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Police: Uniontown man asked code officer to keep mum about pot

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A former Uniontown resident asked a city code enforcement officer not to report an alleged “marijuana grow” operation discovered during an inspection of his home, the officer testified on Friday.

Mark Pasquale said he went to the former home of Charles Alan Smith, 52, at 17 W. Berkeley St. in response to a complaint about piles of garbage and unsanitary conditions.

Police obtained search warrants for the home on April 26, 2012, and said they found 377 marijuana plants and 20 pounds of processed marijuana. District Attorney Jack Heneks estimated the street value at $610,000.

Smith, who now lives in Smithfield, is seeking to have the plants excluded as evidence. He is charged with manufacturing marijuana and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Attorney Patrick Kenneth Nightingale claims that Smith was duped into letting police into the house and Pasquale used the ruse of a building code violation to conduct a narcotics investigation with police.

Smith has rejected a plea offer that would have sent him to prison for five years. Fayette County President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. will rule later on the evidence suppression.

On Friday, Pasquale said he and city fire Chief Charles Coldren saw “scattered debris” outside the Berkley Street house.

“Did anybody ask you to go there because of suspected marijuana?” Assistant District Attorney Mark Brooks asked.

“No,” Pasquale said.

He said he identified himself and “I explained that I wanted to do a quick, visual interior inspection.”

Smith said he was preparing to take his daughter to a medical appointment. Pasquale said he could smell the odor of “ammonia, feces, urine” wafting from the door.

Smith closed the door to secure his dogs, than opened it and invited him in, Pasquale said.

“Stuff was stacked up, like hoarding, in my opinion,” in the living and dining rooms, Pasquale said.

Pasquale said Smith walked in front of him when they went to the second floor. Pasquale said there was an empty bag of fertilizer on a bed and a blanket hanging over one doorway.

“I asked about that room and he said, ‘That is where I keep my construction equipment. There are no lights in there,' ” Pasquale said.

He used his flashlight and saw a 4-by-4 silver box-like structure, topped with a foil dome. Aluminum sheeting covered the windows.

“He said, ‘Come on, man, please don't say anything about this,' ” Pasquale said.

He said he was concerned about a possible fire hazard from the cord of a halogen light, so the officer tapped the box cover. The light tipped back, Pasquale said, and he saw the plants.

He said Smith appeared “nervous” and “agitated” and attempted to go downstairs.

“I detained him, due to officer safety. I placed him in handcuffs and radioed Uniontown city police to send an officer for suspected marijuana plants,” he said.

“Nightingale asked Pasquale if he could have given Smith time to clean up the clutter and left.

“It was not only scattered debris. There was a clear odor at the residence that was not coming from outside,” Pasquale said.

“He is telling me that he had a handicapped child. That to me was a red flag, with the conditions inside that residence,” he said. “If I see (those conditions) and I leave and don't do anything . ... God forbid something happens that night, his house catches on fire. ... I'm on the hook.”

Pasquale, who also works as a constable, said he was wearing his uniform and a firearm.

“You have the right to refuse me entry into your house. I ask everybody for consent,” Pasquale said.

“Did you tell Mr. Smith your quick inspection would include every room of the house?” Nightingale asked.

“I did not,” Pasquale said.

He estimated he was in the home for six to seven minutes before he found the plants.

“In my opinion, that's a quick inspection,” Pasquale said.

Smith is free on $100,000 bond.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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