A San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office investigator has been placed on paid leave while an internal investigation continues into whether he falsified court documents to obtain a search warrant.
District Attorney Investigator A.J. Santana, a seven-year veteran of the District Attorney’s Office, was placed on leave in October while officials determine whether he committed perjury by supplying a judge with a false affidavit in order to search a drug suspect’s home and car.
Prosecutors have dismissed all charges against the suspect in the case because of questions of whether evidence was obtained illegally, but only after the suspect was held in jail for more than 20 days on the charges.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran confirmed Wednesday that Santana was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 17 pending the investigation led by District Attorney Dan Dow, with the help of the Sheriff’s Office and the Office of County Counsel.
Gran said by email Wednesday: “The internal investigation regarding A.J. Santana is currently ongoing. Once all the information has been gathered, District Attorney Dan Dow will review the investigation and will then determine what action, if any, should be taken.”
Gran estimated the investigation will be concluded in about two weeks.
Since September 2013, Santana had been assigned to the Sheriff’s Office’s narcotics unit. On Aug. 27, he filed an affidavit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in order to search the car and home of Tommy Clay Pappas, 44, of San Miguel.
An affidavit is a legal document filed to a judge explaining probable cause that exists for a search warrant.
Santana petitioned Superior Court Judge Rita Federman to seal the affidavit, claiming its release would jeopardize an ongoing drug investigation. Based on Santana’s information, Federman sealed the record, rendering it a non-public court document.
On Sept. 3, as part of the operation, Sheriff’s Senior Deputy Al Barger stopped Pappas as Pappas drove on Mission Street in San Miguel. Pappas was allegedly driving on a suspended license and detained. At the same time, sheriff’s narcotics officers raided Pappas’ home, allegedly finding a small amount of meth and paraphernalia.
Pappas was transported to the house by Barger, who told a supervisor that he believed Pappas swallowed drugs as Barger walked to his vehicle, according to Santana’s report. Santana interviewed Pappas, who denied swallowing anything.
Pappas was taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton where a CT scan showed a bag in his stomach, according to the report. Pappas then allegedly admitted to swallowing the bag, and it was removed, revealing 3.8 grams of meth, according to the report.
Pappas, who court records show had a single previous felony drug possession conviction from 1999, pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of possession of a controlled substance and driving on a suspended license. At a preliminary hearing Sept. 22, Pappas was taken into custody in lieu of $25,000 bail.
He remained in jail until Oct. 15, when the District Attorney’s Office asked the judge to dismiss the charges and he was released. Santana was placed on leave two days later.
Pappas’ attorney, Patrick Fisher, said the move caught him off guard after reading the damning police report. He said Wednesday he had not seen the affidavit and does not know what Santana is accused of falsifying nor who began the internal investigation.
“I’ll be as curious as anybody as to what the results are,” Fisher said.
Gran would only say Wednesday that it came to his office’s attention that the search warrant may not be valid.
Santana has been an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office since November 2007 and has worked gathering evidence for some of the office’s major recent cases such as that against former Grover Beach financier Al Moriarty. He previously spent 10 years with the Pismo Beach Police Department.
Gran said the District Attorney’s Office is now reviewing cases through the court’s case management system to identify any cases involving Santana that may require a review.