Cory Maye in the NY Times

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

When I first came across the Cory Maye case, I found an article in Lexis from the New York Times that mentioned Maye, but only briefly, and only in the context of a larger story (the alleged spread of hard-core drugs to rural communities). I reread it a couple of days ago, and a few things jumped out at me. The article gets a couple of key facts about the case wrong, which is odd, because reporter Fox Butterfield is a crime reporter with 30+ years experience at the Times. What’s even more interesting is the way Butterfield gets key facts wrong. Here’s the article, from February 2002, six weeks after the raid. And here’s the excerpt concerning Maye:

On Dec. 26, in Prentiss, Officer Ron Jones, 29, called his father, Ronald N. Jones, the police chief, for permission to get a search warrant for an apartment where an informer had told him there was crack. An hour later, as Officer Jones led a team into the apartment, he was shot in the abdomen. The suspect in the shooting, Cory Maye, has been charged with capital murder.

“The hardest thing for me is that I’m the one who gave him the approval,” Chief Jones said.

His son had been taking classes in drug enforcement and was the town’s K-9 officer.

“He thought he could clean Prentiss up,” Chief Jones said. “He honestly gave his life trying to make a difference.”

I suppose it’s possible that Butterfield merely got his facts wrong, or ran with assumptions without first checking them out. But that seems unlikely. The questions that pop up from the article:

1) W hy would Butterfield have reported that an informant told Jones there was crack in the apartment? There’s no mention of crack anywhere in the search warrant or the affidavits. In fact, the only time the word “crack” shows up anywhere in this case is in that traces of a substance that was “possibly crack” were found in Jaimie Smith’s apartment.

2) Butterfield reports that the residence was an “apartment” and not a duplex, and he refers to a “warrant,” and not “warrants.”

In fact, a reader comes away from the Butterfield piece believing that Cory Maye was the crack-dealing target of the raid.

I suppose another possible, non-sinister possibility here is that Chief Jones or Sheriff McCullum (who Butterfield also quotes in the piece) merely got the details wrong.

But to my mind, Butterfield’s piece raises more suspicion about those warrants. Six weeks after the raid, a reporter, after talking to local police officials, gives the clear appearance that there was one warrant for a single apartment, not a duplex, and that said warrant was for crack, not marijuana. I hate to delve into conspiracy theories, here. But this, together with the scratch marks at the top of the evidence sheets, at least lends a bit more credibility to Rhonda Cooper’s theory that the warrant(s) in the Maye case have “evolved” a bit over time.

Cooper believes there was only one warrant, for “known drug dealer” Jaimie Smith, and that the night of the raid, the raiding officers discovered there was someone living on the other side of the building only after Jones entered, and was shot by Cory Maye. The warrants were then altered after the fact to reflect what officers discovered after executing the raid — marijuana, not crack, and not one residence, but two.

This theory is bolstered by the fact that there is absolutely no record of Officer Jones’ investigation leading up to the raid. I’ve had several police officers email to tell me that it’s nearly unheard of for a police officer to keep no notes and no documentation of a drug investigation. The utter absence of a record of Jones’ investigation, then, is bothersome.

A couple of other facts support this theory. The first is the fact that Officer Jones entered Maye’s apartment with his gun still in its holster. It’s hard to believe that an officer who knows he’s entering a residence likely inhabited by a drug-dealer would do so without first drawing his gun. Leaving the gun holstered is more likely something an officer would do if entering what he believes is an unoccupied room in a home where the main suspect has already been apprehended and arrested.

The second is the fact that the officers who say they were charged with raiding Maye’s side of the duplex also say that after they couldn’t get entry through the front and back doors, they looked for a window. If you’re raiding a small apartment that you know to be occupied by a suspected drug dealer, and if you’ve already attempted to kick in two doors, and have repeatedly knocked and announced that you’re the police, and the suspect you know to be inside still hasn’t answered (remember, the officer testified that they saw Cory jiggle the blinds), why would you put yourself in the awkward position of meneuvering through a window to get inside? Seems to me that that would put the entering officer in a pretty vulnerable position.

This of course is all speculation. And as I’ve mentioned before, Maye’s current attorney, Bob Evans, doesn’t buy the idea that the warrants were altered or fabricated, mostly because that would have required the complicity of a judge Evans says is as straight and honest as they come.

But it has certainly happened before. I’ve researched several cases in which police have fabricated, altered, and otherwise manipulated warrants after the fact. And the botched facts in the Butterfield piece certainly raise more questions. It would be interesting to talk to Butterfield to see who (if anyone) in Prentiss gave him the bad information. The aticle’s chronological proximity to the raid and the way the information Butterfield relays from Prentiss officials jibes with Cooper’s theory certainly begs for more investigation. Butterfield left the Times a couple of years ago, and I can’t seem to find reliable contact information for him.

One other point: Butterfield’s piece says Ron Jones was taking classes on drug enforcement at the time of the raid. So the guy who did all of the investigation and actually lead the raid on the duplex that night was still learning how to do drug enforcement.

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