Judge Charles Brown ruled July 26 not to allow evidence collected under search warrants obtained by State Police in the Heath White case; that evidence comprises nearly all the attorney general’s case against White.
Brown said, “This case is basically a rush to judgement,” adding, that it “will not go forward with my name on it.”
The Attorney General’s office indicted White on six felonies and one misdemeanor including embezzlement, violations of government conduct act and misuse of public money on May 2.
White spent two terms as Torrance County sheriff before being elected Magistrate Judge in 2018.
Assistant attorneys general Collin Brennan and Jonathan Gardner argued for an opportunity to respond to the ruling, and Brown said he would hold his ruling in abeyance to allow them to file a brief and response by Aug. 6, and for White to reply by Aug. 13.
Brown said the information used to obtain the warrant was “incomplete, incorrect and misleading,” and said if the judge who issued the warrants had known all the facts known by State Police at the time, he would not have issued them.
Brown cited the fact that White had been trying to return Torrance County property without response from the county before the warrants were sought, and said detective Mitch Bengston knew of those attempts and failed to include that information when applying for the warrants.
The judge also cited the fact that the prosecution thought, incorrectly, The Old Mill Feed Store belonged to White, which he said could have been easily verified by checking the business license.
Bengston stated in his application for warrants that he was concerned White would destroy evidence, prompting Brown to say that was contrary to the fact that White was trying to return the property.
Earlier in the day’s proceedings, White’s attorney Sam Bregman, in cross examination of state police sergeant Jeremy Vaughan, established that he had read emails from White to the Torrance County sheriff’s office requesting cooperation in returning county property.
Vaughan said the emails were forwarded to him by Bengston, who testified July 25 that he didn’t have the emails.
“I know sometimes police lie,” Brown said when explaining his ruling.
In his closing argument, Bregman said the attorneys general wanted to “get their headline.”
Bregman said the judge was a “gatekeeper” who could protect White from a jury who would want to “hang ‘im high.”
The attorneys general withdrew four felony tax fraud charges before the judge recessed to consider his ruling.
Brown dismissed the misdemeanor ethics charge.