Society

Police Officer Who Took Confiscated Marijuana Home Won't Face Charges

| by Jared Keever
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A California police officer who was caught with marijuana in his home likely won’t face criminal charges, authorities said recently.

The Contra Costa Times reports 17-year veteran K-9 officer Joe Avila has been on administrative leave with the Richmond Police Department since September, when police discovered the marijuana in his home. 

Robin Lipetzky, the Contra Costa County's chief public defender, said the county district attorney’s office has been investigating the discovery but probably won’t file charges because there is not enough evidence to produce a conviction. 

According to a search warrant affidavit from the case, Avila picked up a box containing 4 to 5 pounds of marijuana from a UPS store in November of last year. He is said to have radioed a dispatcher saying he would file an incident report later. The affidavit says he failed to fill out a report and place marijuana in an evidence locker. 

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The incident reportedly came to authorities’ attention when an officer, assigned to investigate Avila’s failure to fill out more than three dozen incident reports, discovered it. 

He was subsequently placed on leave, pending further investigation. In February police interviewed him about the location of the drugs. He reportedly told investigators he used the marijuana to train his police dog and admitted that some of the drugs could be found in the trunk of his patrol car or at his house. 

Police sources told The Contra Costa Times that officers are required to follow strict guidelines about labeling and storing potential evidence. 

Detective Hector Esparza, speaking as president of the Richmond Police Officer’s Association, a police labor union, agreed and said that Avila is guilty of little more than failing to follow those policies.

“There’s no criminal element in this whatsoever,” Esparza told the website Richmond Confidential. “In my opinion it’s a purely administrative matter. K-9 officers use narcotics for training their dogs, it’s how they keep them up to speed.”

Avila and his attorney have both declined to comment on the case. 

It remains unclear when Avila’s future with the department will be determined. 

“The fact that the officer is on administrative leave should not be viewed as a statement of guilt or a punishment,” said Capt. Mark Gagan, who declined to mention Avila by name. “Paid administrative leave is an opportunity for our department to do a thorough fact-finding investigation.”

Sources: Contra Costa TimesRichmond Confidential / Photo Credit: Katheirne Hitt / Flickr