by David Downs
As police make historic moves to seize control of California’s billion-dollar medical marijuana industry by citing public safety concerns, readers are learning that law enforcement can be part of the problem.
Down in Los Angeles, two veteran Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies face charges of evidence tampering and perjury for planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary. Dispensary cameras caught the deputies on video, despite the deputies' efforts to disable them. They have since quit the force.
“Julio Cesar Martinez, 39, and Anthony Manuel Paez, 32, were charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and altering evidence as a peace officer, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Martinez was also charged with two felony counts of perjury and one of filing a false report,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Both were booked and released last Friday on $50,000 bail. Each faces more than seven years in prison if convicted.
“Martinez and Paez said they were on patrol on Aug. 24, 2011, when they saw a drug deal being made and followed a man into a medical marijuana dispensary, prosecutors said.
Martinez said he saw the man throw away a gun in an office. The deputies said they found a gun near a trash bin and another on a desk next to some Ecstasy pills."
The deputies arrested Antonio Rhodes for possession of an unregistered firearm and Johnny Yang for possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.
But video from inside the dispensary was inconsistent with the cops' version of events, an Internal Affairs investigation showed. Prosecutors allege the deputies actually planted the weapons, Martinez tried to shut off power to the room and Paez crawled under a desk to disable the dispensary’s surveillance.
Rhodes got his case dismissed in 2012, but Yang plead no contest to the tainted charges and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. It’s unclear how much time the innocent man served. The two deputies quit last year.
Los Angeles County and its sheriffs are a major center of anti-medical marijuana sentiment in the state, and have lobbied other counties to follow their lead. The department also faces a federal civil rights investigation for alleged prison inmate abuse. Former Sheriff Lee Baca retired amid the accusations.