Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jan 2004
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Claire Cooper, Bee Legal Affairs Writer


Appellate Court Says Placer Deputies Must Answer Charges They Violated 
Civil Rights.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Four Placer County sheriff's deputies must answer to a 
lawsuit accusing them of violating the civil rights of a woman and child 
during a 1999 marijuana raid of their Citrus Heights home, a federal 
appeals court ruled Friday. The judges said the undisputed facts of the 
civil suit filed by the family of Chris Miller showed the deputies pointed 
guns at Miller's wife and 10-year-old daughter for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pointing guns at a child who posed no threat was a clear violation of the 
law against excessive force, said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 
a unanimous decision by Chief Judge Mary Schroeder of Phoenix and Judges 
Diarmuid O'Scannlain of Portland and Wallace Tashima of Pasadena.

Miller and his wife, Penny Miller, were arrested in the raid. Charges were 
dropped, however, after an investigation showed Miller may have been 
eligible to grow his pot -- five plants and a dozen clones -- under 
Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana initiative. He had a 
doctor's written recommendation to use the drug for chronic pain and muscle 
spasms, results of a series of car and motorcycle accidents. Eight months 
after the raid, the county returned Miller's marijuana.

The family then filed the civil rights claims over the manner in which the 
raid was conducted. U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell in Sacramento 
refused the officers' motions to throw out the suit on grounds of official 

The deputies' appeal of Burrell's decision led to Friday's 9th Circuit ruling.

The appellate judges reversed Burrell's decision with respect to Chris 
Miller but not the girl or Penny Miller, who was held at gunpoint and 
handcuffed during the raid.

Chris Miller's allegation was that officers violated his rights by pushing 
him around and denying him food, water and use of a bathroom during the 
four-hour search.

In blocking Chris Miller's claims, the 9th Circuit noted he was a suspect 
for whom there was probable cause to make an arrest and whose home was the 
subject of a search warrant.

The force used against him wasn't excessive, the judges said.

Efforts to reach Miller and his lawyer on Friday were unsuccessful.

Placer County Undersheriff Steve D'Arcy said, "We certainly still believe 
the deputies acted appropriately and will stand by them as we work our way 
through the civil process" in the remaining portions of the case.

The suit, naming deputies Tracy Grant, Ron Goodpaster, Steven Schafer and 
Donald Hutchinson as defendants, was one of about half a dozen filed by 
people claiming to be medical marijuana users following similar raids in 
Sacramento and Placer counties in 1998 and 1999.