By Henry K. Lee 12/18/14
A Richmond police officer won’t face criminal charges over the discovery of a 4-pound package of marijuana at his Oakley home that he said he had used to train his police dog, authorities said Thursday.
Officer Joe Avila, 43, was placed on paid leave after authorities found the package at his home on Sept. 24, 10 months after he first picked it up from a delivery company while on duty, police said.
Investigators determined that in November 2013, Avila responded to a UPS Store in Richmond, which had intercepted the package with marijuana inside. Instead of booking it into evidence, Avila took it home, according to Barry Grove, a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney.
Avila, who has more than 20 years with the department, told investigators he had used about 2 pounds of marijuana to train his dog, authorities said.
Prosecutors said there were no signs that Avila had sold the marijuana or used it for any illegal purpose.
“Further investigation failed to reveal any information to refute Officer Avila’s statement,” Grove said. He noted, though, that Avila’s actions were inappropriate and violated department policy.
The incident was uncovered by Richmond police after internal affairs investigators began looking into why Avila had failed to write 37 police reports, including the one about the package, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by district attorney’s senior inspector Rick Rivera. Rivera wrote that he believed Avila kept the marijuana “for his personal use or use for sales.”
Avila’s attorney, Michael Rains, said all the marijuana was accounted for, adding, “It’s kind of hard to make a ‘use’ case when none of it’s been used.” Rains said Avila’s dog was removed from him and is now being “ignored.”
Public Defender Robin Lipetzky said she believed prosecutors’ decision not to file charges was “based solely on Mr. Avila’s status as a police officer. I challenge the district attorney to give an example of any other case brought to their office in which a person found in possession of 4 pounds of marijuana was not charged with a felony offense.”
Lipetzky said her office’s clients are “routinely sent to jail for possession of marijuana in amounts much smaller than this. It is this kind of preferential treatment for police officers who violate the law that leads to the distrust of the system.”
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said Thursday that Avila remains on paid leave pending an ongoing internal investigation.