Police harassment and intimidation in SLO County

January 22, 2011

Stacey Warde


Yesterday, I received some friendly advice that it’s better to “lay low” than put myself on the radar of local law enforcement.

My friend had heard me complain on the radio last week that the recent Narcotics Task Force arrests of more than a dozen medical marijuana distributors lacked the force of law, and was intended merely as harassment and intimidation.

Local law enforcement has made it clear that medical marijuana, which is legal in this state, won’t be tolerated in San Luis Obispo County.

Talk show host Dave Congalton at 920 KVEC asked me to come on the air because I’d spoken out in the past when the sheriff’s department overreached its authority by setting up and taking down Charles C. Lynch for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay.

Lynch was later sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, much to the distress of 9th U.S. District Court Judge George Wu who sentenced Lynch. Federal law gave Wu little choice, the judge said, but to send Lynch to prison.

The Justice Department, even after newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced it would back off from marijuana cases, was fierce in its prosecution of Lynch, demanding that he serve a minimum five-year sentence.

The judge thought better of it.

It was clear that Lynch had committed no real crime against the community. He wasn’t the big drug lord that the government tried to make him out to be. He was dispensing large quantities of “medical” marijuana, to be sure, but, unfortunately, federal law and the U.S. court system refuse to recognize “medical” as a legitimate claim. The term “medical,” in fact, was ruled out as a means of defense in Lynch’s case. Lynch became another victim to the War on Drugs.

Lynch, who now must submit to regular and random drug tests, recently declared bankruptcy, and remains free pending the appeal of his case.

Sadly, Lynch’s cross with the law seemed fueled not so much by federal agents as by local Sheriff Patrick Hedges, who acted more as sheriff provocateur than sheriff protector, and made known to residents that he would not tolerate the sale and use of medical marijuana, even though voters had already made it legal, and California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown had provided the necessary legal guidelines on the issue.

They weren’t the clearest guidelines but the intent was clear: Medical marijuana, within certain parameters, is legal and should be protected in the state of California.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department and the Narcotics Task Force, whose job it is, I presume, to enforce local community laws and standards, have continued to ignore those guidelines. Instead, they enforce their own interpretation of the law—as federal operatives, in a sense—not as it’s written, which is to serve and protect the interests of law-abiding citizens, including those who sell, distribute and use medical marijuana in the state of California.

Sadder still is that, as a result of overzealous law enforcement, Lynch’s life as a businessman and homeowner, has been completely wrecked: He lost a thriving business that had been welcomed and supported by the City of Morro Bay, he filed bankruptcy and faces losing his home. To what end?

Whose interests were being protected and served?

His life will never be the same; and neither will those children be the same, who watched recently in terror as armored police burst into their home, forced everyone at gunpoint to the ground and needlessly hauled their parents off to jail. The parents were later released after the district attorney dropped the charges.

The message? Don’t mess with the “cowboys,” as they’re called, who make up the San Luis Obispo County Narcotics Task Force.

Unfortunately, what the NTF is doing—without oversight from the pubic or any other local agency as far as we know—is not law enforcement; it’s intimidation and harassment. It won’t pass muster in the California legal system, and it’s a terrible waste of precious resources.

It’s also bad for business, bad for the local community, and makes the cops look like renegades.

My friend is probably correct in suggesting that I keep my mouth shut, which seems to be the consensus among many who live here in San Luis Obispo County: Don’t cross the law; keep your mouth shut. People here are afraid to speak out. That in itself ought tell us something about the sort of “law enforcement” we have here.

Why should anyone but actual criminals be afraid of cops?

I’m not against law enforcement. I’m against law enforcement that uses terror to bring down non-violent suspects such as medical marijuana growers, distributors and users.

Frankly, I don’t want to be on anyone’s radar. Like most people, I’d rather be left alone. But I refuse to “lay low” when law abiding-citizens are being unjustly harassed and thrown into jail.

That alone ought to send shivers down the spines of anyone who cares about their safety. Any time the police can break down your door with hardly a second’s notice in the middle of the night and throw you around in your own home, you’re not safe.

I detest the pervasive use of SWAT tactics—designed to overwhelm and subdue violent criminals—to arrest distributors and users of marijuana, medical or not, who have no violent criminal past and who, if they were stoners, would be the least likely to resist.

Too much can go wrong, as it did recently in Utah when police got a warrant to raid a home using SWAT methods on the fear that the suspects inside might respond with gunfire.

A guest, unbeknown to the police, was sleeping in one of the rooms, and responded to the pre-dawn raid by grabbing a golf club to fend off the intruders. He was gunned down and died on the spot, not an uncommon occurrence in the endless, costly and useless War on Drugs.

It’s only a matter of time, so long as local law enforcement continues to imprudently apprehend medical marijuana providers and patients, before someone is seriously hurt or killed.

More tragic still is that those who were targeted by local law enforcement in the recent raids weren’t even violating the law. They were, again by most news accounts, in compliance with California laws that regulate the use of medical marijuana.

The district attorney has already dropped charges against three of the people who were arrested. Likely as not, any charges that do stick and go before a judge will also be dropped. In any event, a court case from these arrests ought to be welcomed as an opportunity to show how out of line local police have been.

Recently a judge in Montana couldn’t even seat jury because potential jurors said they would refuse to convict someone for possessing a few buds of marijuana. The defendant faced felony charges of “criminal distribution of dangerous drugs.”

The judge in the case was confounded by the citizen revolt and said he’d never seen anything like it before. Be sure to witness more such citizen revolts if police continue to cross the legal line of enforcement.

If the tone of Congalton’s frustrated listeners who called the station and complained of being unfairly targeted for growing and distributing medical marijuana is any indication, courts in this county will also have a tough time finding citizens who support the NTF’s local war on drugs.

I don’t know much about the Narcotics Task Force, a state-mandated agency supported through the participation of local police departments; I don’t know where its budget comes from, or who oversees its operations. I do know they’re members of our community, they’re “out there,” spending countless hours spying on and attempting to entrap legal medical marijuana distributors and customers. It’s a terrible waste of time, money and energy, which could be better spent preventing real crimes.

We also know that without the support of our local lawmen, the NTF would cease to function.

Too often I hear people say, “What can you do? The cops will do whatever they want.”

Only if we let them, only if through silence and complacency we turn our backs and “lay low” to avoid getting into the crosshairs of police who don’t respect the law. As long as no one speaks out, lawmen will continue to harass and intimidate law-abiding citizens whenever they please simply because they don’t agree with the laws we’ve enacted with our votes.

That’s not law enforcement; it’s harassment and intimidation. §

Stacey Warde is the publisher of Rogue’s View, a freelance writer and former publisher of Rogue Voice.

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I happened across a quotation today, quite accidentally, but seems very appropriate.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is time NOW to straighten our backs and work for the freedom the law provides for medical marijuana.

We need to gedt the citizen’s review board up and running. If the sheriff, board of supervisors or anyoneone else gets in the way of our civil liberties, we need to start a recall immediately. Parkinson, get it together and make your statement on how you are going to control the lawlessness in Rodney’s gestapo with regard to medical marijuana. You need to live up to your campaign promise on how you were going to deal with mmj as quoted by the local chapter president for americans for safe access. Now is the time for you to act. Failure = Recall for you. Remeber 60% of the voters in this county voted for prop 19. We can and will act accordingly.

Although I do not smoke marijuana and have no opinion on it’s benefits, I recognize that it’s use is legal in California by the popular vote. Therefor I do and will support the above stated cause and it’s remedies including a recall of certain local politicians if necessary.

I am reminded of a saying that I once heard from an elderly Hebrew. It went something like this:

They came for the “A” people and I did nothing. They came for the “B” people and again, I did nothing. Then they came for “ME” and there was no one left to help me. The actions of the NTF is everyone’s problem in my opinion. I do not believe that they acted in the best interest of the people and I would prefer that we do not welcome this particular unit of “hot headed school boys” in our county. I also believe that criminal charges should be brought upon some of them.


You’re thinking of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote about a decade after the war’s end:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists ,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

This is good, too:

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.

All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing.

He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil.

The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.

The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.

Judith Herman

Heck yes, that’s the one that I was attempting to recall. I heard it many many years ago. There are some writings that can’t be so adulterated as to ever become unrecognizable, providing the message isn’t lost, that is. Obviously, this is one of those writings with an inalienable message.

So it was by a Pastor Martin Niemoller, you don’t say!

Do you sheeple really think anything is going to change? Electing a candidate from the Good ‘Ol Boy club (Parkinson) simply guarantees a continuation of Hedges’ civil rights violation policies. I wonder how many posting here drank the Parkinson Kool Aid and have now come to the realization that it is too late?

This is bigger than medical Mary Jane. This is about fundamental civil rights and intrusion on those rights by our civil authorities. Electing the good looking candidate with a smooth delivery of the talking points does our cities, counties, states,and nation no good. Wake up people! Vote for statesmen (and women) who stand on the principles outlined in the Bill of Rights instead of the polished politician.

We have failed. The sheeple drank the Kool Aid and now we all must bow down and kiss the ring of those who will trample our fundamental civil rights. Get used to it.

I agree with the doctor on some points. Living in a neighborhood that is quite full of medical marijuana dispensaries, I have seen how over time they have begun billing themselves more and more as “clinics.” I am afraid that people will begin to go to these “clinics” expecting medical care, when in fact the clinic is set up to dispense one thing only: marijuana. People may be missing out on critical opportunities for diagnosis and treatment by choosing to go to a medical marijuana dispensary rather than a normal doctor.

Personally I think the solution is to end the facade and simply legalize marijuana. Subject it to the same controls as alcohol and let people who want to use it for whatever reason use it. Meanwhile, do not let sellers of marijuana pose as medical centers or health providers when they are really only there to provide marijuana.

As for anyone who differentiates between “dangerous pharmaceuticals” and marijuana, you are fooling yourself. All drugs have effects on your body, or else they wouldn’t be drugs, they would be inactive substances. All drugs whether they come in the form of a leaf or a pill have the potential to cause side effects, interact with other substances or cause harmful reactions. The difference between a leaf/herb and a pill is that a pill is regulated and measured so that every dose is the same and it is tested so that the side effects, interactions and other effects are known quantities as far as possible, while with a plant product there is no way to know exactly what dose of active substance you are getting, and they are not subject to the requirements of pharmaceuticals so often the side effects and interactions are not as well known and tested.

Someone very close to me told me just last week, if you’re not pissed off, then you’re not paying attention. Well I am paying attention, and I am pissed off. I reminded her it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of fight in the dog.

I may not be a big dog, but guaranteed there’s a lot of fight in me and it’s game on.

Go get em Rachel. You and your husband are in a position to make an example of these thugs and you have a carte blanche from me to sue them for all my tax dollars that you can get. I hope this case bankrupt’s those egotistical SOB’s. Then we will have an opportunity to re-organize our gov.

In the mean time, when I attended the rally, I noticed that a local attorney was assisting the citizens to form a Citizens Review Board. I hope everyone keeps their ears and eyes open and jumps on board when that group hits the streets with the petitions. They will need people helping to collect signatures and storming the city halls and BOS meetings. Stay Tuned and put some energy aside, it’s time to take our county back and show them who the BOSS is.

Be sure to publicize loud and clear anything you hear about the Cit. Review Board, way overdue.

Rachel, you have my full support.

Thank you for all your support. May I please state very clearly; our greatest concern here is for the rights of all people to operate according to laws and legal guidelines without the harrassment and intimidation referred to in this article. The government is supposed to be for the people, by the people and of the people; not secret police organizations with no checks and balances against persecution and abuse of power.

All of us must stand against infringement of the laws and unlawful police interference whether we agree with a specific law or not. It could be you next over something someone in government/law enforcement decides they don’t like.

Medical marijuana is legal, patients have the right to their chosen medicine without being forced into back alleys and dealing with criminal elements. They deserve dignity and respectability and not to be afraid of being targeted and arrested.

I am one of your #1 supporters for the very reason that you stated above. I don’t use marijuana but I have a big problem with what the NTF did to you and the other individuals who were operating legally. This isn’t the first time the NTF has acted as a rogue unit. Similar problems have also recently occurred with other local agencies. It’s time for the citizens to take action before we become a police state and I do see that day coming unless we take some control. The time is NOW and your case is a perfect storm.

Rachel and Choprzrul are absolutely correct to point out that it doesn’t matter whether we agree on the merits of medical marijuana. At issue here is the much larger matter of civil rights violations by local law enforcement. Whether we like it or not, medical marijuana is LEGAL in the state of California and intrusions by local lawmen into the businesses and homes of those who use it is a clear violation of our rights as law-abiding citizens. If we don’t stop it here, what’s going to be next?