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Peeper drops lawsuit to get porn from San Rafael cops

California- [Marin County Independent]- It took eight months of litigation to pull it off, but the city of San Rafael is now the undisputed owner of Dennis Saunders’ pornography collection.

Saunders, whose voluminous archive was confiscated by San Rafael police during a 2002 peeping investigation, decided Monday to abandon his lawsuit to get the material back.

The move followed a ruling by Judge James Ritchie that Saunders, who has a history of peeping-related arrests dating to 1979, was not the legal owner of the films and magazines because they were seized during a parole search. As a condition of his parole at the time, Saunders was not supposed to possess pornographic materials, said attorney Thomas Bertrand, who represented the city.

“He had no claim against us,” Bertrand said. “Our argument was that he didn’t have an ownership interest.”

Saunders’ attorney, Jon Rankin, said they decided to scuttle the lawsuit, which was scheduled for trial on June 6, because it was bringing his client “a great deal of unwanted attention.”

Besides, Saunders didn’t really want the porn anyway, Rankin said.

“The possession of these adult movies is incompatible with Mr. Saunders’ current Christian orientation, which has helped him overcome his voyeurism problem,” said Rankin, who said he represented Saunders at no charge. “This case was not about his need to possess those types of adult films but rather preventing government from acting in an arbitrary manner.

“It was our intention that should we regain possession of these movies, we were going to put them in a landfill,” he added.

The city likewise plans to destroy the material, although it was unclear how, Bertrand said. The collection consists of some 500 movies and 250 magazines.

Saunders, a 60-year-old Healdsburg resident, was arrested in San Rafael in 2002 on suspicion of secretly videotaping two female residents of the Marin Lofts off Smith Ranch Road, where he worked as a site manager. The residents, a 45-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl who lived in different units, were recorded in their bedrooms and bathrooms.

San Rafael police searched Saunders’ home in Healdsburg and his workshop in Sebastopol, finding hundreds of lewd videotapes, both commercial pornographic movies and homemade videos of nude or partially clad local women. The list of evidence seized by San Rafael investigators is 40 pages long.

A jury convicted Saunders of 48 misdemeanor counts but deadlocked on two felony burglary counts. He received consecutive sentences totaling eight years and eight months in the county jail, but he was released in August with credit for good behavior.

Upon his release, Saunders asked police to give him his porn back, because it was not evidence in his criminal case and his previous parole conditions had expired. When police refused, Saunders sued.

“It wasn’t your typical case,” Bertrand said.

Assistant City Attorney Gus Guinan said he didn’t know how much the city paid in legal expenses, but said the costs likely ran into the “five figures.”

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