Mar 142012

Fresno mayoral candidate Rick Morse and his son will stand trial on felony charges of attempted kidnapping and conspiracy for trying to handcuff and arrest a deputy city attorney involved in closing down their medical marijuana clinic, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Wayne Ellison, however, said the prosecution’s case wasn’t clear-cut against Rick and Brandon Morse because the law allows the public to make a citizen’s arrest.

Ellison made his ruling after two hours of testimony at the Morses’ preliminary hearing, Pablo Lopez reports in the Fresno Bee. Ellison scolded Rick Morse twice for interrupting him and threatened to throw him in jail.

In the end, Ellison dismissed a felony charge of using violence to deter a public official, saying there was no evidence that either father or son used violence when they confronted deputy city attorney Michael Flores.

The judge then said it will be up to a jury to decide whether the pair conspired to kidnap Flores or just invoked their right to make a citizen’s arrest.

Rick Morse is one of four candidates challenging Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin on the June primary election ballot. Even if he is convicted of a felony, Morse could remain on the ballot, an election official said Tuesday.

In general, the law allows a person to make a citizen’s arrest if he or she has a reasonable belief that the person being arrested committed a crime.

During the preliminary hearing, Flores testified that Rick and Brandon Morse have had a long-running dispute with the city over their now-defunct medical marijuana clinic in the Tower District. Flores played a key role in closing that dispensary as well as nine others in the spring of 2010, he testified.

On May 17, 2010, the Morses confronted Flores outside the former civil courthouse at Tuolumne and M streets. Brandon Morse said he cited the law before he tried to place Flores under citizen’s arrest.

“Back off!” Flores said he yelled at Brandon Morse.

Flores testified he was scared because Brandon Morse grabbed Flores’ left wrist while his father grabbed Flores’ right wrist.

Flores said he didn’t see any handcuffs, but he could feel cold metal on his left wrist. He said every time he tried to get away either Rick Morse or his son would block his path to the courthouse.

After a few minutes, sheriff’s deputies at the courthouse stepped in.

“It was kind of surreal,” Flores testified. “I got a little frightened because there were two on me.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Caldera testified that Brandon Morse told him that “he was on a mission from God” when he tried to do a citizen’s arrest.

Caldera said Rick and Brandon Morse also told him that they were doing the citizen’s arrest because Flores had violated their civil rights and that they believed Flores was behind the attempted murder of a Morse family member, but never offered proof of it.

Caldera also testified that Rick Morse reported the attempted murder to the Fresno Police Department and received a case number. He said Rick Morse told him the plan was to take Flores to the FBI or the state Department of Justice in Sacramento because local law enforcement wasn’t doing enough to investigate his attempted murder complaint.

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