Riverside County, CA — Even in states with legal marijuana, law enforcement’s addiction to the drug war still lingers like a dark cloud over over the land of the ostensibly free. Even in California, who has paved the way in legalization of cannabis, police officers still violently, and with extreme prejudice, lay waste to the rights of innocent people who dare grow, use, or sell this most beneficial plant.
Because of their addiction to the war on drugs, cops in Riverside County have just cost the taxpayers of their town $136,000. The money was paid to Chen-Chen Hwang, 67, and her husband, Jiun-Tsong Wu, 75, to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that their two homes were broken into by armed agents of the state and ransacked as officers looked for non-existent marijuana plants.
According to Alex Coolman, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the elderly couple, police were monitoring power bills of town residents and used the low amount of the couple’s bill as reason to believe they were growing marijuana.
“This was a very strange and frightening incident,” Hwang said in a release from Coolman’s office. “We did nothing to deserve this, and it made us feel unsafe in our own homes.”
The raid unfolded on August 5, 2021 and caused thousands in damage to the couple’s home.
Apparently police in Riverside County monitor power consumption and when they see low power usage, they automatically assume that people are stealing power to grow marijuana.
“The deputies believed the defendants were stealing power to grow marijuana because their power consumption was low, and they said as much,” Coolman told the Press-Enterprise.
But the couple was not growing marijuana and their power consumption was low because they used solar power and were “thrifty,” according to Coolman.
According to the lawsuit, on on August 5, 2021, a SWAT team, using a battering ram, broke down the door to the couple’s home in their quiet subdivision. Nobody was home and for several hours, deputies ransacked the home, destroying their property in the futile search for a plant — which they never found.
After not finding anything at this house, deputies then turned their attention to the couple’s second home — which couldn’t have possibly used power from their other address but was targeted nonetheless — and raided it too. According to the lawsuit, however, they had no warrant for the second and also entirely fruitless raid.
The 67-year-old said in the release that “uniformed, armed deputies banged on the door,” the lawsuit alleges.
Deputies informed Hwang they had already broken into their other home “because they believed she was involved in growing marijuana, and demanded to come inside,” the release states.
Hwang thought the deputies were soldiers because they were dressed in militarized gear — to raid an elderly couple for a plant.
One of the defendants in the lawsuit, Sgt. Julio Olguin, knew what they were doing was wrong and “admitted that the searches of the homes were illegal,” according to the lawsuit.
According to Coolman, this is a common practice in Riverside County as deputies attempt to justify their existence by raiding people with low power bills. However, he said, “this is the only one I know of where there was no warrant and no apparent justification.”
“The way the Sheriff handled this situation was unreasonable and illegal,” Coolman said. “Nobody’s home should be broken into based on a hunch about their use of electricity.”