A Bay Area attorney is following through on his promise to file lawsuits against the California Highway Patrol for what is being called “unlawful and unconstitutional actions taken toward licensed medicinal cannabis business owners Richard Barry, Brian Clemann and their business, Wild Rivers Transport LLC.”
The two men, both of Crescent City, were stopped on Interstate 5 in Stanislaus County on Sept. 6 and detained by CHP officers, who reportedly seized more than $225,000 in cash, while their attorney says they run a state-licensed cannabis transport company.
By phone Wednesday, attorney Matt Kumin of Oakland said his office has filed a class action suit against CHP, as well as a demand for the jury trial of one CHP K9 officer and 10 others who acted as agents in concert with the K9 officer but are not yet identified.
“Plaintiffs are not presently aware of the true names, identities or capacities of defendants 1 through 10,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiffs therefore sue those defendants under their fictitious names. Plaintiffs will amend this complaint upon learning the true names.”
The CHP report said concealed guns and bags of money were found inside the truck, and due to contradicting statements, the two were taken into custody.
In October, Kumin said officers used bolt cutters to open a small safe inside the truck, where they found money that was received during a recent legal delivery.
The complaint asserts that CHP officers ignored plaintiff’s requests to inspect their licensing documents prior to breaking the safe open, as the plaintiffs sat handcuffed on the ground.
While the amount of currency was originally listed as $230,000, amended court documents now state the amount was $257,000, and was turned over to the Department of Homeland Security. DHS receipts for the seizure did not list an exact amount of currency, saying only “unknown amount of currency- $100,000.”
The complaint claims the CHP gave DHS the money “in an attempt to put the funds out of legal reach.”
The complaint says officers did not locate any illegal items and neither party was advised at the scene of any charges or suspected crimes.
Asked if his clients were ever formally charged with anything, Kumin said no.
“Maybe this will prompt some charges,” he said.
John Goold, an information officer for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that no charges have been filed against Barry and/or Clemann, as of Dec. 19.
The complaint also alleges seven more causes of action, including unreasonable search and seizure, violation of civil rights, false arrest without a warrant, interference with business, and slander against the plaintiffs.
The complaint alleges that during the traffic stop, Barry and Clemann were detained for six hours without a bathroom break and deprived of all their money, including travel expenses before dropping them off in an area unfamiliar to them.
“CHP punitively released plaintiffs with no means of communication, transportation or money,” the complaint reads. “The CHP officers advised them that there was a McDonalds across the street and a motel over the Highway 99 overcrossing.”
The suit asks for compensation for legal fees and damages, including physical pain, emotional distress, loss of property, return of seized money, past and future medical expenses related to the complaint and attorney’s fees.
Kumin said the class action suit is not really directed at the California Highway Patrol, but he hopes it will stand to keep officers from seizing assets of licensed distributors.
“It’s not really about them but about their policies,” he said, noting that he has sued the department before, regarding a protest in 2005.
“I’m tightening the noose around the CHP,” Kumin said. “Nobody likes this case, because it reveals the contradictions and hypocrisies of the war on cannabis.”
The complaint calls CHP actions unconstitutional and unlawful.
“Despite the new California law that allows licensed transporters to transport cannabis legally, the CHP has disrupted the intent, purpose and letter of those laws by harassing licensed cannabis businesses by seizing legally transacted cash proceeds from these operators,” the complaint reads. “Furthermore, CHP’s policies and practices include handing illegally-seized funds over to the (federal) Department of Homeland security, thereby forcing licensed operators into complex, costly and even losing federal forfeiture proceedings.” It also alleges that such seizures then go into the federal, rather than the state treasury.
“Through this action, plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to restrain (CHP) from conducting similar such unlawful seizures and handing of funds to the Department of Homeland Security in the future,” the complaint reads.
Further complicating the case is the fact that Barry and Clemann were both CHP officers.
The CHP report on the Sept. 6 stop alleges “the two male occupants of the Chevrolet identified themselves as retired peace officers.”
In a previous interview, Kumin said his clients were stopped once for a contrived mudflap violation once and again later, without probable cause.
Kumin previously said the CHP officer “came running over to the truck and said, ‘You told me you’d resigned. You were fired,’” but gave no other reason for the second stop.
“There’s a certain culture in the CHP at play here,” Kumin said previously. He said CHP officers maintain a sense of brotherhood and dislike any officers they feel have gone outside the law. “It’s how they operate. Somebody told (the officer) that these guys were dirty cops and said ‘go get them,’” he said.
According to Kumin, Barry was fired from the CHP after disclosing that he had taken an unprescribed Norco for pain while on patrol. Kumin said Barry appealed the termination, was reinstated as an officer and resigned some time later.
Clemann was fired for insubordination after taking his attorney’s advice not to speak to CHP officials during an investigation into charges that he stole items from a CHP evidence room, Kumin said. In November 2016, a jury failed to reach a verdict in the case.