Suspect Was Wanted Even Before Kidnaping

Times Staff Writer

Six weeks before he was accused of storming into a Pacific Palisades home with a sawed-off shotgun and kidnaping a 13-month-old boy, Jonathan H. Cosby already was a wanted man.

A judge had ordered Cosby arrested last September, after the self-styled "security consultant" violated probation in an earlier case in which he had been charged with kidnaping a man who reportedly owed him money. Cosby was eventually convicted of false imprisonment.

But the search for Cosby was called off on Nov. 3, when the same judge recalled the arrest warrant at the urging of Cosby's probation officer. In a letter filed with the court, the probation officer assured the judge that Cosby was not a threat.

Furthermore, the probation officer said the Los Angeles Police Department wanted the warrant recalled because Cosby figured in an ongoing investigation of threats made against judges and deputy district attorneys.

Probation Officer Mistaken

But in an interview this week, a police detective who worked on that investigation said the probation officer apparently got it wrong.

"It was never our intention . . . to have the warrant recalled," said Detective Ronald E. Douglass of the LAPD's criminal conspiracy section. Although Cosby's name had been signed to some of the threatening letters, police believed that another man was responsible.

At one point, police and other law enforcement officials discussed the possibility of temporarily withholding service on the warrant for Cosby, Douglass said, but that became unnecessary when the focus of the investigation shifted.

Nevertheless, Deputy Probation Officer Masaru Hisamune requested the warrant recall in a Nov. 2 letter to Long Beach Superior Court Judge D. Sterry Fagan.

"It was decided that we would leave him on a leash . . . until the Los Angeles Police Department (could) conclude their investigation," Hisamune said in a recent interview.

Hisamune declined to discuss the case in detail, citing its sensitive nature. He said he could not recall the names of the Los Angeles police officials with whom he discussed Cosby's situation. "I have 472 cases," he said.

Letter to Judge

In his letter to Judge Fagan, Hisamune wrote: "The purpose of the recall is to facilitate the ongoing investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, criminal conspiracy section, which will be hampered if defendant is taken into custody on the instant warrant. . . .

"Because the defendant does not appear to be a threat," he added, "the probation officer is recommending that the warrant be recalled in order for the probation officer to monitor the situation." Citing Hisamune's letter, Fagan recalled the warrant the next day.

Three months earlier, Hisamune had urged Fagan to issue the warrant for Cosby's arrest, because Cosby had been arrested for possession of cocaine and had refused to cooperate with the probation department.

Arrested Last Month

On Dec. 14, Cosby, 27, of North Hollywood, was arrested in the abduction three days earlier of Brian Smith from the Pacific Palisades home of the boy's adoptive parents. The day before Cosby was arrested, the FBI found the boy in New Jersey with his natural mother, Bonnie Kiefer, 40, and her husband, Francis Kiefer, 41. The couple are in custody in New Jersey, awaiting extradition to California to face kidnaping charges.

In Kiefer's purse, agents found Cosby's business card. It read: "Dial-A-Guard, Guards & Bodyguards/Armed & Unarmed, Jonathan H. Cosby, Inspector." According to an official with the state Department of Consumer Affairs, Cosby is not licensed either as a security guard or as a guard agency operator.

According to testimony given at his preliminary hearing, Cosby told authorities that Bonnie Kiefer telephoned his answering service on Dec. 4 to make arrangements for Cosby to provide bodyguard services during her pending visit to Los Angeles. Four days later, after Cosby met Kiefer at a Santa Monica hotel, Kiefer told him she really wanted to hire Cosby to help her recover her son.

According to court records, in the summer of 1986, Kiefer had agreed through her attorney to give up her then-unborn child for adoption. Two days after his birth, on Nov. 5, 1986, the boy was given to Kenneth and Barbara Smith of Pacific Palisades. Several months later, the Kiefers challenged the adoption, and the matter has been tied up in the courts ever since.

Cosby told authorities, according to court testimony, that he initially tried to enlist a friend to take the baby from the Smiths' home. When the friend backed out, Cosby said, Kiefer found a heavy-set man named Rico to do the job.

Toy Gun Used

On Dec. 11, while he waited outside, Rico entered the Smith home, brandishing a toy gun that Cosby had fashioned from two wooden dowels, Cosby told authorities. He said Bonnie Kiefer followed Rico into the house. The two returned a few minutes later, carrying the boy, he said. Cosby said he and a girlfriend drove Kiefer and the boy to Las Vegas, where they boarded a flight to the East Coast.

A 21-year-old baby-sitter who was alone with the boy at the Smith home at the time of the abduction said only one person entered the home--a black or Latino male carrying a sawed-off shotgun.

Cosby's attorney, Richard Knickerbocker, has argued that Cosby committed no crime because he was acting as an agent at the behest of the child's legal parents. Cosby believes his actions were fully justified, Knickerbocker said.

"I think there really was a Rico, whatever anyone wants to say," Knickerbocker said.

Cosby's problems with the law date to June 18, 1986, when he and a companion were arrested by Signal Hill police in the alleged kidnaping of an acquaintance named John Robinson. A third man was charged with raping Robinson's girlfriend. Robinson later testified that Cosby had sold him bad cocaine and that Robinson refused to pay the $1,400 Cosby wanted for it. Cosby told authorities that Robinson owed him $1,300 but denied that drugs were involved.

In late October, 1986, Cosby was found guilty of the lesser charge of false imprisonment. Judge Fagan, who presided over the trial, granted probation to Cosby, attaching the condition that he spend 180 days in Los Angeles County Jail. Cosby actually served a little more than three months, his attorney said.

Arrested on Drug Charge

After his release, Cosby refused to report to his probation officer, according to court records. In April, he was arrested by Los Angeles police for allegedly possessing about one gram of cocaine. In July, Cosby's probation officer, Hisamune, wrote to Fagan, complaining that he had no control over Cosby. He asked that Fagan issue a warrant for Cosby's arrest. Fagan issued the warrant on Sept. 23, court records state.

Several weeks later, Hisamune changed his mind.

"The situation became convoluted, with Cosby becoming indirectly involved in a conspiracy situation. . . . He seemed to be a player being used without his knowledge in a situation in which there were threats being made to public officials," Hisamune told The Times.

In an interview Thursday, Fagan said he ordered Cosby's warrant recalled only after insisting that Hisamune commit his concerns to writing for inclusion in the court file, and after discussing the matter with a judge in Van Nuys who had been an object of some of the threats.

"It seemed to me there was good cause stated to do it (recall the warrant), so I did it," Fagan said. "There have been other cases where a probation officer has come to one conclusion and then changed his mind."

On Nov. 5, two days after Fagan recalled the Cosby warrant, police arrested Collen Johnson, 45, of Burbank on suspicion of writing the threatening letters. Police theorize that Johnson signed Cosby's name to some of the letters as a result of a grudge.

Johnson was charged with eight counts of threatening a public official, two counts of threatening a state official and one count of possessing an illegal weapon--a cane gun, said Police Detective Douglass. He is awaiting trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Hisamune said he had intended to ask Judge Fagan to reinstate the arrest warrant for Cosby after Johnson's arrest. "Unfortunately, I was on vacation when the last thing happened," Hisamune said, referring to Cosby's arrest on the new kidnaping charge. "It's a situation that was unavoidable."

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