MP5 Submachine gun: Similar to the guns used in the raid
The Stranger has obtained a copy of the search warrant Seattle police used to conduct an raid on Monday—replete with submachine guns, full tactical gear, and a battering ram—on a man who was legally cultivating two marijuana plants for medical reasons. Records filed in King County Superior Court show that police had every indication the grow was small, no evidence that were sales involved, no electricity records that would show a large operation, and no suggestion of any other potentially illegal activity.
The ACLU of Washington is calling the conduct "unacceptable."
The affidavit making the case that there was probable cause for a search was filed by SPD Officer Tyrone Davis, a narcotics detective who has conducted “over 100 buy bust operations." Davis and his sergeant visited the four-plex apartment inhabited by 50-year-old Will Laudanski in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood on October 13, acting on “a citizen complaint that wished to remain anonymous in police reports,” the warrant says. The citizen, who lived nearby, reported the smell of marijuana coming from the apartment and said there was a fan in a boarded-up window in one corner of the unit. The officers confirmed the boarded up window and the fan during the visit, the affidavit continues, suggesting part of a ventilation system typical of indoor marijuana cultivation. He could also smell marijuana near the apartment’s south window. Upon getting closer, “I could smell this odor even stronger as I placed my nose near the window,” he writes. “It was clear to me that an odor of marijuana was coming from behind that window.”
In other words, SPD had every indication that this was a small garden—it was in an apartment, after all. And the smell was faint enough that the officer “placed [his] nose near the window” to confirm the odor. Large marijuana grows are in houses or warehouses, and often pungent enough to smell distinctly from the street.
Much of the warrant is devoted to pages of boilerplate copy about the items typically found in a grow operation (ventilation, lights, money, etc.); then it includes some more detailed description of the eight-inch fan, the wooden board, and the officers' career familiarity with the smell of pot.
Most remarkable is what the warrant doesn't say. The warrant application reports no follow-up between going to the house on October 13 and applying for the search warrant five days later. Given that marijuana for personal use is the city’s lowest enforcement priority, officers could have invoked state law to request electricity records that would indicate if a large number of lights were being used (which the records wouldn’t have shown), spoken to people in the neighborhood to find out if commercial activity appeared to be underway (which there apparently wasn’t), or checked the house to see if it looked like it was inhabited by a tenant primarily using the property as his home (which he was). All of that would have probably shown this was a low priority investigation involving personal marijuana—certainly not one requiring an armed raid—exactly the type of case that city law says police can ignore without pursuing expensive, laborious enforcement procedures. Officers could have also avoided an armed nighttime raid of the kind that often ends with deadly gunfire. There was no indication of weapons involved; officers could have also knocked on the door and talked to the resident. Instead, they sought a warrant and deployed six to nine officers to break down the man’s door with a battering ram—for two legal pot plants, each only one foot high.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office recommended the warrant. “We approved the search, yes we did,” says King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office chief of staff Ian Goodhew.
He continues: “You could establish probable cause with tons of evidence or just established probable cause. It is a fairly low standard but it’s one that is required for a search warrant.”
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg issued a policy in 2008 saying that his office won’t prosecute people for medical marijuana and it supports law enforcement’s “reasonable efforts to carefully and sensitively investigate these [marijuana] cases.” Was this case investigated “carefully and sensitively”?
“I acknowledge that the amount of force used compared what ended up finding can seem out of proportion,” Goodhew says. But he says uncertainty over the law and whether the person is growing for medical purposes or non-medical purposes “can leave law enforcement guessing.” And that requires an investigation—sometimes involving a raid, he says.
The warrant shows no items were seized—meaning there was nothing illegal on the property.
"This is maddening. Is it a case of inadequate training and supervision, or outright disrespect for our laws?" asks ACLU of Washington drug policy director Alison Holcomb. "Either way, it’s unacceptable that this could happen when we have a medical marijuana law, a 'lowest law enforcement priority' ordinance, and written policies calling for 'careful' and 'sensitive' investigation of these cases."
"I haven't been able to sleep for two days," says Laudanski, recounting the trauma of having his door smashed in, dealing with his ransacked home, and being held on the floor by armed police. "That's how this has left me. This should not have to happen to anyone else. I could be dead or in the hospital or permanently injured."
SPD has not responded to a request to comment on the affidavit used to get the search warrant (although yesterday the department acknowledged no crime was committed). Meanwhile, Mayor Mike McGinn has repeatedly insisted that marijuana enforcement is the city's lowest law-enforcement priority. His office has copies of all the records of this case.
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus indicates the mayor is out to lunch on this incident. "Now that we have the narrative of the incident and the search warrant, the mayor will discuss with the department about how this incident fits in to our city's policy that marijuana enforcement is our lowest priority," says Pickus.
That's all McGinn's office has to say—they'll be finding out how police justify the behavior. The answer will likely be predictable lines that McGinn has parroted before: Pot is against the law and police have to investigate complaints, so officers have carte blanche to arrest folks for pot, break in their doors, pull guns on them, etc. So far, McGinn seems fine with that.
“I know some people are upset when a case is investigated and turns out to be medical marijuana,” Goodhew continues. “That’s why we think the statue needs a severe overhaul.”