Destroying Lives: LB Criminal Justice System

By: 
Stephen Downing

His name is David Zink. He’s a 72-year-old veteran, a former military police officer, corrections official, Food Bank executive and Long Beach resident and homeowner since 1968.

He is an outspoken medical marijuana activist and has openly cultivated medical cannabis in his backyard since California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.

He suffers from chronic back pain, diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage, arthritis and lip cancer and uses the harvest of his cannabis garden – in lieu of pharmaceutical opiates – to control pain and treat his medical condition.

He has fought for safe access for Long Beach medical marijuana patients and continues to work to this day with the Veterans Administration helping veterans who suffer from the debilitating traumas of war we call Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – and for all of the positive contributions he has made to his country, his community and his fellow man – the Long Beach criminal justice system has made him pay dearly.

In the year 2000 no less then 20 LBPD police officers descended upon Zink’s Long Beach home with a search warrant. During the search the officers destroyed his medical marijuana garden and seized his medications. He was booked into the Long Beach city jail with bail set at $300,000.

At that time, as reported in the LA Times, the Long Beach Police Department’s spokesman – David Marander – publicly disputed Zink’s contention when he said police ignored his doctor’s written recommendation that he uses marijuana to relieve symptoms of his health problems, stating that, “the amount of marijuana found at Zink’s home is more consistent with selling pot than using it for medical purposes,” and added that, “officers seized equipment to make hashish oil, as well as what are believed to be hallucinogenic mushrooms,” boasting that his department, “confiscated 30 plants ranging from 3 to 7 feet tall – with a street value estimated to be between $75,000 and $100,000.”

The Long Beach District Attorney’s office filed three criminal charges against Zink: felony possession, felony possession for sale and felony manufacturing.

Because Zink was so well known as a medical marijuana activist at the time, his arrest came to the attention of the famous civil rights attorney, Robert Reich, who was in town for a convention. Reich was familiar with Long Beach governance and the prosecutorial prohibitionist attitudes city hall and the LBPD brass had toward medical marijuana patients. He decided to help out.

After spending six nights in jail, a handcuffed Zink was met by Reich in the Long Beach courtroom of the Honorable Judge Tomson T. Ong for his arraignment and a bail hearing.

Reich argued for a reduction in bail by pointing to Zink’s long-term residence in Long Beach, his clean record, his work with the Food Bank and his contributions to the war-damaged vets at the VA hospital. He also commented on what he viewed as a trumped up case initiated by the LBPD and compounded by the District Attorney’s office on behalf of a city government’s belligerent opposition to the implementation of the Compassionate Use Act.

Zink remembers well Judge Ong’s words when Reich finished his argument, saying, “Mr. Reich it is an honor to have you in my courtroom,” and Reich’s response: “Your honor, Mr. Zink is not going anywhere. He’s looking forward to his day in court.” Judge Ong then dropped the $300,000 bail and released Zink on his own recognizance.

David Zink’s day in court came a few weeks later.  With the help of friends and activist supporters $18,000 was raised for his defense fund and an experienced medical marijuana attorney from Northern California, J. David Nick, was hired to defend him at his preliminary hearing.

A preliminary hearing – as opposed to a grand jury inquest – permits those testifying for the prosecution to be cross-examined by counsel for the defendant. In the 2000 preliminary hearing Nick’s devastating cross examination of the LBPD officers clearly awakened the prosecutor to the land mines – and potential for public embarrassment of the police and prosecutor – that lay ahead if the case went to trial.

Nick used the product of his preliminary hearing cross-examinations as the basis for filing a motion to dismiss. The District Attorney agreed that there was insufficient evidence to proceed and the judge dismissed all counts.

After the case was terminated, Zink, living in the same residence, continued to openly grow and harvest medical marijuana as authorized by 55.6 percent of the electorate. He also continued his vocal condemnation of the LBPD’s failure to adopt any modification to their arrest policy in response to the four-year-old medical marijuana law.

All of that, along with exposure of the LBPD drug officer’s contaminated testimony at his preliminary hearing – made him very well known to drug unit officers and LBPD brass.

Zink’s continued public advocacy over the years that followed are well documented in the local media, city council meetings, medical marijuana task force hearings involving city officials and LPBD brass as well as other community appearances, many of which can be viewed today on the Long Beach city website as well as YouTube.

But none of that – or perhaps all of it – served to deter the retaliation that was to be delivered to his doorstep by the LBPD 14 years later.

Documents establish that on Nov. 5, 2014, a near exact investigative scenario – as compared to the 2000 arrest – took place involving a “confidential informant” who allegedly observed marijuana growing in Zink’s fenced-in back yard, coupled with a police helicopter fly over that confirmed – for purposes of a search warrant – the presence of marijuana plants.

Based on that “thorough investigation” an affidavit was written and sworn to by LBPD narcotic detective Randall Beach to convince Judge L. Laesecke of the Long Beach Superior Court to authorize a search warrant.

The affidavit submitted by Beach also described his finding of documents related to the search delivered 14 years earlier; he wrote, “Using departmental resources, I was able to identify the property owner as Robert Allen Moore, DOB 10/14/58. Furthermore I learned that members of the Long Beach Police Department served a warrant on Moore’s residence after receiving a complaint that marijuana was being cultivated in the backyard of the residence. During the incident, I learned that Moore was listed as a suspect of 11358 HS (cultivation of marijuana).”

But, in checking all of those 14 year-old records, Officer Beach conveniently failed to inform the judge that the property ownership records he checked also included David Zink’s name as a co-owner of the property and that Robert Moore had died 18 months prior to making the search warrant application.

Detective Beach also omitted the fact that the fruits of the old warrant – including all the reports and criminal charges that followed had no mention of Moore as a suspect, that only David Zink was charged and that all charges were thrown out of court because of a deficiency in police credibility coupled with the fact that Mr. Zink was found to be a legitimate medical marijuana patient.

Beach’s evident lies by omission in his sworn affidavit were also compounded by the fact that he told the judge nothing about his knowledge – or that of his superiors – that the city hall nemesis, medical marijuana patient and activist David Zink, the actual owner and occupant of the home, was his target. 

All of this was summed up in a motion filed by consul for Zink almost two years later when he wrote, “The police (Detective Beach) failed to share any of this information with the magistrate and the magistrate – with the proverbial wool pulled over her eyes – signed what otherwise appeared to be a lawful warrant.”

The search warrant was approved by Judge L. Laesecke and served on Nov. 6, 2014.

This time around there would be no famous attorneys to help lower bail, no activist movement to raise legal defense funds, no reasoned and compassionate judge to release Zink on his own recognizance pending trial – and most importantly, there would be no preliminary hearing that would permit a cross examination of the narcotic officers who contrived probable cause, wrote false reports and fabricated false charges.

Instead, Deputy District Attorney Amy Wilton, (a favorite of the narcotic officers) would engineer a grand jury indictment – without the meddling of a defense attorney in the room to cross-examine her “drug experts.”

Rather than filing charges against Zink, DDA Wilton waited a full six months following service of the search warrant (joining city hall and LBPD in refusing to release Zink’s life savings that were also seized by police) and then presented her contaminated case to 25 citizens who were serving for the month of May, 2015 as members of the Los Angeles County grand jury.

The shrewdly designed scenario of evidence and testimony (including deliberate omissions) that Wilton presented to the jurors – without challenge – amounted to an evangelical performance of repetitive fear mongering that painted Zink as an extreme physical threat to the safety of our community – and the cleverly exploited citizen-jurors she manipulated awarded her performance with the secret indictment she sought.

Sol Wachtler, a former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals commenting on the abusive use of grand juries once said, “A prosecutor can persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, if he wanted to.”

The fruits of DDA Wilton’s adulterated “ham sandwich” produced a two-year gauntlet of systemic cruelty – abetted by city hall cronyism and cover-ups – to be imposed upon Zink by a criminal justice system that is in dire need of reform.

The appalling details of that two-year journey will follow in our next column: Destroying Lives: Long Beach Criminal Justice System, Part Two.

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen@beachcomber.news

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Comments

I was there for much of Mr. Zink's trials and tribulations. It has been a very sad situation that we have murders and other crime running rampant while the police focus on people who are sick and in pain. It galls me when I see a cop imbibing on liquid drugs while bragging about the "raid" they did on a sick/invalid cannabis patient.

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