10/19/2007

Target in Dallas SWAT raid tied to drug ring

By Steve Thmoson
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — He goes by "Clay" and "C-man." And authorities say he was part of a multimillion-dollar methamphetamine and cocaine distribution ring.

Clayton Sharpless is the man Dallas police were targeting when a SWAT team lieutenant was shot during an early morning raid Wednesday.

In court documents released Thursday, the 34-year-old is described as part of a distribution chain that delivered drugs from large-scale dealers to lower-level dealers and laundered money exchanged between them. He and others did so by buying assets in what appeared to be legitimate transactions, authorities allege.

Federal prosecutors have charged Mr. Sharpless and about a dozen others with conspiring to distribute at least 500 grams of methamphetamine and more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. The indictment also seeks a judgment of $16.38 million that authorities say the defendants have collected during their dealings.

A copy of the heavily redacted indictment named four other North Texans: Mark Ellis Johnson and Olando King of DeSoto and Luis Eduardo Rendon and his wife, Monica Trevino Cervantes, of Forney, all of whom were arrested Wednesday and Thursday. The names of several others were blacked out in court documents, often a sign that they haven't been arrested yet.

When Dallas police staged a raid to arrest Mr. Sharpless and search his home Wednesday, his girlfriend shot a police lieutenant as he tried to burst through a bedroom window, police say.

The girlfriend, 19-year-old Marisela Villa, faces a charge of attempted capital murder and was being held Thursday in the Dallas County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

The injured SWAT commander, Lt. Carlton Marshall, remained in critical condition in an intensive care unit.

It is not the first time authorities have gone after Mr. Sharpless, accusing him of methamphetamine distribution. In a 2005 raid on his previous home, officers seized more than 900 grams of marijuana and several handguns and rifles.

Charges stemming from that raid are pending. His uncle, Michael Brashear, was arrested after he was found to be transporting methamphetamines from the home, records show.

In 1998, Mr. Sharpless spent nine months in state jail for possession of a controlled substance.

On Thursday afternoon, at Mr. Sharpless' home on Hollywood Avenue in north Oak Cliff, members of his and Ms. Villa's families boarded up windows and swept up glass shattered in the raid.

Luis Garcia, 18, is Ms. Villa's brother. He lives at the home and was there when the SWAT team showed up. He says his sister did not realize it was police who were breaking into the house.

"My sister, I guess she reacted and shot him, because she didn't know," Mr. Garcia said.

He said he was getting dressed when he saw a man with a rifle on the home's video security screen, but he did not realize the man was a police officer. He hurried to the bedroom where Ms. Villa and Mr. Sharpless were sleeping.

"Mari! Somebody's here!" he said he told her.

"Huh?" he said she replied.

Then the SWAT team began breaking in the windows.

"That's when my sister got scared," Mr. Garcia said.

He disputes the account given by police, which stressed that officers repeatedly yelled "Police!" to identify themselves as they burst in.

"The whole time they were here, they didn't say 'police'," Mr. Garcia said.

Mr. Sharpless' mother and an aunt also defended Ms. Villa.

"She's my niece; she's sweet as she can be," Sharon Brashear said of Ms. Villa. (Ms. Brashear is Michael Brashear's sister.) "She shouldn't be behind bars because this was an accident. She's not a cop killer."

The family members questioned why the officers didn't serve the warrant by just knocking on the front door.

Dallas police said federal officers requested and received what is called a "no-knock" warrant from a judge, authorizing the surprise raid. The tactic is meant to give dangerous suspects no time to grab weapons or destroy evidence.

"In this case, they expected him to be in bed asleep," Dallas police Sgt. Gary Kirkpatrick said.

No-knock warrants where residents shoot at police can become troublesome at trial, former Dallas County prosecutor Toby Shook said. They often result in juries convicting defendants of lesser charges.

"That is always the defense and it's a problem for the state, or it can be ... [they will say] they thought they were being robbed," Mr. Shook said. "The police will testify that they clearly announced with bullhorns and yelling that they were the police and were in full uniform."

He said that if a defendant is prosecuted on a charge of aggravated assault of a police officer, a first-degree felony, a jury often will convict on an aggravated assault charge, a second-degree felony. A first-degree felony is punishable by up to life in prison; a second-degree felony is punishable by two to 20 years.

Mr. Shook said he has prosecuted cases in which police were serving warrants at known drug houses and the residents shot at officers. He said they often will admit to selling drugs but say they thought someone was breaking in to steal their stash.

Copyright 2007 The Dallas Morning News

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