The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was forced to come to terms with a Lake Elsinore, Calif., couple after they searched their two homes without a warrant.
Sheriff’s deputies allegedly smashed the doors of both houses on Aug. 5, 2021, on suspicion that the elderly couple was growing marijuana due to their low electricity consumption.
“The deputies believed that the defendants were stealing the power to grow marijuana because their power consumption was low, and they said so,” her attorney Alex Coolman told the local newspaper. The press companyin an email.
No raid found evidence of a crime, The Press-Enterprise reported. The couple sued the sheriff’s department in March.
The couple was identified by the newspaper as Chen-Chen Hwang, 67, and her husband Jiun-Tsong Wu, 75.
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In their complaint, according to The Press-Enterprise, “deputies used a battering ram to force open the side door of the couple’s first home in a quiet area of Lake Elsinore.”
At the time nobody was home.
“It was a very strange and scary incident,” Hwang said in one press release from Coolman’s office.
“We didn’t do anything to deserve that and we felt insecure in our own homes.”
The retired couple claimed that “MPs violated the Fourth Amendment by conducting a groundless search of both homes and detaining them ‘unreasonably’ [CH] by arming them and addressing them in uniform,” the press release said.
The lawsuit outlined searches of the couple’s two homes.
According to the press release, after the first search in the first house, the officers turned their attention to the couple’s second home, where Hwang was home alone.
Hwang and Wu allege in the lawsuit that the deputies broke down “several doors inside” and spent several hours searching the couple’s homes and “rifling through the couple’s belongings.”
The Press-Enterprise reported, “The 67-year-old said in the press release that ‘uniformed, armed MPs knocked on the door.'”
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Officers told the retiree that they had already searched the couple’s other home “because they believed she was involved in growing marijuana and demanded to come in,” the press release said.
According to her attorney, Hwang spoke to officials at the second home “believing that she was being directly accused of a crime by a group of uniformed deputies and was not at liberty to end the encounter.” Also, “she thought MPs were soldiers because of their clothes,” the statement said.
The attorney’s press release also stated that Wu “spoke to [Sgt. Julio] Olguin on the phone asking MPs to leave the house… In that conversation Olguin ‘admitted that the house searches were illegal.’”
The lawsuit was dismissed on August 15 after a settlement was reached with Olguin and other officers involved in the alleged raid, who have been named as defendants.
“The county paid $136,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Chen-Chen Hwang, 67, and her husband Jiun-Tsong Wu, 75,” Coolman said in the release.
Cool news: We reached a $136,000 settlement in a lawsuit stemming from an illegal search of my client’s home in Lake Elsinore — a search prompted by its low power consumption. The customers are frugal and incredibly cute retirees, not marijuana growers or power thieves.
— Alex Coolman (@unchart72) August 16, 2022
“The operation found no evidence of a crime,” Coolman said in the press release. “[D]MPs were interested in the couple’s low power consumption, which some law enforcement believe is linked to illegal marijuana cultivation.”
The couple’s attorney also claimed there had been further raids on homes in Riverside County, with police operating on the same assumption that people were growing marijuana based on low energy consumption, but he said, “This is the only one I know of where there was no warrant and no apparent justification.”
The retired couple is “thrifty” and takes advantage solar panels to reduce their power consumption, according to their lawyer.
“The way the sheriff handled this situation was unreasonable and illegal,” Coolman said. “No one should break into their home based on a hunch about their power consumption.”
The Western Journal reached out to them Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for a comment and will update this article with each reply.
This article originally appeared on The West Journal.
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https://ijr.com/report-elderly-couples-low-electric-bill-4th-amendment-violations/ Report: An elderly couple’s low electricity bill earned them a battering ram on the door