Crime & Justice

Lawsuit filed over Santa Ana pot shop raid (updated)

An image from the video of the May 26 Santa Ana police raid captured by a secret surveillance camera installed by the owners of Sky High Holistic medical marijuana collective.
An image from the video of the May 26 Santa Ana police raid captured by a secret surveillance camera installed by the owners of Sky High Holistic medical marijuana collective.
VoiceofOCvideo (via YouTube)

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A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday alleges that Santa Ana police used excessive force and caused more than $100,000 in damage to a medical marijuana dispensary during a May 26 raid.

Attorney Matthew Pappas filed the lawsuit on behalf of the target of the raid, Sky High Holistic. The operation was caught on a secret surveillance camera set up inside the shop. According to the suit, officers unreasonably detained two Sky High volunteers, one of whom is in a wheelchair.

The complaint states that "officers were intentionally destructive and destroyed video surveillance equipment, safes, furniture, fixtures, doors and other property at the collective," resulting in damages "in excess of $100,000."

The Santa Ana Police Department has said it will conduct an internal investigation into the raid.

The Voice of OC shared the following video of the raid, edited by the dispensary's attorneys. (WARNING: The video includes language that may be offensive to some.)

A charge of lottery tampering

The suit contains more explosive allegations regarding Santa Ana officials' conduct surrounding Measure BB, which set up a lottery to issue permits to medical marijuana dispensaries. Voters approved the measure in Nov. 2014.

The complaint alleges that an individual hired by the city to support Measure BB solicited $25,000 campaign contributions from people affiliated with medical marijuana collectives in exchange for "successful inclusion in the Lottery and assistance finding a collective location."

The suit claims that Mayor Miguel Pulido has a financial interest in a medical marijuana collective that secured one of the 20 permits available through the lottery, which was held in February. The complaint does not name the collective.

The alleged wrongdoing deprived the plaintiffs of their due process rights under the state and federal constitutions, according to the suit.

"We have witness proof" and "there is some paper evidence as well" to back up the corruption claims, Pappas said at a Monday news conference. He declined to reveal the names of the witnesses or produce the evidence, but said they would come out during the trial's discovery phase. 

Pappas added that he has informed the local U.S. Attorney's office about the case. 

"Absolutely and categorically false"

In an inteview with KPCC, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido denied all of the corruption allegations raised in the lawsuit, calling them "absolutely and categorically false."  He said he did not have any financial or familial ties to any of the applicants in the lottery. 

Pulido said the city hired an outside law firm - White, Nelson Diehl, Evans LLP - to conduct the lottery process exclusively, and maintained that the firm had no contact with, nor was influenced by, any member of the city council. 

The lawsuit also notes that the city has contended that "the election conducted in respect to Measure BB did not involve solicitation of money in exchange for favorable treatment during the lottery process."

After voters approved Measure BB, more than 630 applicants paid the city a total of more than $1 million to participate in the lottery.

Pulido characterized the suit as an attempt by Pappas to force the city into scrapping its marijuana law so Sky High Holistic can stay open.

"I don't know where these people are going other than I know they were operating an illegal dispensary and they want to continue to operate," he said.

The mayor did say he was "very unhappy with what I saw" on the surveillance video from the police raid on Sky High Holistic.

"I don't think it was professional behavior but I don't know that it is criminal," he noted. If the police department finds officers committed crimes during the raid, that information will be turned over to the district attorney, Pulido added.

Another suit

Sky High Holistic was operating illegally when it was raided. Currently, there is no marijuana shop legally allowed to operate in Santa Ana.

An Orange County superior court judge placed the permitting process on hold earlier this month in response to a separate lawsuit claiming the lottery was unfair. The suit, filed by a trio of entrepreneurs who were not selected in the lottery, alleges that it was tainted by "ballot stuffing" - applicants filing multiple applications - and a number of unqualified applicants. 

Mayor Pulido said he believes the lottery process was transparent and fair. 

"I believe some applicants were maybe more aggressive than others," he said. "But that happens in the California lottery. There are some people that buy tickets and some don't and some buy more tickets than others." 

Superior Court Judge David Chaffee will hold a hearing on Friday on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in the entrepreneurs' suit, which ultimately seeks a court order declaring the lottery invalid.

This story was updated.