Costa Mesa marijuana dispensary sues city and police over raid

Operators of a Costa Mesa medical marijuana dispensary that was raided by police in January have sued the city and its Police Department, alleging that officers had no right to force their way into the Harbor Boulevard storefront.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Orange County Superior Court, claims that Costa Mesa police never presented a warrant during or after the search, in which they arrested employees and confiscated marijuana products.

According to attorney Matthew Pappas, who is representing the dispensary, Costa Mesa Collective, the city has refused to provide a list of the items the officers seized.

"It's just been quite frustrating," Pappas said.

Although medical marijuana is legal in California, Costa Mesa bars dispensaries from operating within its borders.

City spokesman Tony Dodero said police did have a warrant to inspect the dispensary, which was operating in the 2000 block of Harbor Boulevard.

"I've seen it," Dodero said. "I have a copy of it."

During an interview in February shortly after the raid, Dodero said police arrested five of the dispensary's employees. He also said officers found two large safes containing $6,000 cash and various marijuana products.

None of that property has been returned to the dispensary operators, though nobody arrested has been charged with a crime, according to the lawsuit.

The suit seeks return of the property or compensation for it.

Surveillance video provided by Pappas shows officers breaking through the dispensary's door on Jan. 27 and ordering a group of people to lie on the ground.

Pappas said police disabled security cameras that they could find, but a hidden recording system captured them questioning medical marijuana patients and unloading items from display cases.

Pappas showed portions of the recordings to the Daily Pilot.

Pappas alleges that even if police had a warrant to inspect the business, officers violated his clients' rights.

He contends the raid was used as a backdoor mechanism to shut down the dispensary.

The lawsuit draws a distinction between a criminal search warrant and a warrant to inspect for health and safety violations.

If police used an inspection warrant to justify the raid, they had a duty to notify the dispensary 24 hours in advance and shouldn't have forced their way in, according to the lawsuit.

"What they would normally do with any other business ... they go in and they don't have guns drawn," Pappas said.

Despite the city's assurances, Pappas said he doubts the warrant exists. More than six months after the raid, he said he still hasn't seen a copy of it.

Pappas has accused Costa Mesa of wrongdoing before.

In the days after the raid, Pappas said the storefront wasn't a dispensary but rather a Native American church authorized to use cannabis and other controlled substances in its ceremonies.

On Friday, Pappas backed away from that claim, saying the dispensary had planned to transition into a church but never made the conversion.

Pappas said he no longer represents the religious practitioners, known as the Oklevueha Native American Church.

jeremiah.dobruck@latimes.com

Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

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