The Coastal Post - March, 1998

Felonious Poppy Stalk Possession Case Continues

BY JIM SCANLON

District Attorney "looking at the case"

"It makes one wonder." The odd case of the People of the State of California versus Jerry Knight of Forest Knolls, for alleged felonious possession of morphine and codeine is now set for a jury trial in San Rafael on April 14. Knight is a public-spirited, decorated, disabled Vietnam Veteran with no prior record. The charges are based on "usable amounts" of these drugs being extracted from a bunch (54 grams) of dried poppy seed stalks found in Knight's home.

Court testimony reveals that Criminalist Gregory Popovich extracted these drugs in the Department of Justice Crime Laboratory in Santa Rosa by processing ground up poppy straw with volatile chemicals-petroleum ether, hydrochloric acid, and chloroform (which Knight never possessed).

A representative of the Marin County District Attorney's Office contacted the Coastal Post to clarify who was responsible for the prosecution of cases. Ultimate responsibility for all cases rests with Jerry Herman the District Attorney. New cases are assigned in rotation to his Assistants. John Posey signed the original petition alleging felonious cultivation of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of a restricted drug. That was his only contact with this case. (See Correction below)

Subsequently another Deputy DA dropped the misdemeanor charge and added the two "poppy" felonies. At the probable cause hearing on January 2, 1998, the marijuana charge was dropped because Knight has a doctor's recommendation under Proposition 215, leaving only the two "poppy felonies."

The representative of the District Attorney said, "There were a few things in the Coastal Post article we did not know, and we are going to take a closer look at this case".

In addition to their three-year nightmare struggle with County officials, what is bothering the Knights right now is that they cannot get back their tax records seized by the police as evidence in the August 4, 1997 raid on their home. The Marin County Major Crimes Task Force seized several boxes of evidence representing 15 years of tax records and registered firearms. Also missing are $2,450 in cash, a rare antique Parker over-under shotgun, an antique gem set, and a family heirloom coin collection, among other things.

When the Knights asked the court to return these items on Jan 2, Detective Douglas Endy of the Major Crimes Task Force testified that their property clerk was on vacation at that time.

The only plausible reason for seizing notebooks, telephone logs and tax records would be as evidence to show some kind of illegal commercial activity such as money laundering or drug dealing. Since there was no mention ever made in police reports, or any rational connection with the poppy or marijuana charges, it is difficult to understand why any records were seized in the first place let alone why they have been kept for seven months.

Superior Court Judge J.S. Graham ordered the property returned and set a compliance date. That date came and went and just one envelope was delivered to Carl Shapiro, Jerry's Attorney. The envelope contained all the seized evidence the police say they seized-a dozen or so papers and a photo of Dottie Le Mieux riding together with the Knights in the Corte Madera Fourth of July Parade in their vintage 1955 T-Bird convertible.

Le Mieux had run unsuccessfully against both Gary Giacomini and Steve Kinsey for Supervisor of Marin County's Forth District. Her supporters were purged from positions of importance in the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group by Kinsey supporters in early 1997 in a power grab that scandalized a few of the people who knew about it.

Susan Knight said she flushed, and her heart began to pound when she saw the photo. She is a professional photographer and has perhaps 10,000 images of her work in her home. The only ones she thought might be missing were those she took of a concert by James Brown (The Godfather of Soul).

"Why did they take the photo of Dottie?" she asked. "Is it some kind of message that somebody is out to get us? And how can the police ignore a judge's order? Doesn't this show contempt of us and the judge?"

They can understand a burglar or a corrupt officer taking their money, gems and coins, but not their tax records, copies of faxes, telephone books and business records. "Could they have been sent to Washington?" asks Jerry. "This whole thing is making us nuts. We think our phone has been tapped. It's like Oliver Stone directed this!".

And who would want their file on their protracted legal struggle with the San Geronimo Planning Group, the Marin County Council's Office and the Open Space District ? "All of these agencies have threatened us", Jerry said, "The [San Geronimo Valley] Planning Group spent money to investigate us, and when we go away, we get hit hard-not by criminals, but by the people who are supposed to be protecting us! It makes you wonder."

A few months after the Knights "prevailed" in their two-year struggle over their rights to the roads on their property, their house was raided and ransacked by the Marin County Major Crimes Task Force. It does make one wonder.

The alarm activation

According to court testimony, Deputy Sheriff Robert Anderson, working out of Kentfield, received a call of a burglar alarm activation in the Knight residence in Forest Knolls at 10:58 a.m. on August 4, 1997. He arrived at that residence at 11:22.

The alarm, heard by neighbors, rang for approximately ten minutes, and, according to the alarm company, the motion detector recorded someone had been in the home for 13 seconds directly in the couch area.

When Anderson got there he found no one at home, or in the vicinity, and no evidence of forced entry. Looking through the window, he did notice what appeared to him to be an unresponsive figure reclining on the couch.

He contacted headquarters and requested that a call be placed to the residence. (There was no evidence of this on the answering machine.) He requested backup support; it took approximately 20 minutes for a Deputy to arrive from Point Reyes Station and police officer from Fairfax.

While waiting for backup, Anderson, who had been employed in 1974 by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), later known as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), looked around and took photos. While he was a military officer he worked with the DEA for six and a half years.

He observed a marijuana plant growing in a twelve-foot by one-and-a-half foot flower bed alongside the pool. The flower bed contained 34 oriental poppies which he recognized as opium poppies. "I was in Turkey once for an operation in which we pulled down several acres of it" he testified. When his back up arrived, they broke into the house.

The alarm company told the Knights later that Deputy Anderson called them demanding their [the Knight's] personal code to turn off the alarm. This request was something no other police officer had ever made of this company.

Anderson testified in court, "My main objective, when I first went into the residence was to make sure the person on the sofa was either alive or dead".

While one cannot argue with Anderson's statement of intent, one can evaluate it to determine if his actions support his statement. After requesting back up, he waited some 20 minutes before breaking in. Should he not have kept the "body" in his vision for signs of life? If there had been a burglar, a body, someone dead or in distress, would anyone blame a peace officer for breaking down the door? If his primary concern was life or death, why not call the paramedics?

What good would additional police do, if after waiting, they broke in and found someone unconscious? An unresponsive body, even the body of a burglar, would require medical attention before all else.

Paramedics are located in Woodacre and could have responded faster than police from Fairfax or Point Reyes Station. But perhaps they might not understand a narcotics officer's point of view about what was growing in the garden or what might be growing in other rooms.

A person who asked not to be identified stated that paramedics, when confronted with a medical emergency, would break into a residence with little hesitation. If there were no medical emergency, they would wait for the police to protect them from theft charges. The Marin County Sheriff's Office does not have a written policy on when to call for medical help. Such decisions are at the officer's discretion.

There are a number of complaints the Knights have about what was done to their home during and after the search and seizure, but the worst of it was that the police left their home with doors and windows wide open with their burglar alarm turned off. There is also the terrifying matter of their being pulled over on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. by an unmarked sheriff's vehicle shortly after they had requested the return of their tax records. The plainclothes officer stopped them to return a flashlight taken from their home.

There are many troubling aspects to this case. Reports of police misconduct are unfortunately common enough throughout the country and should be looked into, particularly the "political" photograph. The prospect of theft and/or liability for loss by theft are all too real in this case.

Special police units whose charters suggest investigation of "Major Crimes" seem always to have not enough to do, and, lacking imagination, seem to be incapable of distinguishing "major" and "minor." The asset forfeiture law, allowing local governments a source of revenue, exacerbate this problem.

But what is particularly troubling here is that this kind of case has gotten so far into our court system as to suggest the influence of the police is too strong to curb such costly absurdities. An exhaustive cost accounting of this case seems in order.

Jerry Herman, our District Attorney has had a long and distinguished career which will shortly be ending because of ill health. One hopes that Herman can resolve this case before it further damages the reputation and morale of his department.

Finally, Susan Knight said, "We are still waiting for the most important thing that was taken from us: our rights!"

: by drug cops

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