By: Terrie Best and Eugene Davidovich
Co-defendants Jason and Sarine Gastrich, recent victims of Bonnie Dumanis’ fierce fight to eradicate medical marijuana in San Diego, were in court this week for their preliminary examination in Judge Hanoian’s courtroom.
On the prosecution side was Deputy DA Ramin Tohidi and for the defense on behalf of Sarine was Public Defender Donald Cary and attorneys for Jason were Lance Rogers and Nathan Shaman.
The first witness called to testify for the DA’s office was Special Agent Michelle Sarubbi who was the lead agent in the eight person swat-style raid executed on the Gastrich residence earlier this year. The raid which apparently stemmed from a neighbor complaining of ‘marijuana smell’, led to felony charges of possession of marijuana for sale, manufacturing and child endangerment (due to the mere presence of their daughter at their home).
Agent Sarubbi, a U.S. Forestry Agent, cross-deputized as a Narcotics Task Force (NTF) operative gave testimony of breaking through the couple’s door with guns drawn despite the presence of a young child. Other disturbing testimony by Agent Sarubbi suggested that officers at the scene interrogated the youngster telling the eight year old child that her parents were ‘bad’. The interrogation of the eight year old girl led the officers to find keys to the couple’s secured legal medical marijuana cultivation effort.
While on the stand, Sarubbi explained that this raid was part of “Operation Green Dope”, the new and improved version of “Operation Green Rx” where Dumanis authorized countless raids and arrests of sick and dying patients. Sarubbi explained that agents from “Team 9” were involved in this eradication effort.
Also testifying for the prosecution that day was the County’s eradication expert, Deputy Sheriff Steve Reed, who asserted that all marijuana including medical was illegal. He went on to further explain that as far as he was concerned all dispensaries were illegal as well. He explained that he was qualified to make this determination in light of the expert training he received from the DEA as well as a publicly funded local drug prevention initiative called Health Advocates Rejecting Marijuana (HARM).
Of the multiple witnesses for the defense, who were prepared to bring testimony of the legal collective cultivation effort and their participation in it, only one took the stand. The number of willing witnesses dwindled down to one, as witnessed by San Diego Americans for Safe Access, after DA Tohidi ordered that counsel be assigned to the witnesses and each witness told by their new attorneys that they should not testify and should plead the 5th. This is the latest tactic by the DA in trying medical cannabis cases; warnings that patient witnesses to these cases are subject to prosecution, based on their testimony.
The result of this witness intimidation tactic was the Judge’s ruling that bound the case over for trial.
On Friday June 24th in Department 47, a Motion to Suppress Evidence will be heard at 10:00am. If this fails, the Gastrichs will be arraigned at 1:30 on July 7th in Department 11 at which time the next hearings leading up to trial will be scheduled.