The first of several drug convictions called into question after an Eden Prairie police detective was found to have lied on a search warrant was thrown out Wednesday, with several others likely to follow.
Hennepin County District Judge Jeannice Reding vacated the drug conviction of Sean Donzell Cole in a hearing that lasted no more than six minutes. Cole remained in the county jail on another matter, according to records.
Cole, 26, was one of three men in prison because of the primary testimony of police officer Travis Serafin. Cole was convicted in January of selling narcotics and was sentenced to almost three years in prison. But he still has time to serve on an unrelated felony for receiving stolen property.
Cole’s was the first of 33 convictions likely to be vacated. Hearings are scheduled next Thursday for Timothy Holmes and Torrance Gray, the only two other men who went to prison on the testimony of Serafin. Holmes’ case is the one that first raised flags about Serafin’s handling of a search warrant.
In September 2017, Serafin obtained and executed a search warrant for Holmes’ house where he found large amounts of heroin and other drugs. He then searched Holmes’ car without a warrant and found more drugs. Holmes was charged with first-degree drug sale and third-degree murder in the death of a person who purchased his heroin. When Serafin was then asked about a warrant for the car, he falsified a second warrant that included both the house and the car.
Holmes’ lawyer Fred Goetz asked the officer to explain why there were two warrants. In sworn court testimony, Serafin blamed a “clerical error.” Holmes took a deal, pleading guilty to a drug charge in exchange for the prosecutors dropping the murder charge.
After a Hennepin County judge communicated his suspicions to the city of Eden Prairie, the city investigated and found that Serafin created the second warrant after the search and lied about it under oath. Last week, the county attorney’s office said 33 convictions where Serafin was a primary witness would be dismissed.
The county attorney’s office had not yet completed a list of all the affected cases, but a spokesman said it will be made public when it’s ready. Prosecutors said they were looking at all the cases that came after Serafin lied about the warrant.
But Goetz thinks there could be many more cases.
The veteran criminal defense attorney said he’s been getting lots of calls from clients wondering whether their cases are affected.
“It’s certainly raising a lot of questions,” Goetz said. “It’s not a path any of us have been down.”
Holmes is serving a six-year prison sentence and likely will be released as soon as next week.
Serafin remains employed by Eden Prairie. He was removed from the Southwest Hennepin Drug Task Force, the SWAT team training unit, sent to ethics training and ordered to work with a supervisor on all future warrants.
Serafin, 41, was hired by Eden Prairie in October 2000. He earns $92,289 annually.
Of the other known cases, five men are in diversion programs, and their convictions will be dismissed and expunged. In 17 cases, defense lawyers have been asked to file motions to vacate convictions, the prosecutor said.
In 14 other cases, Serafin was determined to be a peripheral witness. Three of those were sent to diversion so they will be dismissed and expunged. Of the remaining 11 cases, defense lawyers have been notified.