Judge Says Fresno Police Need Not Return Seized Items

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Rejecting claims from men investigated for running an illegal gambling operation, a federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit accusing Fresno police of boosting more than $100,000 in cash and collectable coins during a 2013 raid.

U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd ruled that the two Central Valley men fell far short of proving that Fresno police ransacked their properties while serving search warrants on their homes and businesses, looking for illegal coin-pusher machines.

“The undisputed evidence before the court on summary judgment establishes that the property seized by the defendant officers was within the scope of the property described in the warrant as authorized for seizure,” Drozd wrote.

Plaintiffs Micah Jessop and Brittan Ashjian claimed that Fresno police officers seized more than $151,000 in cash from their businesses and another $131,000 worth of valuables from Jessop’s home — but submitted only $50,000 as evidence and did not report the rest.

Drozd sided with and dismissed the complaints of illegal search and seizure, 14th Amendment and Monell, or municipal liability, violations.

The civil lawsuit filed in 2015 centered on a raid that Fresno police conducted after six months of surveillance on Jessop and Ashjian. Officers thought the men were selling coin pusher gambling machines alongside their legitimate ATM business, and eventually searched three locations.

One of the defendant officers, Derek Kumagai, pleaded guilty to extorting money from a drug dealer in an unrelated matter. The plaintiffs accused the city of retaining Kumagai and other officers despite their history of misconduct.

Plaintiffs Jessop and Ashjian, who were never charged with any crimes but admitted operating the arcade-style gambling machines, went to Fresno police the day after the raid and were told that officers seized only $50,000. They hired Fresno attorney Kevin Little and accused the city and three officers of constitutional violations.

Drozd picked apart their discovery-related arguments, noting that they alleged police misconduct for the first time in their opposition to the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

“Plaintiffs cannot now avoid summary judgment by invoking a discovery dispute at the ‘proverbial eleventh hour,” Drozd wrote.

He cited conflicting case law to rule that the alleged theft of property seized under a valid search warrant was not protected under the Fourth Amendment. Drozd said the Ninth Circuit has yet to offer “direct guidance” on the issue of subsequent theft of lawfully seized property.

Attorney Little said his clients will appeal, in hopes of “clarifying the state of the law.”

“I disagree strongly with the premise of the decision, i.e., that the alleged theft of money by officers during the execution of a warrant does not violate the Constitution. I am hopeful we can succeed in clarifying the state of the law on appeal,” Little said in an email.

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