Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – A new court filing by a former officer describes the Arcata Police Department (APD) as a loosey-goosey outfit more interested in running up numbers on pot busts than protecting Arcata’s citizens and upholding the law.
The allegations are included in a memorandum appended to an already-filed lawsuit by Arcata resident Barbara Sage.
Sage and her now-deceased husband, Charles Sage, were subjects of an APD-led cannabis raid on June 1, 2011. A subsequent lawsuit filed by attorney Jeffrey Schwartz alleges police misconduct, including excessive force used against the elderly residents during the search, which yielded no living cannabis plants. The lawsuit against the City of Arcata and APD also alleges that police used too many officers in a “commando-style” raid on the Zehndner Avenue home.
It also contends that the entire operation was based on a grossly deficient search warrant, which is where Stonebarger’s testimony comes in.
The memorandum, prepared by attorney Peter Martin, includes a claim that Stonebarger had attempted to advise Officer Brian Hoffman that the cannabis odor reported by a tipster wasn’t sufficient to serve as the basis for a warrant, as smells can’t accurately identify a specific point of origin.
“Hoffman’s omission of fellow officer Stonebarger’s opinion from the affadavit that the smell of marijuana could not be traced with any degree of confidence to the Sage residence is an omission of information highly critical to the probable cause determination,” states the memo, which alleges that Hoffman “recklessly disregarded the truth.”
The stench of cannabis under cultivation in residential areas was one of the grow house-related problems which helped propel the matter into the legislative arena. Following complaints about grow house impacts on neighborhoods, the City adopted provisions in the Land Use Code which specify odor as a violation. Section 9.42.105, "Medical Marijuana: Cultivation and Dispensing," states, "The medical marijuana cultivation area shall not adversely affect the health or safety of the nearby residents by creating dust, glare, heat, noise, noxious gasses, odor, smoke, traffic, vibration, or other impacts, or be hazardous due to use or storage of materials, processes, products or wastes."
Ironically, Stonebarger was one of the officers who participated in the odor-motivated raid on the Sage house.
The lawsuit acknowledges that the Sages had been growing cannabis, but legally so as Prop 215 patients. Their last legal crop had been harvested the previous April, according to the lawsuit.
The Stonebarger/Martin memo also alleges that following 2009’s sensational Pot City, USA TV documentary about Arcata, APD lowered its standards both practically and ethically, to hit arbitrary plant seizure quotas.
Power consumption levels that help identify possible grows were reduced from 5,000 kilowatt hours per month to 3,000 kwh/month, the memo claims.
Further, APD Det. Sgt. Todd Dokweiler purportedly offered to buy dinner and drinks for officers who seized enough cash, plants, bud and guns. The memo calls this a “reward scheme” which was approved by Chief Tom Chapman.
Chapman declined comment on the memo.
Stonebarger left APD in 2013 in the aftermath of a Feb. 2012 Eureka incident in which he was alleged to have been “rude and antagonistic” to a Eureka businessman in a dispute over a parking space.
Stonebarger was subsequently dropped from the Humboldt County Drug Task Force. He then went on medical disability leave from APD, and later left the department without returning.