Monday, April 20, 2015

Stafford Officer's report, written nearly 11 months after arrest, justifies warrantless search of home.

Update: April 23, 2015

Two additional, relevant files have come into my possession.

1. SWAT team report, received via an OPRA request to Stafford, in which Sergeant Herman Pharo indicates that he had spoken on the phone with Frank Koutsogiannis, the owner of the home where the warrantless search was conducted, and that Frank had given consent over the phone for police to enter the home. (Conforti's report states that Frank gave the consent to his daughter Sophia, not to Pharo directly).

2. A transcript, given to me by Vasilio Koutsogiannis who says that it is Frank Koutsogiannis's testimony at a suppression hearing.  In the transcript, Frank denies having given police permission to enter his home.

Original posting 

I hope that Chief Dellane can clarify why his officer apparently did not file his written report until nine months after an arrest was made.  My letter to the Chief follows:
------------------------
April 20, 2015

Thomas Dellane, Chief
Stafford Township Police Department
260 East Bay Avenue
Manahawkin, NJ 08050

Dear Chief Dellane:

I am writing on behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project regarding the March 2, 2013 arrest of Vasilio Koutsogiannis by Stafford Police. Mr. Koutsogiannis has been in touch with us and has claimed that Officer Robert Conforti's report, especially the part regarding Koutsogiannis' sister verbally conveying her father's consent to a police search of his residence, is fabricated.

While we clearly don't accept the word of criminal defendants as the unvarnished truth, we are troubled by the fact--as pointed out to us by Koutsogiannis--that Conforti's report (on-line here) was not written until January 24, 2014, which is more than nine months after the incident.

Our first thought was that Conforti might have issued a previous report.  But, your response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request states that the Stafford Police Department "is not in possession of any other documents that are responsive to your request."

The March 2, 2013 search of the Koutsogiannis residence was conducted without a search warrant.  Therefore, it appears that the sole legal justification for the search was Sophia Koutsogiannis' verbal pronouncement, which was allegedly overheard by Officer Conforti, that her father had told her that he consented to a search of the premises.  The fact that Officer Conforti didn't write this in his report until more than nine months after the event is disturbing and, at the very least, invites a claim that Conforti fabricated what he allegedly overheard in order to later justify an illegal, warrantless search.

We would appreciate it if you could respond with a) an explanation as to why no earlier report by Conforti exists and b) any evidence, other than Conforti's January 24, 2014 report that the father had consented to a search of the premises.

Thank you.  We look forward to your response.

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com