SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. - A Santa Cruz man is no longer facing charges after being accused of stealing flowers from a memorial to fallen police detectives - even though he was the one who bought the flowers.
Kenneth Maffei bought the flowers for a lady friend and a box of doughnuts for the memorial, said his defense attorney.
He was in custody for 18 days with a $5,000 bond. Charges against him were dropped Thursday.
"This case was a classic 'rush to judgment' - from the arrest, to the high bail (at arrest), to the harsh judgments in the media," said Larry Biggam, a public defender.
Attorneys said in court the 53-year-old lingered for about 45 minutes at the memorial for fallen police detectives Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker and Elizabeth Butler on March 1, dropping off a $1 box of doughnuts. Maffei wrote "R.I.P." on the box, attorneys said.
Maffei was nearby when Baker and Butler were killed by a suspect on Feb. 26. He went to the street-side memorial to pay his respects, Biggam said.
When a woman spotted him picking up the flowers and walking off, she called police. Maffei was stopped by an officer, but was too intoxicated to explain and made inconsistent statements, attorneys said.
He was arrested and charged with theft and public intoxication.
The defense found a receipt for the flowers among Maffei's belongings in the county jail, said Jack Lamar Jr., another defense attorney.
Police had characterized Maffei as a transient, but Biggam said that's not true. Maffei, a resident of Santa Cruz for 31 years, came to court with a letter from a service center that called him a "valuable volunteer" of several years.
District Attorney Bob Lee said the follow-up investigation raised doubts about Maffei's guilt and it was the prosecutor, Jennifer Hutchinson, who requested both misdemeanor charges against Maffei be dismissed.
"It's a good reminder that sometimes people charged did not commit the crime," said Judge John Salazar. "And we have a system that finds out, at least eventually."
Salazar said he thought it "was not an unreasonable conclusion" to believe Maffei had stolen the flowers given the circumstances and initial evidence.
Maffei attended the hearing, as a free man. When questioned outside court, he smiled and said he "probably shouldn't say anything."