San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department officials and a professional dog handler testified in the People v. Flores murder trial on Tuesday regarding searches they conducted in recent years of the Kristin Smart case.
First on the stand on Tuesday was Senior Deputy Jason Nadal from the SLO Sheriff’s Department, who participated in a search warrant of Paul Flores’ residence in San Pedro on Feb. 5, 2020.
Nadal took photos of Paul Flores’ home on 938 West Upland Ave. during the search, which prosecutor Christopher Peuvrelle put up in front of the courtroom during his testimony despite multiple objections from Paul Flores’ attorney, Robert Sanger, who argued against admitting the photos into evidence.
The photos showed the outside and the inside of the home, including close-up shots of the inside of Paul Flores’ bedroom.
During his cross examination with Sanger, Nadal testified that there were at least eight officers who participated in the search warrant. Sanger tried establishing that the number of officers was unusually large given that Paul Flores’ residence is a “small house,” but Nadal maintained that he “usually” has about that amount of officers with him when he does a search.
Sanger also established that the warrant on Feb. 5 included a search of Paul Flores’ car in addition to his house and added that members of the press were there to witness the search.
Nadal could only “assume that was the press,” though he remembered people being there with cameras. Sanger continued asking Nadal about the presence of media personnel during the search of the vehicle.
“A lot of photographs of that showed up in the press as well, right?” Sanger asked.
“I don’t remember, I’m sorry,” Nadal said.
Sanger also asked Nadal if part of his job was to surveil Paul Flores as he got in his car, went to work and came back, “that sort of thing.”
“I have done that at least one time,” Nadal said, adding that he had at least two other detectives with him when he would keep watch on Paul Flores.
Nadal also said that the police put a GPS tracker on Paul Flores’ car and installed a camera on a telephone pole by his house.
SLO Deputy Sheriff testifies about wiretapping the Flores Family
Next on the stand was another SLO Deputy Sheriff, Gregory Smith, who participated in a wiretap of Paul, Ruben, Susan and Linda Flores’ phones from January to February of 2020.
The police secretly recorded the family’s phone conversations to attempt uncovering evidence for the case. On Tuesday, Peuvrelle played one of these conversations aloud in the courtroom, which was between Paul Flores and his mother, Susan Flores. The jury previously heard this clip during opening statements in July.
“The other thing I need you to do is start listening to the podcast,” Susan Flores said in the call. ”You need to listen to everything they say so we can punch holes in it wherever we can… You’re the only one who can tell me that.”
She was referencing Chris Lambert’s podcast, “Your Own Backyard,” which Lambert had released six episodes of by the time of the phone call. During his cross examination, Sanger asked Smith about these episodes.
“Were you aware that some of the titles [of the podcast episodes] were ‘The Only Suspect,’ ‘Their Own Backyard,’ ‘Sons of Susan,’ that sound right to you?”
Sanger went on to tell Smith that the “focus” of the podcast “was on Paul Flores.”
“That’s accurate,” Smith said.
During his cross-examination, Sanger also established that the police leaked information about the case to Lambert so that he would include it in his podcast.
Sanger said this strategy was meant “to get the Flores family to say something incriminating” that the police could record on the wire.
“Yes, that’s the purpose of the wire,” Smith said.
In the clip, Susan Flores also told her son that she needed him to “make the call,” which Sanger later established was in reference to Paul Flores’ former lawyer, Melvin de la Motte. According to Sanger, the media attention surrounding the case prompted Susan Flores to wonder if her son’s old lawyer was still available.
“You were aware that, as of 2020 when this wiretap occurred, that the Flores family had been the recipients of a great deal of hate mail, harassment, pressure, people driving by their house… things like that,” Sanger told Smith.
Smith said he did not have any personal knowledge of the things that Sanger listed, but agreed that some people “took it upon themselves” to investigate the case throughout the years.
Sanger said the police recorded “close to 10,000 calls” in total.
“You didn’t hear my client say at any time [during any of the conversations] that he was gonna make up a story or… manufacture evidence,” Sanger said.
“No,” Smith said.
Upon re-direct, Peuvrelle noted that Susan Flores changed topics after she said “you’re the only one who can tell me that” during the call.
Professional dog handler testifies about alert near Ruben Flores’ deck
Next on the stand on Tuesday was Kristine Black, a professional dog handler who participated in a search of Ruben Flores’ home on 710 White Ct. on March 15, 2021.
During her testimony, Black described the process of training dogs to be able to detect the scent of human remains. She specifically talked about training Annie, a Belgian Malinois, which was the dog she brought to search the home, and explained that trainers train their dogs to give “alerts” when they detect the scent of human remains.
In Annie’s case, her “alert” was to lay down when she had definitively located her target odor.
Black asserted that “Annie is reliable in tracking human remains.” Black said she spent “several hundred hours” training Annie before she was able to certify her as a Human Remains Detection dog, and later added that dogs need to be certified on Human Remains Detection annually. Black said Annie has not failed a certification.
Peuvrelle asked Judge Jennifer O’Keefe for the court to officially recognize Black as an expert in her field, which O’Keefe granted.
Investigators called Black and her partner, Karen Atkinson, to search the home in March of 2021. Although they were called at the same time, Black and Atkinson did their searches separately to minimize bias.
Black said she began her search on a Volkswagen parked in the driveway and later went to the backyard of the house. Annie did not show any interest in either of these areas.
At some point, Black and Annie went through the door of a lattice that led underneath the deck of Ruben Flores’ home, where the prosecution believes that Ruben and Paul Flores buried Smart at some point.
After going through the door and to the left, Annie’s behavior changed as she seemed to have detected human remains odor.
Black said Annie did not give her final alert, meaning that she exhibited a “change of behavior” in the area but did not lay down.
Black said this “change of behavior” was typical of a Human Remains Detection dog when they’re in their target scent, which for Annie included slowing down and changing her breathing pattern. However, Annie failed to lay down to definitively confirm that she had found the scent of human remains.
Peuvrelle suggested that Annie failing to give her final alert may have been the result of a primary odor scent being moved before the search. In line with one of the prosecution’s theories, this “primary odor” could have been Smart’s body.
“If the primary odor scent had been removed, would that be consistent with the behavior you saw?” asked Peuvrelle.
“Yes, that would be the behavior I would expect to see,” Black said.
This warranted a couple objections from Sanger, who argued that Peuvrelle was asking the witness to speculate. Judge O’Keefe overruled the objections.
Upon Peuvrelle asking a question from a jury member, Black clarified that Human Remains Detection dogs are “less likely” to alert to an area the longer the primary odor scent has been removed from the scene.
During his cross examination, Sanger said that even a full alert is “just an inference” unless investigators actually find remains at the scene.
“What you’re able to describe as the handler is the behavior of the dog, right?” he asked. “You cannot tell what they’re smelling.”
“They cannot tell me what they’re smelling,” Black said, smiling.
Sanger clarified that he was “not trying to demean” Black’s profession as a dog handler.
Later, Sanger switched topics to asking Black about Annie’s history as a Human Remains Detection dog. Last year, Black said her dog had about a 93% accuracy rate.
Sanger then asked Black if she was ever able to provide documents from Annie’s training and from her deployments that specifically proved this statistic. Black said no, but followed by saying that “Annie does a good job.”
During her cross examination with Ruben Flores’ attorney, Harold Mesick, Black said that part of Annie’s training included placing and then removing human remains from a scene and then asking the dog to search the lingering odor. Annie succeeded at this during her training.
However, Black said that she had only trained Annie to be able to do this for “a couple hours” after the primary odor had been removed.
Court proceedings continued on Wednesday.