in terms of when the evidence was obtained versus when the search warrants were issued,” he said. “Again, suppression of some evidence in a complex case is not -unexpected.”

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.