Death following Michigan raids prompts concerns over police tactics

Sep 03, 2010

Michigan, raid

Earlier this week, Oakland County authorities raided two medical marijuana businesses and several private homes, arresting 15 people and confiscating what was allegedly $750,000 worth of marijuana and equipment. One of the facilities raided, Clinical Relief, is located in Ferndale, Michigan where the City Council voted just two days earlier to lift a moratorium on such businesses.

Now comes news that one of the individuals whose home was raided, 67-year-old Sal Agro, has died of an apparent heart attack. Agro, who recently had hip replacement surgery, and his two sons ran the Clinical Relief facility in Ferndale prior to this week’s raid. Here’s video of Agro recounting the actions of the officers who carried out the raids. According to Agro, the masked officers destroyed portions of his home, pointed a shotgun at his daughter-in-law, and confiscated 20 marijuana plants (he and his wife are each registered patients; under Michigan law, registered patients may possess up to 12 plants each for medical use). Despite all this, Agro claims he was never placed under arrest and was denied any opportunity to view the search warrant until after the raid.

It’s obviously too early to say whether the raid contributed to Agro’s death (though the stress of the raid and arrest of his wife and two children couldn't have helped), but in addition to concerns over how such raids are carried out is the question of why? Michigan voters spoke clearly when 63% – and a majority in every county – approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2008. Also, on election day 2008, Ferndale voters approved a local ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensing. And as I mentioned earlier, the Ferndale City Council had lifted its moratorium on businesses like Clinical Relief’s. Sheriff Bouchard may have hinted at his long-term goals when he opened a press conference to discuss the raids by saying he and prosecutor Jessica Cooper would use the time to “talk about what we think the legislature needs to do.”

One final wrinkle to the story is whether judges have the ability to deny patients access to physician-recommended medicine during the pendency of their trials. Of those arrested earlier this week, some were arraigned in the 51st District where they were denied access to medical marijuana by Judge Richard Kuhn, who likened the situation to drunk driving suspects who are not allowed to drink while on bond. Others were arraigned in the nearby 43rd district where Judge Joseph Longo took no action to deny access to medical marijuana. “They have every right to use whatever medications” their physicians prescribe, Longo told the Detroit Free Press.

I often wonder, would a judge deny access to much more dangerous medications like opioid painkillers to those with prescriptions from their doctors?