Pubdate: Mon, 03 Aug 2009
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2009 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Paula Reed Ward
Bookmark: (Spiritual or Sacramental)


22 Arrested, Authorities Describe Wide-Open Drug Scene, 'Outraged' 
Attorney Says Church Was Targeted

Authorities said there were four head shops that had 1,000 marijuana 
pipes for sale.

People working like cocktail waitresses walked the crowd, selling 
"Ganja" treats -- including Rice Krispies snacks believed to be laced 
with marijuana, according to authorities.

A total of 22 people were arrested Saturday evening as the Fayette 
County Drug Task Force raided the 47-acre Bullskin site of the Church 
of Universal Love and Music.

At 4:30 p.m., just about the time Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk was 
about to go on as part of the church's three-day Funk Fest, a team of 
30 law enforcement officers were staging themselves.

The task force -- armed with a search warrant and evidence from two 
previous undercover drug buys from concerts in May and July -- raided 
the church property, which includes a main stage, campgrounds, a 
vendor row and a special VIP area.

Those arrested included concert-goers, the people running the head 
shops, as well as those selling the treats.

"It was as bad as it could be," said Assistant District Attorney Mark 
D. Brooks, coordinator of the task force. "We recovered so much 
paraphernalia, we had to use two trailers to haul it down the mountain."

While police recovered a large amount of drugs on the grounds, they 
found even more on the concert-goers.

Illegal substances seized included several pounds of hallucinogenic 
mushrooms, several pounds of marijuana, hash and LSD.

The operator of the church, Willie Pritts, was not charged.

Last night, Mr. Pritts' attorney, Gregory Koerner, was outraged by 
the raid and arrests and said he felt the church was purposely targeted.

"We feel there were gross violations of Mr. Pritts' and the church's 
rights," Mr. Koerner said. "This was excessive, unwarranted, and 
we're going to be forced to seek redress and take it back to federal court."

In February, Mr. Pritts and Fayette County reached a settlement on 
the eve of trial in a 2006 federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming 
that the county's failure to issue him a special exception permit 
violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The county, however, argued that Mr. Pritts did not prove that he was 
operating a church and instead argued he used the land for daylong 
concerts and illegal drugs.

As part of the settlement agreement, the county paid Mr. Pritts 
$75,000 and would allow him to hold 12 events per year. For his part, 
he was to forbid public nudity and illegal drug use.

"[Saturday's] enforcement action, which started at the very first 
concert, seems to violate the spirit of the settlement," Mr. Koerner said.

Mr. Brooks said the task force had received information that there 
was rampant drug use there.

"No one ever approached me and asked us to do this," he said. "I've 
never seen the settlement agreement. I wasn't part of that process."

When officers started their undercover investigation on May 16, 
within moments of their arrival, the prosecutor said, they saw people 
openly smoking marijuana. They were also offered pot and 
hallucinogenic mushrooms to buy, he said.

When the officers were undercover in July, they bought LSD.

Mr. Brooks called the drug use "pervasive" at the church site.

During the raid, he estimated that less than half of the 
concert-goers were searched.

"It was a tactically complex warrant to serve," Mr. Brooks said. "We 
were severely outnumbered."

While the ratio of officers to concert-goers didn't seem to affect 
the investigation early on, within a few hours the crowd started to 
get more restless.

"People started shouting at us -- about what we do, personal 
insults," he said. "It got bad. We started to get concerned for our 
personal safety.

"We packed up as quickly as we could and got out of there."

Those arrested arrested on felony counts were given $25,000 straight 
cash bonds; those charged with misdemeanors had to make $10,000 cash bonds.
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