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The following article was posted on February 13th, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 29 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 29

Gone rogue?

D.A. to review past cases after officer's arrest

BY MATT FOUNTAIN

Following the high-profile arrest of a San Luis Obispo Police Department officer on a bribery charge, the county’s district attorney is reviewing past criminal cases in an effort to ensure judgments haven’t been compromised.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Cory Pierce, 39, of Arroyo Grande, on the morning of Feb. 5 following a three-week investigation into the officer’s dealings with confidential informants.

Pierce was taken into custody without incident to the FBI’s Santa Maria regional office and has since posted an unsecured bond of $25,000.

City human resources staff told New Times that Pierce remains on paid administrative leave, which started the day of his arrest, and his employment is pending an internal investigation. He was initially hired in September 2006. According to Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Tony Cipolla, Pierce was never employed by his department, but during his tenure with the city served as a member of the sheriff’s narcotics task force.

Now the SLO County District Attorney’s Office is conducting a review of cases in which Pierce was either involved in an investigation or was a witness for the prosecution. D.A. Spokesman Jerret Gran said the office will alert defense attorneys for any relevant cases, as is required by law. The process will likely take time; prosecutors have to “evaluate each case on an individual basis.”

According to a federal affidavit obtained by New Times, Pierce is suspected of deviating from standard procedure on numerous occasions during his time as a narcotics officer, specifically from February 2012 until his arrest. During that period, the FBI alleges, Pierce developed an addiction to heroin and other opiates, and used his access to the evidence property room to perpetrate a scheme selling fake drugs for cash.

The affidavit, drafted by Spec. Agent Dieter Willkomm, who is based in the FBI’s Santa Maria regional office, alleges that Pierce “corruptly solicited, demanded, accepted, and agreed to accept, cash from [confidential informants],” according to the criminal complaint.

The allegations against Pierce center on the cooperation of two of the officer’s informants, a boyfriend and girlfriend, both of whom told investigators they use and sell drugs, and both of whom have lengthy criminal records. The woman told Willkomm that her memory has been affected by her methamphetamine use, the record shows.

According to the informants—who weren’t named in the report—they became sources for Pierce in late 2011 after Pierce arrested the man for possession of heroin. They told Willkomm that Pierce allowed the man to “work off” his charge if he cooperated. The female stated that, in the beginning of their relationship, Pierce would contact her for information. However, she said, in March 2012, Pierce called her, stating he’d injured his back and wanted pain pills, specifically Norcos and Vicodin. After she acquired 20 pills from her dealer, Pierce allegedly met her driving a truck that wasn’t his normal work vehicle, in the parking lot of a local grocery store. According to the source, Pierce initially stiffed her $40 for the pills.

Following the transaction, she said, Pierce began calling her at strange hours, seeking more pills. The sources later told Willkomm about one occasion in June 2012 when Pierce had them set up a transaction with a dealer in Avila Beach. According to the sources, following the transaction, Pierce stopped the dealer’s vehicle at gunpoint and seized all the morphine pills in the dealer’s possession, as well as some fireworks discovered in the car. Pierce—presumably identifying himself as a police officer—then reportedly let the dealer go without charges, then gave the informants some of the fireworks and roughly 30 pills, keeping some 150 for himself, they told Willkomm.

Shortly thereafter, the sources said, Pierce began providing them with fake pills to trade for real pills that the woman would then give to Pierce. She alleged that Pierce occasionally provided her with methamphetamine as a reward. The informant said the pills and methamphetamine came from an evidence locker, sometimes still in evidence bags.

The informant recalled that at one point a couple of dealers were “after” her after receiving the fake pills. When she told Pierce, the affadavit states, Pierce allegedly responded, “I’ll get them. I’ll take care of it.”

The woman also stated she wasn’t comfortable with the relationship with Pierce and wanted to end it, and the man stated that Pierce would get the female “back in the game” if she attempted to get clean.

In November, the informants alleged, Pierce began shooting heroin and increasingly demanded morphine pills.

Ultimately, the informants told investigators, Pierce provided what they described as hundreds of pills, netting them roughly $11,000, which Pierce allegedly split with them.

Following a tip about Pierce’s activities, detectives with the Sheriff’s Department and SLOPD began an internal investigation and quickly discovered that Pierce had never created case files on the two informants. Beginning in January 2013, the two began cooperating with detectives and agreed to record conversations with the officer.

According to the complaint, the Sheriff’s Department evidence locker has since been equipped with a surveillance camera.

Pierce was previously a member of the SLOPD’s Situation-Oriented Response Team and was involved in a number of controversial narcotics operations, including 2010’s “Operation Green Sweep,” which resulted in the arrests of 12 local residents suspected of breaking California’s medical marijuana laws. All charges against the people arrested in that sweep were later dismissed by the SLO District Attorney’s Office.

He also acted as the lead investigator in the county’s first medical marijuana-related case to go through trial in September 2011. In the case, Pierce sat through more than two weeks of testimony against a Cal Poly student and a King City man—both legally permitted to possess medical marijuana—to prove they were involved in a marijuana trafficking operation. All charges against the two defendants were rejected by jurors after less than three hours of deliberation.

Sheriff’s spokesman Cipolla said the department’s narcotics officers have all been drug tested following Pierce’s arrest, and no officer tested positive.

According to U.S. Department of Justice Spokesman Thom Mrozek, Pierce has yet to enter a plea to the allegation, but is set for another court date before a U.S. magistrate in early March.

Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at mfountain@newtimesslo.com.