In May, police in riot gear in Santa Ana, California raided the Sky High Holistic medical marijuana dispensary, claiming that it was operating illegally under California law due to the lack of a permit.
Officers forced customers to the floor, used threatening and menacing language, and — after they thought no cameras were recording them or civilians were present to hear their comments — engaged in theft of property (marijuana-infused edibles) and behavior that was neither professional nor becoming of an officer of the law.
During the raid, officers were secretly recorded on video cameras they failed to locate and disable. This infamous video segment that went viral on social media shows officers destroying recording equipment, allegedly eating edibles they have stolen from the dispensary, and disparaging the dispensary’s manager, Marla James, a 54-year-old wheelchair-bound amputee.
In the surveillance footage when referring to James, an officer asks,
“Did you punch that one-legged old benita?”
“I was about to kick her in her f-ing nub.”
Steven Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, said in response to the raid,
“Look at what’s happened to law enforcement. You don’t have peace officers in our communities anymore, you have warriors, drug warriors.”
The dispensary in June filed a federal lawsuit against the Santa Ana Police Department claiming misconduct, including $100,000 worth of damage to the dispensary and its inventory and the use of excessive force. In response, the Santa Ana Police Department announced that it would conduct an internal investigation.
Now the officers involved in the May raid have filed their own lawsuit, this one claiming that the secretly-captured and embarrassing video segments were a violation of their privacy. They claim that they “had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded.”
While activists are pessimistic that the Santa Ana PD’s internal investigation will yield anything surprising, medical marijuana advocates are using the incident and ongoing litigation to shine a spotlight on police bigotry against both medical and recreational cannabis consumers and the businesses that serve them. The lack of professionalism in the officers’ behavior — especially toward the dispensary’s manager, James — is an embarrassment to the police department.
The officers also claim that the viral video was edited in a fashion intended to reflect poorly on them. However, the dispenary’s attorney, Matthew Pappas, has provided police with a full-length, unedited version of the recording.
It remains to be seen if this latest lawsuit in the Sky High Holistic raid drama will gain any traction. If the officers win their suit, the video recordings could not be used against them. Many are cautiously optimistic that the officer’s will lose their case and the video footage will stand against them in an investigation or trial.
Regardless of the outcome of this event, the Santa Ana Police Department — and the officers involved in the Sky High Holistic raid specifically — have received a failing grade from community members, their peers in Los Angeles, and progressive citizens throughout the nation who are frustrated with the drug war and its cost to society.