Trial begins in case pitting alleged pot grower against deputy accused of lying to obtain warrant

Boise resident Brian J. McNelis accuses former Ada County Deputy Stephen Craig of planting evidence to convince a judge to authorize a search of McNelis’ home in the 2800 block of South Cloverdale Road in 2010.

McNelis, who is representing himself, is seeking damages for mental pain and anguish.

Craig swore in a Jan. 6, 2010, affidavit that he twice found marijuana clippings inside bags of trash taken from a can placed outside the home on Dec. 29, 2009, and Jan. 6, 2010. During a search authorized by a warrant, police found 27 marijuana plants, along with a pound of processed marijuana, scales and packaging material.

McNelis and his wife, Leslie D. White, testified during criminal proceedings they were in Salt Lake City visiting relatives after the Christmas holiday and hadn’t put out any trash before they left. On the second date, the couple claimed they filled their trash can with rotting meat, fish and other food pulled from a freezer that had gotten unplugged. They said they hadn’t bothered to put the trash in bags.

Fourth District Ada County Judge Timothy Hansen prohibited introduction of evidence from the search after ruling that Craig lied in his affidavit to obtain the warrant. Drug manufacturing charges against McNelis and White were dismissed.

Ada County prosecutors said they did not believe Craig intentionally misled anyone and they sought unsuccessfully to have Hansen reconsider his ruling.

McNelis and White later filed suit in federal court against Craig, who denied planting evidence or entering the Cloverdale property to collect evidence before the search warrant was issued. White was later removed as a plaintiff after she failed to list the lawsuit as a possible asset in a bankruptcy petition.

Craig, who worked for the Ada County Sheriff's Office since July 2005, resigned in October 2011. Nine months later, he was hired by the Canyon County Sheriff's Office. In the lawsuit, he is being represented by Ada County.

U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale ruled that McNelis will not be able to introduce transcripts from the criminal case to prove that Craig lied.

“The state court granted McNelis’s motion, finding Craig’s search warrant affidavit contained false statements, and once purged of those statements, there was no probable cause to support the warrant. However, this court found that, despite the state court’s ruling, the state court’s findings cannot be used to sustain the same finding here,” Dale wrote in a pre-trial order issued last week.

Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney and a county evidence custodian, Jose Del Rio, were originally named as co-defendants in the lawsuit. They were later dropped from the case after a judge ruled there was no evidence they were part of a conspiracy to deny McNelis his civil rights.

The jury trial is scheduled to last five days.