Cops Caught on Camera Eating Dispensary's Snack Bars Charged With Theft

Prosecutors say there was "no evidence" the bars contained cannabis.


O.C. Weekly

Yesterday the Orange County District Attorney's Office announced criminal charges against three Santa Ana police officers who were caught by a surveillance camera eating what seemed to be cannabis-infused treats after raiding an unlicensed medical marijuana dispensary last May. Officers Matthew Sontag, Nicole Lynn Quijas, and Jorge Arroyo were each charged with petty theft for taking snacks from the employee break room at Sky High Holistic. The press release from the D.A's office describes the stolen items as "snacks available to staff, including Detour Simple protein bars and Mrs. Thinsters cookies." Sontag was also charged with misdemeanor vandalism for damaging five surveillance cameras by banging them against a shelf, a safe, a cash register, and the corner of a display case.

"While other SAPD personnel ate some protein bars," the press release says, "there is insufficient evidence that they knew the food items belonged to the dispensary and not their fellow officers. There was also no evidence that any SAPD personnel consumed any edible marijuana items available at the dispensary."

O.C Weekly's Nick Schou, who broke the story last June, is skeptical of the latter conclusion:

Right: No evidence whatsoever, other than the fact that the cops were at a pot shop, eating candy bars, and acting high. One is then left with the obvious conclusion that these poor officers are so underpaid that they have no choice but to munch down on pilfered protein bars while on duty. That makes so much more sense.

The officers' defenders initially claimed they were eating protein bars they brought with them, a story contradicted by the surveillance video, in which one officer announces, "There are some good-looking chocolate bars back there." At that point another officer goes off camera and comes back holding a bar that he unwraps and begins to eat. Later he directs another officer (apparently Quijas) to the source of the bars. She goes back there a couple of times, retrieving snacks that she shares with a few other officers.

Last July, Schou noted comments that reinforced the impression that the officers were chowing down on the dispensary's products. "These bars are pretty good," one cop says. "I kinda feel light-headed, though." Later a firefighter enters and says to Quijas, "You guys got that munchies now, huh?" She replies, "Mmm-hmm." The other officers laugh. In retrospect, the cops might have been joking about eating marijuana edibles while eating ordinary (but stolen) snacks, although it's not clear whether their urine or blood was tested to substantiate that explanation.

Sontag, Quijas, and Arroyo are scheduled to be arraigned on April 11. If convicted, Quijas and Arroyo face up to six months in jail and a $400 fine. Sontag faces up to 18 months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

After entering the dispensary, the officers disabled 16 visible surveillance cameras but missed four hidden ones. The D.A.'s office says turning off the cameras was consistent with "investigatory and officer safety protocol." But if the cops had done a more thorough job of eliminating electronic witnesses, their misbehavior never would have come to light.

Recognizing that fact, Sontag, Quijas, and Arroyo asked a judge to suppress the surveillance video, arguing that it violated their right to privacy. An Orange County judge had the good sense to reject that claim.