[UPDATED] In the corruption trial of two former San Francisco police officers, a federal judge took a wait and see position Thursday on whether to tell jurors about the sordid past of an officer-turned-witness who will testify against his former colleagues.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer deferred the request of ex-officers Ian Furminger and Edmond Robles about what testimony to allow about a third officer, Reynaldo Vargas, in the corruption trial, which begins Nov. 10 in San Francisco.
Breyer did agree to limit jury access to text messages by Robles that contained a racial epithet, according to minutes of the court session.
But Breyer rejected Robles request to bar Vargas from testifying about an Robles alleged theft of $2,000 in cash during the search of a couple’s home.
Both former officers are accused in a nine-count indictment of conspiracy, theft of property from suspects during searches, conspiracy to distribute drugs taken from suspects, extortion, fraud and conspiracy against civil rights.
On October 21, Vargas, struck a plea deal with the government and agreed to testify against Furminger and Robles.
On Tuesday, Robles asked Breyer to allow him to tell jurors of Vargas’ devious past, including his alleged 2002 assault of an arrestee and the $60,000 settlement the city made over the incident. In addition, Robles wants to share details of Vargas’ alleged forgery of overtime claim records between 2007 and 2010, which resulted in his firing from the department, according to Robles.
Robles wants jurors to hear this so his lawyers may argue Vargas is an untrustworthy witness against his former colleagues.
The prosecutors countered Wednesday that jurors should be allowed to hear Vargas testify that Robles stole $2,000 from the bedroom of a San Francisco home during a search by federal agents. Vargas and Robles were called in to assist Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in the search and Vargas will testify Robles took $2,000 in cash without the ATF agents knowledge.
The victims of the theft later sued the federal government, naming the ATF agent for the theft and Robles was called to testify. He denied theft of the money, according to the government. But Vargas will testify Robles split the money with him, $1,000 each.
Vargas told federal prosecutors the ATF agents had no idea the money was taken. Breyer agreed to allow that information to be part of next week’s trial.
Robles also asked on Wednesday that Breyer order the government to exclude text messages he sent to Furminger that Robles called “unduly prejudicial” and would be “misleading” to jurors.
He asked the exchanges that include the epithets “fag” and “nigga” to be “sanitized to avoid undue prejudice.”
Breyer agreed to exclude prejudicial comments in the texts, according to court minutes.
Case: U.S. v. Furminger, No. 14-102CRB