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Planted evidence gives cops a laugh Tom Basinski | Fri, Apr 09 2010 03:13 PM

From reading my exploits as a dashing patrol officer and steely-eyed detective you probably thought I was some kind of super cop who nabbed every crook, saved every damsel in distress, and obtained a confession from every suspect. Well, yes, mostly, but there were a few misadventures along the way.

When first hired, because I had police experience elsewhere, and being new to Chula Vista, I worked undercover narcotics for a year, buying street drugs. After 10 years in patrol, I returned as a narcotics investigator. I built cases, obtained search warrants and did other detective things like sitting around the office talking baseball, drinking coffee, and reading the newspaper. 

Late summer was "marijuana harvest" time. Anonymous phone calls came in that various backyard farmers were growing the dreaded Devil Weed. Honestly, I was never a fanatic about marijuana enforcement. I did what I had to, but without passion.  I knew some cops who couldn't sleep as long as there was one marijuana seed out there. 

Cannabis promoters proclaimed that marijuana fostered enhanced creativity among its artistic users. I never believed that. I only saw a bunch of stoned losers who were happy to have someone with an IQ above room 
temperature say marijuana was good.  More recently, when I was getting my chemotherapy drip, friends would tease me about obtaining legal medical weed. I declined.
But, as a detective, when someone contacted me about a marijuana crop, I had to act. I would knock on the door of the house next to, or behind the  alleged weed grower. I would identify myself and ask to look over their fence. Invariably permission was granted.

If I saw the growing marijuana I would get a search warrant for the offender's house and yard. Within days I would knock on the door, confiscate the plants, write a report and give it to the district attorney for the 
issuance of a "notify warrant."  The grower would receive a mailed notice to come to court and answer up. 
I never arrested anyone on the spot. After all, it was just a marijuana garden. No one ever went to jail. Everyone pleaded guilty. Probation and a  fine were the orders of the day.

One day, while looking over a lady's fence at some little green plants I  asked her who lived next door. When she told me, my ears perked up. I knew this guy. He used to be an informant, and a hard-core doper. 
So, I wrote an affidavit detailing how I had looked at the plants and believed they were marijuana. Documenting my expertise, I detailed my training and  how many times I had successfully identified growing marijuana. The judge  signed the warrant and I was off to keep the citizens of Chula Vista safe 
from lawbreakers. 

I usually went back to check on the growth of the plants, but didn't because I knew this guy would nurture them with loving care. Four detectives knocked on his door. When he saw me his smile brightened and he greeted me warmly. Even though we had been cop and informant, we got along very well back in the day.  
The strangest look came over his face when I handed him the search warrant and told him we came to get the marijuana plants. "Marijuana  plants? Tom, what're you talking about?" I didn't answer him because I knew he knew what I was talking about.

Two  of the detectives went to the backyard to get the plants, while I collected  updated information from him. Within minutes one detective came back inside with a big smile on his face. I thought the plants might be quite tall by now. He gestured with his curled index finger, summoning me outside. I walked to where the plants had been growing. The now larger plants were still  there.

But, they weren't marijuana.

What I had originally seen were baby tomato plants. Dang.

Fortunately, my old informant had a sense of humor and asked to keep a  copy of the warrant as a souvenir. 

I swore the other detectives to secrecy, an oath they honored until they arrived at the station.

Later, a patrol officer confiscated a potted marijuana plant from an apartment balcony. Someone used red construction paper and cut out little  tomatoes, taping them to the leaves. The next morning the plant was on my desk with a sign that said, "Tomajuana Plant."

I didn't think it was that funny.

Basinski worked 17 years with Chula Vista Police and 17 more as an  investigator for the District Attorney's office.

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