Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Steve Garrison, the Daily Times


Man Says in Lawsuit They Were Unlawfully Seized

AZTEC - A local man is demanding the San Juan County Sheriff's Office 
reimburse him for dozens of marijuana plants seized from his property 
in a raid in May 2014.

Gilbert Oldfield claims in a lawsuit filed in District Court on Dec. 
1 that a sheriff's deputy unlawfully seized 43 marijuana plants last 
year from his residence on County Road 3950.

The deputy, Nima Babadi, seized the marijuana plants, despite knowing 
Oldfield possessed a New Mexico marijuana grower's license, according 
to the complaint.

Babadi was acting on behalf of the Region II Narcotics Task Force 
when he searched the residence, the complaint says, and allegedly 
made false claims in seeking the court's approval for the warrant.

Oldfield, 58, is demanding the Sheriff's Office pay him $51,862 for 
the marijuana plants, as well as unspecified punitive damages.

San Juan County Attorney Doug Echols said his office has not received 
a copy of the complaint, so he could not comment on it.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said in a statement, "Not all 
of the facts of this case are out yet, and we are not in the business 
of giving drugs back to people."

Oldfield's attorney, Christian Hatfield, said the decision by 
deputies to seize lawfully grown marijuana could have a chilling 
effect on the fledgling medical marijuana industry.

"It (raises) the question: Who is really trying to comply with the 
laws of New Mexico, and who isn't?" Hatfield said.

Agents from the narcotics task force served the warrant at Oldfield's 
residence on May 21, 2014, after a deputy saw marijuana plants 
growing in Oldfield's backyard, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The agents seized 43 marijuana plants, as well as marijuana seeds, 
digital scales and drug paraphernalia, the affidavit says.

Oldfield was initially charged with felony marijuana possession, but 
the District Attorney's Office allowed him to plead guilty in August 
2014 to a misdemeanor offense after prosecutors learned Oldfield was 
licensed to grow up to 16 marijuana plants by the New Mexico 
Department of Health.

Oldfield appealed the misdemeanor conviction, and District Judge 
Sandra Price overturned it June 5.

A photocopy of Oldfield's marijuana grower's license is included as 
an affidavit in his lawsuit. It says the permit was obtained on April 
24, 2013, and expired on April 29, 2015. However, the New Mexico 
Department of Health suspended Oldfield's license in September 2014 
as a result of his arrest, according to court records.

Hatfield conceded this week that Oldfield was allowed to grow only 16 
marijuana plants but said having more plants than allowed was a 
regulatory violation, not a criminal felony.

Hatfield said Oldfield's lawsuit seeking reimbursement for wrongfully 
seized marijuana could be unprecedented.

"Given the fact that marijuana medical statutes are pretty recent, I 
am guessing there is not much precedent, but it's analogous to other 
forms of civil theft," Hatfield said.
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