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By Henry K. Lee
San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND - A man whose home was searched by Oakland police on the strength of a warrant based on officers' false statements to a judge filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the city Tuesday.
The criminal case that police built against the plaintiff, Reginald Oliver, was among at least eight that Alameda County prosecutors have been forced to drop because officers obtained search warrants by providing false information in affidavits to judges. Most of the cases involved drug defendants.
The scandal may involve anywhere from five to 40 officers who lied to judges when they stated on affidavits that substances they seized as suspected drugs had been confirmed by police laboratories as narcotics, when in fact they had not been, attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin said.
The lawyers are seeking class-action status for Oliver's lawsuit so it can represent other people who were arrested on the basis of flawed search warrants.
Police "have the power to enter someone's house at all times of the evening, to break a door down, to really disrupt someone's life," Burris said at a news conference in Oakland. "Ultimately, you could have a person who goes to state prison based upon an arrest with a search warrant that was unlawfully obtained."
Additional defendants are expected to escape charges because of the false police statements on search warrant affidavits, defense attorneys said.
Oliver, a 39-year-old East Oakland resident, has previous convictions for possession of cocaine for sale and unlawful sexual intercourse. He said in the lawsuit that he was arrested in March on narcotics charges and that Oakland police had then searched a home linked to him on Douglas Avenue.
There, officers said they found 216 live rounds, a magazine for an assault weapon and "drug-cutting agents." Oliver's 2-year-old son was found in a room with the ammunition, so officers also booked Oliver on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, court records show.
On Oct. 6, prosecutors dismissed the ammunition charge they had filed against Oliver after discovering that the search warrant for the home had been obtained illegally by an officer who made "intentionally false and/or misleading statements" on an affidavit to a judge, the suit said. The false statement was that alleged narcotics seized in the March arrest had been confirmed as actual drugs.
The lawsuit identified the officer as eight-year veteran Karla Rush, 31, who works in East Oakland as a problem-solving officer responding to community complaints. Defense attorneys have said Rush drew up search-warrant affidavits in other cases that contained similar false statements.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, names the city and Rush as defendants and seeks unspecified damages. City and police officials had no immediate comment on the suit.
Mary Sansen, an attorney for the Oakland Police Officers Association, said five officers are on paid administrative leave as a result of the warrants investigation and a number of others, including Rush, are on desk duty.
"There is absolutely no intentional misrepresentation of anything," Sansen said. The officers are "productive, valued members of the Oakland Police Department who are extremely well-respected because they do good work," she said.
Rush lives in Oakland and is dedicated to the community, Sansen said. "It's particularly difficult for her to be characterized as a liar," she said.
Assistant Police Chief Howard Jordan has previously said that the problems stemmed from training issues and that the officers who drew up the affidavits had committed procedural errors.
But Chanin said, "We will resist ... any attempt to sanitize this behavior as a so-called training issue. If you wrote a search warrant and you said that the drugs were tested and you know that they were not, that is lying."
Andrew Steckler, an Alameda County assistant public defender working on the warrants case, said that "if untruths are being told to judges in applications for search warrants, then there have to be consequences."
Steckler, Chanin and Burris said they are trying to determine exactly how many search warrants may have been tainted and how many officers were involved.
"What we don't yet know, and intend to find out, is what else in these search warrant affidavits is also untrue," Steckler said. "Did a confidential informant actually make a (drug) purchase? Is there even (an informant)? How can we tell where the truth begins in these warrant applications?"
Burris said he recognizes that many of people whose homes were searched have criminal records, but said their integrity was not what was at issue in the case. "It is really the integrity of the Police Department," he said.

Wire Service
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