Accused bank robber Nathan Elsea was returned to jail following Monday's hearing. Following close behind the handcuffed prisoner is Jail Commander Lt. Bruce Fones.
>An attempt to withhold evidence in the upcoming trial of an accused bank robber gets turned down by a Crook County Circuit Court judge
August 21, 2001 -- A motion to suppress evidence vital to the state's case against the man accused of last June's robbery attempt was thrown out Monday.
Nathan James Elsea's attorney, Robert Doyle, presented his motion in Crook County Circuit Court Monday. Elsea had been arrested and charged with theft and robbery. The 21-year-old accused bank robber appeared in court and sat at the defendant's table with his head bowed throughout the morning hearing.
Through questioning various police officers, Doyle attempted to show Judge Daniel Ahern that the backpack taken from his client at the time of his arrest should not have been searched.
According to police and court reports, Elsea apparently entered the Prineville branch of Community First Bank at 10:14 on the morning of June 28. Allegedly pushing aside a bank teller, the accused jumped over a counter and began stuffing cash into his pockets and the front of the pants he was wearing. He then fled out the rear door and was last seen running down the street to the north of the bank.
Early reports from witnesses described the man as wearing overalls and a white shirt. His face had been covered by a knitted ski-mask and he had a backpack over one shoulder. The overalls had bright colored patches, witnesses said, similar to what rodeo clowns wear.
Within a short time, police officers assisted by county sheriff's deputies converged on the area and the search began. One of the officers talked with a man who reported that his daughter had talked with the robber. Prineville Police Sgt. Ray Cuellar testified during the suppression hearing that the young girl had told her father that a man had told her he had just robbed a bank.
When interviewed by Cuellar, the girl, who is not identified, described the man and what he had been wearing. Cuellar, checking his notes from that investigation, said the girl said the man had a backpack, was wearing a clown suit, orange and red with red dots on it. She also said he had a mask.
A short time later officers spotted the suspect crossing a nearby residential street and detained him for questioning.
In answer to questions by Chief Deputy District Attorney Ron Brown, Cuellar explained that the suspect was fitted the description of the robber. When asked if the officers could look in the man's backpack, he said no. Officers then placed the man in the back of a patrol car while an affidavit was drafted requesting a search warrant.
Doyle contended in his motion to withhold evidence that the affidavit was incomplete and lacking in detail. Therefore, he asked that the evidence found in backpack should be suppressed.
At the time, police did not have sufficient reason to hold his client, Doyle said. Under Oregon law, the question is whether there was reasonable suspicion for the police to detain the suspect. Using reports from various witnesses that differed in the robber's height and weight, and even the color of the backpack, Doyle tried to prove the affidavit was incomplete.
Even the age of the girl who reported that the robber had talked with her was mentioned; not quite five years old.
"This (the affidavit) was simply an ad hoc attempt to search and seizure," Doyle told Judge Ahern. "And that would not the purpose of the warrant."
Clearly, he added, the search warrant is invalid, the initial stop and detention was unlawful and therefore the warrant itself was unlawful.
Ahern said he would delete one paragraph of the search warrant affidavit because, he explained, "it contains a lot of information that was not verified." But, he added, "that doesn't take away from the value of the warrant affidavit."
The court, Ahern went on to say, "will find the officers had reasonable suspicions. The description of the person stopped by Sgt. Cuellar fit the description to permit stopping him. The robbery occurred at 10:14 a.m. and it was 1:20 p.m. when the suspect. The paperwork was completed and the warrant signed by 4:30 p.m., and that was a fast job, Ahern said. The search warrant affidavit was a rush job and might have been done better, Ahern said, but it was sufficient.
With that decision, Elsea was returned to the county jail to await trial which is scheduled for Sept. 4.