Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Trentonian
Author: Isaac Avilucea


TRENTON - Marijuana legalization activist Ed Forchion and his 
attorney took turns bashing police and prosecutors for alleged 
perjury and gamesmanship and demanded the resignation of the county's 
top law enforcement official during an impromptu news conference 
outside criminal court Thursday.

Wearing a burgundy pinstripe suit, Forchion, known as NJ Weedman, 
took a hit from a bong and handed out jury nullification pamphlets 
following his first appearance in Mercer County Superior Court.

He railed against the tactics of Trenton Police and Acting Mercer 
County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri and discussed how his attorney, 
Edward Heyburn, was at a disadvantage to argue his case in court 
without a crucial sworn affidavit of probable cause.

Heyburn wondered if there was a connection between the raid and a 
sworn affidavit from Trenton Police Capt. Eldemiro Gonzalez, filed 
earlier this year in opposition to Forchion's federal civil rights 
lawsuit against the city of Trenton, that referenced an apparent 
30-person street fight that happened outside of Forchion's restaurant 
and pot temple two months before his businesses were raided and he 
was hit with multiple drug charges.

Forchion, 52, was indicted this week on the drug charges.

"I'm calling foul to not give the affidavit up," Forchion said, 
alleging the affidavit was full of lies he could disprove. "You can't 
challenge what you don't have."

Minutes before, television and newspaper reporters took video and 
pictures during a brief court appearance for oral arguments on a pair 
of motions filed by Forchion's attorney.

Judge Peter Warshaw denied Forchion's request for the return of 
computer hard drives containing video surveillance that depicted the 
February incident outside Forchion's businesses.

The judge also scheduled Forchion's arraignment on the drug charges 
for Aug. 23 at 9 a.m. before Judge Anthony Massi.

Afterward, the steps of the criminal courthouse became a forum for 
the 12th congressional district candidate to spout off about his 
pro-marijuana legalization stance and prior battles with prosecutors 
and police across New Jersey over what he says are the state's 
misguided drug laws.

The news conference was interrupted by sheriff officers who asked 
Forchion and supporters to move closer to the street.

When the news conference reconvened, Heyburn piggybacked off his 
client with his most forceful comments yet about the criminal case.

While Forchion has called on the county's top prosecutor to try his 
case, Heyburn called on Onofri to resign as the county's chief law 
enforcement official, saying Gov. Chris Christie should "clean house."

He cited an "unprecedented number" of hung juries and acquittals in 
murder trials in Mercer County along with a rising murder count in 
Trenton as proof of Onofri's ineffective leadership and even 
suggested a possible replacement.

"They've overreached on a number of cases," Heyburn said. "It's not 
just Ed Forchion. It's John Q Public. It's John Doe. It's Jane Doe. 
They're trying to stretch the law and prosecute people who normally 
wouldn't be prosecuted. At the same time, bodies are dropping left 
and right in Trenton, and they're doing virtually nothing to stop the 
gun and heroin and everything else. ... The state's gotta clear house 
in Mercer County and start out with a better prosecutor who is going 
to run transparently and play fair."

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office declined to comment.

Heyburn's jabs were directed at prosecutors who at one point this 
year had endured four hung juries and a not guilty verdict in the 
last six murder cases. That trend ended in June with the convictions 
of two men who killed former Mercer County corrections officer Carl Batie.

Trenton suffered its 13th murder of the year last week, which is down 
from the bloodshed the capital city experienced in 2013, when 37 
people were murdered.

Still, that didn't stop Heyburn from touting Assistant Prosecutor 
James Scott as a replacement for Onofri. He called Scott a "talented 
trial attorney and someone who is completely honest."

Which is more than the Trenton Police can say, Forchion said.

The outspoken weed advocate, turning his sights on the department, 
said it had other motivations for raiding his downtown business in April.

The drug raid netted more than $19,000 worth of marijuana, officials 
said, along with the arrest of 11 people, including Forchion. Police 
also seized hard drives and DVDs, and some of Forchion's handwritten 
materials from the last 20 years.

Forchion insists the raid was a ploy to cover up perjury of Trenton 
Police Capt. Gonzalez after Forchion filed a federal lawsuit against 
the city in March for targeting his downtown restaurant and pot temple.

"When they arrested me the police officers were making jokes about 
how you won't have us on video again," Forchion said. "They were very 
angry because a few weeks before my camera system took their pictue 
and they were on the front page of The Trentonian. They were 
high-fiving and laughing about how I won't be able to put their 
picture on the front page of the paper again. That was their goal - 
to get my camera system."

Forchion said police are doing whatever they can to discredit him. He 
was also charged with cyber-bullying for calling a police officer a 
"pedophile" and was issued several tickets, including one that was 
written out months after Weedman lit up a joint at city hall.

Heyburn said the videos are key evidence in the federal lawsuit and 
drug case and asked prosecutors to ensure they are preserved.

Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Katz said the items are securely 
stored as evidence at the state police crime labs.

"They will be maintained," she said. "The state police lab works with 
very high standards."
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