Judge: Search lacked probable cause

  • Courtesy of Kauai Police Department

    Shawn Parraga

LIHUE — Drugs and weapons found by police officers who searched a house without a warrant will not be admissible as evidence in the case of a Kekaha man facing seven felonies.

Following a court hearing last Wednesday, a Fifth Circuit judge ruled that Kauai Police officers did not have probable cause to search a Kekaha residence where they allegedly found marijuana, crystal methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and firearms that formed the basis for criminal charges against Shawn Parraga.

Parraga, 39, was initially arrested for trespassing at a home in his neighborhood on April 9, when KPD vice officers went there in search of Starsha Silva, a friend of Parraga’s who was wanted by federal authorities, according to court documents.

Court documents filed by county prosecutors and Parraga’s attorney say Silva voluntarily came out of the home when police arrived and was arrested on a federal warrant.

The KPD vice section operation was meant only to target Silva, but Parraga was taken into custody as well when he followed her to the front door. A KPD officer said in an affidavit that Parraga was arrested for trespassing because the legal tenant of the home told police her son was the only person allowed inside.

Once Silva and Parraga were in the back of a squad car, KPD vice section officers went inside the house “to secure the residence,” according to an affidavit by an officer who prepared an application for a search warrant later that day.

In the affidavit, an investigator with the KPD’s vice section said officers entered the home at 12:47 p.m. and found an assortment of duffle bags and backpacks, a plastic bag with numbers written on it in black marker and a baggie containing “a brown colored substance resembling burnt crystal methamphetamine shavings.”

Three minutes later, police got permission from one of the permanent residents of the home to allow officers to take a drug dog inside to “conduct a canine narcotics odor screening,” which turned up the smell of drugs under a towel in the bedroom and in a backpack on the living room floor, according to the affidavit.

Three hours later, police applied for a search warrant, asking a judge for permission to check the house for illegal contraband based entirely on the observations officers made during the two unwarranted searches, according to the affidavit and court documents.

Police got the warrant and returned to the home around 8 p.m. Inside, they found weed and crystal meth — about a half ounce of each — a loaded pistol in a purse, a shotgun on a bed, and $6,023 in cash, according to KPD records logging the seized property.

County prosecutors brought charges against Parraga about a week later, adding two counts of promoting a dangerous drug and four counts of possession of prohibited weapons to the trespassing charge he was initially arrested for.

He could face decades in jail if convicted on all counts, but after last week’s court hearing, the trespassing charge may be the only one that sticks.

In a motion to suppress the evidence gathered during police searches of the home, Parraga’s attorney argued that the warrant was granted based on information gathered in a way that violated Parraga’s Constitutional rights and that the evidence seized “is tainted by the unlawful search.”

“When the officers stormed into that residence, they had neither a reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity was afoot, or probable cause to enter that residence,” Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Char wrote in the motion.

Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe agreed, finding that there was no probable cause without a warrant and no valid exception, according to the minutes of last week’s court hearing.

County prosecutors argued that police had probable cause to enter the house without a warrant based on permission granted from a resident of the home and probable cause that a crime was being committed.

Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said his office plans to appeal Watanabe’s ruling with the state appellate court.

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