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A judge in Washington state has ordered the police department in the town of Enumclaw to have the department computer server and a detective’s computer analyzed forensically in search of emails that may support a defense attorney’s claim of bias against an associate pastor at a local church.
Judge Beth Andrus, in a recent hearing on a motion to dismiss the charges of assault that had been filed against associate pastor Malcolm Fraser of Sound Doctrine Church, said the exam likely was the only way to avoid prejudicing the case, which then would have to be dismissed.
Defenders of the pastor say the detective, led on by several complainants who resent the church and its message, developed a bias so that the emails that were exchanged among those case participants are critical to the truth in the matter.
Andrus in a verbal ruling from the bench said prosecutors and police must turn over “any exculpatory evidence or any evidence that would be impeachment evidence,” and the emails in question, among Det. Grant McCall and individuals named Athena Dean and Jessica Gambill, “do constitute [that] material because the communication does suggest a very strong animosity toward Malcolm Fraser and the church with which he is an associate pastor.”
A juvenile linked to Dean and Gambill had “recounted to the police” incidents that “occurred so many years ago.” The “negative feelings” expressed about Fraser for reasons unrelated to the juvenile’s statements “make it at least possible that, as the defense suggests, [the juvenile] was somehow influenced by these women in recalling events that would have occurred when she was a fairly young child,” the judge said.
She said McCall appears to have a strong bias in the case.
“The court concludes that his personal religious opposition to what he perceives is the theology of Sound Doctrine Church may be affecting his judgment in this regard,” said the ruling.
The judge noted that the detective testified he routinely investigates the possibility of fabricated stories in child assault claims, but “he saw no reason to do so in this case.”
But the judge said, “It’s difficult to see how he could categorically reject the notion that their [the women’s] animosity toward Malcolm and the church played no role in [the juvenile’s] disclosure of being raped.”
“With regard to the deleted emails, the court believes that there is a way to ameliorate the prejudice short of the dismissal of this case. The court will order the state to contact Athena Dean, Jessica Gambill, and Greg Gambill and ask them to produce copies of any emails that they have had with Detective McCall and they should be advised to retain and not delete any of those email communications that they have – or destroy in any format – whether they now have them in paper, in email, or if they’ve cut and pasted them and put them on a blog site,” the judge said.
She said if they’re not produced voluntarily, they will be subpoenaed.
See the judge’s ruling:
"In addition, the state will perform a forensic analysis of the Enumclaw police department email server and Detective McCall's hard drive to see if any deleted emails for or to Athena Dean, Jessica Gambill or Greg Gambill can be retrieved," she wrote.
"And this analysis shall be completed and the results disclosed to the defense by Jan. 4, 2013," she said.
In a statement released through a church publication, officials explained that "disgruntled ex-members" made a false allegation against Fraser that he raped a young girl seven years earlier.
Fraser's supporters say they have accumulated reams of evidence as to his innocence, but the charges remain, with a trial scheduled for next year, depending on the rulings resulting from further court hearings in the case.
Church officials say they have submitted evidence now of religious persecution and hate crimes to the local district attorney.
Fraser's defenders asked for the investigation of McCall and the police local police department to "discover the depth of their participation in the hate crimes."
The documents cite an email attributed to McCall stating that Sound Doctrine is "completely without the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."
The judge also noted there was another issue that needed to be addressed.
There was a subpoena request from the defense for McCall regarding any documents relating to Sound Doctrine Church, "and the response of the detective[was] 'Sorry, I don't know what is on other police officer's computers,'" said the judge.
"In this court's opinion that is not a good enough response, and the Enumclaw police department needs to search for and produce documents whether they are on Det. McCall's computer or they are on any other police officer's computers within the police department."
The judge explained defense lawyers that further requests for sanctions against the police department can be handled later, when such motions would be filed.