Paul Fullerton was a well decorated firefighter for over 20 years with the UC Davis Fire Department. A work-related injury led him to use medical cannabis and ultimately brought this law abiding citizen into the focus of agents of YONET, who targeted him and his business, until they finally found an excuse to arrest him and his wife, and threaten to take away his daughter and livelihood.
Now serving his 90 days of house arrest, after a misdemeanor plea agreement, Mr. Fullerton is coming forward to tell the full story that never came out when his case resolved.
The Decorated but Injured Firefighters
“I always wanted to be a fireman, ever since I was a little kid,” Paul Fullerton explained. He began his career with the Esparto Fire District as a volunteer in 1989. He then started in the Madison Fire District as a paid firefighter and, in 1994, he was hired at UC Davis.
From 1994 to 2014, he started as a firefighter and worked up the ranks to captain. He was a captain for eight years, on Truck 34, the ladder truck.
In 2001, he was injured by a faulty piece of equipment on his ladder tracker. He had to have a discectomy. He had fusion and plating of C5 and C6 of his cervical spine.
“At that time, I should have been out, but I was in very good shape, and I came back and worked another seven or eight years,” he explained. He got hurt again, and had to have two more major surgeries in the final six months of being at the fire department.”
His career as a firefighter was a decorated one. He had congressional recognition for valor. He received the American Legion firefighter of the year award, as voted on by his peers. He earned the Red Cross Hero award for saving a UC Davis student with CPR. Mr. Fullerton received commendations from Chancellors Vanderhoef and Katehi.
Moreover, “I had never been in trouble with the fire department for anything.”
His experience dealing with the injury was challenging at times. Worker’s compensation, for instance, gave him the run around until Chancellor Vanderhoef stepped in on his behalf.
But he almost lost his house and more when worker’s compensation quit paying him for nearly six months. It was City of Davis Union President Bobby Weist who stood up for a UC Davis firefighter, “which is very rare, because we didn’t get along,” he explained. “He helped by getting the national charter to call Liberty Mutual to further my insurance. Liberty Mutual did it on an agreement that I would pay them back.”
They loaned him $50,000 for his back pay.
“They saved me from losing everything,” he said.
That bought him enough time to get a settlement for $250,000.
At this point, he retired from the UC Davis Fire Department with a full pension. He gets half his base pay until his normal retirement kicks in. “Basically, I don’t even have to work,” he said.
But despite being all right financially, he has struggled. He was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and he was seeing three counselors to help him cope.
Entering the World of Cannabis
With his retirement, he spent some of it to purchase Lil Shop of Growers. He started out doing $150,000 worth of business and ended up with almost $1 million annually.
He describes Lil Shop of Growers as “a full service garden center” that provides for gardening needs to big agriculture and other large facilities.
He was on 14 different pills at one time – pills to lower his blood pressure, pills to raise his blood pressure. He said a lot of the pills “are being outlawed” due to complications, and eventually he went the cannabis route.
He explained, “I started cannabis by the recommendation of my pain management doctor and my spine surgeon about two years before I retired.”
He explained, “What I found was that cannabis helps my pain management.” Mr. Fullerton was walking around with a lot more iron in his neck than most other patients, but able to manage the pain without the use of heavy opiates.
“I got into the cannabis industry knowing it was going to rattle some cages, but I did seek counsel before I did it,” he said. He was told, “You’d be the perfect person to pick up the flag in this industry to show it’s okay. So I did.”
Things were going well and he caught the attention of Supervisor Matt Rexroad. At the time, it looked like cannabis would not be allowed into Yolo County – despite a mantra that said Yolo County should be all things ag.
He told Supervisor Rexroad, “I don’t want to get involved politically, because they’ve left me alone.” By ‘they’ he meant law enforcement.
Speaking at the Board of Supervisors meeting in 2015, he told them, “I didn’t roll out of the van with a bunch of smoke and hit myself with a shoe and say, that’s my skull. It’s not affecting me in any other way.”
The supervisors voted at that time to write an ordinance on cannabis. Paul Fullerton worked with Yolo County Ag Commission John Young on all the figures and everything about cannabis.
“Everyone was very uneducated on cannabis, a lot of misnomers,” he explained.
Mr. Fullerton ended up inviting Supervisor Rexroad to his house, where he had a small indoor grow. He had all the paperwork as a state certified collective. Supervisor Rexroad told him, “I’ve never even smelled weed before. I’d like to know what everybody’s complaining about.”
At the time, he had a court order allowing him to have cannabis around his kids. “This is what gets me,” he said.
“About nine months before my raid, CPS, my ex-wife had taken me to court over cannabis and our son, and the judge pretty much ruled that I could use my decision-making ability on when to smoke cannabis,” he explained.
The judge put in his court file, “Mr. Fullerton is allowed to grow his (plants).” He is compelled to inventory his product, put it behind a locked door, and weigh it by the gram. His son is not allowed to be around when he weighs and packages the cannabis.
When he formed his collective, he grew about 30 pounds of cannabis in his backyard. He would process it on his driveway. He said half of his neighbors smoke cannabis, and it was “never a problem.”
Things were going well when suddenly he started receiving phone calls from law enforcement. But not what you think.
“Friends,” he said. “Friends who have known me my whole career. Friends that I worked with. They know I’m straight. It was eight officers from five agencies.”
What they told him was “you are being watched by YONET and they are watching you hard.”
His response: “I’m not doing anything.”
He was told, “Be careful. These guys are not us. They are shady.”
Mr. Fullerton began to notice a lot of undercovers coming into his shop. How did he know? When they inquired about buying cannabis, he would say no, but you can smoke with us. They would go out to their car to get a pipe, but never return.
“That never happens,” he said.
YONET Agent Gary Richter came into the shop seven months prior to the raid posing as a construction worker. “I didn’t know it was him at the time, until later. I just had a weird feeling,” he said.
Paul Fullerton walked him around the store and gave him a quote. “What blew it for me is when he said, money is no object.” He explained, “I never heard a cannabis grower in the history of cannabis growing who say that ‘money is no object.’ They always want a deal.”
The other thing he noticed, “He kept saying he was a construction worker. He just got off the job. And yet, his clothes were clean.” He also noticed, “He wasn’t wearing the right boots.” Moreover, “He didn’t smell like iron, like he was an iron worker.”
He added, “I shook his hand again, and his hand was as soft as a baby’s butt.”
Then he asked him to sell him an eighth of cannabis. Paul Fullerton responded, “Brother, I don’t sell cannabis here.” He offered, “I’d be more than happy to smoke some with you, if you have a card. We don’t sell here.
“My exact words to him, when he left,” he said. “Why would I sell an eighth of cannabis for $30, when I have all this?”
The man asked, “Can somebody bring me some?”
Mr. Fullerton responded, “If you’re a smoker, then you know the rules. No one’s going to sell to you that doesn’t know you. So no, I can’t call you someone to bring you anything.”
A few days later, he was suspicious and asked to see a picture of Gary Richter. Sure enough, it was him.
But that wasn’t the end of their efforts. He said they had a Harley rider come in, “he stated that he had been riding all day. But he was clean as a whistle. No bugs on his stuff.” He asked for edibles, and Paul Fullerton responded, “Unless you’re going to eat dirt, there are no edibles here.”
He asked where the nearest dispensary was, and Paul Fullerton pointed him to Sacramento. “Oh yeah, I’ve been there a year ago,” he said.
Except it had just opened a few months before and everyone believed that was an undercover as well.
He said it was one person after another trying to get him to sell them cannabis. But finally, someone emerged that sold him a sob story.
He told his employees, “We’re about to get raided, there is nothing we can do.”
Some of them wanted to get rid of the small amount of cannabis at the store. But Paul Fullerton said no. He said, “That is legal. I’m not changing what we do, because it’s legal.” He added, “We are not doing anything wrong.”
Mr. Fullerton was about to open a fish store, when a local “picker” or “homeless” guy came into the store. He had previously used the guy to root through garbage to find props for the store.
That day he showed up with another guy, who turned out to be an undercover officer.
The homeless guy who was his friend said that the new guy had a sick wife, can you help him?
Paul Fullerton gave him a small amount of cannabis. When they weighed it, it was 1.5 grams, just enough for one joint. “It was a sample for his wife to test and try to see if she liked it. If it worked for her.
“I gave it to him, no charge,” he said.
Some time later, he came back. He said he liked it. Then he asked “if he could get some more for her.”
He came to the shop, said he had $300. Mr. Fullerton told the Vanguard he misunderstood. He thought the man was asking for $300 worth of product. “At the time, I didn’t realize he thought I was going to charge him. I thought he just wanted that amount.”
Mr. Fullerton told the man, “You’re down on your luck. I’m just going to give it to you.
“I gave him the weed, I weighed it out. Their evidence log says 95 grams, they must have weighed it with the package,” he told the Vanguard. “It was 35 grams – seven grams over a $100 fine.”
He said that when his attorney got the DVD of the exchange, they had split the recording into two. “The whole center section of the DVD is missing, when we talked about the wife and the cancer,” he said.
“He grabbed the money and held it close to him with these puppy dog eyes,” he explained. “I thought to myself this man might be a man of pride who doesn’t want to give medicine to his sick wife and not pay for it, because then it won’t help.
“When he put the money in my hand, I put it in the fire boot, which is our donation boot that goes to charity,” he said. “I don’t need $200 of cannabis. My store makes almost $1 million a year.”
During their exchange, Mr. Fullerton asked the man, “Do you have a card?”
“Does your wife?”
“He stated, yes.” He said, “The state law says verbal or written by caregiver.”
Mr. Fullerton said he would take a lie detector test that he did indeed ask the man for a card. “Yes, will be my answer,” he said. “I will go against these officers every day of the week because I know I’m not lying.”
He explained, “Helping the cancer patient got to me. I’m a very empathetic guy. I’m passionate because of what I did my whole life.”
Shortly thereafter, “the door’s kicked in, we are raided.” He said, “They proceeded to tear my store apart. They searched through everything. They found nothing.”
They went through his safe and confiscated that money, saying he had “large amounts of currency.
“They kept saying I had large amounts of currency, but they never said what the total was,” he said. “They found a grand total of $38,000.”
He said, “Little did they know I sold my Corvette a couple of days prior to that.”
He could account for the money. There was $15,000 for the Corvette sale, and $6000 for the fish store opening, which still didn’t have an address. The rest of the money, for which he had records, was cash prepayments by his customers at the shop.
“Every single cent was accounted for,” he said. “I had everything in deposit slips. I was on my way to the bank when they came.”
He had $980 in his pocket. He said that he was buying tires for the Corvette, they would cost $960 with $20 left over for lunch.
They found a scale in his store.
He responded, “I sell scales. All different sizes. That was my demo-scale.
“They asked about my money counter,” he said. “My business is 80 percent cash. It checks for counterfeits and everything else. I also sell money counters. Three different styles.”
Then they went to his home.
They pressed him to know where all the crystal meth and guns were located.
He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve got bad information.”
They accused him of being an insult to his badge and a drug dealer.
He said, “I’m not a drug dealer.”
They said, “You sold to an undercover.”
I said, “I know, the bum.”
They said, “How did you know that?”
He said, “Because I’d never done it before. I know exactly who it was.”
When they got nowhere looking for meth, they told Paul Fullerton, “We’re going to have to take care of the weed.”
He told them, “My paperwork is on the counter. I’m a certified collective. Everything is inventoried and accounted for.”
They said, “We don’t give a f— about your paperwork.”
He responded, “Well the state of California sure as hell does, and the voters.”
He said, “They all laughed again.”
They explained that they found large amounts of currency at his house. That turned out to be $7000.
He explained that he filed as a state collective, his store is an LLC, and he used a UC Davis forensic auditor. All his books were up to date and all money was accounted for.
“I didn’t think for a second I was going to be arrested,” he said.
But he was wrong. They had just dismissed the cannabis but now that was going to be the main charge.
In addition, they told him, “Your gun safe was unlocked.”
He denies that it was.
“He said it was unlocked. I said no, who would have a $3000 gun safe and keep it unlocked,” he said. “I said that’s not true. They said, Mr. Fullerton, we’re going to take your daughter.”
He stood up. They put their hands on their guns. “I said, are you serious? I was a fire captain, you’re going to shoot me in my house? Why are you taking my daughter away? And then I started to cry.
“I said how can you take my daughter away? Wow, you guys don’t play fair.”
They claimed he had “a large amount of weaponry.” He says he had a deer hunting rifle, he had his father’s deer hunting rifle, which had been brought by his brother to give to his mother, and it had only been in his safe for two days.
He also had a shotgun, which he called a goose gun, with a long barrel. He had a .22 Ruger and an AR-15. He said the AR-15 was registered, with a cable lock.
“Four weapons was my large amount of weaponry,” he said. “He told them, those deer horns in my garage, I shot them, I didn’t tackle them. Again they called me a smarta–.”
He also had a 9mm, locked in the handgun safe that he used at his store and a .22 pistol that was for his wife for home defense.
They claimed his doors were unlocked for the cannabis. He said, “As you saw, my doors were broken down because they were locked.”
They had CPS pick up his daughter from school and “brought her home from school to see my wife in handcuffs.”
His daughter would be back in 10 days.
He said, “Every single (neighbor) wrote letters on my behalf. One of them said it made them sick to their stomach that they took a picture in front of my house like a football team. Like they just caught El Chapo.”
Mr. Fullerton said, “I told them I had never been in trouble in my life – why are you doing this to me?”
They said, “You did it to yourself.”
Twenty months after being raided on February 29, 2016, the case was done. Even before the plea agreement, the weapons charges were dropped when he was able to show that his weapons were legal.
He had faced multiple felony counts in the months prior to Prop. 64 – a weapons charge and a child endangerment charge that resulted in the very temporary removal of the daughter of Mr. Fullerton and his wife, Maricel, who had similar charges placed on her.
Mr. Fullerton took a plea agreement that led to the dismissal of all charges against his wife and to a misdemeanor plea for him, with a 90-day jail sentence and three years of probation. He has been serving house arrest with an ankle monitor for the last few months.
He told the Vanguard, “I took the plea because (of) my wife’s sanity, she has PTSD.”
He said, “The straw that broke the camel’s back was that her phone contained photos of our daughter that had not been downloaded yet, from birth until 3.”
Mr. Fullerton explained, “We requested numerous times to download the photos off the phone. The DA denied it. Why, I don’t know.”
The cost was enormous. He said that some of the growers paid his attorney fee of $20,000, but they remain $66,000 in debt from court fees. His wife, as the Vanguard has reported, has had to fight for her nursing losses.
He told the Vanguard, “It’s only obvious what was done to me (with) so many resources spent for eight grams over $100 fine with the state. Why does such a small sale warrant 40+ officers to raid a home and a business?”
He asked, “What does the DA gain from arresting me and my wife, who did absolutely nothing wrong, taking my daughter away for ten days. What was the gain? If I would’ve made this poor of a risk versus gain assessment as a fire captain I would’ve been demoted or fired.”
And if the personal cost was so high for Paul Fullerton to fight these charges, one has to wonder what the cost was to prosecute this case.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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