LAPD detectives illegally searched home of Sandra Bullock's accused stalker, court says

Los Angeles police conducted an illegal search of the home of the man accused of stalking and breaking into Sandra Bullock’s mansion, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that detectives violated Joshua Corbett’s right to remain silent and thus did not obtain valid consent to enter his Montrose home, where detectives found a cache of illegal automatic weapons. As a result, the court said, evidence from the search could not be used in court.

The court’s opinion, written by Presiding Justice Laurie Zelon, upholds the finding of a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge and lands a major blow to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

The ruling could result in 24 of the 26 felony charges against Corbett being tossed out — gutting most of the case.

Shiara Davila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors are reviewing the opinion and weighing options on how to proceed. Capt. Andrew Neiman, a spokesman for the LAPD, declined to comment.

Corbett was arrested inside Bullock’s Hollywood Hills mansion on the morning of June 8, 2014, and he was later charged with stalking and burglary in addition to weapons violations. He remains housed in Los Angeles County jail on more than $2.1-million bail. 

Detectives determined that Corbett had scaled two gates of the home and managed to force open a sun room’s glass door that opened onto a rear patio. 

Authorities said Bullock, who was alone in the house, was awakened by a strange knocking sound coming from her third-floor workout room.

She peeked out of her bedroom door, saw a man clad in black sneaking down the corridor and retreated to her bedroom closet, where she dialed 911.

At the time of his arrest, Corbett had a notebook with a love letter addressed to the Academy Award-winning actress that said, “You are my wife by law, the law of God and belong to me,” authorities said. He also had a concealed weapons permit from Utah.

Corbett did not have a gun on him at Bullock’s home, but investigators linked him to eight firearms registered in his name.

About 30 hours after he was arrested — and before he was able to make a phone call — detectives began questioning him. At the end of the interrogation, police said that he consented both verbally and in writing to a search of his home. He also provided investigators with the combination to a safe that contained more than 30 weapons.

But Corbett’s attorneys argued that the questioning was unlawful and pointed out that detectives ignored his requests not to be interviewed and pressured him to sign a consent form of the search by threatening to use “a pry bar and battering ram” to open his parents’ home. 

“There is no dispute that Corbett’s 5th Amendment rights were violated here,” the ruling issued Tuesday said. “The police ignored his repeated and unambiguous invocations of his right to remain silent and continued to interrogate him.”

The appellate court also noted what LAPD Det. Christina Carlozzi wrote to the prosecutor on the case after she reviewed a transcript of the interrogation: “Doesn’t look good. I honestly hope this can be settled without a trial.”

Prosecutors tried to argue that the guns and other evidence recovered in the warrantless search would have inevitably been discovered, but the appellate court rejected that argument. The ruling stated that police did not indicate they took steps that would have led them to illegal firearms, other than the unlawful interrogation.

The judges also stated that the “inevitable discovery” exception does not apply when detectives could have obtained a search warrant but chose not to; the opinion said LAPD detectives had enough probable cause to seek a warrant but elected to rely on Corbett’s purported consent.

Paul Takakjian, one of the attorneys representing Corbett, said he was "extremely gratified" that the Court of Appeal tossed out evidence seized "by the LAPD officers who ran roughshod over Mr. Corbett's 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights."

"Especially at a time when the independence of our courts is threatened, it is heartening when judges demonstrate fidelity to the rule of law and the courage to enforce it," Takakjian added.

Defense attorney Stephen Sitkoff previously told The Times that his client needs mental health treatment, not incarceration, and that is why his legal team was vigorously trying to quash the gun charges.

Interested in the stories shaping California? Sign up for the free Essential California newsletter »

Sitkoff said that once the majority of charges are dismissed, the legal team will seek a reduction in Corbett’s $2-million bail. He has been held in the county jail since his 2014 arrest.

During his interview with detectives, Corbett acknowledged that he had done something wrong but said he did not want to hurt Bullock: “I don’t think people protect her well enough.”

As he was arrested inside the actress’ home — on property that is surrounded by a chain-link fence with barbed wire — he repeatedly called out to Bullock, referring to her as “Sandy,” according to court papers.

“Sandy, I’m sorry,” he said. “Please don’t press charges.”

To read the article in Spanish, clic here.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

MORE LOCAL NEWS

71-year-old staffer was hurt during protest, Rohrabacher says

DA's office looking into Huntington Park councilwoman's consulting business

Woman charged with hate crimes after bacon is left at Davis mosque

Friend who supplied rifles to San Bernardino terrorists agrees to plead guilty

 


UPDATES:

9:40 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from attorney Paul Takakjian

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
59°