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Sun, Jan. 26

Testimony contradicts previous claims in Howell's trial

PRESCOTT - A former Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force supervisor, Sgt. Pete Hodap, testified Tuesday that the task force's breaking into Robert Howell's home during a March 2003 drug raid created a lot of noise, which would have prevented his team from hearing a response from inside.

However, Hodap denied that all seven officers were knocking and announcing "Police, search warrant."

He said they knocked and announced for about five seconds before they forced open the door of Howell's home.

At that moment, Howell, who had just awakened, fired a round before realizing it was the police at his front steps. The officers were looking for his son Brian, whom they believed was dealing drugs at the Dameron Street location in Prescott.

Because he fired the shot, the police arrested Howell on attempted murder charges, among others, which Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Janis Sterling dismissed months later. She also ruled that Howell's firing of the shot was "the product of the illegal government activity."

In December 2003, Howell's attorney Anthony Shaw filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Howell and his wife Patti in Yavapai County Superior Court. Another lawsuit in the United States District Court of Arizona concluded with a loss a year ago.

Now, a Yavapai County Superior Court jury will decide whether Howell deserves to recover damages he claims he suffered after the taskforce wrongfully raided his home. Howell is able to present all 10 claims, which wasn't the case in the previous trial.

On Tuesday, Hodap denied that officers tried breaking in before knocking and announcing themselves. He agreed, however, that people should receive more time to answer the door in situations such as the one the Howells faced - someone entering their home just after 6:30 a.m. while it was still dark outside.

Hodap said one of the reasons police execute a search warrant that early is because they hope the residents will be sound asleep.

He said they planned for a "dynamic entry" - entering with overwhelming force and surprising people inside - if they found the front door secured and if no one answered the door.

He denied planning to raid Howell's home regardless of whether anyone responded.

After Howell fired the shot, Hodap said he peaked around the corner and saw the man lying on the floor. He told the man to obey his commands and he did.

"He cooperated fully," he said.

Former PANT officer Ray Del Rio, who testified previously and is not part of the lawsuit, said that he couldn't ascertain between the ramming and the gunshot.

"I didn't hear it until I was told it was a gunshot," Del Rio said.

Hodap also testified that he asked Howell about his son Brian and Howell told him, "He doesn't live here."

He also said that Howell commended the police officers for not killing him and his family.

However, Hodap denied that he told the Daily Courier and also testified at another hearing that Officer Kel Palguta told him they made a "controlled buy" at Howell's home before they obtained and executed a search warrant.

In a 2003 tape-recorded interview with the Daily Courier, Hodap stated that within 72 hours of the search warrant officers reportedly made a "controlled buy" of less than an ounce of marijuana from Brian at his parents' house.

"We obtained a search warrant based on that," he said.

The trial continues today in Division 2 of the Yavapai County Superior Court.

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