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Search warrant suppressed in Yellowstone drug bust
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DARLINGTON – A motion was granted in the Lafayette County Circuit Court on May 16 to suppress a search warrant that resulted in several pounds of marijuana being seized and finding a suspected growing operation.
Both Eric Switzky, 36, and Kristen Switzky, 34, is charged separately of a Class E felony count of manufacturing and distribution of THC, one felony count of possession of THC with the intent to deliver and three misdemeanor counts of neglecting a child.
According to a release by the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office, on October 18, 2017, a search warrant was executed regarding a suspected indoor and outdoor marijuana growing and distribution operation at their home on Lake Road in the town of Fayette. More than seventy-five marijuana plants in various stages of growth, approximately twenty pounds of marijuana leaf “clippings”, other items related to a butane chemical hashish oil manufacturing operation, guns and ammunition were seized.
Defense attorneys for Eric Switzky and Kristen Switzky filed a motion to suppress on Feb. 28, for the search warrant and all evidence seized from their home.
At the oral ruling on May 16, attorney Luke Steiner for Eric Switzky argued that the confidential informant (CI) that told police about the suspected grow operation was not reliable since there was no known information about the CI or how that person may have known the Switzky’s. Steiner also argued that the police made no attempts to corroborate the information received from the CI. He also addressed that the search warrant was signed along with a subpoena that sought utility records but the search warrant was executed before the utility records could be obtained.
Attorney Mark Eisenberg for Kristen Switzky concurred with Steiner adding that there is no reason given for why the CI told the police the information but only that the CI was acquainted with the couple and their home. Eisenberg commented that there is no information stating that the police knew if the Switzkys lived there or if they had three young children. Eisenberg suggested the police could have done a fly over to see where the growing operation was taking place, in order to find some sort of evident corroborating the CI’s information or even knock on the door to be able to smell the odor of butane coming from the home.
District Attorney Jenna Gill disputed that the police did in fact corroborate the information given from the CI. She stated that they did research who lived there and she addressed the idea of a small county like Lafayette doing a fly over or knocking on the door the day before a search warrant was issued. She commented that it doesn’t matter how the CI know the Switzkys or how they may have obtained the information because he CI swore under oath to the extremely detailed information of the house, its surrounding growing operation and also a secret room that was in the basement that housed more drug activity. Gill stated that officers could have found facts that there were three minor children in the home disturbing and would want to act as soon as they could.
Green County judge, Thomas Vale, stated that he has signed search warrants for similar situations and always asks for the utility records first and any additional information before a search warrant is signed. He commented that if a search warrant is signed that indicates that that person has enough information to warrant probable cause. He agreed with the district attorney that the CI was very detailed in their information but there was not indication as to who the CI was or their motivation for giving the information. He agreed with Eisenberg that a knock on the door could have sufficed for enough evidence to corroborate was the CI was stating, and felt that the police could have done more research.
The district attorney has 45 days from May 18 to appeal the motion. The case will go before the court again on July 18.