Three unidentified Santa Ana Police Department officers -- allegedly caught on a surveillance video eating weed-infused candy and mocking a disabled woman during a dispensary raid -- are suing to prevent the video from being used against them in an ongoing investigation of police misconduct.
The officers and their union, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, filed the lawsuit last week in Orange County Superior Court, the Orange County Register first reported. The police say their privacy was violated when surveillance cameras recorded them inside of Sky High Holistic medical marijuana dispensary after they thought they had disabled them. Corey Glave, the plaintiff's attorney, provided a copy of the complaint to The Huffington Post.
The dispensary's attorney, Matthew Pappas, released edited footage of the May 27 raid in June that was published by various local news outlets. The edited video, which can be seen below, shows officers busting down the door and ordering everyone to the ground at gunpoint.
Sky High Holistic has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the police department, alleging that the officers used excessive force during the raid. "The videos speak for themselves, as does the entire raw footage. These officers want to exclude evidence of their illegal, improper and discriminatory conduct," Pappas said.
In the footage, Pappas said the police can be seen unsuccessfully disabling the shop's surveillance cameras, which go on to record the officers playing darts, eating something -- which he argues is marijuana-infused food -- and making a joke about an amputee who uses a wheelchair.
"Did you punch that one-legged old Benita?" one police officer says.
"I was about to kick her in her fucking nub," a female officer replies, to laughter.
Glave says the video should not be used as part of an internal investigation because Sky High Holistic "did not seek nor obtain the consent of any officer to record their communications." He claims that the video is illegal under California law, which requires all parties involved in confidential communications to consent to being filmed -- and, as a result, it can't be used as evidence.
"It is our opinion that the video tape is an illegal recording that was edited in such a manner as to distort the truth," Glave told HuffPost. "We believe the full, unedited version provides ample evidence that the officers never consumed any marijuana or 'edibles,' as alleged in a number of media stories."
Glave also says that at least one of the unidentified officers voluntarily took and passed a drug test after the raid and provided those results to the SAPD.
But Pappas disputes that the video is unlawful and told HuffPost that the attempt to exclude it from the evidence is "hypocritical" and "absurd."
"Imagine being a bank robber, painting over cameras, missing one and then arguing you thought you'd stopped any recording of your crime -- you therefore have a privacy right, and so the video of it should be excluded. This, when you're being paid by taxpayers," Pappas said.
"The notion they have some privacy right to then engage in illegal and improper activity on an unfettered basis with no accountability shows why there are big problems with police around the country -- they think they're above the law," he added.
Pappas also contested the suggestion that the video is doctored and doesn't actually show the officers misbehaving. The entire video from the raid is more than 12 hours long, Pappas explained, so he released edited versions of the video with subtitles showing what officers were saying.
The SAPD has seen the entire video, not just edited portions, Pappas said -- and it's a key reason the department moved forward with an internal investigation against the officers.
"Definitely there’s behavior, conduct I’m concerned about,” Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas told Voice of OC when the video was first published. But he raised concerns about the fact that the video was edited, questioning whether the full context of the officers' behavior is shown, especially their alleged consumption of marijuana.
“I don’t know if that’s [a marijuana] edible. Where did [the officer] get it?” Rojas said. “Is that a protein bar or an edible?”
SAPD Corporal Anthony Bertagna told HuffPost the internal investigation of the case is ongoing.
Also on HuffPost: