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Police Raided Their Home and Business, Seized Their Money, and Nearly Ruined Their Lives Over Some Weed

After two years of fighting in court, a California couple is getting back $53,000 that was seized from them through asset forfeiture.

Paul and Maricel Fullerton with their children // courtesy of the FullertonsPaul and Maricel Fullerton with their children // courtesy of the FullertonsWhen police officers raided the home and business of Paul and Maricel Fullerton and held the Woodland, California, couple at gunpoint in February 2016, they brought back a big haul.

A local multi-agency narcotics task force seized $55,000 from the Fullertons, along with 22 pounds of processed marijuana and several firearms. It had all the appearances of a major drug bust, except for the targets: a retired fire captain and a hospice nurse.

Now, after two years of protracted court proceedings that nearly ruined the Fullertons' lives and careers, and briefly led to their separation from their child, Yolo County law enforcement will walk away with around $2,000, split between several agencies, and a misdemeanor marijuana conviction and to show for its efforts.

The Yolo County District Attorney finalized a settlement on Monday to return $53,000 that the Yolo Narcotics Enforcement Team (YONET) seized from the Fullertons. The Fullertons mostly prevailed, and all it cost them was around $100,000 in legal fees, fines, and other costs.

The Fullerton's case was only one of more than 3,000 asset forfeiture cases initiated in California in 2016, according to an annual report by the state attorney general, but it's a small example of both how the drug war is prosecuted and how it is changing: In the middle of the Fullerton's case, California voters decided that the sort of offense that led heavily armed YONET agents to raid the Fullertons' home and business should instead be treated as a minor nuisance or business license violation.

"After this long time period, yeah, I'm relieved, but I'm still angry inside most of all, because I know that there's a system that's basically broken," says Fullerton, 46, of Woodland, California. "And if an honest, hardworking, disabled fire captain can get rolled up in these cogs of injustice, to me it isn't really over."

Fullerton was a firefighter for 25 years until an on-the-job spinal cord injury ended his career and left him with 12 screws and three metal plates in his neck. He found relief from prescription pain pills through medical marijuana. In 2012 he opened up his own hydroponics store, Lil' Shop of Growers, in Woodland and joined a local medical marijuana collective.

But his new business didn't sit well with local law enforcement, which began investigating the former fire captain after allegedly receiving a tip that he was selling large amounts of marijuana out of his store.

Local police claim Fullerton gave 1.7 grams of marijuana—about a joint-and-a-half—to an undercover officer and later agreed to sell the informant more marijuana for $300. Video evidence of the transactions in hand, YONET agents raided Fullerton's store and home on Feb. 18, 2016.

Fullerton had worked for decades alongside local police and says he, his wife, and his business had a good reputation in town. In 2008, a "Heroes Award Luncheon" put on by the Yolo County Chapter of the American Red Cross recognized Fullerton and three other UC Davis firefighters for their role in saving a man's life.

But in 2016 he ended up splayed on the ground, looking up the barrel of an assault rifle being leveled at him by a masked police officer.

Yolo County prosecutors hit both Paul and Maricel Fullerton with a host of felony charges including marijuana sales, possession of marijuana for sales, cultivation of marijuana, importation of a large-capacity rifle magazine, and child endangerment.

"Maricel was prosecuted despite having been told by officers that this wasn't about her, because it gave them more leverage over Paul," Ashley Bargenquast, the Fullertons' lawyer in their civil forfeiture case, says. "It was really a fairly ugly prosecution that demonstrates some of the more political and more manipulative patterns of investigations."

Worse, because of the child endangerment charge, the Fullertons' daughter was temporarily placed in protective custody.

"They took my daughter away and she wasn't allowed to come home for 10 days... I've totally lost my faith. It's scary that they can just wrongfully charge people," Maricel Fullerton told The Daily Democrat. "I'm in constant fear of what's going to happen to us—to my daughter."

The Fullertons dispute nearly every part of the law enforcement narrative. Fullerton says the police informant baited him with a sob story about a sick friend. He attempted to just give the marijuana to the informant, who insisted on shoving money into his hand. He also says he put that money in a fireman's boot on the desk, which he uses to collect cash to donate to charity.

The Fullertons also say the gun safe in their house was unlocked—part of the justification for the child endangerment charge—because police opened it.

Prosecutors dropped the gun charges after it was shown they were legally owned, and while the case was dragging on, California voters approved a ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana. The ballot measure also transformed the Fullertons' marijuana charges into misdemeanor offenses.

As part of a plea deal, Paul Fullerton pleaded no contest to misdemeanor possession of marijuana for sales and sale of marijuana. All remaining felony charges, including those against Maricel, were dropped. Fullerton maintains he did nothing wrong and only took the deal to make the rest of the charges go away.

It was far from the end of their troubles, though.

Fullerton had to wear an ankle bracelet for 90 days, but part of the sheriff's department conditions included not using marijuana. Instead of returning to prescription pills, Fullerton found a private monitoring company that would allow him to continue smoking marijuana, but he had to drive two hours each way to Oakland to get to his regular appointments and pay $4,800 for the pleasure.

Despite the charges against Maricel Fullerton being dropped, the case also impacted her career as a vocational nurse. Maricel was banned from working in any state-licensed facilities after a YONET officer appeared at her administrative hearing and testified against her.

And there was still the matter of the Fullertons' money, which had been seized through civil asset forfeiture—a practice that allows police and prosecutors to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner isn't convicted or even charged with a crime.

"They seized every single asset that I had," Fullerton says. "Every single cent. I had to borrow money from my mom to get medication for my spinal injury."

To get their cash back, the Fullertons had to prove in court that the money was not connected to drug activity. They eventually were able to account for $53,000 out of the $55,000 seized. The remaining $2,000, they say, was partly vacation savings and partly from the private sale of some used car parts, but they agreed to settle with the D.A.

California passed an asset forfeiture reform bill in 2016 requiring law enforcement to obtain a criminal conviction in forfeiture cases under $40,000. It also requires more detailed annual reporting from the state attorney general's office on forfeiture activities.

However, the numbers for Yolo County don't appear in the attorney general's latest report. Local district attorneys and police departments are not required to participate in the report, and the Yolo County D.A. was one of eight across California that chose not to.

Bargenquast, whose firm, Tully & Weiss, has handled numerous similar marijuana cases, says the attitude among California law enforcement about marijuana is changing, but more education and training is needed.

"We're slowly coming into the paradigm where business shortcomings are treated as business shortcomings, not cartel activity, but baby steps," she says.

"You just have way too many individuals who remember being called heroes and good ol' boys for clearing cartels and irresponsible grows out of national forests, and now they are treating patients or licensees the same way instead of acknowledging they're the citizens they're sworn to protect and serve," Bargenquast continued.

The Yolo County District Attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment. However, Yolo County prosecutor Amanda Zambor told the Davis Enterprise: "After a lengthy financial investigation we were only able to meet our burden of proof on a portion of the money being illegally obtained. In these cases it is often challenging to follow the money trail when there are numerous businesses with poor financial record keeping."

The Fullertons are still seeking the return of their personal electronics, firearms, and 22 pounds of marijuana from the collective Fullerton belongs to, according to the Enterprise.

In the meantime, Fullerton says Lil' Shop of Growers is still up and running, and in fact doing better than ever, although they are still digging themselves out of a hole two years later. But it permanently affected how the Fullertons thought about law enforcement.

"It ruined my whole trust with police officers," Fullerton says. "My daughter is eight now, and she is scared of police officers now. I don't want my daughter to be scared of police officers, you know? It's just a very disheartening."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul Fullerton

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is still big money to be had in some states legalizing weed and it still being unconstitutionally illegal by federal law

  • Hank Phillips||

    At the borders where those states meet the more nationalsocialist states, that is particularly true. Canadians are in for another windfall like the one they enjoyed from 1919 through 1933. Not a single Canadian bank failed during the banking panics of Amerika's Great Depression.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    the more nationalsocialist states

    The what now?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Any police officer who favors asset forfeiture has lost any right he (or she) might ever have had to be surprised if the public distrusts cops.

  • perlchpr||

    ++

  • croaker||

    He's also lost the right to be considered anything but woodchipper fodder.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Now, now. You KNOW that ruins the blades!

  • markm23||

    But it's worth it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You only litigate once.

  • AZ Gunowner||

    "Any police officer who favors asset forfeiture has lost any right he (or she) might ever have had to be surprised if the public distrusts cops."

    Any cop with a soul would understand that.

    So, yeah, that will keep the % down.

  • perlchpr||

    Instead of returning to prescription pills, Fullerton went through a private company for his ankle bracelet

    What is this sentence even supposed to mean?

  • perlchpr||

    "My daughter is eight now, and she is scared of police officers now."

    Well, I guess the exercise wasn't a complete waste then. The daughter got something very valuable from the experience.

  • croaker||

    That cops are generally scum? Too true.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Political parties whose laws initiate aggression against the victimless simply have to attract scum. Who else would murder people to enforce them?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have to say that this hasn't been my experience. I'm over 50. I spent a lot of my youth with long hair and a beard. In all my life I have had ONE unpleasant interaction with a cop. I was quietly told (by other cops on the same force) that his own department loathed him and was getting rid of his as fast as the Police Union would let them. He was evidently a lawsuit magnet, in addition to being broadly disliked by his fellow officers.

    But the way the overall cop culture has been going for quite a while encourages egomania, insularity, and a host of other problems.

    The Drug War needs to go. Nothing it has accomplished (damned little, from what I can tell) in any way compensates for the erosion of civil liberties it has caused.

  • Rossami||

    re: "What is this sentence even supposed to mean?"

    Prior in the article, Fullerton is reported to have switched to medical marijuana to get away from prescription pain pills. The story doesn't say whether it's because they didn't work, addiction risk, other. But either way, he didn't want to use them anymore. Immediately prior to the sentence you quote, the "sheriff's department conditions [for use of a county-supplied ankle bracelet] included not using marijuana". Apparently, therefore, their local rules allow you to submit to either monitoring by the sheriff's department (free but subject to arbitrary conditions at the whim of the sheriff) or monitoring by a private company. Presumably, both the sheriff's dept and the private company make the required reports to the court about the subjects' whereabouts, etc.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Why do people still live in Commifornia?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Seriously? The out of control growth of petty licensing regulations makes it hard for people in a trade like Plumbing (or Hairdressing, or dozens of other trades) to move there livelihood. It's easier in white collar occupations, but a lot of those people LIKE living in one of the Liberal Whackado areas of the country.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If they LIKE living there, there should be no major complaints.

  • tpaine||

    Go on...

  • Curly4||

    Paul Fullerton is correct in his statement that is the power of the police investigation. Well almost correct that is, By this time it was no longer a police investigation but now it belongs to the DA. By the time the DA came to the conclusion that he need to Cover His A** he offered the reduced charge(s). The D A can do this because the D A is the one that determines what crimes gets prosecuted and which one does not and to what degree the prosecution will be carried out.

  • Think It Through||

    Yolo County? Was that recently renamed?

  • EscherEnigma||

    Nope.

  • Rockabilly||

    Fuck the Police

    Fuck the government

    Fuck the war on drugs

    Fuck all of you ass hole ass hats like democrat progressive socialists and communists who want to give the fucking government even more fucking power..You ass hat ass holes are one of the fucking reasons for the size and scope of the fucking beast.

  • Huh18?||

    Tell us how you feel Rock.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Funny how feds with guns grabbing assets out of homes, banks and brokerages has long been a leading indicator for economic collapse and depression since 1920. Herbert Hoover's "new race" crackdowns as of March 1929, Reagan-Bush 1987 asset-forfeiture grabs, Clinton's September 1998 et seq. prohibitionist asset forfeiture initiatives, the Bush "faith-based" asset-forfeiture collapse and even the later Flash Crashes of May 6, 2010 and March 18, 2015 all lift the curtain of causality to show inconvenient connections between prohibitionist initiation of force and the onset of market collapse. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," whispers the Ministry of Truth.

  • BYODB||

    Come the fuck on, Yolo County? I don't know what to believe now...

  • BYODB||


    Fullerton maintains he did nothing wrong and only took the deal to make the rest of the charges go away.

    All too believable when they can pile on so many charges for a joint, a kid, and some legal firearms.

  • crufus||

    Just another case of 99% of cops making the other 1% look bad.

  • Duke of url||

    You misspelled 0.000001.

  • majil||

    Another perfect example of why to cheer when a cop is shot in the face

  • Duke of url||

    Yolo county, there's a name I haven't thought of in while.
    *takes long drag of cigarette*
    I passed through there many years ago.
    I was robbed by a retard named officer Davis.
    He stole everything of value I had, and kidnapped me for ransom. He justified this by alleging that I possessed .4 gram of peyote.
    I didn't even know what that was at the time.
    What I did possess, ( as gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry would prove), was what I told that dumb fuck control freak all along. Greasy pizza toppings from left over pizza.
    Unfortunately, I spent years, thousands of dollars, time off of work and away from sports practice, and many miles of unnecessary travel to court dates, before my case was dropped.
    At every step, everyone in the 'justice ' system begged, pleaded, threatened and demanded that I take a plea deal.
    I probably should have, and don't disparage the innocent that do.
    But I had had my libertarian moment, and tenaciously held out.
    I was factually innocent
    I have no doubt these evil bastards consider themselves 'heros' for committing an armed home invasion robbery and kidnapping.
    I know that these cretins will enjoy a fat retirement from 'serving' the public, often by raping them.
    But I'd like to think there is a special place in hell for Amanda Zambor, and the entire YONET crime gang.

  • LeaveTrumpAloneLiberal-tarian||

    Ehhh... what in libertarian hell does this have to do with praising Trump or condemning the campaigns against him waged by SJW, the FBI, the CIA, the DOJ, and the CNN.

    This story is totally irrelevant to the libertarian cause— which boils down to how Trump gets to put two doctrinaire libertarians on the Supreme Court. I mean, what a victory!

  • Rob Misek||

    Medical marijuana is a misnomer.

    While there may be some legitimate analgesic properties the "card" is anything but medical. Medicine is carefully produced and prescribed in doses. Marijuana comes in many strengths and the psychotic effects vary greatly. It stays in the brain for months.

    It would be like giving people opioid cards letting them regulate the strength and potency themselves. That isn't medicine, it is simply access.

    So the misnomer "medical marijuana" is simply the gateway to the legalization of a psychotic hallucinogen that causes mental illness. There will be casualties.

  • perlchpr||

    a psychotic hallucinogen that causes mental illness

    Well, it's good to see that DARE is still churning out ludicrous propaganda.

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    People are still listening to cops that barely graduated high school for medical and scientific advice.

  • EscherEnigma||

    That narrow view of "medicine" excludes most of human history.

    Put simply, "medicine" encompasses both an Aspirin tablet and "chew on the bark of the willow tree". Some forms of application may be more accurate and precise, but that doesn't mean other methods aren't "medicine".

    That said, one major reason why many prefer smoking medical marijuana to getting pills or edibles? It's damn-near impossible to overdose by smoking it. With pills or edibles, you can. But smoking? the LD-50 can't be reached that way.

  • emmanuel||

    "...now they are treating patients or licensees the same way instead of acknowledging they're the citizens they're sworn to protect and serve..."

    Police are NOT sworn to "protect and serve". Police enforce the law ONLY. They do not protect the public. They do not serve the public. They enforce the law ONLY.

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    This would be racketeering, if the people committing the offenses didn't have badges.

    I wonder if there is any civil action possible against the ex-cop companies that are training law enforcement how to extort more money from the public?

  • Rock Lobster||

    But how can this be??? In the utopia that is The Peoples' Republic of California, no less!

    "It ruined my whole trust with police officers," Fullerton says. "My daughter is eight now, and she is scared of police officers now. I don't want my daughter to be scared of police officers, you know? It's just a very disheartening."

    For $100,000 in legal fees, Alex: Police officers are armed agents of the _________?

    Think it through, former Fire Captain Fullerton (shout out to that righteous CalPERS pension!). If you have two brain cells to rub together and are not completely dishonest, you really know who to distrust. The boys in blue are just the tip of the iceberg.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Rule of Law

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Unconstitutional Rule of Law that is.

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