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Deputy defends arrest during court hearing

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A Clayton County sheriff's deputy said a consensual conversation preceded his arrest of two brothers, search of their truck and discovery of 261 pounds of shrink-wrapped cocaine.

Defense attorneys, however, described the event preceding the arrests of Jose and Ernesto Flores as an illegal detention and a violation of rights.

"With the game of 20 questions that the officer was playing with [Jose Flores] at the time, clearly he was trying to accumulate probable cause," said Lloyd Matthews, a court-appointed attorney for one of the accused. "There was an intent to search the vehicle from the very inception."

The two brothers, natives of Texas, were arrested in late September on charges of trafficking cocaine, after Deputy Patrick McClellan grew suspicious and his K-9, Blix, smelled narcotics.

McClellan testified, during the Flores brothers' probable cause hearing on Tuesday afternoon, that he was driving through a truck stop, in Forest Park, and saw Jose Flores walking from a semi truck toward the store. He said the man suddenly stopped, when he saw the sheriff's office vehicle, and avoided making eye contact with the deputy.

"He hit a U-turn when I came around the building in my patrol car," McClellan said.

The deputy followed the semi truck, which Jose Flores, reportedly, voluntarily pulled over. A check of his drivers license showed he was a suspect in a money-laundering and drug-trafficking case, McClellan said, but he wasn't wanted for anything. The deputy grew more suspicious ,though, as the driver began to talk and the details didn't seem to add up.

Jose Flores said he was making a delivery of frozen okra to McDonough, but there was no trailer attached to the truck, McClellan said. The log book showed the truck should have been in Newnan, Ga.

Ernesto Flores got out of the vehicle, and started saying he was a sheriff's deputy in Texas, McClellan said.

"He didn't have a trailer, which raised my suspicion," the deputy said in Clayton County Magistrate Court. "There was a whole lot of inconsistencies with his stories."

McClellan walked the drug-detecting dog around the vehicle twice, and both times the K-9 indicated he smelled narcotics.

"They were both nervous," he said. "I noticed that they were sweating and their chests were visibly pounding."

Matthews and defense attorney, Chris Leopold, said they found a lot of inconsistencies in the deputy's story, questioning why he thought nervousness equaled suspicion, how long he spoke to the brothers and how well trained the dog was.

Both attorneys quizzed the deputy about the alleged voluntary stop of the truck, and wanted to know if he had ever told the Flores brothers that they were free to leave.

McClellan said the truck pulled over on its own, the brothers "spontaneously" confessed to having "a little marijuana," and they were free to walk away at any time.

"They could have walked to Texas if they'd wanted to," he said. "This was a consensual conversation."

Judge Bobby Simmons agreed with the deputy, finding he had probable cause to search the cab and arrest the pair.

Simmons bound the case over to Superior Court, where Jose and Ernesto Flores will face grand jury indictment on charges of trafficking powder cocaine.