A former Novato detective accused of using cocaine he stole out of evidence repeatedly took the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination Monday during intense questioning from defense attorneys.
Jehan "J.J." Amdjadi, who is also a former member of the county drug task force, refused to answer questions about whether he used cocaine, whether he stole it from task force evidence, whether he doctored the records on drug weights, and whether he lied to Petaluma police about an alleged domestic violence incident at his home last year.
His wife Shanna also took the witness stand, where she was grilled about her relationship with her husband and whether they used cocaine. Mrs. Amdjadi -- through the couple's lawyer, Matthew Pavone -- avoided almost all of the questions by invoking spousal privilege.
"Clearly she can't answer questions about her husband and what he did," Pavone told Judge Terrence Boren.
The hearing was the latest chapter in the case of Tong Van Le, the Novato man shot to death at his home in 2008. Amdjadi was initially the lead detective in the case, and he testified at the six-month jury trial.
The four murder suspects were convicted last May. They were scheduled to be sentenced in September, but shortly before the sentencing, authorities disclosed that an internal investigation had implicated Amdjadi in the alleged drug violations.
Later it emerged that District Attorney Ed Berberian, who tried the murder case personally, and his chief deputy, Barry Borden, first got wind of the drug allegations the month before the jury reached its guilty verdicts.
Defense attorneys demanded a new trial, saying prosecutors violated their legal duty to disclose information that could impeach the credibility of prosecution witnesses.
The lawyers also want to know whether authorities intentionally delayed the Amdjadi disclosures until after the defendants were convicted.
The hearing on the motion for a new trial began Monday morning. Other subpoenaed witnesses included Borden; Undersheriff Michael Ridgway, who oversees the drug task force; and Dennis Finnegan, a retired undersheriff who conducted the internal affairs investigation into Amdjadi.
Although the internal investigation and most documents in the case remain under seal, the hearing on Monday offered the first public glimpse of how the investigation came about.
According to statements in court, Amdjadi's wife allegedly told a friend about the drugs, and that friend told another friend in their law enforcement circles, and word reached the daughter of a district attorney's investigator.
The investigator then told his boss, District Attorney Berberian, in early April. Berberian told Borden. They decided to wait for the Novato Police Department to conduct its own internal affairs investigation.
Novato hired Finnegan for the job in late April. Finnegan said he did preliminary groundwork before setting up a meeting with Amdjadi.
Finnegan interviewed Amdjadi in June. Amdjadi denied drug use and agreed to be tested. In July, Amdjadi allegedly tested positive for cocaine.
Amdjadi, 36, left the police department that month, effectively ending the internal affairs inquiry.
Novato police Chief James Berg notified Borden that there could be damaging information in Amdjadi's personnel file if lawyers obtained court approval to access the confidential records. The district attorney's office notified defense attorneys.
Finnegan testified that no one asked him to drag out his investigation, and no one asked him to expedite it, either.
"I don't recall that there was a discussion about the urgency of this trial," he said.
Borden testified that although Berberian told him about the drug allegations in early April, at that point it was merely a rumor that Amdjadi had used a drug of some kind. Borden said the rumored behavior did not rise to the level of "moral turpitude" that must be disclosed to defense attorneys.
"My thoughts were it sounds like it's third-hand or fourth-hand hearsay," he said.
Borden said he left it to the Novato Police Department to conduct its internal investigation.
It was only much later that he learned Amdjadi's alleged misconduct included stealing cocaine from evidence for his use and his wife's.
Prosecutors opened their own criminal investigation, which remains active.
The hearing resumes Wednesday. Defense attorneys have subpoenaed Berberian and Sheriff Robert Doyle, among other witnesses.
The sentencing has been delayed since September because of the continuing fallout from the Amdjadi matter. Judge Boren has said that if he denies the motion for a new trial, the sentencing will happen within weeks.
Le, 44, was gunned down at his Hamilton home in 2008 to prevent his testimony about a robbery at his liquor store in San Francisco, authorities said. One of the accused killers, Sean Washington, eventually admitted his involvement and testified against the other suspects in exchange for a manslaughter conviction.
In May, a Marin County jury convicted the other alleged conspirators -- Larry Blay Jr.; his brother, Deandre; Kevin Abram; and C. Autis Johnson -- of murder and related charges. Johnson's mother, Anchulita Uribe, was convicted of being an accessory after the fact.
Although Amdjadi was the lead investigator in the early stages of the murder case, another detective took over not long after the murder. The prosecution's case relied less on the crime scene investigation than on Sean Washington's testimony and incriminating text messages among the defendants and their associates.
At least two jurors from the murder case attended court Monday to watch the latest developments. One of the jurors, who lived in Kentfield during the trial, said he does not think Amdjadi played enough of a role in the case to affect the verdict.
"The evidence was overwhelming," said the juror, who declined to be named.
Numerous supporters of the murder defendants also attended the hearing. Amdjadi, after delivering his testimony, exited the courtroom through a rear door behind the judge's bench.
Contact Gary Klien via email at firstname.lastname@example.org