Pubdate: Wed, 20 Apr 2005
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2005 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Author: Claire Cooper
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SAN FRANCISCO - Placer County sheriff's deputies must face a trial in 
connection with raids conducted by their marijuana eradication team in 
Placer and Sacramento counties in the late 1990s, a federal appeals court 
ruled Tuesday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant the 
deputies immunity against a civil suit filed by dentist Michael Baldwin and 
Georgia Chacko, his wife at the time, after a 1998 raid on their Granite 
Bay home.

Their case, which also names Placer County as a defendant, could become the 
first of eight similar ones to survive and make it to the trial stage. If 
it does, the sheriff's deputies will have to answer for team tactics that 
allegedly included paramilitary-style force and conspiracy to violate 
citizens' constitutional rights by trumping up evidence to support search 

Most of the other suits filed against the marijuana eradication team were 
either dropped by the plaintiffs or dismissed by the courts, said David 
Huskey, the county's lawyer.

A Bee follow-up survey of 36 of the team's raids in 2002 showed 26 resulted 
in no-contest or guilty pleas by raid targets. In the other cases, the 
targets convinced prosecutors or jurors that their pot cultivation was 
legal under California law.

Criminal charges against Baldwin and Chacko were dismissed about five years 
ago after a long legal battle over their physician-approved use of pot for 
pain control.

To justify raiding their home, a sheriff's deputy claimed to have found 
"marijuana ... fresh green and still moist" in their trash, as well as 
evidence of cultivation of the drug for sale.

But in the couple's civil suit, 13 other people submitted declarations 
saying deputies from the team falsely claimed to have found "fresh green 
and still moist" pot in their trash, too.

While the 9th Circuit didn't decide the truth or falseness of the claims 
against the marijuana eradication team, it disagreed with what it said was 
the defense argument - "that we should ... purge (the search warrant 
affidavit) of its lies and find what remains sufficient to justify the 
issuance of the warrant."

Without the lies, Circuit Judge John Noonan of San Francisco wrote, there 
was nothing but "an informant's tentative tip." The tip - that Baldwin was 
"possibly growing" pot - wasn't enough for any judge to have authorized a 
raid, Noonan wrote.

"The Fourth Amendment is the guarantee of every citizen that his home will 
be his castle, safe from the arbitrary intrusion of official authority," 
said the opinion, which was signed by Circuit Judges Sidney Thomas of 
Billings, Mont., and Raymond Fisher of Pasadena. "It is no barrier at all 
if it can be evaded by a policeman concocting a story that he feeds a 

Unless the decision is reversed, the civil suit will be sent to U.S. 
District Court in Sacramento for the trial.

Huskey said no decision had been made whether to seek further review by a 
larger panel of circuit judges or to proceed to trial and let a jury 
determine the facts.

He said the plaintiffs' and defendants' accounts differ sharply.

Baldwin and Chacko claim sheriff's deputies held guns to their heads, kneed 
them in the back and poked repeatedly at Chacko's throat.

Huskey said the evidence would show no guns were pointed.

The evidence also would show, he said, that fresh, green marijuana really 
was found in the Baldwin-Chacko trash and not just the blackened bits of 
used medicinal pot admitted to by the couple.

Efforts to reach Baldwin, Chacko or their lawyers for comment were 
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