Pubdate: Thu,  8 Aug 2002
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Contact:  2002 Record Searchlight - The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Maline Hazle
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Almost three years after his acquittal on a charge of growing marijuana for
sale, medicinal marijuana user Richard Levin took the witness stand
Wednesday to detail his arrest and treatment at the Shasta County Jail.
Levin, 52, and his wife, Kim, 38, both of Redding, are suing Shasta County
and two sheriff's deputies for wrongful arrest and, in his case,
mistreatment at the Redding jail.

Earlier defendants in the suit included an unnamed jail doctor and Shasta
County District Attorney McGregor Scott, but they were dropped from the suit
before testimony began late last week.

Presiding over the trial is a visiting Superior Court judge from Los
Angeles, Carol S. Koppel. She was assigned to the case after most Shasta
County Superior Court judges recused themselves.

The Levins are asking for attorney's fees, court costs and other unspecified

"This didn't start out as a quest for money," Richard Levin said as he left
the courtroom Wednesday. "It started out as a quest for justice."

In Wednesday's testimony Levin told the nine-woman, three-man jury about the
physical problems that he said led him to substitute marijuana for a
plethora of pain medications and muscle relaxers.

He also admitted that he had occasionally used marijuana before the
devastating 1993 fall that left him what he said one doctor called a
"walking paraplegic."

A carpenter and contractor, Levin was working on a job in Chester when he
slipped on an icy roof and slid off the edge, falling three stories and
landing on his back atop a mound of frozen snow, he testified.

The fall broke his back and caused extensive nerve damage, he said.

After four surgeries he still is unable to urinate without inserting a
catheter, he said. His bowel muscle doesn't work and he relies on "walking
and gravity" and digital muscle stimulation. His leg muscles spasm and
twitch. He suffers from depression.

By 1997, Levin said, he realized he was unlikely ever to return to work

But the pain continued and the pain prescriptions made him ill, he said. He
had dropped almost 30 pounds. Then, in 1995, he tried marijuana and it
worked, Levin said.

"It helped with my appetite, it kept the nausea down . . . and most
important, it helped me sleep," he said.

Now Levin said the only drug he takes is a pill for hypertension.

After California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, Levin said
he talked to his doctor about permission to use marijuana.

"He said 'what do I write and how do you fill it,' " Levin recalled. "The
law had just passed and nobody knew."

But Levin said he read Proposition 215 and learned that it allowed medical
marijuana use with written or oral approval from a doctor and he had that
oral permission.

He began growing marijuana in his back yard, he said, hiding the seedlings
in opaque "grow boxes," then transplanting them at a friend's place in

Just after 7 a.m. on May 6, 1998, sheriff's deputies Tom Barner and Chester
Ashmun, who are named in the lawsuit, and three other deputies pounded on
his front door, Levin said.

The deputies told him they were looking for stolen or embezzled property and
waved two pieces of paper with no judge's signature, Levin said.

One of them went to the back yard and within two minutes returned to report
that 41 marijuana plants were growing there.

They handcuffed Levin, searched the house and found more than a pound of
marijuana in his safe.

Levin said he bought the packages from a friend in San Diego a few weeks
earlier and most of what he bought was still packaged as it was when he
received it.

He asked the deputies to call his doctor, telling them he used marijuana
medicinally, Levin said, but Ashmun replied that he didn't like the law and
it hadn't been approved by Shasta County voters.

Levin said he asked repeatedly to be allowed to take pain medication and his
catheters to jail with him, explaining his condition to every deputy and
authority he encountered.

He was told he would get what he needed at the jail, he said.

But when he talked to an unidentified medical worker at the jail, Levin
said, he learned that only vinyl catheters were available. He needs rubber
catheters, which he must order specially, he said.

Instead of answering his requests for medical care, deputies put him in a
solitary cell for more than a day and then refused to give him a pencil to
fill out a request for medical aid, calling it a "dangerous object," he
said. He got a new form and a pencil later the next day when he was
transferred to a regular jail floor, he said.

Levin said he was unable to urinate for three days and suffered from
impacted bowels and a bleeding rectum by the time he was released from jail
three days later.

John Hagar, the San Francisco attorney hired by Shasta County to defend
against the suit, questioned Levin about several jail forms that listed his
medical ailments and one that apparently indicated that Levin received sick
call attention on the very day he was booked.

But Levin's attorney, William Simpich of Oakland, came back with questions
that showed Levin's name was the last name on the sick call list and the
time noted on the form was 8 a.m. -- more than an hour before Levin was

Levin will return to the stand today to answer questions submitted by
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