He admitted to the state Supreme Court that his questioning of a cop “had the effect of further muddying the record.”
By Andrew Graham, WyoFile.com
The Wyoming Supreme Court has censured a Cheyenne attorney for allowing a Division of Criminal Investigation agent to make false testimony during a 2020 case in which law enforcement sought to prosecute hemp farmers as marijuana traffickers.
DCI Special Agent Jon Briggs, the lead investigator in the case, falsely testified about a critical exchange with one of the defendants that occurred when officers stormed the operation outside Albin, the Supreme Court found.
During the Nov. 2019 raid, Brock Dyke, a contract farmer, provided Briggs with test results indicating that the crop was legal. But in an initial July 2020 hearing, Briggs testified that he remembered Dyke’s tests as possibly showing the hemp to be above the legal THC limit.
The prosecutor, Laramie County senior assistant district attorney David Singleton, made no effort to correct the testimony.
Following the hearing, defense attorney Tom Jubin asked Briggs and Singleton to correct the record for the court. Instead, the two men attempted to bolster the false testimony in a subsequent court hearing in August, during which Briggs also lied about his awareness of Jubin’s request, according to the Supreme Court’s Order of Public Censure.
Singleton admitted to violating the Wyoming judiciary’s rules of professional conduct and has agreed to pay $800 in administrative fees to the Wyoming State Bar.
The rebuke from the state’s highest court came nine months after a Laramie County judge threw out the case against Debra Palm-Egle and her son Joshua Egle, hemp farmers and industry advocates who helped legalize the crop in Wyoming.
Singleton sought to charge the Egles, along with a contractor and his wife, Brock and Shannon Dyke, with drug trafficking conspiracy charges that could have resulted in decades in prison. The Dykes were on the farm in November 2019 when DCI raided the property and seized 700 pounds of hemp.
Law enforcement officers in tactical gear and armed with rifles and a battering ram conducted the seizure, Brock Dyke previously told WyoFile.
During the raid, Dyke showed DCI agents the results of tests conducted on the crop that indicated it contained less than 0.3 percent THC. That moment was the one Briggs would later give false testimony about in a Laramie County courtroom, according to the Supreme Court.
Under Wyoming law, hemp plants must have a THC-concentration of 0.3 percent or less. Marijuana and hemp are derived from the same plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical in marijuana that gets users high—most commercial recreational marijuana products in Colorado contain around 15 percent THC. Its low presence in hemp keeps the crop from being categorized as a drug.
When agents tested 10 samples of the seized crop, nine test results came back with THC concentrations higher than 0.3 percent. The highest result was 0.6 percent. The farmers’ crop had previously tested below the legal limit in their own tests.
The case against the Egles did not get far. Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Antoinette Williams dismissed the charges during a preliminary hearing in August in an unusually quick termination of a criminal case.
False testimony and dismissive texts
During the first day of what would be a two-day court proceeding, on July 9, 2020, Briggs testified that he believed the test results Dyke showed him during the raid “may have actually been over 0.3 percent as well.” They were not, and Jubin provided him documentation in court.
But Briggs maintained he didn’t know if those were the results he’d seen. The hearing then recessed for weeks. In the interim, Jubin emailed Briggs and asked the agent to correct the error in his testimony made under oath.
“I hope I am correct in presuming that you would want to ensure that the Court is provided with accurate information,” Jubin wrote, according to the supreme court order.
Two hours after receiving Jubin’s email, Briggs sent a text message to Singleton, according to the court order. “Dude Jubin is going hard in the paint,” Briggs complained, using a basketball reference indicating aggressive play. In another text message, he referred to the veteran defense attorney as “actually insane,” and wondered if there was any recourse he could take against him for seeking the correction. In that message, he also quoted Jubin’s email.
When Briggs returned to the stand on Aug. 6, 2020, he gave false testimony about the email exchange with Jubin and Singleton again let it go uncorrected. While questioning Briggs on the witness stand Jubin asked about his email seeking to correct the inaccuracy in Briggs’ previous testimony about the test results.
“To be honest, sir, I didn’t read your email,” Briggs responded. “I forwarded it to counsel.”
Singleton “was aware of the falsity of Agent Briggs’ testimony and failed to correct it on the record,” the Supreme Court found. During his own questioning of Briggs that day, Singleton sought to shore up Briggs’ earlier testimony about the day of the raid, giving him opportunities to say he did not remember seeing the test results Dyke provided.
To the supreme court, Singleton would admit that his further questioning of Briggs, “rather than clarify the record…had the effect of further muddying the record,” according to the censure order.
Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Ann Manlove did not respond to a voicemail left Wednesday seeking comment from her office on the censure.
It’s not clear if Briggs faces consequences for the false testimony. DCI director Forrest Williams did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Jubin has reached out to the Wyoming Attorney General’s office, which oversees DCI, about a possible investigation into Brigg’s testimony, he told WyoFile, and has received no response.
Jubin hopes Briggs would be held to account, he said.
“There are a lot of good cops and there are a few bad ones and it does a real disservice to the interest of justice when an officer who provides false information to the court is protected from the consequences of doing so,” he said.
Discouraging to hemp?
In the Egle case, the farmers criticized DCI for making little effort to get their side of the story before threatening them with prison time. During the trial, Briggs testified that he hadn’t interviewed the mother-son duo before or after the farm raid to inquire about their intentions with the crops.
The Wyoming Legislature legalized the crop in 2017.
The investigation began after a Laramie County firefighter called in a suggestion the Egles were growing marijuana, according to a DCI report obtained by WyoFile through a public records request.
In 2019, the same year DCI raided the Egles’ farm, Wyoming Highway Patrol officers seized the loads of two separate trucks carrying CBD products and hemp plants through southwestern Wyoming.
In one case, a judge threw out all but one of six felony charges against an Oregon farming family whose load of hemp plants and CBD oil was seized en route to Colorado. In another, the owners of a truckload of plants had to pay $10,000 to get their product out of custody, though no charges were ever filed, according to investigative documents in that case.
In the summer of 2018, health food stores in Jackson took CBD products off their shelves after visits and warnings that the products contained trace amounts of THC from DCI agents, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Those in the hemp trade say industry players notice those stories. They worry law enforcement actions might nip a desperately needed route for diversifying Wyoming’s economy in the bud.
This story was first published by WyoFile, an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.