Judge blasts arrest based on ‘ethnicity’ in drug-dealing case
July 2, 2002
A man caught with 28 bindles of cocaine was sentenced to probation Monday after the judge who reviewed the case said the suspect “had been set up.”
Cesar Tapia-Perez, 19, was first taken into police custody on March 16 during an investigation of a theft case at the Cooper Street Pier.
A woman who called police to report missing jewelry pointed to Tapia-Perez as he walked past police officers and out of the bar that night, claiming that he was the man who stole from her. Two officers handcuffed Tapia-Perez, and during a routine pat-down for weapons, the officers allegedly found the bindles, seven “eight-balls” of cocaine and a small baggie of marijuana.
Field tests confirmed the identity of the substances. Tapia-Perez was arrested for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, a Class III felony. And though he admitted that he intended to sell the drugs, police did not find the missing jewelry.
The strange circumstances of the arrest – apprehended for charges that had nothing to do with the investigation at hand – caused concern for District Court Judge J.E. DeVilbiss during the defendant’s court appearances.
“It’s hard to escape the impression that this defendant, though he is a street-level drug dealer, was arrested because of his ethnicity,” DeVilbiss said Monday during Tapia-Perez’s sentencing hearing. “Mr. Tapia-Perez, you got set up.”
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During Tapia-Perez’s first court appearance on March 18, DeVilbiss said he saw probable cause to detain the suspect but was not happy with the fact that he was taken into custody without a warrant. The judge said a motion to suppress could be used to help Tapia-Perez avoid prosecution, considering the circumstances of his arrest.
Instead, prosecutors offered a plea bargain that allowed Tapia-Perez to confess to a much lesser charge: attempted possession of a controlled substance, a Class V felony. Tapia-Perez pleaded guilty to the charge on May 20, and he remained in the Pitkin County Jail until Monday’s sentencing hearing.
Though DeVilbiss cracked jokes about what he called a “Monty Python”-like arrest, the judge still chastised the defendant for not only selling drugs, but spending his free time in a bar.
“Underage in a bar – you’re a kid hanging out in bars and dealing drugs,” DeVilbiss said, shaking his head.
He sentenced Tapia-Perez to three years of supervised probation, though the defendant – a native of Mexico living in the country illegally – must contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a condition of his sentence.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is email@example.com.]