The Cannabis Defense Coalition has now received the second and third bundles of documents from the Department of Corrections in response to their public disclosure request. Following the first set of documents the CDC received, I posted about how Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office was advising the DOC to take an extremely hard line against the use of medical marijuana for individuals on probation. With the newer sets of documents, even more has been revealed, including a flagrant case of police misconduct by several corrections officers, and an attempt by even the head of the DOC, Eldon Vail, to cover it up.
All three sets of documents released by the DOC have been indexed here and posted here. Within this post, I’ll be referencing the released documents the same way the index does – for example [2:256-258] would be the second document dump, pages 256 to 258.
The case in question involves a woman named Kathy Parkins (who also goes by Kathy Merry-Parkins), a medical marijuana patient from Washington who suffers from fibromyalgia. Parkins was considering moving further down the west coast in 2007. After spending some time in southern California, she decided to make a trip into Arizona to visit a friend and have her car looked at before driving back up to Washington for Thanksgiving. Along the way, on November 14, 2007, she was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint just after entering Arizona (the Border Patrol is allowed to set up checkpoints like this within 100 miles of an international border).
Arizona is not a medical marijuana state, so Parkins was arrested and charged with three marijuana-related counts after a drug-sniffing dog located the less than 1/4 ounce that she had in her possession. So instead of making it back home for Thanksgiving, Parkins spent over three weeks in an Arizona jail. She was finally released back to Washington in January 2008, but had to return several times for court appearances. Parkins was eventually sentenced to probation by the judge in Arizona.
In order for Parkins to spend her probationary period back home in Washington, however, an Interstate Compact was required, an agreement between states to have someone on probation move from one state’s supervision to another. Neither Parkins nor the corrections officers in Arizona, however, understood the extent that the Washington DOC was attempting to fight their own battle against Washington’s medical marijuana law and medical marijuana users.
Upon her release back to Washington, Parkins moved in with a woman named Carla Cole, another authorized medical marijuana patient who says she heard about Parkins’ situation and volunteered to let her stay in her house. On May 21, 2008, hours after Parkins got an updated medical marijuana authorization from Dr. Bethany Rolfe at Sea-Mar Community Center, Community Corrections Officer (CCO) Jeremy Praven and another unidentified CCO conducted a home inspection at Cole’s West Seattle residence and found Cole’s small legal garden of 9 marijuana plants. Praven contacted Seattle Police and then attempted to get guidance from a supervisor, identified as Todd Johnson in an email written a week later by Field Administrator Donta Harper [1:125].
When Seattle Police arrived, according to Cole, they determined that Cole’s small grow operation was completely legal, apologized to Cole for bothering her, and took no actions other than filing a report. After that, a third Corrections Officer from the DOC, Michael Schemnitzer, arrived at Cole’s residence. Referring to both the initial contact from Praven and his partner and the later arrival of Schemnitzer, this is how Cole described what happened in an email complaint sent to the DOC on May 22, 2008, the day after the arrest [1:134]:
While the CCO’s were in my home, one very young man said to me, a retiree in my 60’s, and poor Kathy who is visibily pained and stressed, “I don’t care about her and I don’t care about her problems and I don’t care about you and I don’t care about your problems.”
Then your guys came back with a new guy who chose to speak to Kathy SO RUDELY and with such contempt I just had to add “Please” to his command for her to descend the stairs. This was in my home, and I naturally feel a right to ask people to behave in a civil way there.
Then, he said that because I said “please” he was going to take her in, which he did. I told him his cruelty does not become him and I’m telling you the cruelty of your staff does not become you. To make me feel like I sent my friend to prison because I asked her to be treated with kindness in my home – someone who has committed no real crime at all – is just so mean I’m speechless.
After being arrested by Schemnitzer, Parkins spent the next week in King County Jail without charges or a hearing. Her health deteriorated (as it had while locked up in Arizona as well) as she tried unsuccessfully to get information about her case. Throughout that week, Cole sent several frantic emails to elected officials in Olympia and folks within the DOC, trying to find out what was happening. Two separate Deputy Secretary Correspondence Logs were opened for the case [1:124][1:133]. On the evening of May 27, a full six days after the initial arrest, Cole sent her correspondence to several people in the media [1:130]. The next day, folks in the DOC began looking into the situation, and at 7pm on May 28, Parkins was finally released from custody. In making the decision to release her, Field Administrator Donta Harper conceded in an internal email that the CCOs had no authority to detain her in the first place [1:652]:
A review of the case and of DOC 380.605 Interstate Compact policy indicates that assigned CCO did not have jurisdiction to detain as the Interstate Placement had not been approved and the case had yet been gained whereabouts we agreed to assume supervision responsibilities. The CCO was in the investigation process of which he could have denied based on current behavior. The CCO had also further involved local law enforcement regarding the suspected illegal behavior of which she has not been yet charged.
Harper also followed up the next day by sending a letter to Governor Gregoire’s office admitting fault in the arrest [1:374-375].
It’s important to note that the reason that Praven and Schemnitzer didn’t have the authority to detain her wasn’t because they overreacted to the presence of a legal medical marijuana grow, but because it was up to Arizona officials to make the decision to detain her. At this point, Parkins was still largely unaware of the Washington DOC’s policy towards medical marijuana, which she assumed would be legal for her to use while under probation here. Upon leaving Arizona, she was told that during her probation, the restriction was that she was not allowed to use illegal drugs. As Parkins understood it, medical marijuana is not an illegal drug in Washington if authorized by a doctor. But less than a week before Parkins was arrested, however, the DOC released an Administrative Bulletin [1:156-157] that outlined a new process for people on probation who have authorizations to use medical marijuana. I’ll cover this in more detail later in the post, but the process was set up as little more than a formal way of preventing just about anyone from using medical marijuana while under probation.
Despite being let out of jail, Parkins was still understandably worried that she’d be sent back to Arizona for violating her probation. After several attempts to follow up with officials in both Arizona and Washington, Parkins discovered that a nationwide arrest warrant had been posted for her from Arizona, based upon a denial of the Interstate Compact agreement filled out by Praven. On June 20, 2009, an official in Arizona read Kathy the Interstate Compact paperwork that Praven had filled out after her arrest and sent to Arizona [2:20-22]. It contained a number of things that were completely made up out of thin air. On the same day, Kimberly Pearson of the Washington DOC notified Arizona probation officials to cancel the warrant and that they were rescinding the Interstate Compact denial. Parkins could now stay in Washington and apply to use medical marijuana while here on probation.
Despite numerous attempts, Parkins was never able to obtain a copy of that Interstate Compact denial filled out by Praven (she claims to have been told that it was lost). In fact, she didn’t see it until a few weeks ago, when it was released as part of the second document dump from the DOC. The report contains the following claims [2:20-22]:
Ms. Parkins has no family ties in Washington. She stated that she wanted to live in Washington because of the Marijuana laws.
This is complete fiction. Parkins was born and raised in Washington, has two grown kids in the state, a grandchild who had just been born in Wenatchee while she was in an Arizona courtroom, and 9 aunts and uncles all living in Washington state. On top of that, Parkins insists that she never said anything about wanting to living in Washington because of the marijuana laws.
Ms. Parkins was living with individuals from the Marijuana’s Growers Association of Washington.
Neither Cole nor Parkins has any idea where Praven came up with this. No such organization exists.
She stated that she had a physicians prescription for medical marijuana. Per information received from Interstate, there is a Physicians Statement from Medicann. Per this statement, marijuana is appropriate for her serious medical condition. This document has no validity in the state of Washington.
This part is more misleading than untrue. Parkins’ file from Arizona (which is not in the document dump) contained medical marijuana authorizations from both Washington and California. It’s true that she also had a Medicann card from California, and that it’s not valid in the state of Washington, but Praven appears to have ignored the authorization from Washington in order to write this. Parkins also claims that she offered to show the officers the updated Washington authorization that she’d received earlier that day, but they weren’t interested.
With all of this information now public, there’s no ambiguity to what occurred on May 21, 2008. CCOs Jeremy Praven and Michael Schemnitzer improperly arrested Parkins and then Praven filed a report with several things completely made up or intentionally misleading in an attempt to have her sent back to Arizona – a state where she has no family and has never lived in – to serve out her probation.
Even after the arrest and the discovery that her CCO lied about her case to officials in Arizona, Parkins still believed that once her doctor filed the necessary paperwork to certify her as a medical marijuana patient, everything would be taken care of. On July 23, 2008, two months after her arrest, that hopefulness bumped up against the reality of the DOC, as they denied her request to use the medicine that she’d been using for years – legally – before her arrest.
Without going too far into the details of the process that the DOC put into place earlier that year for handling medical marijuana requests, the official intent was to separate out valid medical marijuana users from addicts and others who were getting authorizations from shady doctors. In reality, the physician they put in charge of approving or denying the requests, Dr. Steve Hammond, considered any doctor who recommended medical marijuana a phony doctor. In fact, his animosity towards medical marijuana was so extreme, it extended to Marinol, the completely legal THC substitute medication that works just as well as the plant itself for a percentage of medical marijuana users. He even asserted in an email exchange from March 2009 [2:458-459] that the DOC had the right to overrule a doctor who prescribed Marinol to a terminal cancer patient unless they could confirm that the patient was going through chemotherapy at the time. Unlike the loophole that the Attorney General’s office found regarding medical marijuana, what Hammond suggested the DOC do in that email thread (prevent a probationer from taking a prescribed medication) is completely illegal. Fortunately, he was overruled internally and the DOC doesn’t appear to have crossed that line (although that’s something I hope to explore in a later post).
The entire situation had become surreal. A person who broke a law in Arizona – for something that’s completely legal here – was now being harassed for engaging in that legal activity, despite the fact that even the officials in Arizona seemed indifferent to her medical marijuana use while she was back in Washington. Whatever justification the DOC may have had to overrule certain people’s rights to use a medicine recommended to them by their doctor, it’s hard to fathom how they could justify denying it for a longtime medical marijuana user who only ended up on probation because she was arrested for it in a non-medical marijuana state. At this point, it’s clear that the DOC was denying medical marijuana use based upon an open hostility towards the voter-approved law rather than for any genuine attempt to weed out the people just cynically trying to get high while on probation.
Following the denial of Parkins’ request to use medical marijuana, Praven once again sent the partially fictional Interstate Compact denial to Arizona. Her Corrections Officer from Arizona, Susan Huntzinger, confirmed to me that they only had one denial document, so it appears that Praven just re-sent his previous report – with none of the false claims corrected. At this point, the protocol for dealing with her case started to become even more confusing. The appeal process for those who’d been denied wasn’t fully established, so it wasn’t clear whether she would need approval from Arizona for her appeal, or if she could just submit it herself. By the end of the summer, Parkins was concerned enough for her ability to stay in Washington that she moved out of Cole’s house and in with her son and his girlfriend.
Cole, however, remained furious over the way Parkins was treated and demanded that the CCO’s involved in her arrest be reprimanded for their behavior during and after the arrest. After several failed attempts, she decided to send a letter directly to the head of the DOC, Eldon Vail, who was appointed by Governor Gregoire to lead the agency at the beginning of 2008. On December 3, 2008, she wrote [2:450-451]:
This past May a recent tenant and friendly acquaintance who, like me, is authorized in Washington to use marijuana medicinally, was visited here by your Community Corrections Officers. The friend, [Kathy Parkins] is on an interstate compact probation from Arizona, which she thought was also a medical marijuana state, but isn’t.
She was roughly and unfairly removed from my home to the county jail downtown where she spent a truly miserable week with no contact from you whatsoever. The paperwork was filled with inaccuracies, and further moves by her CCO, Jeremy Praven in West Seattle, seem also to be filled with fabrications and are utterly unworthy of any decent government.
Nearly three months later, on February 20, 2009, Vail finally replied to Cole. At the time, the DOC was still refusing to release the falsified report to Parkins, and Vail attempted to cover up what his officer had done:
A review of jail records and discussion with staff indicates that Ms. Merry-Perkins [sic] was booked into King County Jail without any appearance of physical injury. Through a review of her field file, discussion with the assigned CCO and the unit supervisor, there is no evidence to support your statements that the CCOs inaccurately filled out paperwork or fabricated her supervision paperwork from Arizona.
Vail studied this case so thoroughly that he misspelled Parkins’ last name throughout the letter.
Ten months later, in December 2009, the second document dump from the DOC finally revealed the document that they’d been trying to hide the entire time – and it proves that Vail lied to cover up for the actions of CCO Jeremy Praven. Cole has since sent another letter to Vail asking for an explanation, but has yet to receive a reply. I attempted to interview folks still within the DOC to find out if Praven or Schemnitzer were ever reprimanded internally, but after initially saying that they would set up an interview for me, they failed to follow-up.
Parkins is currently finishing up her probation and searching for a lawyer to look into her case. After filing an appeal of her initial rejection, she was eventually cleared to use medical marijuana in January 2009. She’s one of only two people who have been allowed to do so, but it’s not clear what separated her case from the others, as there are dozens – including at least one person with AIDS, another who was paralyzed in a car accident – who were denied the use of medical marijuana, even with physician authorizations. This is a topic I hope to cover in a later post.