Pubdate: Sun, 19 Aug 2001
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Michael Pulley
Note: Michael Pulley is a free-lance writer who lives in Sacramento


To obtain search warrants to justify raids on dozens of homes, a tri- 
county narcotics force used the same language to describe pot it claimed to 
have found in trash cans: 'fresh green and still moist.' Now Placer County 
deputies face suits alleging perjury.

Eighty-year-old Lyman "Sandy" Sanborn is an unlikely target of the drug 
war. A childhood acquaintance of Ronald Reagan, he piloted C-47 transport 
planes in World War II for a special unit that reported directly to Gen. 
Dwight Eisenhower. Settling in Roseville after the war, Sanborn became a 
lifelong Republican Party activist and staunch supporter of Placer County 
law enforcement agencies.

That's why it was such a shock to the fervently anti-drug veteran when the 
Special Investigations Unit of the Placer County Sheriff's Department 
busted down his door in the early morning of July 1, 1999. Screaming 
deputies in SWAT get-up pointed guns at him and his 77-year- old wife. Cops 
handcuffed his grown children, who were living at the time in his home. 
Sanborn's horrified young grandchildren witnessed the raid.

The Placer deputies were part of a tri-county drug task force that received 
federal assistance. Their targets were illegal indoor hydroponic marijuana 
operations at residences in Placer, Sacramento and El Dorado counties. But 
there was no illegal marijuana garden in Sanborn's home. The family was the 
victim of a mistaken raid.

Now, that mistaken raid on Sanborn's residence and dozens of other cases by 
the tri-county task force have become embroiled in a legal and political 
controversy. In the past two years Sanborn and about two dozen other 
targets of the raids have filed eight lawsuits in state and federal court 
against Placer County and its deputies.

The deputies are accused in court records of committing perjury by 
intentionally lying under oath on the affidavits to obtain search warrants 
and violating Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. 
Some of the lawsuits accuse deputies of physical assault and planting 
evidence. Attorneys also have accused one Placer deputy of issuing illegal 
federal grand jury subpoenas to obtain the electricity bills of suspects.

Numerous targets of the raids said Placer deputies repeatedly lied when 
they said they found marijuana in trash cans left out for pickup at dozens 
of residences. The plaintiffs point to a suspicious oddity regarding the 
discovery of the marijuana. In dozens of affidavits, a detective used 
identical wording to describe the pot, calling it marijuana that was "fresh 
green and still moist" and "recently cut from a mature marijuana plant."

The plaintiffs in the court battle claim they were targeted by the task 
force and initially placed under surveillance when they shopped at Green 
Fire, a gardening store in Sacramento that specializes in hydroponic 
growing equipment. Sanborn's son, 41-year-old Lyman Scott Sanborn III, said 
he purchased a package of seeds from the Auburn Boulevard store just weeks 
before the raid on his family's residence.

Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas' own sister, Chris Squaglia, briefly 
became a suspect in the drug sting after Placer deputies saw her car at 
Green Fire. In 1998, a Placer County deputy obtained a federal grand jury 
subpoena for Squaglia's power utility records as part of the tri-county 
task force's ongoing investigation, court records show. Squaglia said she 
thinks she became a suspect because her son, Blanas' nephew, took her car 
to shop at Green Fire.

"My car was photographed at that particular store with my license plate," 
said Squaglia. "They had some kind of camera photographing it. It doesn't 
seem to be legal to me."

The perjury allegations also have affected a number of pending criminal 
cases that are tied to the hydroponic marijuana raids. In February, several 
defendants accused of marijuana cultivation won a favorable ruling from 
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye after she 
examined 21 of the controversial affidavits. All of them were written by 
Placer County Sheriff's Deputy Tracy Grant, a veteran narcotics agent who 
served as the tactical commander of the Special Investigations Unit that 
carried out more than 50 raids on behalf of the tri-county task force.

According to a Feb. 23 court transcript, Cantil-Sakauye found Grant's sworn 
statements to be filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods. There were 
references to subpoenas of defendants' electric bills when the subpoenas 
didn't actually exist, the judge ruled. Grant gave untrue and inaccurate 
characterizations of some defendants' energy usage, she added.

In one case, the deputy claimed to have seen a car parked in a defendant's 
driveway on the same day it was in an auto repair shop miles away, 
according to the judge.

The hydroponic marijuana raids -- partially funded with a $206,000 grant 
from the state Office of Criminal Justice Planning -- nabbed mostly white, 
middle-class suburbanites: professional folks with day jobs and no past 
criminal history.

The arrest list included state and federal workers, small business owners, 
a high-tech employee, a law student, a contractor, a dentist and a chef. 
Even among those who pled guilty to marijuana cultivation, there was little 
evidence of big-time drug dealing and relatively small numbers of plants 
involved. Like Sanborn, several targets had no hydroponic crops at all. The 
only thing that linked them to the other cases was the fact that they all 
claim they had shopped at Green Fire a few weeks before cops arrived at 
their doors with search warrants.

Many of those arrested were Proposition 215 medical marijuana patients who 
had resorted to home cultivation using Green Fire's hydroponic- growing 
products after courts had barred them from obtaining medical pot from the 
cannabis clubs.

However, most of their cases were either dropped by prosecutors or thrown 
out by sympathetic juries. That, in turn, allowed the medical marijuana 
patients to fight back by suing Grant and Placer County, and they have done 
so with a vengeance, accounting for the majority of the eight civil cases 
now pending. But it has been the allegations of police perjury, and not the 
argument of medical necessity, that has provided the substance to their 

Grant and his superiors at the Placer County Sheriff's Department have 
repeatedly declined to comment on the allegations in lawsuits. Placer 
County has defended the behavior of Grant and its Special Investigations 
Unit by denying that deputies deliberately lied on affidavits. David 
Huskey, a deputy county counsel with the Placer County Counsel's Office, 
acknowledged that there are problems with many of the affidavits, but he 
chalked them all up to police "errors."

"The errors are not the same thing as deliberate falsehoods," said Huskey. 
"The facts are going to be coming out through the litigation process. I 
believe the evidence will ultimately support the officers."

The county has been tight-lipped regarding the allegation that the 
tri-county task force specifically targeted customers of Green Fire. The 
store was never mentioned in any of the affidavits. But evidence logs from 
the raids reveal that many of those arrested were Green Fire customers and 
that Grant and his deputies tried to link customer purchases from the store 
to illegal marijuana cultivation. In 14 cases, the deputies confiscated 
Green Fire catalogs and Green Fire receipts found at residences and booked 
them as evidence.

The linking of the store to the hydroponic raids has been a troubling 
experience for 43-year-old Jeanne Shelsky, a Green Fire owner. "We have a 
store that tries to help people that garden," said Shelsky, in an article I 
wrote for the Jan. 20, 2000 issue of the Sacramento News & Review. "We have 
no involvement in anything illegal, and we are appalled at the thought that 
law enforcement would target anyone just because they came to a garden store."

Shelsky has considered filing her own lawsuit against Placer County, 
according to Kate Wells, a Santa Cruz attorney who is representing several 
of the plaintiffs in the existing civil cases. Green Fire's owners "were as 
upset as anybody about what's going on," said Wells.

One of Shelsky's customers was East Sacramento resident Amy Breeze. In 
1990, Breeze, 40, suffered multiple bone fractures and other severe 
injuries in an industrial accident, she said in an interview. After years 
of disabling surgeries and debilitating side effects from prescription 
narcotics, she weaned herself off pain killers by smoking marijuana, which 
was recommended by her physician under Proposition 215. The medical 
marijuana helped her to return to the job market in a full-time position as 
a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In 1998, she began growing her own hydroponic pot using Green Fire 
products. But a few weeks later, Grant and Placer County's Special 
Investigations Unit broke through her front door, arresting her on charges 
of illegal cultivation of 55 marijuana plants. Prosecutors dropped charges 
for reasons of "medical necessity."

But Breeze fought back, becoming one of the first plaintiffs to accuse 
Grant of perjury in court records. In her civil suit filed Dec. 6, 1999 in 
Sacramento County Superior Court, she also alleged the deputy physically 
assaulted and battered her while making the arrest. After Grant handcuffed 
the disabled Breeze with her hands behind her back, he proceeded to strike, 
push, shove and shake her, she alleged. The deputy also lifted her up by 
her arms and the excessive force caused her to pass out, she claimed.

Other allegations have surfaced regarding Grant's subpoenas for suspected 
marijuana growers' power use records from the Sacramento Municipal Utility 
District and other utilities.

Subpoenaing power records is a common practice used by narcotics agents to 
establish probable cause in obtaining search warrants. The idea is that 
persons with unusually high electricity bills are more likely to be burning 
high-voltage hydroponic grow lights used in indoor marijuana cultivation.

But targets of Grant's raids and their attorneys claim, according to court 
records, that the deputy either lied or mischaracterized power usage data 
in an attempt to paint suspects as high energy users. To draw his 
conclusions, the deputy compared a suspect's electricity consumption with 
the energy usage of so-called comparable homes in the suspect's same 

Court records show that Grant would often discard the subpoenaed data of 
comparable houses when it showed higher electricity usage than the homes of 
targeted suspects. The deputy kept for his comparison chart only those 
comparable houses with lower power usage than suspects' homes. In essence, 
he purposely manipulated the data -- cherry-picked the results -- in an 
effort to unfairly portray suspects as high energy burners, attorneys in 
several cases have alleged.

That was one of the reasons Sacramento County Superior Court Judge 
Cantil-Sakauye ruled last February that Grant and prosecutors will now have 
to face a full-blown hearing regarding the perjury allegations in two of 
the task force's pending cases. The judge described the deputy's 
characterization of power data as "selective maneuvering" and said it 
showed that Grant didn't present "the whole truth" to the magistrate when 
obtaining his search warrants.

The task force also is under attack for its use of federal assistance in 
obtaining the utility power records. While virtually all of the task 
force's cases were prosecuted under local and state court jurisdiction, 
Grant obtained suspects' power records using federal grand jury subpoenas. 
The subpoenas were approved by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento. 
But defense attorneys argued that all of the subpoenas were issued 
illegally because a federal grand jury doesn't really exist in these cases.

"Federal grand jury subpoenas can only be used to subpoena people or 
documents to an actual federal grand jury," said William Panzer, an Oakland 
defense attorney who is representing two of the defendants arrested by 
Grant. "I don't believe there was really a federal grand jury 
investigation. It violates federal criminal procedure."

In court hearings on the issue, Yoshinori Himel, an assistant U.S. 
attorney, has declined to say whether a grand jury existed. But Himel 
claimed that Grant also is a deputized U.S. marshal and subpoenaed SMUD 
records in his role as a federal agent.

However, Grant has said on the witness stand that he became a U.S. marshal 
sometime in 1999, at least a year or more after the tri-county task force 
began operating and the deputy began issuing federal subpoenas.

Huskey, the attorney who is defending Grant and Placer County in the eight 
civil cases, declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the 
deputy's dual role as a state and federal cop. But the lawyer said issues 
like the SMUD power records don't matter anyway. All that matters is that 
Grant found marijuana in suspects' trash cans left out for pickup. That 
alone establishes sufficient probable cause for the deputy's search 
warrants to hold up in court, Huskey argued.

But even the deputy's sworn statements that he found marijuana in the trash 
cans of dozens of suspects are hotly disputed. Breeze and many of those 
raided have insisted in court hearings that Grant lied about finding 
marijuana in their garbage cans left out on the street where cops can 
legally search. The suspects said they composted what pot was discarded and 
never put it in the trash.

Additionally, attorneys said the deputy has been reluctant to produce the 
discarded marijuana which he booked into evidence during his investigations.

What he has displayed has not matched the description of the "fresh green" 
pot he described in so many affidavits. Laurence Jeffrey Lichter, a San 
Francisco attorney, gave the following account in court records of what 
Grant turned over in his client's case: "An evidence viewing revealed 
merely a brittle, light-colored twig, the length of pen and half width. 
This twig lacked any of the characteristics normally associated with 
marijuana stems from recently cut plants."

And what about the pot supposedly found in the trash can of Roseville 
resident Sandy Sanborn who was mistakenly raided? "That doesn't mean there 
was no marijuana in their garbage," asserted Huskey. "We don't know who had 
access to the garbage. We don't know what Mr. Sanborn was doing."

Sanborn said the raid on his home has caused severe emotional trauma for 
his family. His grandchildren now fear policemen, and his wife wonders if 
detectives are still watching their home.

The horrifying experience of the raid has even softened Sanborn's negative 
attitudes about marijuana, especially the medical variety. The conservative 
World War II veteran has formed an unlikely friendship and alliance with 
Breeze and other medical pot patients in the ongoing legal battle against 
Grant and Placer County.

"They're wonderful people," said Sanborn.
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