Ed Bedford 6 p.m., Feb. 22
Veteran sues County, Coronado after children were wrongfully taken because of medical marijuana use
Gulf War veteran Michael Lewis and his family have filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego, the City of Coronado, and several employees with each entity, claiming civil rights violations, battery, false imprisonment and negligence after the County removed Lewis’s two children from his custody for nearly a year over his legal use of medical marijuana.
Courthouse News Service reports that on August 5, 2011, Coronado police received an anonymous tip that Lewis and his wife Lauren Taylor were running an illegal daycare operation and smoking marijuana in front of the children. The couple allowed officers to come into the home and photograph its interior in order to prove that no daycare facility existed, though while searching the property police located Lewis’s marijuana.
“Although the officers found marijuana in the home, Michael Lewis had a medical marijuana recommendation and his use was legal,” the family’s complaint states, noting that Lewis presented officers with his legal recommendation for the use of marijuana due to severe migraine headaches he suffers as a result of chemical exposure while in the military. “The officers then left and wrote a report. In their report, the officers identified marijuana as the only purported 'hazard' in the residence. Neither Lewis nor Taylor were ever criminally prosecuted for the possession and/or use of the marijuana.”
Lewis insists his children were never exposed to his marijuana use in any way.
Three days later, County officials returned to the residence and removed the couple’s two children, four-year-old Cameran and two-year-old Bailey, placing them in the care of the Polinsky Children’s Center, a “temporary emergency shelter of children who must be separated from their families for their own safety,” according to the County’s website.
“The children were there for approximately two weeks without their parents and were no doubt terrified,” states the family’s complaint. “The only allegations against Lewis and Taylor were, essentially, that Lewis legally used marijuana, and police found marijuana in the home . . . there was no reasonable or articulable evidence to suggest that either child was in immediate danger of suffering severe bodily injury or death at the hands of either Lewis or Taylor in the time it would have taken to obtain a protective custody warrant.”
Employees at Polinsky determined that both children were “developmentally on target” and showed no signs of neglect or abuse.
Lewis and Taylor then petitioned County Health and Human Services agent Ian Baxter (a defendant in the suit) for the return of their children, submitting photographs of their clean home, the lockbox in which Lewis kept his marijuana, and a padlocked area where he grew his own marijuana plants. Baxter nonetheless filed an emergency placement petition with juvenile court to keep the family separated, making what the family claims were blatantly fabricated allegations in the process.
“Baxter misled the court by stating that he did not need to conduct any pre-placement preventive services because of the 'emergent nature' of the situation and asserted that Michael and Lauren left their children 'inadequately attended and inadequately supervised' around the marijuana,” continues the complaint. “This statement was totally false, and Baxter knew it, or - even worse - simply didn't care.”
County employees further lied to the court by stating that Lewis’s marijuana use had not been sanctioned by a doctor despite his evidence to the contrary, and that he had substance abuse issues, which were never documented. In February 2012, the County further alleged that Lewis had a mental illness that made him unfit to care for the children.
On August 2, 2012, an appellate court threw out the juvenile court’s rulings, finding that “the record does not support a finding that Lewis' marijuana use or alleged mental illness had any negative impact on the children.”
Five days later, a full 364 days after the children were seized by the County, Cameran and Bailey were allowed to return home.
The family seeks unspecified punitive damages.
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