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No Warrant, No Problem: Sheriff Seizes Property Without Warrant

By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4) - The owner of an Adams County bar says he is considering filing a federal lawsuit after deputies seized DVR recorders without a warrant earlier this month.

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"The only way to stop them from violating rights is by them being held accountable," said Scott Reisch, a criminal defense attorney who also owns the Ugly Dog Sports Café in Adams County. He recounted for CBS4 how Adams County sheriffs investigators seized multiple DVR recorders from the bar earlier this month, without any kind of warrant.

"They have rules they have to follow and they can't break the law, it doesn't work that way," said Reisch.

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The controversy began earlier in September when several bar patrons got into a scuffle with at least one employee of the bar. The confrontation spilled outside the bar and at least one of the customers indicated he received serious injuries during the fight.

At some point, the Adams County sheriffs office was contacted. A day and a half after the incident, Adams County deputies and detectives showed up at the bar and demanded the establishment's DVRs which were believed to contain surveillance video of what happened.

Linette Smith, a bar manager, videotaped her interaction with the deputies as she told them "You're not allowed to come back here and do this. Where's the warrant? You need a warrant and you're not taking all our videos."

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Reisch said county detectives called him but he was in Maine, and explained to them that investigators or bar employees would need a code to access the contents of the DVRs. He said he did not have the codes with him nor did any of the bar's employees have the codes. Reisch said he told investigators he would be glad to provide the codes to police the next morning, when someone could get into his Colorado office and access the codes.

"I told him we will cooperate, let's get to the truth. If I had the code I would have given it to them at that time."

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Reisch said a detective he had been dealing with became rude and he told the investigator to get a warrant for the machines.

But Reisch said if they got a warrant, they never provided it to him or his employees.

On videotape provided to CBS4, Adams County sheriffs personnel can be seen removing the DVRs from the restaurant managers office and taking them.

On tape, a detective is seen explaining their actions to Smith saying they were being removed without a warrant "because overnight all kinds of data could be erased off this thing."

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Sgt. Jim Morgen, a spokesman for the Adams County sheriff, told CBS4 "It was imperative that we collected the evidence before it disappeared. It was safe to say the employees at the Ugly Dog were not fully cooperative. I can tell you that the DVR was taken under exigent circumstances with a warrant to follow."

"Exigent circumstances" allows police to seize evidence without a warrant if they believe property or evidence is in imminent danger of destruction.

David Miller, a defense attorney and former Denver prosecutor, reviewed the Ugly Dog videotapes at the request of CBS4.

"I don't see that emergency situation," said Miller.

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He said investigators likely could have obtained a signed search warrant within an hour.

"There was no reason for them not to just have one deputy stand there and preserve the area. There was no reason not to get a warrant," said Miller. "It seemed to be very unreasonable the way they handled it."

The Adams County sheriff's spokesman said he could not offer further comment since an active investigation is underway into a possible felony assault.

Reisch said he is contemplating filing a federal lawsuit over what he contends was illegal search and seizure.

"This is the most egregious illegal seizure I've ever seen," said Reisch. "And the beautiful thing is it's all on videotape."

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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