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Dissection of a DEA Raid

Daily Dose 2010-09-22 0 comments

by Greggory Moore

Greggory Moore is a freelance journalist based in Southern California

The year is 2008, before Obama, before U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that, although the feds still lacked the strength of character to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I (okay, so he didn’t announce that part quite like that), the federal government was not interested in expending its limited resources on busting state-sanctioned medical-marijuana collectives.

It starts on July 22. That is when the Drug Enforcement Administration, in the search warrant/affidavit served on Long Beach Holistic at the time of the raid, first records receiving a complaint about LBH from “a representative of the East Village Association.” Only two other complaints (both on September 18, one anonymous, the other from another EVA member) are recorded. But that is enough to spring our heroes into action, as by the morning of September 25 Special Agent Patrick L. Kelly is conducting surveillance on LBH. Later that day Kelly gets on his computer for more probable cause that LBH is indeed a medpot dispensary—which he has little trouble finding, since they’re openly operating as such. And because according to federal law marijuana is illegal, period, that’s the ballgame. By October 7 the DEA has all its ducks in a row, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh signs off on the search warrant.

As noon nears on Wednesday, October 8, a young man in a Dodgers T-shirt gets off his skateboard and enters Unit E of 745 East 4th St. He walks into the small vestibule and presents the documentation confirming he’s been diagnosed with a medical ailment whose symptoms are alleviated by marijuana, then takes a seat. Across the sidewalk creeps a visual straight out of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and a dozen helmeted and bulletproof-vested DEA agents pour through the unlocked door. For a moment the young man finds the muzzle of an assault rifle pointed directly at his heart while the rest of team make their way into an antechamber, then demand entry into the dispensary proper. Without giving the staff a moment to comply—which they are eager to do—one agent starts to pry open the door with a silver crowbar, another pounds with a handheld battering ram. It doesn’t seem they are so much in a hurry as they have nothing better to do with their energy. They gain access with guns pointed at whatever is inside, though they quickly realize there is no danger. Back in the vestibule, the young man has been handcuffed, but still a pistol is continually pointed in his general direction.

With the area secure, a curious ritual ensues: a female agent makes a survey of the premises, and whenever she comes across a camera, she points it out to her crowbar-wielding teammate, who then smashes it. He swings at one and kills it, then another, a third, a fourth. I pore over the affidavit’s 33 pages and find a long list of what the DEA is therein authorized to do and the property they are authorized to seize: it never so much as refers to cameras, nor to destruction. I contact Judge Walsh’s court to see if he has an interest in the DEA going beyond the bounds of what’s prescribed by the warrant: he doesn’t want to hear about it. I reach Special Agent Kelly by telephone, who sounds uncomfortable when I tell him I’ve seen video of the raid. “Where did you come across that?” he asks (I’d rather not say), then refers me to Sarah Pullen, a DEA public-information officer. I review the situation with the skateboarder and ask her if pointing the assault rifle at him would be consistent with DEA policy—and to my surprise, she says “yes.” Then she comes to her senses, says my questions sound “accusatory,” and declines to comment on the rest of what I ask.

Someone who’s happy to talk with me is Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access. “I think you’ve struck gold,” he says of the video. “It sounds like a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment. […] They’re not allowed to point assault rifles in people’s faces just because they have a warrant.” Nor to smash cameras (though it is better for the covering up).

On a lighter note, DEA affidavits are chock full of fun trivia. For example, did you know that “a 160 GB drive could contain as many as approximately 150 full run movies or 150,000 songs”? Wow!