Trials for former tribal police officer facing drug, child pornography charges set for August

A former Yakama Nation tribal police officer indicted on federal child pornography and drug charges will face separate trials in August.

Trial for Lorenzo Elias Mendez, 39, on the charge of attempted production of child pornography is scheduled to begin Aug. 12 in U.S. District Court in Yakima. He faces trial on the possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine charge on Aug. 26.

In a pretrial conference motion hearing last month, U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. noted that the court had separated the charges outlined in the 2018 indictment. Before that hearing, trial was scheduled on both charges for Monday.

Mendez was fired after he was indicted. He pleaded not guilty.

“Counts 1 and 2 are very different in nature. One is a drug offense and the other is an attempted production of child pornography case. In addition, the counts were not alleged to have taken place as part of the same course of conduct,” notes a memorandum filed in May by Mendez’ attorney, Ken Therrien, in support of a motion to sever the counts.

“Given the distinct nature of counts 1 and 2, they were improperly joined and severance is appropriate. The counts in the indictment should be severed because proof of one offense would involve presentation of facts that would otherwise be inadmissible as to the other count.”

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.

He is also accused of possessing more than 50 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. After searching Mendez’s property and vehicles, police found 58.5 grams of methamphetamine and 7.5 grams of heroin in his patrol vehicle, the affidavit said. The drugs were in several small bags and appeared to be packaged for distribution, it said.

Mendez hadn’t investigated a drug case in the past four years, his supervisor told investigators.

Documents filed on March 18 show that Mendez, who is living in Western Washington, was admonished for violating one condition of his pretrial supervision by going inside a fast-food restaurant where children would be present. Mendez is ordered to not frequent places where minor-aged children are present.

Tribal officials in late June 2018 released a statement saying Lorenzo no longer works for the department.

“The Yakama Nation does not in any way support or condone the alleged conduct. ... Both the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and Yakama Nation Police Department will continue to work with our federal counterparts to assist in the criminal prosecution,” the statement said.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.