Pubdate: Tue, 20 Mar 2001
Source: Auburn Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Auburn Journal
Contact:  1030 High St., Auburn, CA 95603
Website: http://www.auburnjournal.com/
Author: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer

COUNTY FACES LAWSUITS OVER POT RAIDS

Counsel Argues Officers Acted Legally

Marijuana raids in 1998 and 1999 have enmeshed Placer County in a series of 
lawsuits alleging that Sheriff's Department members overstepped their legal 
authority.

Three lawsuits have been filed in federal District Court in Sacramento 
County, with Santa Cruz attorney Kate Wells representing plaintiffs Robert 
DeArkland, Chris Miller and Lyman Sanborn.

But the Placer County County Counsel's Office is arguing that the raids 
were conducted legally. Deputy County Counsel David Huskey said Monday that 
the county has already rejected financial claims connected with the three 
suits and that led to civil suits in Sacramento County.

A fourth suit has been filed in Sacramento Superior Court, with Steve Kubby 
attorney David Nick serving as legal representative. Kubby and former 
Rocklin dentist Steven Baldwin have also threatened civil action.

Both Kubby and Baldwin were arrested after drug raids by the Placer County 
Sheriff's Department. Arguing that the marijuana seized from their homes 
was for their personal medicinal use under Proposition 215, their cases 
went to trial but went unresolved after juries stalemated on whether they 
were guilty of possession of marijuana for sale. Last month, the Placer 
County District Attorney's Office decided not to pursue a second trial with 
either the Kubby or Baldwin case.

Wells and Nick could not be reached for comment Monday. Huskey said the 
three cases handled by Wells will be heard one after another in 2003.

Huskey said the main allegation against the county is that search warrants 
were obtained with false statements in affidavits.

"We're saying it's simply not true and makes no sense," he said.

Huskey said marijuana found in garbage cans formed a basis for a search and 
there is no reason to believe any marijuana was planted in the trash to 
facilitate granting a warrant.

"Given the number of garbage searches undertaken there are far more misses 
than hits," he said. "It's a factual dispute that boils down to their word 
against the word of an officer."

DeArkland, Miller and Nick's client also claim false arrest because of 
their status as medical marijuana patients under Prop. 215, Huskey said. 
Under the Compassionate Use Act passed by voters in 1996, California 
residents can grow and possess marijuana for medical use if they have a 
doctor's recommendation.

"The problem is that the officers are investigating whether they could be 
selling marijuana illegally," Huskey said. "A person could be a legitimate 
medicinal marijuana user but also selling. The officers proceeded in good 
faith."

Under the concept of qualified immunity, officers can proceed without 
liability if the law is unclear, Huskey said. Prop. 215 doesn't provide law 
enforcement with guidelines on reasonable amounts of cannabis for medical 
marijuana patients. The amount of marijuana allowed to be grown by a 
patient became a key issue in the Kubby case. A total of 265 marijuana 
plants were confiscated from Kubby's home but he contended the crop was for 
personal use because he needed all of it to keep a rare form of adrenal 
cancer in check. Jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal.

The lawsuits also claim excessive force by law enforcement during the 
raids, Huskey said.

"There was no physical harm," Huskey said. "Our response is that 
investigators went in with their guns drawn and shouting orders but that's 
typical. They're in a potentially dangerous situation and they holstered 
their guns as soon as the site was secured."

A fifth suit against the county  also in federal court - has been launched 
by Joseph Sandbank. His suit has been filed without an attorney. Huskey 
said Sandbank does not claim to be a medicinal marijuana patient. His claim 
is that investigators made a false statement to obtain a warrant, Huskey said.

The total damage claim amounts are in the millions of dollars.
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