Jeffrey Schwartz: Arcata’s Own SS Might Come Busting In Any Time – May 26, 2011
Last week the Arcata Eye reported on two more marijuana raids by the newly formed Arcata Police Department’s Special Services Unit – or otherwise known to me as the “SS Unit.” The Eye’s reporting on the raids was somewhat inaccurate when it stated that the SS Unit “…served two search warrants on residences where illegal marijuana cultivation operations were suspected to be taking place.” The warrants were served because the SS Unit believed there were marijuana cultivation operations taking place. Whether it was lawful or not was not a concern of the SS Unit.
The APD chose a perfect name for the Special Services Unit, or SS Unit that bursts into Arcata homes with no idea if unlawful activity is occurring therein. Why is this important? Because We the people living in the United States of America, have the constitutional right to demand that police officers have probable cause that there is unlawful activity going on in a person’s home before state agents can bust down doors and invade. Arcata’s SS Unit does not seem to care about that. It’s so Soviet Union.
Last week’s raids are the perfect example of what happens throughout Humboldt County every week, or more, among the various drug enforcement agencies: Cops busting into people’s homes to find out if they are growing marijuana unlawfully.
I don’t need to see the warrants to know that in most cases there is nothing in those warrants served by the SS Unit or other drug task force units in the county over the last 15 years that suggest the suspected marijuana cultivation is unlawful. The SS Unit doesn’t care if it is legal (medical) or not. It will find that out later after a wee-hours bursting into a house with guns drawn rounding up all of the sleeping half-naked residents in the home including children at gun point into the living room so they can find out if the marijuana is unlawful.
Last week on the 2500 Block of McDowell Court in Arcata Kevin Hoover reported that the police busted into a house, and whoops the marijuana grow was a lawful medical grow. Arcata Police Chief Chapman of course said something like, “[s]orry folks for the inconvenience, we’ll take off your handcuffs so you can put on your clothes and you can clean up the mess we made tossing up everything in every corner of your house. Oh, and by the way, we are going to cut your electricity until a City-approved electrician can make sure that your wiring is proper for the size of your grow. What was that you say, you would like the power to stay on to keep your perishables from spoiling and the baby’s milk from souring while you bring your own licensed electrician to make sure the house is safe…again I am sorry about that, it’s not how it works.”
I am surmising somewhat on what went down at the house on McDowell Court because there will be no report generated by the SS Unit for public consumption unless the folks at McDowell Court decide to sue the APD’s butt for the flagrant constitutional violation of busting into their home without probable cause that an unlawful cultivation operation was going on.
The Eye and all of the rest of the news reporting agencies are doing a disservice when they report that the SS Unit or the County Drug Task Force agents (DTF) enter houses on search warrants because they suspect “unlawful cultivation.” That is not the case most of the time. The reporters should ask the police just what facts they had before entering to suspect whether the cultivation was unlawful as opposed to a lawful medical grow. Most of the time there are no facts to distinguish a lawful grow from an unlawful grow before the battering ram is pressed into service.
It is disappointing that the powers that be including the Arcata City Council, the Board of Supervisors, the Humboldt County judges and the District Attorney allow this unconstitutional conduct without a peep.
Perhaps a multi-million dollar federal or state civil rights lawsuit or two from folks like the ones on McDowell Court who were raided for having a lawful medical grow will make the officers think twice about seeking search warrants without first asking: do we know if this is a medical grow or not?”
Jeffrey Schwartz the director of the Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights (HumRights.org.) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Schwartz welcomes Chief Chapman to respond. This issue needs to be aired. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the people on McDowell Court will say they were grateful for his invasion of their privacy or for the fact that they were not hauled off to jail.