Court hears arguments to quash Holzworth evidence

Court hears arguments to quash Holzworth evidence

Erik Jorgensen, Co-Editor in Chief

Santa Rosa Junior College District Police officer Steven Potter, whose observations launched an investigation into 28-year veteran officer Jeffrey Holzworth’s alleged theft of more than $300,000 in SRJC parking funds, testified in court on Jan. 15 about two incidents that led him to tell his superiors about his suspicions.

Potter’s testimony was part of a hearing on motions to throw out evidence found by Santa Rosa Police through a search warrant served on Nov. 28, 2012.
Holzworth held sole responsibility for collecting money from all SRJC parking machines and faces 11 charges of receiving stolen property and one charge of embezzlement over $150,000. His wife Karen faces three charges of receiving stolen property and one count of acting as an accessory.

Defense attorneys Joe Passalaqua, representing Jeffrey Holzworth, and George Boisseau, representing Karen Holzworth, attacked the integrity of search warrant. Between Holzworth’s home, personal vehicle and work locker SRPD detectives found more than $14,259 in quarters and $1 and $5 bills stashed in 16 canvas bags, five glass jars, two plastic bags and a dresser drawer.
Passalaqua and Boisseau filed motions to quash and traverse the search warrants; quashing corresponds to mistakes or errors within the warrant itself, while traversing corresponds to a warrant based on false or fraudulent statements. Basing their arguments on the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” legal concept, the defense attorneys questioned the integrity of SRPD’s fruitful search by testing whether their warrants were based on an illegal search, which would “poison” any evidence obtained. “[Holzworth] made incriminating statements only after he was confronted with a pile of evidence,” Passalaqua wrote in his motion to quash and traverse. “The illegally-acquired evidence made it appear as if the ‘cat was already out of the bag’ and therefore [the] defendant had nothing to lose – and perhaps something to gain – by confessing his guilt and making incriminating statements.”

Since SRPD’s warrants were based on observations Potter made about Holzworth, defense attorneys questioned Potter during the Jan. 15 hearing about the scope of his search of his co-worker’s car. Potter described two incidents, one from 2006, where he said he saw money inside Holzworth’s partially-unzipped work duffel bag in the police locker room, then opened it “out of curiosity” and to verify its ownership. Potter said the bag contained the tools Holzworth used to maintain the parking machines, including the laptop he used to zero out their internal accounting computers, along with several loose dollar bills. In the second incident, Potter claimed he saw stacks of bills inside the center console of Holzworth’s personal vehicle while getting a ride on Oct. 24, 2012.

Defense attorneys asserted that since Potter was ‘on duty’ at the time, opening Holzworth’s work bag or center console amounted to a warrantless search.

Passalaqua asked Potter whether he removed money while investigating Holzworth’s work bag, if Holzworth gave him permission to search the center console and whether Potter knew how Holzworth dealt with his ‘personal money.’ Potter answered no to those questions, and also said he was only acting as an employee of his agency, not as an officer conducting an investigation, when he wrote the memo of his observations. Then-new SRJC District Police Chief Matt McCaffrey brought that memo to the attention of SRPD detectives Mark Azzouni and Michael Lazzarini in October 2012, who then launched their own official investigation.

Boisseau mostly questioned Potter about looking inside Holzworth’s center console, after noticing the cup holders were full of quarters, while getting a ride on Oct. 24, 2012 to a training session at the gym. Potter testified he saw five or six rubber banded stacks of $1 and $5 bills with about 100 bills in each stack. Boisseau asked how long Potter examined the contents of the center console, or whether Potter had reached inside to count them correctly. Potter said he just took a “very quick mental picture” without moving the stacks to count or measure them.

When Boisseau asked how Potter was able to count the bills without reaching inside and touching the stacks, Potter said the stacks appeared neatly bundled and the same size, so he assumed the bills had all been counted first. Based on their thickness, Potter said 100 bills seemed the most likely amount.

Outside the courtroom, Passalaqua and Boisseau had no comment.

The Jan. 15 hearing only heard Potter’s testimony, but another hearing for Azzouni’s testimony is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in courtroom 15 at Sonoma County Superior Court.