Three Santa Ana, California police officers are suing their own department after video footage that allegedly shows them eating marijuana edibles during a raid emerged. The officers, who were suspended, argue that the video violated their privacy.
The officers were part of a team that raided an illegal marijuana dispensary, the Sky High Collective, on May 26 in Orange County, California.
Filed in Orange County Superior Court by the three unidentified police officers and their union, the lawsuit seeks to prevent the department’s internal affairs investigators from using the video as they sort out what happened during the May raid.
The lawyer for the dispensary, Matthew Pappas, provided the Orange County Register and Santa Ana police with two versions of the raid footage: a highlight reel with subtitles and what he said are unedited video clips.
Pappas said the lawsuit was ironic as police routinely use surveillance camera video against suspects.
“It’s pretty pathetic for police to say if we don’t like something that it can’t be used as evidence,” Pappas told the Orange County Register. “They knew they were on video….Just because they missed one camera doesn’t make it illegal.”
The lawsuit argues that the video doesn’t paint a fair version of events and claims the footage shouldn’t be used as evidence because, among other things, the police didn’t know they were on camera.
In one of the shortened video clips, armed Santa Ana police officers, some wearing masks, are seen breaking through the front door of the 17th Street dispensary and ordering at least half a dozen customers to the floor.
After entering the building, police are seen dismantling video cameras inside the store. What they didn’t know was that several cameras continued to film during the raid.
“All police personnel present had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded and the undercover officers, feeling that they were safe to do so, removed their masks,” says the suit.
The cops complained that the dispensary never got their permission to record them as they searched the premises.
Under California law, “all parties to a confidential communication” must consent to being recorded. However, that rule does not apply when “the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded.” Since the officers argue in their complaint that they believed they had taken down all the cameras, they did not “reasonably expect” their communication to be recorded. That means recording them would have required their consent, the complaint argues.
In a later clip in the video, which Pappas has titled, “Officers eating edibles and playing darts,” a voice can be heard asking, “What flavor?” before an officer is seen unwrapping a small package and putting something in his mouth.
At the time of the raid, Santa Ana city law did not allow for the operation of marijuana dispensaries, the Orange County Register stated.