On January 22, 1997, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrested 26-year-old Calvin Newburn on charges of selling rock cocaine to customers who drove up in their cars as he stood on 111th Street in Lennox, California.
The officers said they had been conducting surveillance near 4040 W. 111th Street following neighborhood complaints.
At trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court, deputies testified they watched Newburn approach vehicles, have discussions with the drivers, then walk to a truck parked nearby, retrieve an object and return to the street where he would wait for the cars to return. He was seen reaching into the vehicles and then returning to the sidewalk. The deputies said that after watching a half a dozen of these transactions, they arrested Newburn and found rock cocaine under the truck.
Newburn testified that he was not selling drugs and that the deputies threatened to plant evidence on him if he did not stop complaining about being arrested. Other bystanders testified similarly. Newburn said that he was going to visit a girlfriend and was outside her house when the deputies pulled up and began searching them.
A mistrial was declared when the jury could not reach a verdict.
Before the second trial began, Newburn’s attorney subpoenaed the records of communications between the deputies’ squad cars to compare with their testimony.
The records were produced just as closing arguments were about to begin. The judge refused to allow the records—which contradicted the deputies’ testimony and showed they had not had Newburn under surveillance—to be shown to the jury.
Newburn was convicted by the jury in September 1997 and sentenced to seven years in prison.
In January, 1999, the California Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, ruling that the evidence of the communications between the officers should have been presented to the jury.
On April 7, 1999, the charges were dismissed and Newburn was released.
In 2001, Newburn settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s department for $295,000.
In 2003, Newburn was again arrested by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies and again charged with possession of cocaine for sale. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.
– Maurice Possley