A man accused of possessing child pornography told a judge Tuesday he was coerced by officers who entered his Baraboo apartment and confiscated items without a warrant more than two years ago.
But agents with the Wisconsin Department of Justice who testified during a motion hearing in Sauk County Circuit Court said the defendant gave consent, and was not subjected to strong-arm tactics.
The testimony came during a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence in the case of 52-year-old John L. Lomax. He faces 40 counts of felony child pornography possession.
Agents with the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation arrived at 830 West Pine Street in the Village of West Baraboo the morning of May 7, 2013, after an officer with a separate agency informed them that a computer at that address had uploaded child pornography.
After searching the home and questioning its owner, Log Lodge Motel and Cabins manager Slobodan Vujosevic, officers did not find child pornography. However, they learned that Vujosevic provided Internet access to his tenant, Lomax, who lived in an attached apartment that had a separate address.
Less than an hour into the raid, investigators made contact with Lomax at his upstairs apartment. In court Tuesday, Lomax testified that he asked to see a warrant.
“They said, ‘We don’t have a search warrant. Come outside,’” Lomax said under questioning by his attorney, Joseph Viney of Baraboo. “It seemed that whenever they wanted something, they put their hands on their guns.”
Lomax — who wore a button-up shirt and kakis in court Tuesday — said he never intended to let officers into his apartment, or grant them access to his computer, but that he did so out of fear. He also said that when officers came to his residence, he was under the influence of pain medication that was prescribed to him following an oral surgery.
“I felt compelled to (allow access) by these people,” Lomax said Tuesday in a calm demeanor. “I thought they were going to kill me. I was terrified of these police officers.”
DOJ agents who testified Tuesday conceded that they did not have a warrant to search Lomax’s apartment. Nevertheless, they said, he voluntarily consented to questioning, granted them access to his apartment, and allowed them to take his electronics.
One of the two agents who spoke with Lomax that day testified that she did not recall him asking if they had a search warrant. But she said agents never proclaimed that they had one, either.
She said Lomax voluntarily spoke with her and another officer outside his apartment. Lomax was never restrained and was informed that he could leave at any time, the agent testified.
“There was some question and answers, and there really was a dialogue back and forth,” the agent testified, adding that at least two officers were in the company of Lomax at all times after they initially made contact with him.
Individual officers’ notes of Lomax’s interview were destroyed after a collective report was prepared, per DOJ policy, the agent testified. And no audio recording of the interview was made because the department typically does not record the statements of people who are not in custody.
Lomax also said he gave officers consent to search his car out of fear that they would damage it if they attempted to break in. The agent testified that she asked for permission to search the car, and that Lomax voluntarily unlocked the vehicle with a remote key.
The hearing on a motion to suppress all evidence gathered from Lomax’s apartment and vehicle will continue Thursday. Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock will decide whether law enforcement’s action that day violated Lomax’s Constitutional protection against unlawful search and seizure.
The criminal complaint against Lomax alleges that a forensic computer analyst who searched devices that were seized from the apartment found 315 illegal images. Each of the 40 felony charges carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Sauk County prosecutors charged Lomax with second-degree sexual assault of a child in 2008, but dismissed the case before it went to trial. He is currently free on a $20,000 cash bond and living in Wisconsin Dells.