31 Mar A Theft at the Crossroads Store
A THEFT AT THE CROSSROADS STORE: The Story of the Case of Cody Pollard
The story I was given was not that uncommon. Cody Pollard was at his home on December 21, 2018, when his doorbell rang. The ring was followed quickly by sharp fast knocks, and he could hear his name being called. When Cody opened the door, he saw two large men on the other side. Before he could say anything the larger of the two men started into a speech on how he was going to be truthful with him and that Cody needed to be truthful back.
The man talking was Tim Turner, despite his lack of uniform the Sherriff is easily recognizable to most of the citizens of Haskell County. Along with the Sheriff was Deputy French.
Turner began interrogating Cody, asking him about some chainsaws that may have been stolen from the Crossroads store on Highway 9. According to Sheriff Turner’s report, Cody denied any knowledge of any chainsaws, but Cody claimed that he did know of some chainsaws that “were possibly” stolen. It is also attributed to him that he said that these chainsaws were taken to the town of Gans.
It is important to note for this article that Cody Pollard denies that he ever made those statements to Sherriff Turner on that day or any other. He does confirm that Turner came to his home that day, and he does confirm that he denied any knowledge of any stolen chainsaws but denies any of the claims of the Sherriff, and without a recording of this interaction, we can only rely on the word of both men who claim their version of events is the accurate one.
Cody was arrested and charged with the following: Count 1- Burglary in the Third Degree (felony), Count 2- Grand Larceny (felony), and Count 3 Larceny of Gasoline. Those charges were filed on the 8th of January, 2019 in the District Court of Haskell County. Cody hired Wagner and Lynch, and I (Brecken) took the case.
On November 20, 2018, Haskell County Dispatch took a call from a man that worked for West and said that his work truck was broken into and some equipment was stolen. The man noticed that the tool door on his truck was open and that four chainsaws had been taken. He estimated the worth of the chainsaws to be about $2000.00. He also noticed that someone had siphoned some gas from the wood chipper.
Because of a recent thunderstorm that had damaged the camera, no surveillance video from the lot itself was available. However, there was a business across the road and it had cameras that faced the direction of the Crossroads Store. The investigating officer, Undersheriff Mike Buntin, described what he observed from the store’s video in his report.
He writes, “From that camera, I could see the west side of the Crossroads Store as well as Highway 9. From the time stamp on the video, I noticed a light, possibly white, colored car enter the Crossroads parking lot and drive to where West’s trucks are parked. The car leaves about 4 hours later.”
A little over a month later a young lady named Destiny Gordon was arrested for a different matter and when she arrived at the Haskell County Jail, she apparently had information about the stolen chainsaws from the Crossroads Store. In a statement that she supposedly gave to Undersheriff Buntin, she stated that she was with Cody Pollard on the evening the chainsaws were stolen. She further stated that she drove Cody and another person to the Crossroads Store and pulled into the back of the parking lot near the work trucks. She stayed in the vehicle while Cody and the other person got out and placed two chainsaws in her trunk and two more in the backseat of the car. The only other detail that she gave was that Cody was driving as she had been drinking.
This conversation, despite it allegedly occurring in the Haskell County Jail, was not recorded, nor was there a statement generated and signed by Ms. Gordon. The statement only exists in the report of Undersheriff Mike Buntin, and when I reached out to Ms. Gordon to discuss it with her in preparing for our preliminary hearing, she told me that it never happened. She told me that not only did she not take Cody to this store, but the conversation with Undersheriff Buntin never occurred either.
Sherriff Turner was relying on this when he went to Cody’s house and demanded answers. It would take nearly two years and a pandemic to blow through before Cody would finally get his day in court, but before it was over it would be one hell of a day.
A preliminary hearing is guaranteed to a defendant in a felony criminal action in Oklahoma. It is part of our Constitution and requires the State to present evidence of Probable Cause that a certain crime was committed and that the person charged may have been the one to do so. This does not take much. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to avoid bogging down the courts with cases that are too weak evidentially to go to a jury trial. The process is like a gatekeeper. At the same time, the burden at the preliminary hearing is so low, that it should always reflect poorly on the state when a case is thrown out at a preliminary hearing.
The hearing was held on October 25, 2021, before District Judge John Sullivan. The following is based on both my memory and the preliminary hearing transcript from that day.
First, the state called Robert Kilpatrick to the stand. Robert was employed with West Tree Services, and he was called to testify as to the theft itself. Robert testified that West parked their trucks in the Crossroads store parking lot. He said that when he arrived the morning of the incident, he noticed that the bin was open on the passenger side of a truck. There should have been three Husqvarna saws and one Stihl saw in that bin, but they were missing.
Mr. Kilpatrick also testified that he observed the surveillance tape that then Undersheriff Buntin recovered that day from the business across the highway. He said that he saw a white car drive through the parking lot. He could not say the make or model of the car or if it was a four-door-or two-door sedan. He also testified that he could not make out the occupants to give any description as to gender or even the number.
Next, the State called Sherriff Tim Turner to the stand. Turner was asked if Cody Pollard’s name ever came up in regard to some stolen property and he claimed that it had been through a lady named Destiny Gordon. Turner testified, “The vehicle that was there that night had come back stolen. And that vehicle matched the description of the vehicle that Undersheriff Buntin had seen on a video at Crossroads if I recall correctly.” When asked if he recalled what color the vehicle was, Turner testified that it was a white Nissan “maybe”, and that it was newer.
If you are keeping score at home, you will remember that Mr. Kilpatrick could not even describe whether the vehicle had two or four doors, and when he described a color, he said it was “possibly white”. This is consistent with the reports in this case. Up until this point I had not come across any evidence that anyone could tell the make, model, or year of the car (other than “2000s or newer”), let alone any indication that the vehicle that pulls into the Crossroads parking lot on the video was even involved in the theft, let alone stolen itself.
Destiny Gordon was arrested for being in possession of a white sedan that was reported stolen by a family member sometime after this alleged incident, but there is no evidence available to indicate that the car in the Crossroads video and the one she was later alleged to be in possession of (the charge was eventually dismissed) was the same vehicle, or that she was in it.
Turner was asked, “What did Mr. Pollard tell you regarding the property?
“He knew about the chainsaws that came to his residence, knew that they had gone to Gans with the Hunter boys.”
The Sherriff next tried to explain that he had asked Cody about Ms. Gordon and that he admitted they were romantically involved. Turner then claims he told Cody that Ms. Gordon had told them that he had been involved and done all of these things. Turner then claims that he asked Cody if Ms. Gordon was lying to law enforcement, and at this point, he claims Cody lowered his head and said “No”, implying that this was a sign of guilt tantamount to a confession.
Neither of the two law enforcement officers recorded or documented their conversation with Cody Pollard that day other than what the Sheriff wrote in his report. In that report Turner described Cody’s response a little differently, he wrote, “Sherriff Turner asked Pollard if Gordon had lied to him about the thefts and Pollard dropped his head and shook it no. Sheriff Turner asked Pollard again if he had any knowledge and he said no.” So, when the Sheriff was standing in front of Mr. Pollard he interpreted a head-shaking as a definitive assertion of guilt, despite it being immediately followed by a denial of any knowledge about the theft at all, but at court, Turner remembers an actual verbal assertion of guilt not to be followed by an immediate denial.
The following is an exchange between myself and Sheriff Turner from the Preliminary Hearing:
Q.You said that Mr. Pollard told you he knew that some chainsaws were stolen; is that right?
Q.Okay. That’s your testimony, right?
Q.Did you read your report before you testified?
Q.Okay. Because I’m going to read from it, the second sentence of your last paragraph: (Reading) “Pollard denied any knowledge of anything except that he did have some chainsaws that were possibly stolen.” Right?
Q.There’s a big difference between what he might think is possibly stolen and something that he knows is stolen; would you agree with me?
A.I’ll agree with that.
Q.Also there’s no identification of any kind of, what type of chainsaw, or anything like that, in your report, is there?
A.No, it’s not in there.
When I pointed out that one could not conclude from his report or testimony what chainsaws he’s talking about and if they are even stolen. Sheriff Turner replied, “You and I don’t. But me and him did.” I asked the Sheriff if he even asked what brand these “possibly’ stolen chainsaws were, or how many there were. The Sheriff could not recall if he had asked that question and that’s when I brought up his preference to not record any interviews or support the usage of body-worn cameras.
The exchange went like this:
Q.The reason you didn’t record a statement is that you don’t want us to hear what was said that day, right?
A.That’s your speculation. But, that’s not true.
Q.Well, tell me a reason why you wouldn’t record a statement from a suspect.
A.There’s lots of times I don’t record things, Mr. Wagner.
Q.Why didn’t you record a statement from this suspect?
A.I don’t know.
The Sheriff had no choice, but to begrudgingly agree with me that his statement both began and ended with Cody Pollard denying any knowledge of any stolen equipment. I concluded my cross-examination by further pointing out that Mr. Pollard could have written the Sheriff a statement, but once again the Sheriff wasn’t interested in that because he knew a written statement from Cody would include more denials and that would not help the Sheriff prove his case. Maybe the State thought that their next witness would clear everything up for them, but since I was the only one in the room that had taken the time to talk to her, I suspected her testimony was not going to be helpful.
Destiny Gordon had been brought in from a correctional facility where she was serving a prison sentence for an unrelated matter. I took the time before our hearing to sit down with Destiny and hear her story. Now in recovery, Destiny was looking forward to her release from custody and a new start. She told me about her addiction and how that had led her to the place she was now. She also told me about her stay at the Haskell County Jail and how she was pulled from her cell and interrogated about her case, but had no memory of any interview about some chainsaws stolen from the Crossroads store. She denied any knowledge of being there on any night with Cody Pollard, or ever telling any member of the Haskell County Sheriff Department that she was. She also cleared up for me that she had never been in a dating relationship with Cody Pollard, something Cody had told me as well.
Ms. Burns, the Assistant District Attorney that was prosecuting this case asked Destiny to confirm every statement both Mike Buntin and Tim Turner claimed that she made to them. She denied them all. She testified under oath, “I don’t remember talking to Tim Turner. I don’t remember talking to Mike Buntin. I don’t remember.” She also testified during her direct examination that she was so under the influence of drugs and alcohol during this time period, that she did not even remember being arrested, but only waking up in jail and finding out she had already been there for five days.
As Ms. Burns pressed, Ms. Gordon would recount her one meeting that she remembered with then Undersheriff Buntin, but she was clear that she only remembered talking about the allegations against her and never discussing Cody Pollard. Further, Ms. Gordon repeatedly explained to Ms. Burns that when she did speak with Mr. Buntin, she was clearly still under the influence of drugs in her system. Ms. Burns asked about every statement that both Buntin and Sherriff Turner claimed that she made, and if she remembered it.
In answer to each and every question, Ms. Gordon would look at Ms. Burns earnestly and answer, “No”.
Ms. Gordon would be followed by the former Undersheriff, Mike Buntin, who testified that Ms. Gordon had told him all of these things. On cross-examination, I would once again point out that none of this interview was recorded, although there was an interview room at the jail equipped for both audio and video recording. However, the lack of any evidence went further than that, there were no logs, notes, or documentation of any kind to indicate that the interview ever happened let alone that it included a discussion about Cody Pollard. There was no excuse for the lack of any corroboration or recording, given that recording the interview or documenting that it ever occurred would have been so easy and you would think the normal course of business for any law enforcement agency.
Judge Sullivan did grant our motion to dismiss the case at the conclusion of the hearing, but the state did not stop there and decided to appeal that decision to another judge. Judge Campbell of Bryan County was assigned to review the record and decide if Judge Sullivan was wrong in his decision. Judge Campbell affirmed Sullivan’s decision, writing, “The record before this Court is devoid of admissible evidence which implicates the Defendant in the felony offenses set forth in the information.”
What happened in Cody’s case is not so much an outlier, but too often typical of how law enforcement operates in smaller communities. Many times, open cases are miraculously “solved” in jail. When you live in a community where many folks know each other and many of the same people (generally because of addiction and mental health issues) have contact with law enforcement, law enforcement may use their power to push through really bad prosecutions for the sake of “solving” crimes. Further, most rural law enforcement and this is absolutely true for Haskell County, do not record their interviews with witnesses and suspects.
Why would you NOT record an interview? Well, this case is a glaring example. Look at how law enforcement, in this case, Sherriff Turner, tried to shape Cody’s words into what almost appeared to be a confession. Ms. Gordon did not cooperate with the state’s version of events, but that is not always the case. I was very concerned that even after I spoke with Ms. Gordon that morning about her testimony. I was concerned because despite what she said to me, I knew she would still be subject to some pretty extreme pressure if not intimidation to go along with the state’s version of events she had no memory of.
That pressure came when Ms. Burns not so subtly pointed out to Ms. Gordon that she was under oath when she testified that morning. That was a not too veiled threat that she may face perjury charges if her testimony was different from what the officers said. Ms. Gordon held strong and instead testified with strength and conviction all the while knowing that she could be putting herself in danger.
I also said that too often crimes are “solved” in jail in small rural communities. Well, there is also a lot of pressure in small communities to solve crimes, in particular in Haskell County where the social media page for the Haskell County Sheriff’s Department tends to highlight “successful” cases on a regular basis. So, it’s easy to connect the potential dots as to how justice can take a back seat when the conclusion is more important.
Destiny Gordon was arrested for being in possession of a stolen vehicle which happens to be a white sedan. There is this open case from the Crossroads Store and it appears to be a common level theft likely committed by a local, and law enforcement officers always have a few local residents in mind when it comes to petty crime like this kind of theft. Destiny Gordon is taken out of her cell and told that they know she’s good for this and she is asked who she hangs around with because they are probably involved.
At some point in the interview, maybe she mentions that she knows or hangs out with Cody Pollard and some others. The Sheriff goes out to see Cody. In the Sheriff’s mind, Cody is guilty because his Undersheriff told him that Cody was involved, so now the Sheriff needs to get Cody to say something that can be used to show he was involved and that will be good enough. The Sheriff would have enough to take to the District Attorney to bring charges, these are not wealthy people so they will just get some overworked public defender that will not really get too deep in trying to defend this, and the shaky raft of evidence will hold together long enough to float this guy on down the river.
But that didn’t happen in this case. Cody did retain Wagner & Lynch. We treated his case as we treat every case and put in the maximum effort to try to get to the bottom of it and seek actual justice for Cody.
There should be more accountability. A defendant should not feel at a disadvantage because it is his word against that of a law enforcement officer. This is especially true when law enforcement officers are not only allowed to, but trained how to lie to and mislead a suspect in order to obtain a statement, confession, or other responses that could sound incriminating.
If law enforcement officers are going to continue to avoid corroborating any statements made to them through the use of a recording when technology today makes it extremely easy through body cameras, handheld recorders, and the smartphones in their pocket that can record with a prompt, then judges and juries should be instructed to consider their testimony with less or equal veracity to that of the denial of the defendant. After all, isn’t that only fair? Wouldn’t that bring us a little closer to making justice a priority?