Former SLO County District Attorney investigator A.J. Santana took the stand in his own defense March 28 after a parade of his former colleagues testified against him.
Santana, a former U.S. Marine and Pismo Beach police detective, is facing felony perjury charges after he allegedly falsified information on a sworn affidavit for a drug-related search warrant while working on-loan for the SLO County Sheriff’s Department narcotics unit in 2014.
“I did not intentionally try to mislead the judge or anyone else who read this affidavit,” Santana said.
During the trial, which began March 23, Deputy Attorney General Seth McCutcheon argued that Santana left out or changed details about an undercover drug buy described in the affidavit, which was later approved by a SLO County magistrate judge.
The warrant led to the arrest and near-prosecution of one suspected drug dealer, but the case was dropped after the facts in the affidavit were called into question.
“This case boils down to a police officer that thought the rules didn’t apply to him,” McCutcheon said in his opening statement to jurors. “Who thought the ends justify the means.”
To bolster their case, the prosecution called several members of the SLO County law enforcement community who worked with Santana, including deputies and investigators from the Sheriff’s narcotics unit who assisted Santana with the 2014 undercover drug buy, which took place in San Miguel. Many of those officers testified that the events of that buy differed from what Santana reported in the warrant. One of those former colleagues, veteran narcotics Detective Gerald Giese, described Santana as someone who “doesn’t take suggestions well from other people.”
“His personality is ‘he knows everything,’” Giese said.
When Santana took the stand, his testimony appeared to strengthen his defense lawyer’s argument to jurors: that the misinformation in the affidavit wasn’t intentional but an honest mistake.
“I didn’t scrutinize [the affidavit] carefully enough,” Santana said.
Santana, who was assigned to investigate financial and white collar crime prior to the SLO DA’s office, also claimed he had little experience in the world of narcotics investigations.
“They’re two different animals,” he said.
In the end, it will be up to the jury whether to believe Santana or the men who once considered themselves his coworkers and peers in law enforcement. If found guilty, he could face up to three years in prison.
Former drug investigator recovered Breaking Bad blue meth
The trial of A.J. Santana took a turn for the surreal, after the former SLO County District Attorney investigator claimed he encountered blue methamphetamine during an undercover drug bust in 2014.
While taking the stand to defend himself against perjury charges on March 29, Santana testified that he recovered the oddly colored methamphetamine after sending a confidential informant on a “controlled” drug buy operation in San Miguel. Santana said that after the operation was completed, the informant handed him plastic bag filled with a “brilliant blue” substance.
“It’s the first time I’d ever seen this meth at this point,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was real.”
For any avid Netflix bingewatcher, the blue meth will likely call to mind the popular smash hit television show Breaking Bad, which chronicles the rise and fall of high school chemistry teacher-turned crystal methamphetamine kingpin Walter White. Apparently Santana also made the pop culture connection.
“My first comment was, ‘Check out the Breaking Bad dope,’” Santana said during his testimony, adding that he was told that locals referred to the blue substance as “Smurf Dope.”
While the blue meth may have been cause for a Breaking Bad reference and a chuckle or two, the drugs and drug trafficking are still a major issue in SLO County, so much so that the Sheriff’s Department created a multiagency narcotics unit to tackle the problem.
In an email response to questions from New Times, Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Tony Cipolla said there could be many explanations for blue-hued methamphetamine.
“Some people basically color it as a sales gimmick. Or it can be from the manufacturing process itself,” Cipolla wrote. “Or sometimes cartels or dealers will color it to show it’s theirs. Oftentimes it’s an urban myth.”
Cipolla said that he spoke with some detectives from the narcotics unit who said they couldn’t recall any recent cases involving blue-colored methamphetamine.