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Fired Ceres detective seeks job, back pay

A former detective blacklisted by prosecutors is asking a judge to order Ceres police to give him back his job.

Mark Neri, 46, was fired earlier this year because the Stanislaus County district attorney's office deemed him not credible as a witness, according to court documents. He was "involved in numerous criminal incidents" and is not fit to testify, District Attorney Birgit Fladager wrote in a letter to Ceres' police chief.

Neri claims in court papers that "the penalty of termination is excessive" and based on irrelevant incidents, some dating to 1993.

"He got a bum deal," said his Sacramento-area attorney, Joy Rosenquist. Neri now investigates for a federal agency that his lawyer declined to identify, but would prefer returning to Ceres and wants back pay, Rosenquist said.

At the heart of Neri's trouble is the district attorney's "Brady list," which identifies officers with compromised credibility in the eyes of prosecutors.

It's named after Brady v. Maryland, which produced a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that authorities give the accused any evidence that might support a defense. That includes challenging the credibility of law enforcement officers.

"Prosecutors take this obligation very seriously," Fladager said Friday in an e-mail response to a Bee inquiry. "To not do so would risk the viability of hard-fought convictions and also subject prosecutors to disciplinary action."

Fladager did not directly respond to a request to reveal her Brady list. She said her office is flagged electronically when a blacklisted officer is entered as a potential witness, allowing prosecutors to notify defense attorneys.

In Neri's case, prosecutors gave defense attorneys CDs with 500 pages of background documents, including details from his personnel files with Modesto and Turlock police, where he previously worked. When that happens, Rosenquist said, "You're done. Your reputation is shot."

Rosenquist said her client's troubles stem from an old custody dispute arising from the exchange of a child with his ex-wife, plus other "unsustained allegations" dismissed by authorities.

Fladager's April 2008 letter to Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk refers to allegations that Neri violated a restraining order in Turlock, adding there was "no basis to obtain a conviction." The letter also cites allegations that Neri "stole property, vandalized a car and illegally obtained criminal offender/driver's license information" in a case reported to Modesto police.

While probing Neri's past, Fladager's investigators found "evidence that Neri has engaged in the falsification of government records and lying to a superior during an investigation," according to the letter.

"These revelations ... lead me to conclude that Det. Mark Neri has been untruthful during an official investigation, has falsified official records and has illegally accessed governmental databases," reads the letter, which bears Fladager's name as well as the name and signature of Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris.

After leaving jobs with Modesto and Turlock police for undisclosed reasons, Neri was hired in Ceres in 1995. He later was promoted to sergeant, demoted and suspended eight hours for unspecified "misconduct" in 2004. He was promoted to detective in 2006, according to court documents.

Citizen complaints prompt probe

Prosecutors blacklisted Neri in April 2008 after an investigation prompted by "citizen complaints," according to Fladager's letter.

In a claim filed with county leaders, Rosenquist said Neri landed on the Brady list "without legal justification. ... The evidence is unclear why the district attorney's office took such a keen interest in Det. Neri and why they felt compelled to conduct an investigation with an exhaustive review of records going back as far as 1993."

Ceres officials "tried several times to negotiate with the district attorney's office to remove Det. Neri's name from the Brady list," Rosenquist wrote. Neri received a commendation a year ago for tracking down in Louisiana a 14-year-old boy and returning him "safely to his family" in Ceres.

"If given the chance, he would take (his Ceres job) back in a heartbeat," Rosenquist said. "He was good at what he did and got fulfillment in putting people away."

But Ceres officials fired Neri earlier this year because the Brady list prevented him from doing his job, Rosenquist wrote. The county's Brady list policy violated his civil rights and impugned his reputation, says the claim, which can be a precursor to a lawsuit.

Asked if other blacklisted officers have been terminated, Fladager said, "We don't concern ourselves or involve ourselves in the employment issues of law enforcement agencies."

County Counsel John Doering said Neri's claim against the county was filed beyond a deadline allowed by state law. The Bee was unable to reach Ceres' outside counsel in San Francisco handling this case; Ceres City Council members listed the litigation on a Nov. 23 closed-session agenda.

Modesto defense attorney Ernie Spokes called Neri to testify in a recent double-homicide trial because Neri had tape-recorded interviews in the case, Spokes said. The prosecutor declined to ask Neri questions, Spokes and Rosenquist said. Jurors in September found Timothy Carrillo guilty of second-degree murder.

Fladager said the Carrillo case judge and attorneys discussed Neri's Brady list status and the judge discounted it, "given the limited nature of Neri's testimony."

Fladager did not respond to questions of how many officers are blacklisted, whether cases have been compromised, how an officer gets on or off a Brady list and whether other blacklisted officers have testified at trial. She said information shared with defense attorneys about Neri is not public record.

"Federal law may require that prosecutors disclose certain information, but state law precludes it," Fladager said, citing the California Peace Officer's Bill of Rights. " 'Brady' is one of the most complex issues that prosecutors have to deal with," she added.

A judge is expected Tuesday to rule on Ceres' motion to dismiss; if denied, a hearing on Neri's petition for reinstatement would be held Jan. 29.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.