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State throws out drug charges

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By Lee Einer

The state has dropped drug charges against Anthony Leroy Benavidez.

Marc Grano, Benavidez’s attorney, said the dismissal came less than two hours before a hearing that would have brought into question the reliability of Michael Strand Jr., the confidential informant in the case.

Strand is currently in custody awaiting trial on charges that he stabbed to death, and then set on fire, Roberto Mendez in Mora.

District Attorney Richard Flores said the decision to dismiss the case was based in part on a recording provided by Grano the day before.

“Upon review of the recording,” Flores said in a statement, “it was our opinion that the recording called into question Mr. Strand’s motives in this case.”

Grano said the recording in question was from Carla Benavidez’s telephone answering device. The recording consists of two messages from Michael Strand Jr., both asking Carla Benavidez to call him regarding the case against her and her family.

“It’s about the case and how you want it to go,” Strand said in the second message.

Grano said Strand had requested $1,500 in exchange for admitting on the witness stand that he had lied in his statement to police. Strand is alleged to have said that if the Benavidezes didn’t pay him, he would simply take the Fifth Amendment on the witness stand.

The DA has also dropped charges against Carla Benavidez and her husband, Anthony Benavidez Sr.

Flores also said another factor in dismissing the case was that law enforcement officials did not want to confirm or deny that Strand was an informant. But Flores also said Strand’s identity as a confidential informant was not protected because Strand had already identified himself to the Benavidezes as a confidential informant.  

“Upon information from the defense counsel, Mr. Strand self-disclosed,” Flores said.  “Under the rules of evidence, the privilege of the identity of an informant is waived upon voluntary disclosure.”

• • •

Michael Strand Sr. has filed a tort claim notice against the city of Las Vegas for using his son, Michael Strand Jr., as an informant. Such a notice puts the city on notice that he may sue.

The notice characterizes Strand Jr. as a young man with severe emotional problems, violent propensities and a history that includes several episodes of confinement in mental institutions as well as incarceration in penal institutions.

According to the notice, “The agents of the city of Las Vegas were aware of or should have been aware of Michael Jr.’s violent propensities and his unstable mental health as to which they did nothing to attempt to assist in stabilizing his mental state but rather allowed him to continue his downward spiral that resulted in the death of a man in Mora, N.M.

“The police continued to reward Michael Jr. by paying him and keeping him out of jail, even though Michael Jr. continued committing crimes and was in dire need of mental health care and treatment. Michael Jr. was a danger to himself and others, yet the Las Vegas officers and agents ignored this fact.”

• • •

The tort claim notice also alleges that Strand was on probation for aggravated battery on a household member at the same time he was being used by the Las Vegas Police Department as a confidential informant.

State policy, however, states, “Offenders being supervised by the Probation and Parole Division (PPD) may not act as informants or undercover agents except under exceptional circumstances, and only by the approval of the director in cases of parolees and the sentencing judge in cases of probationers.”

Flores confirmed Strand Jr. was on probation. He said a person on probation signs an agreement in which he promises not to become an informant or special agent for any law enforcement agency without the Probation and Parole director’s permission.

“The obligation falls squarely on the shoulders of the probationer,” Flores said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Rosie Sais said the policy in question is enforced on Department of Corrections employees, and upon the parolees and probationers themselves.

The offenders may be the ones to be penalized for working for the police as confidential informants, she said, because they are not supposed to have any dealings with police officers that they do not report to their probation officers.

As for police knowingly violating such a policy, Sais said, the police department would have to deal with that internally.

“We don’t discipline police officers,” Sais said.