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Black Lotus MC Probable Cause Hearing Probably Causing DOJ Headaches

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Inside the Courthouse. (Photo Credit: Annie Wren-Laws).

On Saturday, the 13th of May, a probable cause hearing was held in the Rockford Hills courthouse pertaining to members of the Black Lotus Motorcycle Club (BLMC) and the raid S.W.A.T. executed on the 6th of May. This article will be a long one, but I’ll be putting a TLDR at the top for those who just want to know how it ended up.

The court docket for [2023-CM-136] State of San Andreas v. Trent Calloway shows shows that Trooper DiNozzo filed for a search warrant for Flint Calhoun, his housing, vehicles, and the Black Lotus Compound. In the affidavit for the warrant (an affidavit is a written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation for use as evidence in court), we can see the expected outcome of the search, being “Firearms registered and not registered to Flint Calhoun.” Even from this point, we can see where the problems may arise.

The court hearing lasted just over two hours, beginning at 17:00 ET and ending at just past 19:35 ET. I transcribed the entire proceeding, but for clarity, I will highlight important or relevant statements, questions, and events only. Arriving at 17:01 ET, the courthouse was already mostly full, with the left-hand side being a sea of blue kuttes, with a smattering of other MC members and interested parties. The right side of the courthouse was about half full, with members of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Public Defender’s Office (PDO) making up the majority. Two SASS members stationed at the doors searched everyone upon entry.

Too Long, Didn’t Read:

This was a two-hour-long court case. Throughout, there were 3-4 recesses, too many objections to count, and an incident of court interference by a member of the DOJ. Here is the verdict:
  • Any charge in relation to the illegal search must be dropped.
  • Any evidence found as a result of the illegal search must be dropped.
  • In regards to the attempted murder charges, whether or not the warrant was illegal does not give the right to shoot at law enforcement. The charges were not dropped. 
  • The accused can still claim self-defense, but this has to be done at a proper trial.
  • Thomas Muller was charged $5000 for attempting to interfere with court proceedings.

The Hearing

The plaintiff (the DOJ, on behalf of the police) and the defense (Hunt and OHagen, on behalf of the BLMC) all identified themselves, and they decided the hearing may be closed to the public, depending on how the proceedings went. They struck lines 36 and 37 from the docket, which appeared to be about who may speak at the hearing.

The defense began their opening statements, establishing that Trooper DiNozzo had submitted a warrant on the basis that Mr. Calhoun, in an incident with law enforcement, had his shotgun and firearm license revoked. Trooper DiNozzo then used this to file a search warrant for Flint Calhoun, his vehicles, his house, and the Black Lotus compound. They argued that the inclusion of the compound violated the accused’s (the people on docket 2023-CM-136) fourth amendment rights. 

The fourth amendment right, under the Constitution of the United States of America, protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This does not mean all searches and seizures, only those deemed unreasonable by law.

The defense’s argument relied on four points, as listed on the court docket:

  • The warrant involved a single incident pertaining to Mr. Calhoun, for whom was not found at the Black Lotus Compound during the search warrant execution.
  • There was a lack of evidence. There was no evidence contained within the probable cause affidavit that the compound unlawfully possessed firearms, that Mr. Calhoun was a resident or frequented the Black Lotus Compound, or Mr. Calhoun’s weapons.
  • The search warrant was broad in scope, not detailing the specifics of what could/couldn’t be searched, which exact weapons of Mr. Calhoun’s were being searched for, etc.
  • Firearm evidence submission (lack thereof).

The defense attorney argued that the warrant was an overreach and called it a ‘fishing expedition’ by Trooper DiNozzo when there was no probable cause to search the compound. Flint Calhoun is not actually involved in this case, and the defense argued there was no evidence at all that there was a firearm belonging to Mr. Calhoun on the compound. They ended their opening arguments by suggesting that dismissing the charges with prejudice was the only appropriate remedy.

Dismissing charges with prejudice means it is dismissed permanently. A case dismissed with prejudice is thrown out and can't be brought back to court. A case dismissed without prejudice means the opposite.

The defense finished, stating,

“All the police need to do is get a warrant. They search the property; they can still charge you and take whatever they want. If there is no remedy, then it allows the police to do whatever they want. They can submit faulty warrants and fish expeditions without consequence.

This is a violation of the accused’s rights, is a serious infraction, and must be handled appropriately by dismissing the charges.”

The prosecution took their turn now, asking DiNozzo to take the stand. The defense objected to this. I’m not sure what the actual reason was, but I heard someone say that it’s because we were at a hearing, not a trial. This led to the first of multiple long sidebars.

Inside the Courthouse. (Photo Credit Annie Wren-Laws)

Trooper DiNozzo was allowed to approach and was asked a number of questions. I won’t list the entire transcript, because it took forever, some was stricken from the record, some was objected to on various grounds (relevance, outside of the scope agreed on in the sidebar, leading, etc). A lot of things that were asked were deemed to be irrelevant, and there was another sidebar before the defense finished asking questions. The prosecution took their turn asking him questions, including if he was notified of his license being revoked. 

The defense came back, asking Trooper DiNozzo his opinion on good faith, and DiNozzo attempted to define it, clarifying it ‘depends on the person.’ This is what he said ‘that I have the utmost certainty that I’m not trying to do a fishing expedition.’ They then established through questioning that Mr Clahoun wouldn’t have been able to go back to the compound to store weapons and that there was no evidence to suggest he had weapons stored at the compound. They swapped lawyers, with the second going on to clarify if he gave evidence to establish or suggest that Flint Calhoun was a tenant, resident, or owner of the compound. It seems like the answer ended up as no, but it took between five and ten questions to get there.

In the end, it was established that the link to the Black Lotus compound was because Flint Calhoun is a member of the Black Lotus Motorcycle Club (BLMC). The original incident for which Mr Calhoun’s weapons were revoked did not occur on the property, was more than a while out, and that he was not seen going to run to store something in the compound. Therefore, the only connection between the warrant and the compound is the association of the members, being Black Lotus MC members.

There was another point where one of the defense lawyers misspoke, asking a question about the white lotus, to which Trooper DiNozzo said no. They had to rephrase the entire question, correcting their mistake, ‘Was there any evidence presented to [Judge Kinsley] Murphy to establish as fact that Calhoun and or other members of the Black lotus are known to store firearms on the property?’ To which Trooper Dinozzo stated that the warrant was requested because he had his license revoked, and as a member of the Motorcycle Club, he would have the ability to store weapons at the compound.

Then, the defense asked Trooper Dinozzo if there was evidence to suggest that had happened, which he denied. The defense and prosecution ended their questioning of the trooper at this point, and he was allowed to go and sit back down. The defense then pointed out that the state hadn’t made any submissions, and they stated they were supporting the warrant on the basis that there was an additional request for any illegal weapons on the compound. The prosecution also stated that there was, ‘a loose connection for the inclusion of Black Lotus compound’. They argued that even if evidence was not available to Judge Murphy, it is common practice to check people who have warrants against them and their prior records. This is done to provide additional context and determine whether or not there is probable cause for the warrant, and therefore, there was probable cause to search the compound. 

The defense replied again, saying the prosecution had summed their argument up well, there was no connection to suggest Flint Calhoun had stored weapons on the compound, and that Trooper DiNozzo had testified there was no evidence to suggest weapons were stored there. They defined probable cause better, arguing that facts and evidence establish probable cause, which is done to ensure law enforcement do not just walk in and say ‘I think he has a gun, so I will search the whole building’.

There was a five minute recess whilst Judge Kylian Clarkson deliberated. When we returned, he outlined the process for getting a warrant approved:

  1. The affidavit is given to a judge.
  2. The judge reviews the affidavit for probable cause.
  3. The judge reached out to the officer to ask clarifying remarks.

Afterwards, he stated that the court does not believe probable cause exists to search the entirety of or the compound at all. There was probable cause to search Mr Calhoun, his apartment and vehicles, but that is all. With that, the warrant was invalidated. After a brief discussion between the three parties, we had another recess.

Outside the courthouse, the pink and blue food truck of Pop’s Diner waited like a bastion of comfort and sated hunger. My uncle grabbed me some chicken and waffles and a root beer float, and we waited for the hearing to continue.

The Pop’s Diner food truck outside the courthouse. (Photo Credit: Erin Murphy)

After we re-entered the courtroom, there was a discussion raised by the state as to whether this was a properly scheduled pre-trial conference. The judge, prosecution, and defense then discussed the continuation of the hearing in preference of rescheduling due to the sheer number of people involved and the Speedy Trial Act, H.R. 215. They decided the accused were not going to testify and that everyone who needed to be there was there.

Trooper DiNozzo was called to the stand again, and questioned about the details of the actual raid, including whether they presented the warrant, any other reason they could have gone there, and they established there was also an active warrant for Cameron West (another defendant in the case). According to Trooper DiNozzo, the situation changed within minutes as soon as the police department entered the main Black Lotus Compound gate. They then spent five to ten minutes getting Trooper DiNozzo to stand and identify various people, which became an object of irrelevance for the court, so it stopped.

The prosecution and defense then had another discussion about what the prosecution was trying to do, which they stated was establishing whether shots being fired made it a crime scene, which would give law enforcement the right to conduct a search, or not. There were a bunch more objections, and Judge Clarkson said it would be best to save this line of questioning for the trial.

After another sidebar, the defense began to question Trooper DiNozzo again, asking whether Thomas Muller spoke to him during the case, discussed facts of the case, and then suggested that Thomas Muller had approached the counsel table and discussed whether probable cause mattered or not because Ms West was on the property. After this, they had another sidebar. They then called Raven Teal to the sidebar (Ms Teal is a state prosecutor, who used to be a member of the Public Defender’s Office), called another sidebar, and then ended it again. This court case had a lot of sidebars. There was also a whole thing with a chair hitting a wall.

Following this was another line of questioning, establishing who fired first during the raid on the 6th of May. The defense suggested that DiNozzo had changed his tune after Mr Muller’s suggestions, and after another bout of questioning, the defense moved onto asking more details about the raid itself, including who lead it, how many were on the scene, before the prosecution objected on the terms of it being asked and answered.

Trooper DiNozzo was allowed to leave the stand, and the defense began their closing arguments, relying on two principles:

  1. Because the warrant has been found to be invalid, the court must apply the fruit of the tree doctrine.
  2. Because of the exclusionary rule, anything that has come from the illicit material must also be excluded.
The fruit of the poisonous tree - This makes evidence inadmissible in court if it was derived from evidence that was illegally obtained.

The exclusionary rule - This presents evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights from being used in a court of law.

The prosecution replied, arguing that they were there to serve two warrants, one to search the grounds and the other to arrest Cameron West (remember, they earlier found the police did not know that West was at the Black Lotus compound). However, because she was on the property, the police had legal reasons to be on the property. The defense hit back, stating that even if you accept that the partial reason for entry was to arrest Ms. West, that does not make the entry lawful, and that if entering property for any reason that includes due to an invalid search warrant, the entire entry is inadmissible. They went on, saying that if you are basing reason for entry on something that is found to be unlawfully obtained, the entry itself is tainted.

The prosecution replied again, bringing to attention that this incident, while it may have stemmed from a search warrant, the events that occurred happened because the officers believed the warrant was lawful and that they acted in good faith. Continuing, they stated that if the court decided to dismiss the charges, the state would understand, but to dismiss 8 counts of aggravated attempted second-degree murder would embolden criminals throughout the state. Moving on, they stated you cannot claim self-defense against the police. The police, they claimed, had reason to be there and were met with hostile force, and that to dismiss charges would be an affront to justice.

A two minute timer was set for the defense, who argued that good faith does not establish precedent and that the case law is not admitted into the state law library. Therefore, dismissing charges, the defense argued, was the only equitable solution, as otherwise the police can enter property illegally. They also categorized the prosecution’s arguments as a gross misrepresentation of self-defense – you can defend yourself against a police officer. The state’s reliance upon the good faith argument and the presiding judge stating that good faith does not exist, as the case law is not accepted yet, would once have worked. There was a change in the judiciary meaning that external case laws are not allowed (with some caveats), and had the warrant been submitted before April 21, 2023, at 9.30pm, the prosecution’s argument may have worked.

We had another short recess, and if you are tired, so was I. That’s why it has taken some time to compile this in readable English.

When court was back in session, the result of the hearing was given by the judge:

  • Any charge in relation to the illegal search must be dropped.
  • Any evidence found as a result of the illegal search must be dropped.
  • In regards to the attempted murder charges, whether or not the warrant was illegal does not give them the right to shoot at law enforcement. The charges were not dropped. 
  • The accused can still claim self-defense, but this has to be done at a proper trial.
  • Thomas Muller was charged $5000 for attempting to interfere with court proceedings.

Why is all of this important?

We’ve only gotten through the probable cause hearing for [2023-CM-136] and it’s still an active docket. In light of everything that happened in the hearing, what does this mean for the pending trial?

We will see what else happens with this truly gargantuan court case. Stay tuned to Weazel News for developments.

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