Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WA Corrections Head Covers Up For Misbehaving Anti-Pot Officers

OK, quick: You're head of the Department of Corrections. Officers under you misbehave and improperly arrest a medical marijuana patient. What do you do? Lie and cover up for them, if you're Eldon Vail of the Washington DOC.
By Steve Elliott in Toke of the Town

The head of the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC), Eldon Vail, seems to put a lot more effort into covering up the lousy job his subordinates are doing, than in actually doing his own job.

The Washington DOC, following the example of the not-cool Attorney General Rob McKenna, is already notorious for its extremely hard line against the use of medical marijuana for individuals on probation.

Now, newly revealed documents show that Vail and the DOC have been involved in misconduct, cover-ups, and possibly outright law-breaking, reports Lee Rosenberg at the highly recommended Seattle political blog, Horses Ass.

Photo: Joel Sanders
Lee Rosenberg broke the story at Seattle political blog Horses Ass
​Kathy Parkins, a medical marijuana patient from Washington who has fibromyalgia, spent some time visiting in Southern California in 2007. She decided to make a trip into Arizona to visit a friend before heading back up to Washington for Thanksgiving.

Along the way, on November 14, 2007, she was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint just after crossing the Arizona state line.

Arizona is not a medical marijuana state (it passed a law by voter initiative in 1996, but the law requires federal approval before it takes effect), so Parkins was arrested and faced three marijuana charges after a drug-sniffing dog located less than a quarter-ounce she had in her possession.

Parkins didn't make it home for Thanksgiving. Instead, she spent more than three weeks in an Arizona jail before finally being released in January 2008. She had to return to Arizona several times, and at considerable expense, for court appearances.

Parkins was eventually sentenced to probation by an Arizona judge.

In order for Parkins to spend her probationary period at home back in Washington, an Interstate Compact was required. These are agreements between states to have someone on probation move from one state's supervision to another, and I can tell you from personal experience they are a real bureaucratic pain in the ass.

What neither Parkins nor her Arizona probation officer realized was how the Washington DOC was trying to fight its own battle against medical marijuana users and the law passed by Washington's voters in 1998.

When she was allowed to return to Washington, Parkins moved in with a fellow medical marijuana patient named Carla Cole, who had heard about Parkins' predicament and volunteered to help.

Improper Arrest

In May 2008, hours after Parkins got an updated medical marijuana authorization from Dr. Bethany Rolfe, Community Corrections Officer (CCO) Jeremy Praven, along with another officer, conducted a "home inspection" at Cole's West Seattle residence and discovered Cole's small legal garden of nine cannabis plants.

Praven then contacted Seattle Police. When the cops arrived, they determined Cole's small grow operation was completely legal, apologized to Cole for bothering her, and took no action other than filing a routine report.

Then a third Corrections officer, Michael Schemnitzer, arrived at Cole's residence.

"While the CCOs were in my home, one very young man said to me, a retiree in my 60s, and poor Kathy who is visibly pained and stressed, 'I don't care about her and I don't care about her problems and I don't care about you and I don't care about your problems," Cole wrote in a complaint email to the DOC the day after the arrest.

Cole's email complaint continued:

Then your guys came back with a new guy who chose to speak to Kathy SO RUDELY and with such contempt I just had to add "Please" to his command for her to descend the stairs. This was in my home, and I naturally feel a right to ask people to behave in a civil way there.

Then, he said that because I said "please" he was going to take her in, which he did. I told him his cruelty does not become him and I'm telling you the cruelty of your staff does not become you. To make me feel like I sent my friend to prison because I asked her to be treated with kindness in my home - someone who has committed no real crime at all - is just so mean I'm speechless.

After being arrested by Schemnitzer, Parkins spent a week in King County Jail with no charges and no hearing. Her health continued to deteriorate as she tried, unsuccessfully, to get information about her case.

All week long, her friend and housemate Cole sent frantic emails to elected officials and DOC employees, trying to find out what has happening.

Six days after the arrest, on the evening of May 27, Cole sent emails to several people in the media. The very next day, DOC officials began looking into the situation, and on May 28, Parkins was finally released from custody.

DOC Field Administrator Donta Harper admitted in an internal email, obtained by the Cannabis Defense Coalition under a Freedom Of Information request, than the CCOs had no authority to detain Parkins in the first place, because at the time she was still under the supervision of Arizona probation officials.

Harper followed up the next day by sending a letter to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, admitting fault in the arrest.

A few days later, after several attempts to follow up with officials in both Arizona and Washington, Parkins discovered a nationwide arrest warrant had been posted for her from Arizona, based upon a denial of the Interstate Compact agreement filled out by Officer Praven.

Falsified Paperwork

When an Arizona official, in June 2009, read Parkins the paperwork Officer Praven had filled out after her arrest and sent to Arizona, she discovered it contained a number of inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.

That same day, the Washington DOC notified Arizona probation officials to cancel the nationwide warrant. They were now rescinding their initial denial of the Interstate Compact, they said; Parkins could now stay in Washington and apply to use medical marijuana while on probation.

Despite repeated attempts, Parkins was unable to obtain a copy of the Interstate Compact denial filled out by Officer Praven. She said DOC officials claimed it was lost.

She had still never seen the document until a few weeks ago, when CDC obtained the document as part of their information request.

And when she finally saw Officer Praven's paperwork, she realized it contained many falsehoods.

Ms. Parkins has no family ties in Washington. She stated that she wanted to live in Washington because of the marijuana laws.

Parkins was in fact born and reared in Washington, has two grown children in the state, and a grandchild born while she was in an Arizona courtroom. And she says she never said anything about "wanting to live in Washington because of the marijuana laws."

Ms. Parkins was living with individuals from the Marijuana Growers Association of Washington.

Neither Cole nor Parkins has any idea how Officer Praven came up with this claim. No such organization exists, according to everyone else involved.

'Open Hostility' To Medical Marijuana Law

So what we're left with is this:

On May 21, 2008, CCOs Jeremy Praven and Michael Schemnitzer improperly arrested Parkins; Praven then filed a report with both falsehoods and intentionally misleading statements, attempting to have her sent back to Arizona, a state where she has no family and has never lived.

Parkins still held out hope that once her doctor filed the necessary paperwork, she'd be allowed to use medical pot. But only July 23, 2008, two months after her arrest, the DOC denied her request to use the medicine that she'd been legally using for years before they had her improperly arrested.

Lee Rosenberg sums it up best at Horses Ass:

The entire situation had become surreal. A person who broke a law in Arizona -- for something that's completely legal here [in Washington] -- was now being harassed for engaging in that legal activity, despite the fact that even the officials in Arizona seemed indifferent to her medical marijuana use while she was back in Washington... At this point, it's clear that the DOC was denying medical marijuana use based on an open hostility towards the voter-approved law...

Cole demanded the CCOs involved in Parkins' arrest be reprimanded for their behavior during and after the bust. After several failed attempts, she sent a letter directly to the head of the Washington DOC, Eldon Vail.

This past May a recent tenant and friendly acquaintance who, like me, is authorized in Washington to use marijuana medicinally, was visited here by your Community Corrections Officers. The friend, [Kathy Parkins] is on an interstate compact probation from Arizona, which she thought was also a medical marijuana state, but isn't.

She was roughly and unfairly removed from my home to the county jail downtown where she spent a truly miserable week with no contact from you whatsoever. The paperwork was filled with inaccuracies, and further moves by her CCO, Jeremy Praven in West Seattle, seem also to be filled with fabrications and are utterly unworthy of any decent government.

The Cover-Up

Photo: The Associated Press
Eldon Vail "leads" the WA DOC by lying and covering up the misdeeds of his subordinates
​When Vail finally responded -- nearly three months later, on February 20, 2009 -- the DOC was still refusing to release the falsified document to Parkins, and, as revealed by Rosenberg's investigative reporting, Vail attempted to cover up what his officer had done:

A review of jail records and discussion with staff indicates that Ms. Merry-Perkins [sic] was booked into King County Jail without any appearance of physical injury. Through a review of her field file, discussion with the assigned CCO and the unit supervisor, there is no evidence to support your statements that the CCOs inaccurately filled out paperwork or fabricated her supervision paperwork from Arizona.

Ten months later, in December 2009, due to the CDC's information request, the document the DOC had been trying to hide finally came to light -- and it proves that Vail lied to cover up for the actions of CCO Jeremy Praven.

Parkins was finally authorized, in January 2009, to use medical marijuana while on probation -- one of only two patients in the state allowed to do so.


Documents Available for Public Inspection

The Cannabis Defense Coalition has uploaded for public inspection all the documents obtained from the Department of Corrections.

The complete PDF files are rather large -- 45 megabytes for installment one, 23 megs for installment two, and 19 megs for installment three. The documents are also split into smaller files for easier download. All of the PDF files are searchable.

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