Clauder Hits County With $7.5 Million Claim For False Arrest And Malicious Perversion Prosecution

(April 5) Former congressional aide Sam Clauder, who lost his position in the office of then-U.S. Representative Joe Baca after he was charged with felony possession of child pornography and then endured a more than three-year legal battle to clear his name culminating in the dismissal of the charges last September, has filed a $7.5 million claim against San Bernardino County, the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office.
On March 28, attorney Tim Prince filed the claim on Clauder’s behalf, naming deputy district attorney Maryanne Choi, sheriff’s detective Michael Pelkey, and district attorney Michael Ramos.
Clauder was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography after the sheriff’s department was provided with access to Clauder’s computer by Clauder’s son, Trey Stancher. Prohibited images were found to have been downloaded onto the computer. Clauder maintained his innocence from the outset of the case, but was fired by Baca after word of the arrest became public.
The case dragged on for more than three years. In preparation for his defense, Clauder retained the services of a computer forensics expert, Sheryl Katz,  who was able to establish that the images had been downloaded during a time when Clauder did not have access to the computer, which at that point was in the possession of his son and his ex-wife, Lana Pittman.  Pittman and Stancher maintained that the computer was password protected and they had no access to it. But Katz determined, and sheriff’s department computer analysts later confirmed, that the computer had some 30,000 system events, with daily activity, between May 1 and July 7, 2008, during which time Clauder was not living with Pittman and Stancher.
After the sheriff’s High Tech Crime Unit, which had previously failed to carry out the more exacting analysis Katz performed, confirmed Katz’s findings, Stancher was interrogated by sheriff’s Sgt. Roberto Lomeli. During the course of Lomeli’s questioning, Stancher acknowledged an “uncontrollable hate” for his father and that it was he who had downloaded the child pornography onto his father’s computer.
That confession was backed by the analysis Katz had done of Clauder’s computer hard drive and confirmed by the High Tech Crime Unit, indicating the offending images downloaded onto the computer bore the tell-tale electronic signature cybernetically imprinted when they  had been obtained via peer-to-peer networking software registered to Stancher’s account.
Choi, who had previously refused to accept anything less than a guilty plea that would have subjected Clauder to at least four years in prison, requested in September that the case against Clauder be dismissed “in the interest of justice.” The Superior Court issued a finding of factual innocence in Clauder’s case in December.
According to Prince, Clauder was the victim of a “malicious and selective prosecution” by the district attorney’s office, which is headed up by a Republican, Mike Ramos. Clauder, a Democrat, was active in several party causes, including being, according to Prince, “on opposite sides of a long-term major political battle to determine the use of the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County” with David Ellis, Ramos’ campaign manager.
Prince alleges that the malicious prosecution was made possible by the actions of Pelkey, who, according to Prince “harbored personal animosity towards Clauder” because of Clauder’s work as a journalist that included articles that threw of a rape case  investigation carried out by  Pelkey and his colleagues at the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station into a bad light.
“The false charges were instigated by deputy Pelkey,” the claim states. “The county also deliberately refused to examine the family desktop computer, or three other computers Clauder used, to determine whether Clauder downloaded the images upon which the felony charges were based.  Deputy district attorney Marianne Choi took over the case and prosecuted it with malice under orders from, and with the approval of, district attorney Michael Ramos. The only alleged evidence to support these serious felony charges were the county’s failed polygraphs of Clauder’s estranged wife and 24-year-old son containing lies generated from a contentious divorce. Although both subjects failed their polygraph exams, San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputy M. Pelkey covered it up by referring to them as ‘witnesses’ and hiding the fact that no evidence supported the charges.”
Clauder spent a total of 56 days in jail due to the arrest and felony charges against him.
A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. Only upon the rejection of such a claim, as in this case by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, can the allegedly damaged party proceed with a lawsuit.

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