• Tag Archives Michigan
  • What life is like after police ransack your house and take ‘every belonging’ — then the charges are dropped

    A self-described Michigan “soccer mom” who had “every belonging” taken from her family in a 2014 drug raid has been cleared of all criminal charges, 19 months after heavily armed drug task force members ransacked her home and her business. But in many ways, her ordeal is only beginning.

    Annette Shattuck and her husband, Dale, had been facing felony charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession with intent to manufacture marijuana and maintaining a drug house. But last month, Michigan Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly threw out all criminal complaints filed against the Shattucks “on the grounds of entrapment by estoppel,”according to court filings. Entrapment by estoppel occurs when a government official leads a defendant to believe that their conduct is permissible under the law.

    In 2014, the Shattucks were starting up a marijuana dispensary under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. They worked to ensure every last detail was in full compliance with the law as they understood it: They obtained the permission of the landlord of the building where the dispensary, called the DNA Wellness Center, was to be housed. They went to local planning commission meetings to obtain the proper permits and licenses. They discussed business hours, security measures and even signage requirements with the planning commission.

    The town building inspector checked the property and approved the signage. The chairman of the planning commission publicly thanked the Shattucks for working within the allowed legal framework. According to court documents, the Shattucks even went so far as to call the local sheriff’s Drug Task Force to invite them to inspect the property and verify their compliance with the law.

    “We really went above and beyond,” Annette Shattuck said in an interview. “We asked for help. We went out of our way to make sure that everything was legit.”

    But the Task Force never inspected the property. Instead, acting on an anonymous tip that marijuana was being sold at the location, agents of the St. Clair County Drug Task Force conducted a number of “controlled buys,” where informants with medical marijuana cards entered the dispensary and purchased marijuana under the guise of medical use. That gave them enough probable cause to execute a raid.

    Michigan’s existing voter-approved medical marijuana law doesn’t address the legal status of dispensaries, leaving room for conflicting interpretations. The Shattucks’ case is an example of what some drug policy experts say are the shortcomings of writing drug policy via ballot initiative. A more carefully considered piece of legislation may have clarified the gray areas that led to the raid on the Shattucks’ home and business, for instance.

     Technically, Shattuck’s dispensary should not have been approved by the town planning commission, because the law does not provide for selling marijuana in dispensaries, Guilliat said. “I think the township probably thought they were doing the right thing, without knowing what the law says,” he added.

    On July 28, 2014 — not long after the couple reached out to them to perform a compliance check — task force agents raided both the dispensary and the Shattucks’ home. In addition to charging the Shattucks with a variety of marijuana-related drug crimes, they took a lawnmower, a bicycle, their daughter’s birthday money, their marriage certificate and numerous other belongings, according to Annette Shattuck’s testimony before the Michigan House last year.

    But Judge Daniel Kelly ruled last month that, because the town planning commission had signed off on the dispensary, and because the Shattucks “would not have called [the Drug Task Force] and invited law enforcement to their compassion center for an inspection unless [they] believed in good faith” that they were operating within the bounds of the law, “basic principles of due process preclude prosecution in this case.” In short, the government can’t prosecute you for operating an “illegal” business if another arm of government has given you the green light on it.

    Annette Shattuck says “it’s beyond exciting” to have the criminal charges cleared. But the tough work of getting her forfeited property back has only just begun.

    Under asset forfeiture laws, police are allowed to seize and keep property suspected of involvement in a crime, regardless of whether the property’s owners are ever convicted — or even charged, in many cases. Michigan’s laws are particularly skewed against property owners, according a 2015 report from the Institute for Justice. The nonprofit civil liberties law firm gave Michigan a D- on its forfeiture laws, citing “poor protections for innocent property owners” and policies that allow police to keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, creating a profit motive for seizing belongings.

    Annette Shattuck says that since the charges have been dismissed, the Drug Task Force has returned some of her property. But much of it is damaged. Electronic items are missing power cords and remotes. Her and her husband’s phones were smashed. They returned her husband’s guns and the safe he stored it in, but they didn’t return the key. Two of the kids’ insurance cards are missing. Shattuck says her marriage and birth certificates haven’t been returned, and since the Task Force does not itemize seized documents in its paperwork, it has no record of taking them in the first place.

    “We had plans to get the property back and sell a lot of it to pay for legal fees,” she said. “But now we can’t.”

    Sheriff Tim Donnellon, who oversees the drug task force involved in the raid, said his office has “no vendetta” against the Shattucks, and that if any items or components are missing from their returned property, it wasn’t intentional. He said the Shattucks should get in touch with the police supervisors overseeing the return. “We’ll make things right for her,” he added.

    Donnellon agrees with Guilliat, the assistant prosecutor, that murky statute language has made things difficult, not only for medical marijuana patients and caregivers but for law enforcement officials as well. “Medical marijuana in Michigan is a nightmare,” he said in an interview. “It’s really shifting sand. It changes continually. It’s really an Achilles heel for law enforcement.”

    The tension between strict federal prohibition and state-level legalization is likely only to grow as more states consider changing their marijuana laws this year. “Medical marijuana policy in the United States is putting Americans at risk,” the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak warned last week. Medical marijuana patients are often “victimized by an unjust, arbitrary, and downright harmful system that hinders access to a clinically proven medical benefit,” according to Hudak.

    The Shattuck family has experienced this harm first-hand. Beyond the financial burden, the raids have left the family with considerable emotional trauma as well. When the task force raided her home, Shattuck’s mother was  babysitting her four children, who were all under age 10 at the time. “During the dynamic entry, armed DTF officers wearing ski masks separated the children from their grandmother at gunpoint, shouting at her to get the dog under control or they would shoot it,” a court briefing filed by the Shattucks’ lawyer alleges. “The deputies kept the children lined up on the couch at gunpoint, refusing even to remove their masks to help calm the kids.”

    Donnellon called this a “misrepresentation of the incident.” During raids like this, he says, it’s standard for officers to enter with weapons drawn. “If you come in at a dynamic entry raid, you’re going to aim that gun at the parents. Children are going to be sat at a couch. There’s absolutely no way in hell would we point a gun at child on a couch,” he said in an interview.

    He added that his officers typically don’t wear ski masks, either. “These guys on the SWAT teams are dads, too,” he said.

    After the raid, the officers left devastation in their wake, according to the family’s account.

    They had Annette’s lingerie strewn everywhere,” Annette Shattuck’s mother said in the briefing. “From the ceiling fan… Boxes and bags of food had been pulled from the cabinets and stepped on with their big boots.

    The description goes on: “They took everything, the birth certificates, the adoption papers. There was nothing that they didn’t destroy, they ripped off facings of the cabinets, every picture was off the wall.”

    Sheriff Donnellon has previously disputed the Shattucks’ characterization of the raid, saying that it wasn’t as confrontational or disruptive as the Shattucks or their lawyer presented it.

    Now, “if my kids are outside in my yard, they run into my house if they see a police officer,” Shattuck said. “They’re petrified.” Her 10-year-old daughter has been in counseling for a year and a half.

    The pending charges had made it difficult for the Shattucks to find work. Annette’s husband Dale had worked in construction before starting up the dispensary. But since the police seized all his tools, he had difficulty returning to his old line of work. They turned to borrowing money from friends and family. “We owe a lot of people a lot of money,” Shattuck said. “We depended on the kindness of relatives. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”

    Even though all charges against her have been dropped, “I’m still not innocent in the perception of the community,” she said. She recently tried to volunteer at an event at her children’s school. But school officials told her that simply being charged with a drug felony was enough to bar her from volunteering there.

    Full article: What life is like after police ransack your house and take ‘every belonging’ — then the charges are dropped – The Washington Post

  • 1980s computer controls GRPS heat and AC

    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 30-year-old computer that has run day and night for decades is what controls the heat and air conditioning at 19 Grand Rapids Public Schools.

    The Commodore Amiga was new to GRPS in the early 1980s and it has been working tirelessly ever since. GRPS Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hopkins said that the computer was purchased with money from an energy bond in the 1980s. It replaced a computer that was “about the size of a refrigerator.”

    The computer is responsible for turning the heat and the air conditioners on and off for 19 school buildings.

    “The system controls the start/stop of boilers, the start/stop of fans, pumps, [it] monitors space temperatures, and so on,” Hopkins explained.

    A Kentwood High School student programmed it when it was installed in the 1980s. Whenever the district has a problem with it, they go back to the original programmer who still lives in the area.

    Parts for the computer are difficult to find, Hopkins said. It is on its second mouse and third monitor.

    “It’s a very unique product. It operates on a 1200-bit modem,” said Hopkins. “How it runs, the software that it’s running, is unique to Commodore.”

    Hopkins said the system runs on a radio frequency that sends a signal to school buildings, which reply within a matter of seconds with the status of each building. The only problem is that the computer operates on the same frequency as some of the walkie-talkies used by the maintenance department.

    “Because they share the same frequency as our maintenance communications radios and operations maintenance radios — it depends on what we’re doing — yes, they do interfere,” Hopkins said.

    If that happens, “we have to clear the radio and get everyone off of it for up to 15 minutes.”

    If the computer stopped working tomorrow, a staff person would have to turn each building’s climate control systems on and off by hand.

    A new, more current system would cost between $1.5 and 2 million. If voters pass a $175 million bond proposal in November, the computer is on the list of things to be replaced.

    Source: 1980s computer controls GRPS heat and AC

  • GOP Controlled Michigan Tax Commission Says Tax Man Can Enter Your Home Without Consent

    Municipalities across Michigan have begun demanding access to the inside of private homes for inspection to see if any improvements had been made. Local tax assessors are claiming the Michigan Tax Commission, a government entity under the control of the Michigan Department of Treasury, has given them the authority to do so. In 2010, the tax commission sent all municipal tax assessors a memo stating, “local units are encouraged to annually inspect a minimum of 20 percent of the parcels each year.”

    Homeowners need to be warned that denying the local assessor access to the inside of your home could could be costly and could result in higher taxes.

    via GOP Controlled Michigan Tax Commission Says Tax Man Can Enter Your Home Without Consent.