Pubdate: Thu, 17 Feb 2000
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Redding Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps
Contact:  PO Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397
Author:  Maline Hazle


Medicinal marijuana user Richard Levin, acquitted two months ago on a
charge of growing marijuana for sale, is suing Shasta County, two
sheriff's deputies and a jail doctor for alleged wrongful arrest and
mistreatment after that arrest.

Levin's suit also asks the court to prevent prosecution or other
action against anyone for possessing or growing pot unless authorities
first make sure that the person is not protected by state law that
permits medical use of marijuana.

The suit was filed earlier this week by Oakland attorney William M.
Simpich on behalf of Levin, 49, and his wife, Kim Levin, 35, both of

It seeks $25,000 in damages, attorney's fees and costs, and court
orders that would alter the way authorities handle marijuana-related
arrests and convictions.

Shasta County Counsel Karen Jahr could not be reached for comment

Levin has a physician's recommendation that he use marijuana for back
problems and other disabilities, which means it is legal for him to
possess, grow and use marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act
approved by voters in 1996.

However, on May 4, 1998, the suit alleges, Shasta County sheriff's
deputies Tom Barner and Chester Ashman ''conducted an illegal
surveillance'' of the Levins' house and saw marijuana plants. Two days
later, those deputies and three others illegally searched the house,
seized the marijuana and arrested the couple, the suit contends. While
he was in jail, Richard Levin suffered ''excruciating and unnecessary
pain and suffering'' because his medical needs were ignored, the suit
alleges. Charges against Kim Levin were dropped Aug. 19 just as her
husband's case was scheduled for a jury trial. Richard Levin was
acquitted in December.

''Both Mr. and Mrs. Levin have suffered ... wrongful search and
seizure, wrongful arrest/imprisonment, professional negligence,
harassment and retaliatory conduct due to Mr. Levin's exercise of his
legal rights,'' the suit says.

''The county is also liable for professional negligence, improper
training, improper supervision and professional malpractice concerning
the actions of its employees,'' the suit continues.

The suit also complains that county law enforcement has no firm policy
for handling medical marijuana use, which has frightened doctors,
caregivers and patients. ''In fact, although defendant Shasta County
has waged a relentless campaign against the use of marijuana in any
form, it has taken virtually no constructive action to ensure that
those protected'' by state law can obtain marijuana for medical use,
the suit says.

Superior Court Judge Bradley Boeckman ordered the confiscated
marijuana returned after Levin's trial, but it was seized by federal
agents on Jan. 21, just as Levin arrived at the sheriff's office to
retrieve it.

Eric Berg, the Redding attorney who successfully defended Levin on the
criminal charge, has asked Boeckman to hold Sheriff Jim Pope in
contempt of court for allegedly ignoring the judge's order. A decision
in that action could be made by Friday.

''It's not about the marijuana,'' Levin said Wednesday, ''it's about
civil rights.''

Reporter Maline Hazle can be reached at 225-8266 or  ---
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