Oakland audits drug cases over flawed search warrants
Pontiac — The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office are auditing investigations involving a former narcotics officer after a second drug case he handled was dismissed due to an apparent improperly obtained search warrant.
Earlier this month, the Michigan Court of Appeals sent the drug conviction of Demario Darnell Williamson of Pontiac back to Oakland Circuit Court for a trial court review after determining Narcotics Enforcement Team officer Charles Janczarek “knowingly and intentionally made a false statement” to a judge about the reliability of an informant he used to establish probable cause for a search warrant.
He implied on his affidavit the informant had been used before, stating: “During a period of time covering over the past thirty days the informant has provided information that has led to the issuance of one search warrant by a judge of the 50th District Court.”
But was subsequently unable to document the existence of an earlier warrant and clarified in court he was writing about the Williamson case only.
Appeals judges Diane Stephens and Douglas B. Shapiro joined in the opinion with Judge Christopher M. Murray dissenting.
Oakland County isn't the only place in Metro Detroit to face problems recently with untruthful police officers.
The Detroit News reported last week that a Freedom of Information request filed with the Detroit Police Department revealed 54 officers — about 2% of the force — had been disciplined for being untruthful, rendering them unable to testify as chief witnesses in criminal cases.
Wayne County assistant prosecutor Maria Miller said the prosecutor's office has declined to move forward with criminal cases because of officers' untruthfulness, as did Bill Vailliencourt, Livingston County prosecutor and president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.
"This isn't just a Detroit problem, or even a Michigan problem — prosecutors are dealing with this issue across the country," Vailliencourt said.
An earlier case involving a suspected Rochester Hills drug dealer, Christopher Khalil Dukes, was tossed out in 2017 after Janczarek was unable to produce a document demonstrating that a search warrant had been properly obtained in August 2015. Afterward, Janczarek was removed as an investigator.
“Under the circumstances and the Court of Appeals ruling, it would be very difficult to now move forward with the Williamson case,” Chief Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Paul Walton said. “We felt the best thing to do was to dismiss it.
“As far as any other cases, we don’t know of any problems but are doing due diligence with an audit that could take some time.”
Oakland County Sheriff’s Maj. Robert Smith said Janczarek remains a full-time deputy but has not been assigned to the NET group or drug investigations since 2017, when problems surfaced in the Dukes case.
“We are aware of concerns raised in two drug cases and are reviewing all investigations where he was involved and are working with the prosecutor’s office on this,” Smith said.
Janczarek had worked several years with the now-defunct Pontiac Police Department and was with the Auburn Hills Public Safety Department during the Dukes investigation before becoming a deputy. During that case, he testified he had obtained search warrants in hundreds of drug cases but it was unclear if that was spread out over other police agencies, Smith said.
In the case the appeals court decided, Williamson had been sentenced in December 2015 to a minimum 20-year prison sentence for possession with intent to deliver more than 50 grams but less than 450 grams of cocaine.
He was released this month by the Michigan Department of Corrections but transferred to the Oakland County Jail, where he remains incarcerated for an unrelated stolen property offense, according to attorney Paul J. Stablein, who represented him in the original May 2015 drug case.
Stablein said he had sought a dismissal in the drug case not only because of what he perceived as a defective warrant but also because Williamson was living at a Rochester area hotel, not at the Pontiac house where investigators found 134 grams of cocaine. Stablein said the house was being renovated at the time.
“There were problems with the warrant — he said he had obtained an earlier search warrant within the last 30 days with the help of the same confidential informant," Stablein said. "But when I asked for information on the other case (involving the earlier warrant), he said Williamson was actually the first time he had ever used the informant. He explained he had been taught to write the warrant that way.”
The Court of Appeals noted the discrepancy and said if that was true, a broader investigation might be in order, Stablein said.
Stablein said there also were time discrepancies in the warrant, which Janczarek wrote had been signed by a judge at 6:18 p.m. May 6, 2015, when police reports indicate the raid was executed at 5:30 p.m. — nearly an hour earlier.
“But what I argued over and beyond that was that (Williamson) owned the house but did not live there,” Stablein said. “There were many other people who had access to it and could have put the drugs there.”
“I’m just glad the Court of Appeals righted this wrong,” he said. “And Mr. Williamson is obviously anxious to resume his normal life.”
At the time of his arrest Williamson, now 36, was employed full-time at a Rochester gear manufacturer, Stablein said.
Problems presented themselves in the first week of the Dukes trial when Janczarek testified he had secretly placed a GPS tracker on Dukes’ Cadillac that recorded suspected drug dealing activity. Police can legally use trackers after obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge.
Janczarek listed Dukes’ late-night drives and other activities over a 30-day period among the reasons justifying a second search warrant for the pharmacy technician’s Rochester Hillsapartment in August 2015. There, officials later seized a kilogram of heroin with a street value of up to $300,000, plus cash and guns.
Dukes’s attorney, James W. Amberg, was stunned at having not received any prior notice of the tracker from the prosecutor’s office. And when he was quizzed on the witness stand, Janczarek couldn’t produce the search warrant authorizing use of the GPS device, nor could he find a record of it from the prosecutor’s office, the courts, or in his own files.
After weeks of searching at five possible locations, Janczarek found a signed affidavit for the tracker warrant in a milk crate in his basement, but not the warrant itself.
Amberg argued that since the NET officer never properly obtained the initial tracking device warrant, the second warrant for the apartment — which relied partly on the tracking device information as probable cause to search the residence — was deficient and any evidence obtained through it should be excluded at trial.
Judge Rae Lee Chabot agreed and declared a mistrial.
The prosecutor’s office subsequently decided it would not seek a new trial and Dukes was freed.
Since then the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office has modified internal recording practices so that every warrant obtained is placed on a computer record along with the case file, Smith said.
This is the third time in six years that allegations regarding information placed on a search warrant by a NET officer have led prosecutors to dismiss charges.
In 2013, Sgt. Marc Ferguson was fired when an assistant prosecuting attorney revealed that Ferguson had lied on affidavits and committed perjury in 2011 to obtain a search warrant on a package containing 78 pounds of marijuana he had already opened at a Pontiac shipping company.
The prosecutor’s office subsequently dismissed 17 cases involving Ferguson as a chief witness.
George Hunter contributed.