A day in court for drug enforcement
Law enforcement officers specializing in counter drug enforcement wrapped up training Friday with a mock trial in East Fork Justice Court.
The cast of characters came straight out of a game of Clue or a Quentin Tarantino movie: reputed drug kingpin Donald Quebec and his associates, Dennis Fox, Kenneth Kelo, Rhonda Whiskey and Thomas Worn.
His hair slicked down and pulled back into a stubby pony tail, “Quebec” was wheeled into East Fork Justice Court on Friday to stand trial on charges of trafficking in a controlled substance and conspiracy to violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
The defendant – portrayed by Detective James Francis from the Reno office of the Department of Public Safety – wore a pin-striped suit and a blue cast on his foot, the result of being kicked down the stairs during his arrest (his claim) or from a self-injury to win sympathy from the mock jury of seven teenagers recruited by the Juvenile Probation Office.
The purpose of the exercise was to train officers how to prepare for trial and to testify.
Douglas County deputy district attorneys Derrick Lopez and Mark Jackson – who served as prosecutor and defender – evaluated the participants on everything from posture at the witness stand to making eye contact with the jury.
“You’re all used to dealing with defense attorneys,” said Jackson, who will be Douglas County’s district attorney next year.
“You will be subject to personal attacks. They will hold nothing back.”
He told the witnesses they treated his client too kindly.
“One of you referred to him as ‘the gentleman in a wheelchair with a leg brace.’ There is nothing gentlemanly about him. He’s a defendant and sometimes attorneys will object to you referring to him that way, but it’s perfectly accurate.”
He and Lopez orchestrated the presentation so Lopez ignored obvious opportunities to object to the line of questioning.
“Rookie prosecutors let the defense get away with so much more,” he said.
Lopez cautioned the witnesses against looking to the prosecutor for help.
“Some of you looked to me when you thought I should be entering an objection,” he said. “Don’t look like you’re looking to the prosecutor for help.”
Participants came from Nevada, New Mexico, California and Saipan, said course instructor Rory Planeta, a detective with the Department of Public Safety.
Originally developed at the Southeast Public Safety Institute of St. Petersburg, Fla., the 10-day curriculum is designed to train law enforcement officers assigned to multi-jurisdictional drug task forces.
“It’s scenario-based training,” Planeta said. “The participants learn in the class and put their knowledge into effect in the field.”
On Thursday, the class participated in raid and arrest field exercises instructed by the Carson City Special Weapons and Tactics team at the Stewart State Facility.
Instruction moved to East Fork Justice Court on Friday for the mock trial of “Quebec,” suspected of engineering a $1 million methamphetamine smuggling operation from Mexico to Northern Nevada.
The trial, before Judge Jim EnEarl, was not without its lighter moments.
Defense attorney Jackson questioned the sobriety of one witness and accused her of talking to the jurors during a break.
He failed to disclose that as the teenagers were leaving the courtroom for the short recess, one called out, “Mark, good job! You’re very firm.”
EnEarl gave the jury 10 minutes to elect a foreman and come back with a verdict, but they returned in five.
“Uh, not guilty,” said the foreman to the charge of trafficking in a controlled substance.
The defendant was found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
The jurors were given a round of applause by the gallery, the court officers and the defendant, and a pizza lunch.
Instructors and role players were recruited from the Department of Public Safety, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Carson City Sheriff’s Department, Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, Rocky Mountain Information Network, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Multi-jurisdictional Task Force in St. Petersburg.
Officers came from Department of Public Safety, Carson City and Douglas County sheriff’s offices, Boulder City Police Department, Elko Combined Narcotics Unit, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mineral County Sheriff’s Office, Nevada Division of State Parks, Southern Area Interdiction Narcotics Task Force, Tri-County Drug Enforcement Team and the Reno DEA Task Force.