News “There’s No Situation So Tragic the Police Can’t Make It Worse”
posted by July 12 at 14:54 PMon
Yesterday, Washington State Patrol troopers found 8-year-old Chandler Osman in the cab of a truck that had just crushed her grandfather to death underneath it. Larry Maurer, 63, was trying to repair the vehicle after it broke down by the side of the highway. How did the troopers console the little girl? By interrogating her, raiding her home, and arresting her parents.
You see, Chandler reportedly admitted that her parents, Bruce and Rainee Osman, grew marijuana – as medicine – in their Kent home. How did the pot topic come up? A routine online search under the parents’ names would have revealed the couple was busted for medical pot in 2005, but no criminal charges were filed because they were authorized by their doctor to cultivate marijuana under Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act. Rather than trust records that the parents were abiding by the law, rather than investigate the case later to make sure the pot paperwork checked out, rather than get a warrant to search the home, and rather than take any humane step for the grieving family, WSP troopers apparently got the terrified girl to incriminate her parents and then they headed directly to the family’s home.
“The officer pushed the door open and he cuffed [my wife]. Then I slowly walked up and put my hands up,” said Bruce Osman. “They handcuffed us and brought us out into the sun.” The couple, who suffers from Hepatitis C and other ailments, was not allowed to re-enter for four hours while officers ransacked their apartment, removed the plants, and seized $2000. Video of the upturned house from KING TV here. And lest we forget, this all happened less than a week after the Seattle Times ran a front-page story glorifying efforts to bust pot growers in King County.
“The killer here is that the officers had to know it was medical marijuana. They knew it was medical the whole time,” said the couple’s defense attorney Douglas Hiatt, working with veteran drug defense attorney Jeff Steinborn, whose comment on the case is the headline of this post. Authorization forms signed by doctors were posted in the marijuana garden. Hiatt contends it was illegal to search the house without a warrant and to seize the plants, and he believes police may have crossed the line by interrogating the girl without notifying her guardians.
So why would Washington State Patrol officers pursue a moderate drug bust that won’t stand up in court, and worsen the grief of an eight-year-old girl and her parents?
Hiatt thinks they did it simply because they could. “The medical marijuana law has no arrest protection and only an affirmative defense,” he says. An affirmative defense only provides relief from prosecution once a defendant goes before a judge, so the WSP officers apparently just wanted to harass the grief-stricken family on a technicality.
The WSP is also notoriously budthirsty. The agency receives a massive annual grant from the DEA to reward informants who turn in marijuana growers. When I called WSP’s marijuana hotline last year, the nice hotline lady told me tippers are motivated by a “revenge factor,” as most of the snitches are ex-girlfriends and ex-wives. The agency offers up to $5000 to each informant.
According to Hiatt, officers allege the Osmans were growing more marijuana than allowed for patients by state law, but Hiatt calls bullshit: “The problem is they didn’t know how many plants they had until after they did the bust.” And Hiatt says the couple was growing within the guidelines set in King County, anyway. “We have a signed agreement with the King County Prosecutors Office that authorized patients in King County may have 36 plants in any stage,” says Hiatt. Osman says he had 30 plants nearing maturity and 25 sprouts; since they were growing for two patients, they were well within the limit for the county.
However, the state law simply says patients may cultivate up to a 60-day supply—whatever that is. In lieu of any specific plant limit, these officers construed the law narrowly. “This is the first real crop I had gotten [since the last bust in 2005], and it was our medicine for next two months,” said Bruce Osman. “Marijuana is the most amazing relief from pain, nausea, vomiting and wasting syndrome,” he said. In addition to Hepatitis C, which leaves them too disabled to maintain employment, his wife also suffers from intractable pain and lacerated ulcers.
Chandler was returned to her parents yesterday, but the family now risks eviction from their Section 8 housing—funded by the federal government, which doesn’t recognize state medical marijuana laws.
The state’s Department of Health was tasked by legislative bill 6032, which passed earlier this year, to set presumptive plant numbers for patients cultivating medical marijuana, but those guidelines won’t be issued until July 2008. Even so, it’s unclear if the highway patrol will comply with the legislature's efforts to protect legitimate patients who need medical marijuana. They seem hell-bent on busting people for pot, by any loophole necessary.
Neither the King County Prosecutors Office nor the Washington State Patrol have returned my calls to comment on the case.