Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 12:31 p.m.
Nine medical marijuana collectives that were raided by Long Beach Police officers in the past two years have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. The case, which was filed in the U.S. District Courthouse in Los Angeles, alleges a total of 21 raids involving strong-arm tactics and missing or incomplete search warrants between January 2011 and December 2012.
Along with the city itself, the lawsuit, filed by attorney Matthew Pappas
, also names a pair of police officers who have been at the heart of the recent controversy over the city's police on medical marijuana clubs, which involved a lottery system that allowed some locations to operate legally (in return for expensive fees) while subjecting the vast majority to frequent police harassment.
According to the lawsuit, one of the officers, Dave Strohman
, led a team of cops who raided the NatureCann
collective on March 21, 2012, using a battering ram to knock down the door. "The police officers entered guns drawn and ordered everyone on the ground," the lawsuit states. "They immediately arrested everyone (four volunteers) for violating LBMC Chapter 5.89," the city's ordinance banning marijuana clubs. The lawsuit adds that Strohman and his team "interrogated those arrested," then seized "all medical marijuana, cash registers, computers and patients records" and that the club was "utterly destroyed."
Elsewhere, the suit claims Strohman routinely failed to provide exculpatory evidence, such as information showing that the clubs were legal under state law, when filing search warrant affidavits.
Another cop mentioned in the lawsuit is Oscar Valenzuela
, a detective whose prior claim to fame is star witness for the prosecution against Joe Byron
and Joe Grumbine
, both of whom have the distinction of being the only Long Beach pot purveyors who were prosecuted for doing the same thing that city-permitted clubs were going, i.e. selling pot. (The two men were convicted, but have won the right to a new trial thanks to judicial misconduct
Valenzuela wrote the affidavit that led to the April 5, 2012 raid of the Green Earth Center
collective. In writing up his argument for a search warrant, the lawsuit claims, Valenzuela stated that he had a reasonable belief that club was being used to commit a felony. However, all the facts he presented involved activities that actually amount to a misdemeanor--violating the city's ban on medical marijuana clubs.
Pappas' lawsuit seeks damages for the clubs that were raided as well as injunctive relief, which would prevent the city from engaging in similar tactics in the future. According to Pappas' spokesperson Sergio Contreras, however, only five of the plaintiffs mentioned in the lawsuit remain open.