Monday, October 05, 2009

Lt Manny Escoto Charged with Contempt of Court

A Uintah County police lieutenant has personally apologized to the judge who filed a contempt-of-court complaint against him.

Naples Police Lt. Manny Escoto has been accused by 8th District Judge A. Lynn Payne of disregarding instructions given to him after the judge signed a search warrant in late July. On Wednesday, Escoto told Payne he misunderstood the judge's decision to limit the scope of the search warrant in question. He offered to resign immediately from the police force as a demonstration of his remorse.

Payne, who said he'd never held an officer in contempt in his 22 years on the bench, rejected Escoto's offer, saying that wasn't what he wanted. He made Escoto promise not to resign.

In a Sept. 15 complaint, Payne said Escoto appeared in his chambers seeking a warrant to access information on a cell phone. Authorities were investigating allegations that an unnamed juvenile had engaged in sexual activity with a 12-year-old girl. They believed the phone contained text messages, images and videos related to the juvenile's alleged sexual activity with other possible victims, according to the search-warrant application.

"Although the proposed warrant only requested the search of the cell phone, it was apparent to the court that Lt. Escoto also sought authority to search the records of Alltel Inc.," Payne wrote in his complaint, noting the cell-phone company was not a party in the case.

"The court informed Lt. Escoto that the court would not authorize a search of the records of Alltel Inc.," Payne continued, "and that an investigative subpoena would have to be issued to obtain the records."

Payne said he called the prosecutor involved in the investigation, Mike Drechsel, and spoke with him while Escoto was still in the judge's chambers. Payne said he reiterated the need for a subpoena to access phone-company records, and Drechsel agreed to prepare the required paperwork.

The judge noted that the conversation with Drechsel took place on speakerphone, allowing Escoto to hear what was said by both parties.

"The court signed the warrant, and when handing the warrant to Lt. Escoto, the court asked Lt. Escoto if he understood that the warrant only authorized the search of the cell phone and did not authorize him to search the records of Alltel Inc.," Payne wrote. "Lt. Escoto indicated that he understood."

The judge said Drechsel later informed him that Escoto had served the search warrant on Alltel, which Payne said was done "without the authority of the court" and "in violation of the court's specific directive not to do so."

Naples Police Chief Mark Watkins said he has conducted an informal investigation into the judge's allegations against Escoto, his second in command.

The chief said Escoto maintains that he believed Payne had authorized him to serve the warrant on Alltel "that one time" for the purpose of securing text-message records, which are only accessible for 10 days. Watkins said the lieutenant believed that the judge's order that a subpoena be secured for phone-company records would apply to future investigations.

"He follows the rules," Watkins said. "That's what leads me to believe there was a misunderstanding."

Payne has set an Oct. 28 date for a hearing on the matter.

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