Brainerd man loses state appeal case

A 44-year-old Brainerd man – who was convicted in March of 2014 of first-degree drug possession of 25 or more grams – appealed the district court’s decision and lost.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals Monday affirmed the Crow Wing County District Court’s decision regarding the case against Timothy George Clark. Clark was sentenced to 104 months in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. Clark also was charged with first-degree drug sale, but it was dismissed.

Clark filed an appeal to challenge the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his property. He argued the warrant to search his home lacked sufficient probable cause because it relied exclusively on information supplied by an unreliable informant. The appeals court said because police sufficiently corroborated the informant’s tip and the district court had a substantial basis to conclude probable cause that they supported the warrant.

On March 27, 2013, the district court signed a search warrant authorizing a “no-knock” search of Clark’s property. The search warrant relied heavily on information provided by an informant, the unofficial appeals court document said. The informant, who recently was arrested for carrying 1.5 ounces of methamphetamine, told police he had purchased the methamphetamine from Clark at Clark’s home two days before. The informant also told police he purchased methamphetamine from Clark for 10 months.

The informant gave the police a very detailed description of Clark’s home and the events he had witnessed while on Clark’s property. The informant told the police Clark hid methamphetamine within polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes on his property and had numerous firearms hidden on his property.

According to the informant, two people worked as farm hands on Clark’s property and were compensated with methamphetamine. The informant had also “observed numerous Mexicans at the residence at one time, and these individuals were armed with three assault rifles,” the document said. He also saw 10 pounds of methamphetamine at Clark’s home. The informant told police Clark was scheduled to receive a large quantity of methamphetamine on the date the search warrant was issued.

The district court issued a search warrant based on: the informant’s information; Clark’s criminal background of where he was convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance and was prohibited from owning firearms; the Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division suspected Clark was a methamphetamine dealer; and Clark had threatened people on his property with a gun.

Police executed the warrant and found a PVC pipe containing 15 clear plastic baggies holding 1 ounce of a substance later identified as methamphetamine; 435.2 grams of methamphetamine; a plastic bag in a barn on Clark’s property containing $4,510 in cash.

The district court denied Clark’s motion concluding it contained a substantial basis for probable cause for the same reasons the search warrant was issued.

Clark argued the warrant to search his home lacked probable cause because it rested solely on the recent observations of a “cooperating individual,” who had never previously provided information to police and could not be considered reliable. The court disagreed. Whether an informant’s tip can “establish probable cause to search depends on the totality of the circumstances of the particular case, including the credibility and veracity of the informant,” the document said.

The document went on to say an informant’s statement of the event observed first-hand “entitles his tip to greater weight than might otherwise be the case.”

Clark first argued the police reports do not sufficiently corroborate the informant’s tip because they were vague and supported a no-knock provision for the warrant. But corroboration of even a minor detail lending credence to an informant’s tip is relevant to a probable cause determination, said the court document.

The two reports corroborated a major detail from the informant’s tip: Clark, who is prohibited from possessing a firearm, had one on his property; the reports were not vague for the purposes of corroborating the informant’s tip because they specifically identified Clark as the person who threatened people on his property with a firearm.

Clark also argued his criminal history cannot be used to corroborate the informant’s tip because the warrant application did not state he was convicted with a controlled substance crime, it stated he was charged with controlled substance crimes. The state argued a person’s criminal record is among the circumstances a judge may consider when determining whether probable cause exists for a search warrant. The appeals court also said the court can consider a defendant’s entire criminal history behavior, including past charges when issuing a warrant.