The Vanguard would first learn about a raid on what would appear to have been a legal medical marijuana business near Winters. The raid, which took place on the business of Ted Hicks and Ryan Mears, occurred on September 14, 2016, by a group of law enforcement agencies known as TRIDENT.
By all accounts, the men had attempted to be completely legitimate, getting proper permitting from the state and the county.
“These guys are given all the permits by the county and told go for it,” their Attorney Mark Reichel explained. “I don’t think they understand the law.”
“It’s like minority report,” he continued. “They think they were going to do something illegal with the product. That’s rank speculation.”
Medical marijuana can be grown, under current law, only by nonprofit collectives with the amount grown governed by the number of patients. Those with medical marijuana cards can join these collectives – as many as they so choose.
Under Health and Safety Code section 11362.775, common practice has emerged for qualified patients to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes, provide part of a garden yield to a collective, and associate with more than one collective.
This becomes important to understanding the nature of the charges ultimately filed by the Yolo County DA.
Brandon Olivera was the commander of TRIDENT which conducted the raids. In an LA Times article that came out a few weeks ago, he told the Times, “We didn’t know when we went in that it was a fraudulent collective.”
He explained to the columnist, “We called every person they were growing for like 300 or 400 people, and almost every person said, ‘We have no idea what the hell Big Red’s collective is.’ Less than five even knew who the hell they were.”
Of course, as columnist Robin Abcarian points out, “if a district attorney’s investigator phoned you after you signed up for a cannabis collective at a hemp festival and started asking questions, what the hell would you tell him?”
Initially, the Yolo County DA’s office had distanced themselves from the raid, even though the signature of Michael Vroman, a Deputy DA, was reportedly on the search warrant. However, at the end of the year, on December 28, 2016, Mr. Vroman signed the criminal complaint against Ted Hicks and Ryan Mears.
The complaint charges them with a violation of Penal Code section 182(a)(1), conspiracy to commit sales of marijuana in violations of section 11360(a)(2) of the Health and Safety code.
Here they are alleged to have formed Big Red Farms. They obtained a permit from the State Water Resources Board for the purposes of cultivating marijuana. They claimed to be “a medical marijuana collective providing marijuana to legitimate patients in compliance with state law for the purposes of obtaining a operator identification number and a business license from Yolo County.”
They obtained an operator identification number, contracted with Ravinder Tumber to cultivate marijuana on his property, paid him $25,000 for leasing an acre of land, agreed to pay another $225,000 to harvest and sell that marijuana.
According to the complaint, they offered membership applications, offered free samples for those filling out the applications, collected no less than 250 applications, and planted at least 1000 marijuana plants.
The DA alleges that they intended to make no less than $1 million for those plants and “they never made any arrangements to disperse marijuana to any of the attendees who filled out purported applications at HempCon.”
They were also charged with a misdemeanor for willfully and unlawfully planting, cultivating and harvesting more than six living marijuana plants – the standard set under Proposition 64.
In essence, the charges are that instead of growing medical marijuana for the purpose of these non-profit collectives, “they say it was for profit.” Basically TRIDENT believed that they were growing more marijuana than the three men could personally use, therefore it was illegal. Once the people listed in the collective denied knowledge, the DA had a case they could charge.
Mark Reichel explained, “I really think they want us to do the work. They want the defense lawyers to try to educate them and the judges on what the law is. I think it’s a misuse of the judicial process.”
The question is why would this go to TRIDENT rather than Yolo County officials? For Mark Reichel, that answer was “because Yolo County didn’t care.”
How did TRIDENT have any sort of jurisdiction over this matter?
“California by ballot box, we made it a police state now,” he explained. “They treat drugs the same as they do terrorism. It’s a police state.
“Now by decision, officers can go to other counties to effectuate arrests and do searches,” he said. “The police state is here.”
For Mr. Olivera, the Yolo DA’s decision to charge the men validates their operation.
“I guess TRIDENT isn’t such a terrorist group after all,” he told the LA Times. “We’ve taken a bath in the media and other law enforcement, and thank God the Yolo County D.A. did the right thing.”
“I don’t know much about Trident,” Mr. Reichel said, but he added, “When you look at medical marijuana in this county, I think the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department handles that.”
Mr. Reichel noted that places like Coalinga, Oakland and Riverside, among others, have large scale medical marijuana groves, but you don’t see Sacramento cops going and raiding those places and charging them with crimes.
Brandon Olivera, described as the commander of TRIDENT, himself has a rather checkered past. According to documents the Vanguard obtained, Mr. Olivera was a police officer for Rocklin Police in 2008. But while off duty, he and another officer got very drunk and, on camera, used the “n” word and other racial epithets, making hate statements about gays, blacks and women, among others – something that resembles the San Francisco Police text messages.
As a result, they were fired from Rocklin PD, but they found out that Rocklin PD had kept those files and had shown them to other departments, specifically the Lincoln PD.
The the officers’ lawsuit was eventually dismissed because a federal judge ruled that the suit could not go forward unless the plaintiffs revealed what was allegedly shown to others. Rather than show what the reports held, they tried to keep going with the lawsuit, which the federal judge would not allow.
Without the lawsuit, none of this information would have been revealed to the public.
The raid itself was described in some detail in the LA Times article.
The LA Times describes that both Mr. Hicks and Mr. Mears “grew tearful as they recalled the terror they felt when dozens of gun-wielding officers pounded on their front doors the morning of Sept. 14.”
Mr. Mears explained that he told his two-year-old to stay upstairs. “When I opened the security door, there were 15 cops with assault rifles drawn, pointed, with their fingers on the trigger, in vests, ski masks. They grabbed me and pulled me out front, put me in handcuffs. There were 20 to 30 officers. My son walked downstairs and my wife had to grab him. They had guns pulled on them. It was real painful.”
Mr. Hicks adds, “Every gun you can imagine was pointed at me.”
“Why not, it’s a police state,” Mark Reichel said. He said they scoped out the place for weeks, scoped them out and “then they go there with every cop on earth with guns drawn.”
The two men are scheduled to be arraigned in court this afternoon at 1:30 pm.
—David M. Greenwald reporting