REPOST:By: Eugene Davidovich
The undercover officers dubbed themselves as ‘New Management’ before detaining and interrogating unsuspecting patients walking into the dispensary that day.
SAN DIEGO –Thursday morning of last week, San Diego County Narcotics Task Force (NTF) detectives arrested James Harder a founding member of the Helping Hands Wellness Collective at his home in San Diego. The detectives also served search warrants at the dispensary located on 5th Avenue in Hillcrest. The arrest and search of the dispensary was the extent of what the search and arrest warrants authorized the NTF to do that that day.
After booking Harder into San Diego County Jail, NTF Detective Mark Andrew Carlson however was not finished. He ordered his team to dawn orange Helping Hands Wellness shirts and open the dispensary on time at 10am, taking San Diego District Attorney (DA) Bonnie Dumanis’ fierce fight against medical marijuana to a whole new level.
Mark Carlson is the same detective who for over two years, under the direct orders of Deputy DA Chris Lindbergh led the investigation and helped prosecute Jovan Jackson of Answerdam collective. After Jackson was vindicated of all marijuana related charges in his first trial, Carlson was instrumental in convincing the DA’s office to continue with the second prosecution and trial.
According to Matt, one of the patients who visited the dispensary that day, detectives welcomed him to the collective, told him the facility was under ‘new management’, checked him in, and even provided him with free concentrated cannabis (hash) as a gift before inquiring with the unsuspecting patient whether he cultivated his own medicine. As soon as Matt told them that he did, the detectives pulled out their badges, said they were DEA, and then proceeded to detain and interrogate him for almost two hours.
San Diego Americans for Safe Access (SDASA), the local chapter of the nation’s largest advocacy group advancing therapeutic use and research medical marijuana, received a call on Thursday around noon from another patient who said the Helping Hands Collective was “taken over” by law enforcement. The call was followed by an email to SDASA from a sales representative of San Diego CityBeat, who also stopped into the dispensary that day to visit their advertising client only to find out that the place is ‘under new management’.
Upon receipt of these reports, SDASA quickly activated the local Raid Response Team (RRT). The team was successfully able to verify, confirm, and notify the community of the raid within minutes of the initial reports.
San Diego CityBeat reported on the story that afternoon, quoting Matt as saying, “They kept asking how much medicine do I buy, how am I affording it, where am I getting it from, what cooperatives I’m a member of where my garden is, they just basically, in a easy sentence, they raped me for everything I had and never told me I had a right to remain silent. They made me think if I didn’t talk they would arrest me on the spot.”
The NTF detectives were operating the collective from 10am to 2pm before being forced to cease their activity by San Diego Americans for Safe Access advocates, who quickly arrived on the scene.
Aside from the quick response, members of SDASA’s RRT that day, successfully and lawfully intervened and were able to stop to the NTF from operating the collective and putting additional patients at risk of this rogue action by San Diego NTF detectives.
San Diego Americans for Safe Access – Raid Response Team Eye Witness Account:
After receiving the call from a patient on Thursday morning, I first called Helping Hands to verify the reports of a ‘take over’. A male voice in a very polite manner answered the phone saying “Helping Hands, how may I help you today?”
I asked the male, “Is the collective open today?”
My question was quickly answered with another question. “Are you a customer or a vendor?”
This immediately raised a red flag for me and added to my suspicion that the person on the other line, was not a member of the collective but was in fact an undercover police officer posing as a member. I asked myself, “has the NTF actually stooped to this level?”
I proceeded to tell the person on the line, “My name is Eugene Davidovich and I’m calling from San Diego Americans for Safe Access, can we speak to a member of this collective?”
The male answered, “Hold on let me let you speak with the manager.”
After a short delay, another male got on the phone, and this time said “Who is this, can I help you?”
The voice was very familiar and only one name came to mind; Detective Mark Andrew Carlson, San Diego NTF detective who was the lead investigator in the Jovan Jackson case.
I introduced myself to the supposed “patient” and asked to speak to a member of the collective again. This time the undercover told me “hold on” and the line went dead.
Following this conversation, I activated the SDASA RRT and headed for the facility in Hillcrest.
Before I arrived at the collective, Terrie Best, another member of the RRT was already on the scene conducting an onsite survey. By the time I arrived, Terrie reported finding no evidence of police activity in front of the collective and at first, everything appeared to be normal. No police cars, DEA trucks or any other law enforcement activity was visible. The facility appeared open, and we could see people moving inside through the windows.
As soon as Terrie and I walked up to the front entrance of the facility, the lock in the glass tinted doors clicked shut. I knocked on the door and through the tinted window could see someone wearing an orange Helping Hands T-Shirt motioning to us with a finger that he would be right with us.
After not being let in through the fount doors, we walked around the back of the building into the alley.
This is when we realized the reports were true. The NTF had taken over the collective and was operating it under the guise of “new management”.
Six large F150 trucks were parked in the alley in back of the facility. A large white trailer was pushed up to the back door of the collective and almost a dozen undercover officers were scurrying back and forth loading unmarked boxes and bags in to the trailer.
After several minutes of watching the officers pack the trailer, I saw Detective Carlson walk out from the back of the collective. The minute he saw me, he screamed “Eugene, get out of here”.
While Carlson was busy venting his anger out at me, Terrie was busy questioning the other detectives as to why they were there, what agency they were with, etc.
I could hear Terrie ask one of the undercover officers, “are you San Diego County Sheriff or DEA”?
The undercover replied, “I’m a Sheriff from one of 58 Sheriff’s Department in the State”.
“Which one”? Terrie asked.
After hesitating for a moment the detective finally caved in and admitted, “I am with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department”.
“Why did you raid this collective?” Terrie continued.
The undercover replied, “That’s a part of an ongoing investigation, and I can’t talk about it unless you are with the media, are you with the media?”
“No I am not”, Terrie replied. “But what would you tell me if I was with the media?”
The detective could not resist Terrie’s friendly demeanor and sweet personality he told Terrie “I would tell you to call the Public Information Officer”.
“Great, what’s his name and number”, Terrie replied.
“That’s not Public information” the officer hissed.
Terrie was quick to point out that “you just told me that it was the ‘Public’ information officer was it not?”
The detective frustrated, let out a groan and walked away. Clearly perturbed with the SDASA RRT presence, Carlson proceeded to hurry all the detectives along to pack the trailer faster.
By this time Dennis and Melissa, two other members of the SDASA RRT arrived on the scene and joined our efforts.
As we continued to monitor the situation, one of the officers dressed in an orange Helping Hands t-shirt walked out of the collective and began to chit chat with the others, apparently forgetting that he was still dressed up as a ‘member’ of the collective.
I walked closer to him and called out “Excuse me sir, with the Helping Hands shirt, are you a member of this collective?”
The detective at first ignored me, then quickly two others ran up to him, and began to shout at the undercover, “I told you to stay inside, you are under arrest”.
When I realized, the detectives were trying to create the appearance that the person wearing the Helping Hands shirt, was actually a member under arrest and not an undercover officer, I couldn’t help but laugh at the pathetic attempt. Minutes later, a photographer from NBC arrived to document the events.
After seeing news cameras, detectives jumped in their cars and took off with tires screeching ending their day of opening and operating a dispensary.
Following this incident, I contacted Detective Carlson’s boss with the San Diego Police Department and inquired if Carlson was authorized as part of the investigation to operate the dispensary. His boss told me that he was not aware that the NTF was actually operating the facility. He said he was under the impression that San Diego detectives were simply assisting the Santa Barbara NTF in executing a search and arrest warrant.