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Legal Theft, Part II 

A lawsuit against TPD from 420 house owner, moves forward

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Read Legal Theft, Part I

Attorney Vernon Peltz points out two different concerns in Ron Johnson's case: his unfounded arrest and the seizure of money, jewelry, his medical marijuana and more the night of May 10, 2013 (which is what triggered the lawsuit he filed this month on Johnson's behalf), and the attempt of a Pima County prosecutor to prolong the criminal proceedings, despite proof Johnson didn't participate in the shooting or drug transaction that evening.

The felony charges against Johnson were dropped June 2014, not due to the Tucson Police Department officers' alleged unlawful seizure of some of Johnson's property and his arrest, but because this prosecutor, for months, sat on evidence that could have cleared Johnson earlier.

Johnson has the transcript of a police interview with a the person involved in the armed altercation TPD cops responded to that night. In the transcript, a man who hung out at the 420 house from time-to-time, told police that Johnson was asleep in his bedroom when a drug-related transaction and then shooting took place.

"Ron was showing up in court month, after month, and what happened during this time, unbeknownst to everybody, the witness made a very detailed statement with the police and two of the prosecutors detailing his involvement and what had happened, and completely exonerated Ron," says Peltz. "The defense attorney got winds of it ...' How come you had this for so long?' That is precisely why the judge was upset."

Prosecutors, "no matter what they did, no matter how bad it is, they are entitled to complete immunity," he says. If it weren't for this rule, the prosecutor, who shall remain nameless, would have been sued for holding back key evidence, according to Peltz.

"Police officers are entitled to qualified immunity, a step down from absolute immunity," he says, which means if there is an obvious violation against a person, there's grounds for a lawsuit.

The man's testimony wasn't the only thing that pointed to Johnson's innocence in the whole thing.

In a report dated June 7, 2013, there is a description of what went down that evening and there is no mention of Johnson participating, aside from standing in the front porch without a shirt on.

(In "Legal Theft, Part I: Owner of 420 House files a lawsuit against TPD claiming illegal forfeiture," April 23, 2015, we said Johnson was woken by loud noises and that when he opened the door, a TPD officer handcuffed him and shoved him in the back of his patrol car. But a police report says that Johnson said he heard loud noises described as "bam, bam, bam," and that when he left his bedroom, the front door was already open. He made it outside the house when the police arrived.)

The same report mentions that a warrant was granted via telephone by a Superior Court judge to search the cars at the scene and the 420 house.

Per civil forfeiture laws, the mere presence of those arrested—even though Johnson had absolutely no idea anything illegal occurred at the house—law enforcement was in its full right to take Johnson's computer, his gun, money, jewelry, etc. Forfeiture statutes say that any item at the scene of an alleged crime (and without much evidence of such alleged crime even occurring) is considered "criminal" and will be seized.

Regarding the money and jewelry, according to Peltz and Johnson, TPD did not list either one in a forfeiture claim you're supposed to file within 30 days, if you actually want/can fight to get your stuff back. However, a seizure report from May 23, 2013, says the cops took close to $600 from one of the 420 House bedrooms, and $38,400 from inside a safe, presumably the one that was drilled without Johnson's permission. (The jewelry isn't listed.)

A TPD spokesman said the department is unable to comment on ongoing legal complaints against them, so we may not hear from them until the lawsuit is settled.

Peltz is getting ready to serve the three TPD officers and the Department of Public Safety agent who arrested Johnson in two separate occasions.

The complaint against TPD Chief Villaseñor and the department itself is to try to ensure law enforcement gets proper training when dealing with patients in lawful possession of cannabis and marijuana paraphernalia. (Although Johnson is a cardholder, TPD officers took away his medicine, plants, and other related items.)

This week, Johnson got some of his things back. By press time, he did not confirm which ones, but he did mention law enforcement said it would keep his gun in exchange for his computer.

The Tucson Weekly will examine that and other details of the complaint against TPD in upcoming weeks.

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More by María Inés Taracena

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