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Gun, drug charges are thrown out

Judge doubts credibility of evidence used against man who allegedly fought in 2008 biker brawl. Prosecutors may refile charges.

March 03, 2010|By Joseph Serna

Citing a mishandling of evidence by police, an Orange County Superior Court judge this week threw out all gun and drug charges against a man whose home was searched after a Newport Beach bar melee in August 2008.

Brian David Heslington, 37, of Costa Mesa, was cleared Monday by Judge Richard M. King after prosecutors declined to give the defense a sealed portion of the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant of Heslington’s home in August 2008.

Newport Beach police searched Heslington’s home on Aug. 6, 2008, more than a week after police alleged that he and Hells Angels members brawled with members of rival biker gang the Set Free Soldiers at Blackie’s by the Sea, a bar on the Balboa Peninsula.

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After the search, Heslington was charged with being in possession of a controlled substance and a firearm.

Newport Beach Police Det. Christine O’Donnell’s testimony to a judge granting the search warrant in 2008 and testimony to King over the last few months appear to have led to the case’s dismissal.

O’Donnell could not be reached for comment Tuesday. However, she maintained in previous testimony that there was a misunderstanding about the evidence between her and the prosecuting attorney.

When the judge granting the warrant asked for a certified copy of the sealed affidavit — the document giving police probable cause for a search and possibly containing information of an undercover officer — O’Donnell provided prosecutors both certified and noncertified documents.

The certified copy remained at the Newport Beach Police Department instead of being on file with the Harbor Justice Center, attorneys said during a hearing last year.

O’Donnell also photocopied a court seal prosecutors presented as authentic, according to court papers.

In at least two hearings, O’Donnell failed to clarify her misstep to the court, King concluded in his ruling Monday in Santa Ana.

Heslington’s defense attorney, Scott B. Well, pointed to the misstep and cast doubt about probable cause for the search.

In his 10-page opinion, King ruled that O’Donnell’s testimony about the sealed document and photocopying the seal represented “false or reckless testimony.”

The judge also wrote that “there is a reasonable possibility that either a false statement material to probable cause or one made with reckless disregard for the truth was presented to the magistrate who issued the search warrant.”

King had ordered prosecutors to turn over parts of the affidavit to the defense. When they declined, King threw out the case.

The district attorney’s office can refile charges, officials said.

During the fight at Blackie’s, two men were stabbed and one was struck in the head with a billiard ball.

Others involved in the brawl have been sentenced to prison or probation.


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