Boise man wins token award in suit against former Ada deputy

The jury found that former Ada County Sheriff’s Deputy Stephen Craig violated the constitutional rights of Brian McNelis when Craig lied to obtain a warrant to search for marijuana at McNelis’ home.

But the jury awarded McNelis only $1 in nominal damages and waived any punitive damages in the three-day trial last week in federal court in Boise. Because McNelis represented himself, he wasn’t entitled to any attorney fees.

McNelis accused the deputy of planting evidence to persuade a judge to authorize a search of McNelis’ home in the 2800 block of South Cloverdale Road in 2010.

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. A warrant was issued. During a search that followed, police found 27 marijuana plants, along with a pound of processed marijuana, scales and packaging material.

McNelis and his wife, Leslie D. White, were charged with drug trafficking. McNelis was also charged with possession and delivery of a controlled substance, and destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.

But Fourth District Ada County Judge Timothy Hansen said evidence showed that Craig lied about the contents of the couple’s trash in his affidavit to obtain the warrant. The criminal charges 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 sued Craig in 2012 in federal court.White was later removed as a plaintiff after she failed to list the lawsuit as a possible asset in a bankruptcy petition.

Craig, who had 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 was represented by Ada County.

Craig denied planting evidence or entering the Cloverdale property to collect evidence before the search warrant was issued.