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Photo Release -- ADSI Reports City of Long Beach Abuses Disabled Burn Victim

James Theisen

LOS ANGELES, March 18, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Advocates for the Disabled and Seriously Ill state that despite an August, 2012 finding by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that a Long Beach, California medical marijuana ban ordinance violates state law, limited jurisdiction judge Laura Laesecke ordered James Theisen, a disabled burn victim and medical marijuana patient, into custody on Wednesday. Theisen was severely disfigured in a fire that resulted in the death of his friend. With burns over more than 40% of his body, Theisen was prescribed marijuana by his doctor to treat severe pain, discomfort, and nerve injury. Theisen said he is a member of Green Earth Center, a patient collective Long Beach records show was granted a business license and occupancy permit by the city in 2009. Theisen and other patients filed lawsuits against the city when it enacted an ordinance in 2010 that resulted in the revocation of Green Earth's business license. When the marijuana ordinance was passed in 2010, city records show Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga called the ordinance "pretty much a sham" and said its purpose was to force the closure of all Long Beach collectives. Since that time, Theisen says he and other Green Earth patients have been brutalized by Long Beach city police officers and officials.

James Theisen of Green Earth Center was severely injured in a fire.


A photo accompanying this release is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/prs/?pkgid=17681

Despite her 2011 order that criminal cases proceed against nearly 100 patients charged under a Long Beach law that was just a month later stricken down by an appeals court, Laesecke refused to dismiss the charges against Theisen and imposed combined bail of $100,000.00 for a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of $1,000.00. Theisen had appeared in court on Wednesday along with other patients charged under the questionable city law when the judge ordered him to jail. According to court records, Theisen has appeared every time he has been required to by the judge. Without finding that Theisen or the other defendants posed any public safety risk, Laesecke ordered them handcuffed and placed into a Sheriff's Department jail bus. Rather than the Long Beach city jail, Theisen and the other patients were taken to the County's downtown Los Angeles detainment center, a facility considered one of the most dangerous in the country.

Theisen said that his son who has been legally blind since birth was also ordered into immediate custody by Laesecke and was placed along with him into a county jail cell along with hundreds of other prisoners. According to Theisen, the cell was filled with so many people, he and all in it were forced to stand. He estimated the temperature in the holding cell to be at least 95 degrees. Theisen said he and his blind son were forced to stand for nearly five hours in urine and feces when finally a fellow inmate fainted from heat exhaustion and had to be carried out of the cell by fellow inmates since the overseeing officers refused to enter the filth ridden cell. After friends and family were able to raise the approximate $100,000.00 bail ordered by Laesecke, Theisen and his son were finally released. He was in custody for almost two days. Commenting on the incident, Theisen said, "It was a nightmare. They body cavity searched all of us. It was degrading. We are patients of a collective that provides for patients. Our member patients have cancer and AIDS. Anyone can see that I'm disfigured. We completely follow state law, pay taxes, and we are compassionate. I just don't understand why we have been treated this way." Theisen also noted that in the three-plus years it has provided for patients, Green Earth Center has never been the sight of violent crime or any incident that has resulted in public harm.

When asked why Long Beach had singled him out, Theisen said that in April, 2012, he and his attorney were asked to meet with FBI agents looking into city corruption. During a nearly three hour meeting with the agents, Theisen said he provided them with evidence showing city officials were acting illegally. Theisen said that it may be because he filed suit against Long Beach and made complaints about the city to outside law enforcement agencies that the City is treating him this way. According to Theisen, the Green Earth Center collective has been raided by Long Beach police at least six times. When police have raided the collective, thousands of dollars of property damage were done and officers have taken patient property and medication. Theisen also reported that approximately twenty S.W.A.T. officers armed with assault weapons raided his home on November 1, 2012. In all of the raids, he has not been charged with violating drug laws and instead was jailed under the controversial Long Beach ban and under the Long Beach law that was found to be unconstitutional in 2011. Theisen said he is being discriminated against in-part because his doctor prescribed medical cannabis instead of more dangerous pharmacy drugs.

Commenting on the judge's actions, Theisen's attorney, Charles Farrano, said he had never seen anything like this in a municipal misdemeanor case. When asked about the case, civil rights attorney Charles Schurter said the judge's bail order "is many times the maximum penalty for the minor crime charged which can be compared with being charged with not having a permit for a frontage sign." He continued, "Long Beach seems bent on eliminating people who challenge its laws or question its actions."

As an unopposed candidate, Laesecke was re-elected to the limited jurisdiction court in 2012 without having her name appear on the ballot. As an elected judge, Laesecke serves a six-year term and is paid $178,789.00 annually. Her decisions accepting guilty pleas under the former Long Beach marijuana law were called into question after the appellate court found the law was invalid in October, 2011. Court filings also showed Laesecke was aware that bans like the one imposed by Long Beach are the issue of a now pending California Supreme Court case before she ordered Theisen and the other patients to jail.

Commenting on Laesecke's order, Farrano noted, "In over a hundred cases under the city's first invalid law, Judge Laesecke got it wrong. Her decisions in 2011 encouraged a police department already plagued by questionable shooting and excessive force cases to continue its bad behavior. She's now put a disabled man who was burned over 40% of his body in county lockup because she disagrees with a doctor prescribed medication approved by the State of California. He hasn't been convicted. She was utterly wrong when she allowed charges against him in 2011 under the first Long Beach law that was struck down. She's seen Mr. Theisen's permanent disfigurement and knew that his son was blind when she made her order. She knows the ban issue is before the Supreme Court. It is just a travesty." Farrano referred to a 2012 media article that reported another Long Beach judge had acted improperly resulting in a new trial for a patient rights advocate who has since left Long Beach after spending huge sums of money fighting the city. The article reported the judge in that case was removed from the case after evidence showed he was communicating improperly with a prosecuting attorney. "Until the discrimination stops – until people like Judge Laesecke learn that patients like Mr. Theisen operate legally under California law and are protected by its disability laws – these abuses will continue," Farrano said.

Calls made to Judge Laesecke were not returned. Theisen said he hopes Green Earth Center will stay open for its patient members until a decision is made in the lawsuits filed against the city.

CONTACT: Advocates for the Disabled and Seriously Ill (213) 531-1788Source: Advocates for the Disabled and Seriously Ill