Evidence still in dispute in drug case

LIHU’E — A judge will issue her ruling soon on whether or not evidence seized in a predawn raid on a suspected drug dealer’s home in Lihu’e will be allowed at his jury trial set to begin next month.

Fifth Circuit Court Judge Kathleen N.A. Watanabe said she would rule soon on whether or not the evidence, which includes 177.6 grams of crystal methamphetamine, or ice, seized in the raid, will be allowed into evidence.

William Feldhacker, attorney for Rizal Balgos, who was arrested on drug charges, called the 20-officer raid on the Balgos home, and attending tactics, “police-state tactics (that) cannot be condoned.”

Four Kaua’i Police Department officers testified Tuesday at a hearing on whether or not evidence seized more than two years ago should be thrown out of court.

Channing Tada, Michael Contrades, Bernard Purisima and Len Nitta took the witness stand to explain their roles when they took part in a raid July 28, 2003, to execute a search warrant for methamphetamine at Balgos’s house.

The officers were among some 20 officers who closed in on the defendant’s house at about 5:08 a.m. with an “anytime” search warrant. According to court records, about 177.6 grams of crystal methamphetamine, or ice, was found.

Tada testified that he set off the second of two “flashbang” devices at the back of the house. He said that the device looks like a grenade, and will temporarily blind someone. He compared the sound that it makes to that of a shotgun blast.

He further testified that he set off the device as a diversion, so that anyone hearing or seeing it would be distracted when KPD’s entry team went into the house through the front door.

Contrades testified that he participated in a controlled buy that led up to the search warrant. He said on the stand that he was familiar with Balgos, and alleged that Balgos distributed methamphetamine, and that Balgos was involved with gambling.

In closing arguments, Balgos’s attorney, Feldhacker, said that the officers waited six days to carry out the search warrant, and that they went in at 5 a.m.

They used tactics to scare Balgos’s daughter and other people, said Feldhacker.

County Prosecuting Attorney Craig De Costa pointed out that the “flash-bang” devices were set off for the safety of the officers, and that the “anytime” search warrant was solid because evidence could have been destroyed at any time.

Watanabe informed the attorneys that she will issue a decision at a later date on whether or not to throw the evidence out of court.

According to court documents, Balgos said a police officer told him that if he cooperated, he, his wife and daughter would be released, and that charges would be reduced or dropped.

At an earlier hearing, the officer said that he did not recall making that promise.

Balgos’s jury trial is scheduled for April 24.

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