HumCo Pot Raid Challenged
by Daniel Mintz, December 14, 2011
An elderly Arcata resident is alleging that city police illegally raided her home when they executed a search for marijuana that was based on sketchy leads.
Barbara Sage, a 64-year-old medical marijuana patient, has filed a claim against the city for alleged damages suffered by her and her now-deceased husband Charles during a June 1 police search of her home at 1992 Zehndner Avenue.
According to the claim, which is expected to be rejected by the city’s insurer, the search of Sage’s home was based on “false information material,” as a May 27 warrant affidavit mentioned the odor of marijuana as an indicator of illegal activity.
Sage’s claim states that no marijuana had been grown in her residence since May 5 and none was found in the search, which was “conducted through intimidation and coercion.”
The claim alleges that after one officer appeared at the Sage’s doorstep disguised as an Arcata water meter reader, eight more “stormed the residence” and forced Sage to “lie on the floor in handcuffs.”
A press release on the claim alleges that police “found the seriously ill (Charles Sage) sleeping in his bed with oxygen tubes in his nose, stripped the tubes from his nose and forcibly threw him to the floor face down and handcuffed him behind his back.”
The claim lists the Sages’ injuries as “embarrassment, annoyance, invasion of privacy, emotional distress and other general and special damages.”
Sage is being represented by Arcata attorneys Peter Martin and Jeffrey Schwartz. In an interview, Schwartz said PG&E power usage records were obtained by police after the investigating officer noticed activity on the Sages’ power meter.
The usage between January and March was comparatively high but Schwartz said there could be many reasons for high power use and the real issue — the one that will be explored in what appears to be an oncoming lawsuit — is whether marijuana searches can be conducted without confirmation of legal status.
“You can’t smell the difference between medical marijuana and illegal, commercial marijuana,” said Schwartz. “What’s not clear in the law is, can you go into the house when something may be legal or it may not and you don’t know.”
He added that local police raids have affected too many innocent people. “Of the 15 houses raided over a recent period, five of them turned out to be lawful grows or no grows, such as was the case with Barbara Sage,” said Schwartz. “That is a 1:3 ratio — pretty high in my opinion.”
According to the search warrant affidavit filed by Arcata Officer Brian Hoffman, a jogger noticed the smell of marijuana coming from the Sages’ home during his morning runs and he reported it to police.
On May 11, Hoffman and Officer Kevin Stonebarger went to the home and in the affidavit, Hoffman states that he smelled the “strong odor of marijuana” on the west side of the house. He noted that there was no other residence immediately to the west.
Hoffman also obtained PG&E records and said they showed “electrical usage that is indicative of past and/or current indoor marijuana cultivations” at the house.
Hoffman also comments on the issue of medical status. “Based on my training and experience, I know that persons who grow marijuana for profit will often use medical marijuana doctor’s recommendations to help make their cultivation activity appear legitimate,” he said in the affidavit.