Police Used Excessive Force in California Marijuana Dispensary Raid, Patients Allege

Clients of a California marijuana dispensary have filed a lawsuit accusing police officers of excessive and unconstitutional actions during a raid last month.

The suit was filed by attorney Matthew Pappas on behalf of Sky High Holistic, a nonprofit marijuana collective, against the city of Santa Ana, mayor Miguel Pulido and nearly a dozen other employees. 

The lawsuit also alleges the city showed favoritism in its system of awarding medical marijuana licenses.

Surveillance video from the 26 May raid on Sky High shows police officers playing darts and one officer making demeaning remarks about a woman in a wheelchair with an amputated leg.

Another officer can be seen eating what appears to be a pot-laced edible, according to Pappas, who released the video from the dispensary’s security camera to local media outlets OC Weekly and Voice of OC.

According to the suit, officers caused more than $100,000 in damage to video surveillance equipment, safes, furniture, doors and other property during the raid.

The Santa Ana police department is investigating the actions shown in the video. The department’s public information officer, Anthony Bertagna, said police officials were looking into allegations of misconduct that came forth after the video was released.

The suit alleges that Pulido and other city employees favored certain dispensaries over others.

It said the city put up a ballot proposal, Measure BB, at the November 2014 election, soliciting $25,000 payments from collectives with the promise of winning a spot in any eventual marijuana permit lottery.

Sky High Holistic did not win a spot in the lottery and its patients allege that because Pulido and other city employees had financial ties with competing marijuana dispensaries, they used their positions to close down the competition, including shutting down power and water services at other dispensaries, the suit said.

Marla James, a patient with Sky High Holistic, said she was the amputee mocked by the police officer seen in the surveillance video.

James said she felt saddened and embarrassed for the officer who made the comments because the officer is a community role model.

James, 64, who has been a patient at the collective for several months, said the lottery was a “farce”. The high cost of the payments solicited by the city made it impossible for the collective to win a spot, she said.

“All we want is to be able to access our medicines in a safe way,” she said. James said the collective continues to operate, and that she was still comfortable going there.

Pulido said on Monday that the allegations against him were “categorically and absolutely false”.

He said the city hired a firm to conduct the lottery process and that he and all the council members stayed away from it.

“I had absolutely zero to do with the process,” Pulido said. “For someone to allege that there was some sort of quid pro quo is absolutely false.”

He also said he has no financial interest or stake in any dispensary.

Pappas said the excessive force had occurred not just at Sky High but multiple other dispensaries that did not have video evidence.

“When you’re enforcing a municipal ordinance, it’s not appropriate to go in with guns drawn, there’s no basis for that here ... It’s a non-violent misdemeanor,” Pappas said.

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