A trial is underway for a former Yakama Nation tribal police officer indicted on a federal child pornography charge.
Jury selection took place Monday in the trial of Lorenzo Elias Mendez, 39, in U.S. District Court. He is charged with attempted production of child pornography.
Mendez also faces trial Aug. 26 on a charge of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
The charges outlined in the June 2018 indictment were severed this spring. Originally, one trial was scheduled on both charges, and the date had been continued several times.
Mendez was fired after he was indicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Testimony began Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr.
Mendez is accused of using a hidden video camera to record a friend’s daughter in her bedroom. His friend discovered several nude videos of the teenager on Mendez’s cellphone and a relative discovered a camera hidden in a teddy bear in the girl’s room, according to a police affidavit. The teenager testified Tuesday.
Sgt. Mark Lewis, a 17-year veteran of the Moxee Police Department, recalled the investigation. Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Gregoire, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Hanlon, Lewis said he learned of the allegation June 5, 2018.
Authorities searched Mendez’s home in Moxee and his personal and patrol vehicles. Lewis, the lead investigator, said a wifi “spy camera” was recovered from Mendez’s nightstand along with additional items. Another camera was found elsewhere in the bedroom.
Mendez’s attorney, Ken Therrien, objected to the use of the phrase “spy camera” but was overruled when Gregoire noted that product packaging referred to some of them as such.
Investigators also found a package of “googly eyes,” deemed relevant because of the allegation concerning the teddy bear, along with more wifi cameras of varying brands and related equipment in packages in the back seat and front console of Mendez’s personal vehicle, Lewis testified.
Several items were seized from Mendez’s police SUV, including another wifi camera in a box in Mendez’s patrol bag, Lewis said. Most officers have patrol bags, which include work-related items and equipment.
Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday.
Mendez is also accused of possessing more than 50 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. After searching Mendez’s home and his personal patrol vehicles, police found 58.5 grams of methamphetamine and 7.5 grams of heroin in his patrol vehicle, the police affidavit said. The drugs were in several small bags and appeared to be packaged for distribution, it said.
He hadn’t investigated a drug case in the past four years, his supervisor told investigators.
Tribal officials in late June 2018 said Mendez no longer works for the department. “The Yakama Nation does not in any way support or condone the alleged conduct,” the statement said.