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Submachine Guns Drawn, Seattle Police Break Down Door of Medical Marijuana Patient, Push Him to the Floor, and Raid His Home—for Two Tiny Pot Plants

Dominic Holden

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The Seattle Police Department and the mayor's office have repeatedly insisted that marijuana possession, per city law, is the lowest law enforcement priority. They also adhere, they say, to a state law that makes it legal for authorized patients to use and grow marijuana.

But last night provided evidence that Seattle police are willing to invest tremendous resources in the smallest of pot cases—even cases where the pot is legal—and the mayor’s office will remain silent.

Just before 9:00 p.m., officers at SPD’s East Precinct held a briefing about the complaint of marijuana at a four-unit apartment building in the Leschi neighborhood. One week earlier, officers applied for a search warrant from King County Superior Court, sent an officer with a K9 to sniff at the door, confirmed the scent of marijuana, and were in the process last night of planning a raid. “Once the briefing was completed, officers donned their raid equipment clearly marked ‘Police’ on all sides,” according to a draft incident report filed by police.

A cadre of between six and nine officers ran up the stairs; some carried MP5 submachine guns, others held pistols, and at least one held the battering ram. They pounded on the apartment door and said it was the police.

“I was tying my robe,” says resident Will Laudanski, 50, who had just stepped out of the bathroom. “I said, ‘I am opening the door,’ but before I could get my hand to door, they busted it open and then rushed me. I was trying to comply. Then they pushed me down to the ground and just basically got me positioned in a corner of the kitchen with my face on the floor.”

A veteran Airborne Ranger who served in Desert Shield and was disabled from his service, Laudanski told The Stranger his door now “has cracks running right down the middle. I can’t really bolt it.”

“During the entry to this apartment, the locking mechanism to the front door was possibly damaged,” the official report says.

Officers began to search the apartment. Face down on the floor, Laudanski told police that he was an authorized medical marijuana patient, complying with a 1998 state law that allows people with certain medical conditions to possess and cultivate marijuana with a physician’s authorization. Laudanski directed officers to his physician's authorization in the other room. “Do you want to see it?” he told the officers. The Department of Health decided recently that a patient could grow up to 15 plants.

He “had paperwork in this room declaring his marijuana grow was for medical purposes,” police acknowledge in the report. Then in the bedroom, “officers observed two marijuana plants that were each growing in pots.”

“They were able to see the full extent of my pathetic grow,” Laudanski continues. “There were four little nuggets of bud the size of your pinkie on one and five on the other. They’re about 12 inches high.”

The police department's response after the jump.

Police didn’t take the pot plants.

“Clearly, in this case, there was no law violation that was discovered,” says Seattle Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb.

Laudanski uses medical marijuana to treat intractable pain resulting from being hit by a car in 2005 while walking down East Pine Street in front of Hot Mama’s Pizza. The car slammed him into a tree, he recounts, suffering damage to his shoulder, knees, and worst of all, his head—which resulted in severe migraines. “They started coming every day. The severe ones can last three days. I can’t eat. I vomit to the point of puking up blood. And several times I’ve been taken to hospital.” Standard pharmaceuticals don’t work, cost $100 a pill, or are “antipsychotics that leave you there drooling,” he says. But at a doctor’s suggestion, he says he started smoking marijuana occasionally. “I was able to drop the migraines down to one or two a month” and sometimes marijuana “can stop a migraine in its tracks with no side effects.”

But Whitcomb says, “Our mission is to enforce the law. We do that by gathering information of any evidence of any criminal violation. And I’d go on to say that had the officers known that, they would have spent their time doing something else. However, unfortunately, we don’t always have that luxury.”

Officers also ransacked the apartment, Laudanski says. "They tore up my place." Boxes from moving in about a month ago and other possessions were strewn across the floor by police. "They basically opened everything up and tossed everything out," he explains. "It’s hard to walk around my place right now."

Why didn’t police simply knock on the door and talk to him, instead of wearing raid gear, bearing pistols and submachine guns, and breaking the door with a battering ram? So-called knock-and-talks aren’t the protocol for drug cases—even small pot cases—Whitcomb explains. He adds there was a neighborhood complaint. But neither the police nor the King County Superior Court that issued the warrant could provide a copy of the affidavit by police used to get the warrant—which would provide the basis of probable cause.

Laudanski says he’s done nothing to draw the attention of law enforcement. And he’s puzzled why police used so much force.

“I came from a perspective that was pro-police,” says Laudanski, citing his work with the military and past service in New York as a paramedic. “But I still think this was very, very wrong what they did. I feel that higher-up people who ordered this, they are wasting our time and our money and they are putting innocent people in danger.”

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/10/26/submachine-guns-drawn-seattle-police-break-down-door-of-medical-marijuana-patient-push-him-to-the-floor-and-raid-his-homefor-two-tin

Oct. 27, 2011