Two brothers who’ve been subjects of multiple searches and police interrogations in the slaying of Korey Kauffman have protested their treatment by law enforcement and now have hired a private investigator to look into what they say is ongoing harassment and a violation of their civil rights.
Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator Dan Inderbitzen said investigators have acted appropriately and “by the book,” adding that it’s not uncommon for subjects of criminal investigations to file complaints against officers with the belief that it will slow or stop the criminal investigation.
Baljit and Daljit Athwal, owners of two Pop-N-Cork liquor locations in Turlock, have hired Diop Kamau, a private investigator and CEO of Policeabuse.com.
Inderbitzen said he has received letters from the brothers outlining their grievances, but Kamau said he intends to file a formal complaint against DA Investigator Kirk Bunch, one of the lead investigators of the Kauffman case.
Inderbitzen said he takes all complaints against officers seriously but also has seen the complaint process used as a tactic.
“A lot of people will try to take the offensive and think that will have some kind of bearing on the criminal investigation, but a police administrative investigation would take a completely different track than a criminal investigation,” he said. “There is no way we are going to dispense any part of a criminal investigation because of a complaint.”
Kamau said investigators have been to the East Avenue Pop-N-Cork location as many as 15 times since both stores were searched March 3. Detectives have gone inside the store to talk to Baljit several times but mostly stayed outside and observed, or talked to customers and neighbors in the area.
Kamau claims investigators have made disparaging remarks about the brothers to customers and used intimidation to keep people from patronizing the business.
“That is false,” Inderbitzen said. “They have served search warrants on those businesses and done some follow-up contacts, but they would not for any reason impede customers. That is not the way they operate.”
The brothers’ homes and businesses were also searched several months after Kauffman’s March 2012 disappearance. His body was discovered in an isolated area of Mariposa County in August.
Sheriff’s Department detectives said in 2012 that Kauffman, who made a living selling scrap metal that sometimes was stolen, was headed toward a Ninth Street property to pursue something that “piqued his interest.”
Prominent defense attorney and district attorney candidate Frank Carson said his Ninth Street property was searched once in 2012.
Along with the Athwal brothers, Carson has emphatically denied any involvement in the Kauffman case.
Robert Lee Woody, 38, was arrested last month and charged with murder and conspiracy in Kauffman’s death. The conspiracy charge is supported by four allegations of involvement with three co-conspirators, who are listed only as B, C and D.
Woody and co-conspirator B allegedly threatened a witness on behalf of co-conspirator C, who told Woody he would provide legal representation and with the help of other co-conspirators bail Woody out of jail in the event of his arrest. Co-conspirators B and D also paid for the defendant to leave the area to avoid becoming a witness or suspect in Kauffman’s death, according to the document.
Carson recently hired an attorney, who advised him not to speak with the media so as not to risk violating attorney-client privilege because he has represented people involved in the criminal case.
Kamau said Carson has not been subjected to the same repeated questioning the brothers have. “Baljit and his family are low-hanging fruit, they are easily accessible and are being used to get to other suspects in this case,” Kamau said.
He charges that the brothers already would be behind bars if investigators had any incriminating evidence against them, either in the death of Kauffman or any criminal conduct that would have been revealed during the searches.
Inderbitzen said Thursday, “Arrests are imminent, but I can’t confirm who or how many.”
Kamau is collecting signatures on a petition that will be sent to the offices of the governor and attorney general and purchased the Internet domain www.stanislaus-da.com to chronicle his investigation of the district attorney’s office.
He advised the brothers to record any interactions with detectives assigned to the case.
Baljit Athwal recorded his last interaction with Bunch and Modesto police Detective Jon Evers.
The investigators can be heard asking him a series of questions, pausing while he rings up customers.
During the 17-minute recording, Bunch asked, “So you know we arrested Robert, right?”
Bunch: “You know that Robert talked to us, right?”
Athwal: “No, I don’t.”
Bunch: “So there’s a lot of stuff that Robert says that’s concerning you and Daljit.”
Athwal: “I don’t care whatever he said, boss.”
Athwal went on to explain that he and his brother help a lot of people in the community. He told The Modesto Bee last month that Woody would sometimes work odd jobs at his store but he cut ties with him about seven months ago when he started using drugs.
Bunch asked Athwal, “What if (Woody) says that you were on Frank’s property and that you were beating up Korey.”
Athwal said, “Buddy, he’s lying, I never went to Frank’s property.”
The brothers staged another protest in front of the district attorney’s office on Friday, holding signs asserting false arrest and demanding public office holders be held accountable.
This time, investigators in charge of the case had a few signs of their own. An electronic road work sign flashed a message asking anyone with information about Kauffman’s death to call Crime Stoppers. A large poster with Kauffman’s picture and the message “Help police bring justice to the senseless murder of Korey Kauffman” was posted on the entrance to the district attorney’s office.
“The reason for the electronic sign is we are taking every opportunity to publicize the Kaufman case,” Inderbitzen said. “We thought protesters would draw media attention, as they sometimes do, and took this opportunity to continue to get the word out about the reward from Crime Stoppers.”
Investigators ask that anyone with information about Kauffman’s death call Bunch at (209) 652-1673 or Evers at (209) 652-1995. Tips can be given anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters can text information to Crime Stoppers at 274637; type TIP704 along with the message. Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.