By Michael R. Moser
Three Cumberland Countians are headed for an Aug. 15 trial date on charges of initiation of the process to manufacture methamphetamine after a Criminal Court judge upheld a 'knock and talk' consent to search granted by one of the defendants.
In a hearing last week, Cumberland County Sheriff's Investigator Jeff Slayton was the only witness to testify during the lengthy hearing, and in the end, the only evidence Judge Leon Burns had to consider was Slayton's remembrance of the events that took place just over a year ago.
Defendants in the case are Cindy Ann and Ronald Dale Dillaha and are represented by Randal Boston. Scott Michael Emerson is represented by Jimmy Smith. The state's case was presented by Assistant District Attorney Caroline Knight.
A fourth defendant has not been arrested on the indictment and remains on the run.
Boston and Smith filed motions have the search ruled illegal and have any evidence seized as a result of that search ruled inadmissible as a result.
The main issue was whether Cindy Dillaha had authority to grant permission to search the home she shared with her husband, and with Emerson, who had spent the night prior to the search in the residence as a guest.
Slayton is a member of the sheriff's department's CNET (Criminal Nuisance Enforcement Team), a group of about half a dozen deputies trained to focus on high crime areas. Slayton also has training as an advanced methamphetamine cleanup technician, in addition to being an investigator with the department.
On April 19, 2012, Slayton, Sgt. Jason Elmore, K-9 Deputy Danny Stone and Deputy David Moore went to the Dillaha's 94 Layken Dr. address in response to anonymous telephone and email complaints concerning suspicious traffic at the residence.
He testified that he went to the residence for a 'knock and talk' contact, during which officers make contact with residents who live in homes where complaints have been made, tell the resident what the complaints are, and ask for permission to search the residence to confirm and put to rest the information the department has received.
Cindy Dillaha answered the door and Slayton testified that he told her, "Most of the time we don't find anything, but sometimes we do."
After talking with Dillaha at the front door, officers were granted permission to search. However, Slayton said a rather large dog was present and Dillaha was asked to have the dog put in a safe area. One of the occupants took the dog outside at which time he was spotted by Stone dropping something by a backyard fence.
Later officers recovered syringes and other drug-related contraband.
Slayton testified that a search of the entire house was conducted, and that Emerson was found in one bedroom, sitting on a bed. In a dresser hidden behind clothes, deputies found three clear, plastic bottles. One of the bottles was what the investigator described as a "one-pot" meth lab. Other bottles contained components relating to clandestine meth lab production.
In other areas items associated with meth manufacturing were seized, and in a bathroom off the Dillaha's bedroom, syringes were recovered.
When asked by Knight if anyone objected to the search, Slayton responded, "I was never asked to stop the search."
Under cross examination, Smith asked Slayton why he did not get a consent to search document signed by the Dillahas or by Emerson. Slayton responded that he had received permission from Cindy Dillaha.
Boston asked if it was routine to search a house "based on emails and anonymous phone calls." Slayton responded that many tips come to the department that way.
The four were taken to the Justice Center but were not charged at the time. Instead, information about the search and seizure was presented to a grand jury and the four were indicted last year.
No defense witnesses were called, and instead, Boston and Smith relied on case law they presented to forward their position, and oral arguments.
In her argument, Knight argued that not only was permission to search granted, but a reasonable search took place and that the search was proper. She added, "Emerson lacked standing to challenge the search because he was a guest. There is no proof he received mail at the residence, had a house key."
Smith countered that he believed his client did have standing to challenge the search and said the investigators should have been professional enough to get a consent to search document signed. "It was an unreasonable search," he said.
Smith added that he believed Cindy Dillaha did not have the power to waive her husband's interest when she granted the search.
Burns found that there was no testimony disputing Slayton's statement that Cindy Dillaha granted permission to search. The judge added that the search was carried out "without objection" or complaint, and therefore was a legal search.
Although the trial is set for Aug. 15, there is a possibility that another date for hearing additional motions will be set at a later time.