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Unlawful searches jeopardizing Walworth County cases

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
June 30, 2009
— Five Walworth County court cases could be in jeopardy after a judge ruled Monday that the search that uncovered a substantial piece of evidence was unlawful.

Four Delavan teens are charged with disorderly conduct, use of a dangerous weapon and carrying a concealed weapon stemming from an April 28 incident in Delavan. They are Brandon M. Knowles, 18; Elizabeth Jaramillo, 18; Shawn T. Barron, 18, and a 16-year-old boy,


But the weapon found in the vehicle they were driving in Delavan that day was obtained through an illegal search, Judge Michael Gibbs ruled.


Assistant District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld said the weapon was a “substantial” piece of evidence in the case and he will have to re-evaluate the charges after Gibbs’ decision Monday.


The weapon, Wiedenfeld said, also was substantial in another case against Knowles, who is charged with endangering safety by reckless use of firearm, discharge of firearm against a building, second-degree recklessly endangering safety and delinquent possession of firearm.


The charges stem from an incident in the early hours of April 28, when Knowles allegedly shot four times from a maroon vehicle against a Delavan home.


The weapon found through the search matched the bullet holes in the Delavan home, and the case could be compromised because the weapon can’t be used as evidence.


Delavan police officers who testified Monday said there was an unusual level of criminal activity in the area, and most seemed to be gang-related.


Delavan police officer Richard DeMarasse said he had seen a maroon car with the four teens earlier that afternoon. He noticed the driver wearing his hat sideways in a way that DeMarasse said is common among gang members.


He later drove to a Delavan neighborhood, where a woman reported a car driving by slowly and people in it throwing gang signs at her brother, and he spoke to four men in the area.


The men, who DeMarasse said are known for being involved in gang activity, told him that a “red-ish, maroon-ish” car was driving by the neighborhood and its riders were throwing gang signs.


After searching the area and not finding the car in question, DeMarasse drove to the east side of the city and spotted a maroon vehicle with four teens, later identified as the defendants.


He turned on his siren and attempted to stop the vehicle, and the driver, later identified as Barron, failed to stop.


The officer said he noticed unusual movement in the car and continued to pursue it until the driver stopped at the Walmart parking lot.


“I felt something was wrong in that vehicle,” DeMarasse said.


Thinking the occupants of the vehicle were attempting to hide a weapon, DeMarasse asked for reinforcements and proceeded to remove each passenger individually.


DeMarasse then conducted a search of the vehicle and found a weapon under the seat of the front passenger, later identified as Knowles.


But Gibbs said despite the criminal activity in the area, the officer’s reasoning was not enough to have stopped and searched the vehicle.


“None of it (the earlier complaints) seems to be related to these guys, this specific vehicle,” Gibbs said.


Wiedenfeld said he could not confirm whether the three teens, charged with misdemeanors, were in the car at the time of the drive-by shooting that has warranted Knowles felony charges.


The four teens are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.



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