Originally Published: August 11, 2004 7 a.m.
It's almost over for Robert Howell.
On Monday Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Janis Sterling threw out all of the evidence in a multi-count felony case brought against him after an ill-conceived police raid on his home in March 2003.
Howell, a mechanic, fired a shot at police when members of the Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force (PANT) started breaking in the door of his Prescott home at about 6:30 a.m.
PANT members said they bought marijuana from Howell's 19-year-old son at the home a few days before the raid. They obtained a search warrant for the house that they intended to serve as part of the raid.
Judge Sterling threw out the evidence in a ruling on a "knock and announce" motion the defense filed questioning the conduct of the raid.
She ruled, "the execution of the search warrant at 6:35 a.m. on March 5, 2003, was unlawful and in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution" and added that "the action taken by the defendant was the product of, and was part and parcel of the illegal government activity."
It would seem the reasonable thing to do, if the PANT members bought a small quantity of marijuana from the son who did not live at the home and was not welcome at the home unless his father or mother were home, would be to get the warrant, walk up to the door at a decent hour when the family was home and serve the warrant.
The use of Pablo Escobar tactics on a penny ante case got the results it deserved. A frightened, law-abiding citizen sought to defend his home that he perceived to be under attack. He reflexively fired a shot through the door, and the bullet hit the porch railing.
Payback can be hell. The PANT officers originally sought four counts of attempted first-degree murder, four counts of aggravated assault and one count of unlawful discharge of a firearm within the city limits.
A month later Sterling dismissed with prejudice the attempted murder counts, but after Howell turned down a plea bargain offer, a grand jury added four counts of endangerment to the charges.
With the evidence thrown out, it appears the County Attorney's Office will move to dismiss the charges without prejudice. That means that if any new evidence comes to light, the County Attorney could re-file charges.
Howell's ordeal may be over, but the troubles of law enforcement agencies involved in the raid and County Attorney Sheila Polk may be just beginning. Howell has filed a civil suit against them, and Judge Sterling's ruling does nothing but bolster it.