Oct. 4, 2011 — Many readers probably will remember my arrival at the Lassen County Times about 12 years ago.
Almost immediately I stumbled headlong into the murky controversy surrounding Paul Berry, a 22-year-old Lassen Community College student sentenced to five years in state prison for allegedly selling the equivalent of two joints to Cherokee Miranda, a Lassen County Narcotics Task Force operative who posed as a Lassen High School student.
Thirty-one other local residents got snared in the investigation, too, and all but Berry accepted plea bargains and got probation, including the real dope dealer who sold Berry the four grams of weed he claimed he gave to Miranda because he was doing a favor for a friend with whom he hoped to develop a romantic relationship.
Berry wanted a jury trial, pleaded not guilty and got hammered about the time I got here.
In the end, the court overturned Berry’s conviction, and in his second trial the jury convicted him of the lesser but included charge of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Berry paid a small fine, got credit for time served in the Lassen County Jail and headed straight back home to St. Louis, Mo. post haste.
A number of disturbing facts came out as Berry’s ink dried on the newspaper’s pages, public officials sounded off on the airwaves at a local radio station and members of the public couldn’t wait to weigh in on both sides of this controversial story.
Based on her own police reports, Miranda’s work ethic came under fire.
For example, she frequently stashed multiple drug buys under her microwave oven — to some, compromising the integrity of the legal chain of evidence.
In some parts of her reports she said she purchased meth, but then in other parts she said she purchased marijuana.
Which was it?
She testified these were only typographical errors, and her memory was absolutely clear about which drug she purchased from whom and when.
And here’s a real mind blower.
After one December evening’s marijuana buy, she even gave a high school kid a little bit of the burn he’d bought for her, and then he and some friends smoked it in Miranda’s car as she drove them around Susanville. (One letter writer wondered if the windows were rolled up.)
Speaking on the radio, a cop said an undercover officer would never give drugs to a high school kid, unless it was what he called “a kick down,” an action he said law enforcement hates to take, where the buyer shares a taste of the score with the seller — sort of like a finder’s fee.
Common practice in the drug world. Believe it or not, the story was gleaned from one of Miranda’s own police reports.
But the most incomprehensible fact turned up when a member of the jury called the newspaper to report a member of the narcotics task force also had served as the jury foreman in Berry’s first trial — the fact that led to the overturning of his conviction and a subsequent investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office.
Obviously something went wrong in the Paul Berry case. There’s real, tangible evidence.
Soon every conspiracy theory and corruption rumor in Lassen County landed on my desk.
I quickly discovered that as a journalist and a thinking person, one must learn to distinguish the difference between opinion and fact, perception and reality.
Entirely different beasts.
These days it’s the corrupt county officials scheming with the evil (minus two) board of supervisors to come up with a redistricting plan to save Jack Hanson from recall scandal.
OK, good enough.
For the moment, and for the sake of argument alone, let’s set aside the legal memorandums from Lassen County Counsel Rick Crabtree that the redistricting plan will not affect the recall campaign in any way should it qualify. (Which completely unhinges the assertion behind this uproar, doesn’t it?)
Where are the facts?
Show me some evidence of this alleged conspiracy.
I can appreciate your opinion and belief that Lassen County government is rotten to the core and everybody from here to Sacramento to Washington, D.C. knows it — although I don’t share that opinion.
I can also appreciate and support your belief that getting the public more involved in government is a good thing.
Still, I want to see some real, honest to goodness proof.
Big assertions need big facts, and I’m just not ready to follow you folks off the cliff like I’m a stampeding lemming whose hair’s on fire just because you suspect somebody somewhere must be doing something wrong simply because they’re part of the corrupt county government. Suspicions are not facts.
If there’s something to uncover or report to the public, I’m with you all the way.
I’m sorry, but without some concrete facts to back up these opinions and assertions, it’s all bull and no horns to me.
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