Abuse of the Freedom to Decide – Part I

Stephen Downing

On Feb. 2, at 1315 hours, 3 hours and 45 minutes before the Long Beach City Council was to convene and once again exercise their discretion to ban or support a medical marijuana (MMJ) ordinance, Detective Scott De Stefano of the LBPD drug squad was putting the final touches on a massive raid planned for the following day.

De Stefano’s single discretionary target (one out of 52 MMJ delivery services operating in Long Beach) was the One Love Dispensary owned by the most loved and compassionate medical cannabis caregiver in the city – Jeff Abrams.

All the detective needed was for the city council to keep the pot ban in place and a judge’s signature to get his search warrant. If it all fell into place, he and his twenty-officer raiding party were ready to rock‘n’roll.

De Stefano presented Mark C. Kim, Judge of the Long Beach Superior Court, with his personal sworn affidavit in support of a warrant to search Abram’s Long Beach dispensary at 227 Temple Ave.

 De Stefano informed the judge – in writing – that he had received several complaints about the location to be searched and that, “they were possibly delivering marijuana or had some type of marijuana growing inside.”

He did not specify the source – or nature – of the complaints or how they knew the location stored marijuana. But he did inform the judge that the location, “use to be a medical marijuana dispensary named One Love” and that, “it operated illegally.”

De Stefano elected not to inform the judge that the Abrams family had paid the City of Long Beach $16,000 to participate in a lottery that won them the right to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at that location – as authorized by state law. Nor did he inform the judge that – after winning the lottery – the family spent tens of thousands of dollars employing five different Long Beach based contractors to design and open the location only to have it shut down by a sudden – discretionary – city council decision to imposed a total ban.

The detective also failed to tell the judge that the city refused to refund Abrams the $16,000 lottery fee following the council’s egregious flip-flop back onto the cannabis merry-go-round – or that Abrams shut the doors to walk-in MMJ patients and turned the dispensary into a delivery service – and has served his patients continuously for the past four years – without complaint from any source – while paying all taxes, except the 10 percent city MMJ tax authorized by 76 percent of the Long Beach electorate.

Tax money that could have paved more than a few streets and filled a few thousand pot holes.

What the judge also didn’t know is that Abrams, the son of a Brooklyn Hall of Fame Dodger – Cal Abrams (Brooklyn 1949-52) – was a successful international sales and marketing executive whose commercial know-how delivered an impeccable, neighbor-friendly dispensary model to the city – only to be ignored by those empowered with the discretion to say yes – but chose to say no – too many times.

Abrams has been married to the love of his life for 42 years and has four sons – all college graduates. No member of the Abrams family has ever been arrested and all are committed to the compassionate service of others.

The Abrams family has worked with Long Beach City Government and city hall bureaucrats unswervingly over the past seven years, fighting for patients rights and safe access to cartel-free medical cannabis, while collaborating at the same time with everyone possible to insure implementation of an ordinance that not only best serves their patients – but sustains and improves the quality of life in Long Beach.

Had Detective De Stefano told the judge all of that, it’s possible his honor would have seen an appalling miscarriage of justice, exercised his discretionary muscle and sent the detective running back to headquarters with a message for the brass to get their enforcement priorities straight.

But, he didn’t. The system has its priorities – and these days Justice – and crimes against persons and property – continue to be hammered to the bottom of the list in favor of arrests produced by the LBPD’s 114 undercover agents – most all of whom are assigned to morality policing rather than crimes against persons and property.

So, to establish probable cause to justify the judge’s endorsement of his search warrant, De Stefano’s went on in his affidavit to tell the judge that he conducted an investigation on Jan. 29 at the One Love location and brought Detective C. Thue and his dog, Ozzie, along, pointing out to his honor that Ozzie is a certified narcotics dog.

Clearly the purpose of bringing Ozzie was to have him sniff around and validate the unnamed complainant’s statement that there was a marijuana grow going on inside the building.

But, that’s not what happened.

Thue made Ozzie stay in the car – according to De Stefano’s affidavit.

De Stefano told the judge that it was Detective Thue – not Ozzie – who trolled the sidewalk and did the sniffing, ending up, “right next to the east facing front door to the location.”

De Stefano wrote, “Thue advised me that he could smell what was, based on his training and experience, a marijuana smell eminating (sic) from inside.”

So, you might ask, why was Thue doing the sniffing when they had Ozzie, the certified pot dog, to do the job?

The answer came in the affidavit’s next sentence.

When Thue allegedly finished with his sniffing and announced his olfactory discovery to De Stefano, he then got Ozzie out of the car and walked him along the sidewalk, past the same door and, as De Stefano wrote in his affidavit, both he and Thue saw Ozzie alert and, “Thue then advised me that Ozzie alerted because he detected the smell of narcotics in the building.”

Now, to the average person, all of that may sound a lot like reaching your left arm over the top of your head in order to scratch your right ear.

It begs the question: Why didn’t they just put Ozzie to work sniffing around the building right off the bat?

The answer to that one is because there is a very high probability (or a preponderance of evidence) that De Stefano was lying to the judge.

You see, back in March 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision (Florida V. Jardines) that said the police couldn’t use a dog to go on sniffing–fishing expeditions.

The court held that police officers in Florida who did the very thing that De Stefano and Thue avoided doing here in Long Beach amounted to, “engaging in a Fourth Amendment search unsupported by probable cause.”

So, there you go. Thue’s illogical first sniff was done in order to get around the Jardines case and give them a reason (probable cause) to put Ozzie to work.

But, what the detectives didn’t know when De Stefano wrote his affidavit to convey that twisted little story to the judge was that Jeff Abrams, being the good neighbor he is, had installed four industrial Inline Duct Fans (Vortex BTX 1000s) in the building that sat on top of a 3 foot high can filter with a 2.5 foot high muffler – thus making it impossible for a human to detect the odor of cannabis outside the building.

Now, with that little set up in place, we get to the next part of the affidavit – the investigation that De Stefano told the judge he conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.

In De Stefano’s written affidavit he told the judge that he made an undercover buy from the location by using an “assisting detective’ – sometime between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1. (It was in fact the prior day, Feb.1)

De Stefano wrote, “The assisting detective” called the One Love Beach Club and, “ordered up an amount of marijuana” and that he was then able to see, “a subject leave 227 Temple in a vehicle” and that “we” observed the subject, “drive over and meet up with our undercover detective,” and that the subject, ‘identified to our undercover detective that he worked for One Love Beach” and “the subject then proceeded to sell the marijuana to the undercover detective.”

De Stefano then told the judge he believed the dispensary was in violation of a city ordinance and solemnly concluded his affidavit with, “Therefore I pray a search warrant be issued for this address.”

The judge signed off, not knowing anything about what went on with the undercover officer and the investigator between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.

Three hours later the city council logged in with a unanimous vote to deprive the patients of Long Beach of their medicine and continue the MMJ ban.

De Stefano and his 20-officer team of raiders had the green light.

Nine hours later all hell would break loose at 225 Temple Ave.

You will be scratching your left ear with your right foot, dear reader, when we get back to you – and Judge Kim – in our next column with the warped details of the sham investigation that De Stefano failed to detail in the final seven lines of his contrived affidavit.

And, we will also highlight how the range of LBPD investigative decision-making is locked into selecting the heaviest and most expensive hammer in its discretionary toolbox.

We title it: https://beachcomber.news/content/abuse-freedom-decide-%E2%80%93-part-ii


Stephen Downing is a retired LAPD Deputy Chief of Police and resident of Long Beach.



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