Co-op owners say they feel ‘violated’
Last week’s raid leaves many with empty hands and heavy hearts
When Robert Galia and his fiancée, Edythe Kohn, woke up in their Butte Creek Canyon home last Wednesday (June 30), they had no idea that their lives would be turned upside down in a matter of hours.
When Butte County sheriff’s deputies knocked on their door, they told the couple they had a warrant to search the premises. At the same time, officers in north Chico were explaining the same thing to employees at North Valley Holistic Health, a medical-marijuana collective Galia runs.
They searched and they seized.
At Galia and Kohn’s residence, deputies rifled through the house, confiscating cell phones and, most disturbing to Galia, ripping out all the marijuana plants they had growing in the yard. Both of their bank accounts were frozen.
“We can’t pay bills,” Galia said. “I can’t even buy food.”
At the collective, nearly everything was taken away as evidence: files, patient records, computers, security equipment and cash and, again, marijuana plants that were ripped out of their pots. The manager’s cell phone was confiscated and one patient, who happened to be there at the time of the raid, was interrogated and held for nearly two hours while officers conducted the search and seizure.
“He’d just dropped by to bring us ladybugs for our plants,” Galia said of the member.
North Valley Holistic Health was one of eight cooperatives raided that day. Galia and Kohn’s home was one of 11 searched. So far, only one arrest has been made—and it was not marijuana-related. A convicted felon was found to have access to a firearm.
Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney said it could take weeks or even months to sift through all the evidence collected in the raid. Computer files will be cross-checked with paper documents, which will be checked against surveillance cameras when necessary, he said. They’re primarily looking for evidence of illegal sales or possession of marijuana.
“We had received complaints from a number of different sources, including a couple of complaints from citizens who identified themselves as medical-marijuana patients, who were concerned about the legitimacy of local co-ops, and one location in particular,” Maloney said about the impetus for the large-scale investigation.
Those whose homes and co-ops were raided, however, feel unfairly discriminated against by law enforcement, because they believe they were operating lawfully and offering much-needed safe places for patients to get their medicine.
“Where we once had aboveboard, out-in-the-open, transparent establishments giving safe access to clean medicine, we now have chaos,” Galia wrote in a letter he gave this reporter. “My biggest concern right now is our patients …. They are now being forced to seek their medicine from back alleys … or to travel to other counties.”
The fact that officers have killed the plants they seized by removing them from the soil adds insult to injury, they say.
“They weren’t destroyed; they were all preserved as evidence,” Maloney said of the plants. “A warrant is essentially an order from a judge. Officers are commanded by the order of the judge to seize all evidence.
“In the event that there’s a determination that it’s not appropriate to charge a particular crime, all property will be returned.”
Of course, by then all the plants will be dead.
“Yeah,” Maloney agreed solemnly.
Ralph Bailey, who owns Doctor’s Orders Co-Op Inc.—with locations in Chico and Sacramento—shared a similar story of his Chico co-op being raided and plants being ripped out. Police found nothing in his Sacramento home, he said, and his bank accounts—unlike some others’—were not frozen. So much of his operation was taken away, however, that he cannot reopen and run things the right way, so for the time being his doors are closed.
“I really feel violated,” he said by phone Tuesday (July 6). “Here we’re trying to run a legitimate operation, and I really feel like this is a violation. A few people don’t believe in it [medical marijuana], and that’s why we’re being targeted.”
Perhaps the most bizarre case that came out of last week’s raid was the home search of local artist and founder of the yet-to-be-opened Citizen Collective, Dylan Tellesen.
“It was a very sketchy situation,” Tellesen said. “They produced a search warrant that included two locations—one: my house, two: a dispensary called CPC, which they called ‘Citizen Patient Collective.’
“We’ve been arguing for direction from the city and county, arguing that we will not open up shop without that direction,” he added. “I never went in there [to CPC] or had any connection to them.”
Police arrived at Tellesen’s house when his wife was home with their children. They took her cell phone, the family’s three computers, and froze their bank accounts. Two days later, after Tellesen made a number of phone calls to straighten things out, a woman at the Butte County District Attorney’s Office apologized for the mistake. Their bank accounts have been unfrozen, but they have yet to get their belongings back.
When summing up the raid, Bailey offered: “I thought in America you were innocent until proven guilty,” he said.