The Triumph of Paul Lucas pt 3: Keystone Kops, Steele Smith, and remembering Danielle.


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Spoiler Alert Spoiler

After we published part two of this blockbuster four-part series detailing the trials, tribulations, and eventual triumph of our friend Paul Lucas, the always-hateful Dan Chmielewski of the Liberal OC printed what he awkwardly dubbed a “Spoiler Alert” to the rest of our series, in which he prematurely danced a happy fat-man jig over what he wrongly perceived as the imminent demise of Paul’s voting and gun rights.

Without actually spoiling our season finale which will feature all the legal proceedings, we can safely say now that the malevolent “liberal” blogger is mistaken – Paul WILL be voting in this June’s primary and thereafter;  he WILL have his second amendment rights restored within a year;  and the police recently returned all his perfectly-legal medical cannabis.  We just want the small-hearted Dan to get a head start sucking on that.

The Events of 10/26/2011

October of 2011 was a halcyon time, an era of hope, sunshine and idealism for which we already feel nostalgia.  Occupy Orange County was at its apex in both Irvine and Santa Ana;  California was settling into its new un-gerrymandered districts; our new Governor had put the kibosh on the Great Fairgrounds Swindle and was beginning to balance the budget.  But the forces of incompetent evil were gathering around our hero Paul Lucas, as he innocently ran his legal medical marijuana collective from his apartment in Orange, while trying to stave off multiple illnesses.

We’ve seen, in Part Two of this series:

  • how he was named by some busted junkie in Buena Park as someone who might have a quantity of meth at his dwelling place;
  • how some creepy undercover cop named Gonzaldo Cetina was surveilling and “mad-dogging” him at an NA meeting (wrong AND illegal);
  • how he had shortly beforehand found a tiny chunk of the wicked stuff in his girlfriend’s bag and (ill-advisedly) stashed it away in his bathroom safe to confront her with it later;
  • and how the cops had, the day before, managed to obtain a warrant to raid his apartment, based on simply watching him have an innocuous conversation with a passerby from his parked car.

But Wednesday the 26th was another day in Southern California paradise – bright, sunny, ever so slightly breezy.  Around 1:30 in the afternoon, as seven of Buena Park’s finest Keystone Kops closed in on Chez Lucas, Paul was out fetching his heart medicine (carvedilol) at a Garden Grove Walgreen’s, but there was love in the air.  In fact, Paul’s male and female roommates [let's call them Gilbert and Kayla] were in their bedroom dancing the Horizontal Mambo.  I mean, they were emulating Shakespeare’sBeast With Two Backs.”  What I am trying to say is, they were pursuing Afternoon Delights – engaging in a simple but zesty and satisfying game of Hide the Salami.”

In fact, in the heat of their passion, the two young lovebirds didn’t even bother locking the front door, so it was perhaps in a pause between moans and panting that they looked at each other and asked, “What the hell is Hank [Paul's feisty little pug] barking at?  And who’s banging shit around out there?”  And opening the door a crack they were met with the sight of SEVEN of Buena Park’s finest, tiptoeing through the apartment with guns drawn.  “Where’s your roommate?  WHERE IS PAUL LUCAS??“  Gilbert and Kayla were allowed to dress, and made to wait in the dining area for half an hour while the police turned the place upside down, finding nothing but a modest amount of perfectly legal medical cannabis.

*

It’s probably time to point out some non-sexual aspects of this story.

Yakuobovsky for real; Cetina approximated. As Paul described Cetina to me, I thought of the Tuturro character “Jesus the Bowler” from The Big Lebowsky; Paul laughed and said he does look a lot like him, except for with longer, less-greasy hair.

You’ll remember, from part 2, meeting Steve “The Yak” Yakubovsky, the gigantic, brutal, yet buffoonish Buena Park cop who had just been made a narcotics detective – you’ll remember, he was “fired in” to the team six days earlier, made to drink a “red Solo cup” full of tequila and hot sauce.  Well – it was this new guy’s turn to be “lead detective” for this particular raid, and he didn’t do so well.  Much of the report he filed afterward was falsified.  For example, the report mentioned nothing about the roommates Gilbert and Kayla, or about entering the apartment before Paul got there or without knocking – and that is most likely because the warrant they had did not permit that.

And you’ll remember also Gonzaldo Cetina, the small, creepy, goateed undercover cop whom Paul had noticed glaring at him at his 12-step meeting a few days before the raid.  (Paul also later remembered seeing these same two cops, undercover, driving slowly past his place a week earlier in a huge Toyota Tundra and staring at him.)  Cetina, apparently a bit more experienced and competent than the Yak, had a hard time that day staying in a backing role and frequently stepped up when the hapless Yak was out of his depth.

Also remember, these cops had really been led to expect a huge amount of meth at this location, and the more it appeared this wasn’t the case, the more frustrated they got, but they were resolved to salvage SOMETHING out of the embarrassing exercise.

*

Gonzaldo Cetina dreams of finding the biggest ball of speed ever. (“Eight year olds, Dude.”)

Okay, back on the clock:  After twenty or thirty minutes, when the seven cops in the upstairs apartment heard the unmistakeable sound of the garage door opening below and Paul pulling his pickup in, two of them stayed upstairs to guard the roommates while the other five raced pellmell down the stairs to confront the evil-doer.  Wiry little Gonzaldo was the fastest.

So, when the unsuspecting Paul parked his truck, reached over for his medicine, and started to get out, the first thing he saw was Gonzaldo Cetina’s creepy goateed face peeking around the corner into the garage – the same guy from his N.A. meeting, now holding out a badge!  – soon joined by the Yak, Alex Hong, and two others.  “Were they grinning, like ‘haha, we got you!’  Or were they loud and scary and mean?  Or were they courteous and professional?”  “They were grinning like ‘haha, we got you.’”

Apparent Buena Park Police sketch of Paul Lucas.

The Yak, stepping into Alpha Dog mode, showed Paul the warrant, asked if Paul knew why they were there (“No”), and hollered that they were all fully aware that Paul was a “methamphetamine kingpin,” LOL.  Where is the METH??  We already found all your WEED.  Paul, already due for his heart medicine and given to attacks of stress and panic, showed the Yak the Medic Alert Bracelet that he keeps on his wrist at all times, and politely asked if he could take his medicine.  In response, the Yak ripped the bracelet off his wrist and hurled it across the street into the bushes.

I wasn’t there, but I imagine the Yak thought such a gesture would impress his new partners with his boldness and tough disrespect for suspects.  And I imagine that most if not all of his partners were starting to think “This clown is a freaking liability.”  Of course, though, I have the benefit of hindsight, knowing that he was mysteriously removed from the force a few weeks later, and that his wife whined on Facebook about the ingratitude and disloyalty of other Buena Park cops.

Cetina rifled through Paul’s pockets, handed his keys over to the Yak, and escorted our hero upstairs.  Meanwhile someone else – probably the Yak or Hong – backed the truck out a few feet so they could unlock the storage cabinets above – the only place left where the meth might be! – and that’s where he found:

The Guns of Paul Lucas.

His friend Adrian’s 1997 “shotgun wedding.” Paul, the best man, holds his 357 pistol, while the father-in-law holds Paul’s 12-gauge shotgun.

Scary stuff!  Actually Paul had four guns, all legally registered to him, all locked up in the garage storage cabinet, and he hadn’t shot or even loaded any of them in over a decade:

  • A Mossburgh 500 12-gauge pump-action 6 shot (pictued above and below) – NO ammunition for it.
  • The 357 pistol pictured above – no ammunition.
  • Another pistol, 9MM, and an unopened, sealed box of ammunition for it.
  • A 22 “survival rifle,” pictured to right.  (Paul says:  It’s called that “because it can be taken apart and stuck inside the butt of the rifle. That way it can float in water.  It used to be issued to Air Force pilots for when they crash into the outback so they can survive in the wild. It can be collapsed and stuck into a pocket on their leg. Mine was disassembled and unloaded. It can’t be loaded if it is disassembled, although I did have one box of 22 rounds for it, in an unopened sealed box.  I inherited that from my brother when he died in 1997, as well as the ammo which was also from 97, LOL.”)

Getting ready to shoot pumpkins in the desert, in the early 90s!  This is the shotgun again, along with an SKS which is basically a civilian version of an AK47 – he got rid of that one around 1995.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, these four guns were all legal, registered, and locked away safely downstairs in the garage.  But if you read the Yak’s incident report (go ahead, it’s only three pages) you’d be excused for feeling confused – he claimed to have found the shotgun in an upstairs hall closet, and the pistols (or “handguns”) in Paul’s bedroom closet.  Hmmm… who is lying, and why?

Why I Believe my friend Paul Lucas over ex-cop Steve Yakubovsky:

So, Paul claims all four guns were locked up downstairs in the garage; the Yak report says that three of them were in upstairs closets.  It almost doesn’t matter who was lying, since it wasn’t illegal to have them upstairs, AND the threatened “gun enhancement,” which could have given Paul an extra THREE YEARS in jail, was never used in court… but it WAS used successfully to scare him into a much-lower plea bargain when he shouldn’t have had to confess to anything.  (Getting ahead of ourselves here.) 

To use a gun enhancement, it was necessary to show two things which are dubious:  1) that the tiny chunk of meth Paul had in his safe was enough to suggest “intent to sell,” and that 2) his gun(s) were “readily available.”  So the meth, in Yak’s report, grew from a caper-sized 1/4 gram to a marble-sized 2.7 grams (a dubious proposition we’ll look at later) AND the guns migrated upstairs.  (At least they didn’t try to claim they were loaded.)  Why I believe Paul:

  • Yak’s report starts off with a HUGE convenient omission – the officers’ illegal forced entry and their questioning of “Gilbert and Kayla.”  I’ve talked to “Gilbert” who has moved far away, and he confirms Paul’s version;  at this point he will not have to testify to it, but he and Kayla were ready to back up Paul’s version of events when attorney Matthew Pappas filed his civil complaint over the matter.
  • NO PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE was included with the report – which is unprofessional and practically UNHEARD OF – the very cop-friendly Judge Didier SHOULD have thrown the whole thing out long ago.
  • Not only was Yakubovsky removed from the force shortly thereafter, he refused to testify in the case – THREE TIMES.  (And we know that he’s agreed to testify on other cases since his removal even though he didn’t have to.)
  • For that reason, Alex Hong had to testify at the PC (probable cause) hearing and was laughably confused and forgetful, not even remembering if the guns HE claimed to have discovered and examined were loaded or not. Kind of a big thing to not remember, eh?  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive, Alex “I’m Jimmy Woo” Hong.)
  • We’ll look later at the magical growing meth ball, but for now will note that – 1) it wasn’t weighed for seven 14 weeks, when it should have been weighed within 72 hours; and 2) they wouldn’t have let Paul off that very night on OR if it were a quantity – 2.7 grams – suggesting intent to sell.

Upstairs.

Let’s get back to the afternoon in question – Paul had just been brought upstairs by Cetina, and was still needing his medicine and asking for it.  Eventually he began suffering a seizure, and passed out a couple of times.  The cops were all, to “Gilbert and Kayla,” “What the hell is wrong with this guy?”  The roommates confirmed his serious condition(s), and begged them to let him have his medicine, but he never got any till many hours later when he finally got back home.   And as Paul returned to consciousness on his couch, and watched the cops gape cluelessly at his vast quantity of prescription medicine and empty bottles, he was reminded of the confounded apes from the beginning of 2001: A Space Oddysey.  The lummoxes couldn’t figure out exactly HOW, but all these bottles had to have SOMETHING to do with illegal drugs.

Paul had two safes.  One was for the collective, where he kept all the cash and the paperwork – the police had already broken into that with a crowbar and seized his cash.  The other one was where he kept his prescription drugs, the ones that sorta get you high, which he wanted to keep safe from his occasionally drug-abusing girlfriend, and that’s also where he had hidden the bit of meth he’d confiscated from her a few days earlier.  Since the cops kept asking “Where’s the meth?”, since they were about to break that safe as well, and since he furthermore didn’t think he had anything to hide, he opened that safe for them, handed them the ball of meth, and told them why he had it. 

This little ball of meth was inside a baggie inside a glass jar, into which Paul had also put his girlfriend’s little meth pipe – he’d made sure not to touch either of them.  When the Yak saw that pipe, he broke it and flushed it down the toilet.  “Huh?  Why would he destroy evidence like that?”  I innocently asked.  “Because it was evidence suggesting that the meth was for personal use, and they wanted to make it look like it was for sale,” responded Paul.

Realizing that was all they were going to get there, Yak put him under arrest (without bothering to read him his Miranda rights, natch), and had one of the other officers drive him over to the godforsaken Buena Park Police Station.

Yeah, This is a Long Story.

It Was Even Longer For Paul.

He was doing pretty badly for a few hours in the BPPD holding cell without his medicine, and not having eaten for a long time – his blood sugar was getting real low, the diabetic is lucky he didn’t go into a coma.  Eventually they tossed him a peanut butter sandwich, the universal jail food, and then brought him into an interrogation room.

“Okay, Paul, we realize you’re not Pablo Escobar.  It looks like you don’t even have a police record.  But can you please just give us the name of SOMEBODY we could go after, and we’ll let you go?”  Paul repeatedly told them to “Go fuck yourselves, you have nothing on me.”  The Yak in particular was baffled, gobsmacked, to be sitting two feet away from a guy half his size, telling him right to his face to “go fuck himself.”  “What makes him so sure I won’t beat him up?” he must have thought.  (For the record, the Yak did NOT hit Paul.) But as Paul told me, “It’s not like I’ve never gotten beat up by cops before.”

That’s right.  No police record, but yes beat up by cops.  That’s par for the course in certain neighborhoods, as in Orange’s El Modena, where Paul grew up.  Even if you’re not Latino!

But after a long time of “Just give us ONE name,” a face began to appear in Paul’s consciousness.  A familiar, unpleasantly smug face, a self-satisfied, sociopathic one…

Look – it’s Steele Smith!  What’s HE doing in this story?

Steele with wife and dogs. Love him!

Ah, Steele Clark Smith.  What a character.  Grotesquely tall buddy of sketchy Anaheim kleptocrat Jordan Brandman, who let him keep his collection of antique furniture at his home.  Son of legendary, beloved Anaheim doctor Clark Smith, and good-hearted, eccentric School Board matron Katherine Smith (who ironically has been sounding the alarm on Jordan’s corruption and self-dealing for a couple of years.)

Steele Clark Smith – famed medical cannabis user, dispensary owner, gadfly, and defendant in a celebrated Federal case during which, miraculously, while staring at a ten-year prison sentence, he was somehow allowed to continue his business unmolested while everyone around him got raided, shut down and imprisoned.

Those silly paranoid potheads – they were just SURE Steele was collaborating with the DEA to turn them in and keep himself free.  But what if they were right?

Re-reading this 2011 Weekly feature on Steele – the second, much less favorable piece by Nick Schou – and hearing the dripping contempt with which Steele describes nearly everyone else in the OC medical marijuana community – even respected, persecuted heroes like Marla James and Joe Grumbine – it’s hard to imagine why he WOULDN’T collaborate with the DEA against these loathed competitors.

On top of that, Paul and others had noticed strange clean-cut men with gun-shaped bulges in their pants lurking around Steele’s dispensary.  Add to that, Steele still owed money to Paul from back when they were considering doing business together – money which Steele had, quite recently and very insultingly, refused to ever repay Paul.  (Peruse the comments section here;  MANY claim to have been swindled by Steele.)  Gradually the idea started to make really good, and hilarious, sense.  “Hey, I DO know somebody you should pay a visit to, guys.  Let’s take a drive down to Garden Grove and Western.”

So off they went, Cetina driving, Hong shotgun, and Paul in the back with Yak, off to Steele Smith’s dispensary we go.  Parked out front, Paul pointed, “In there you’ll find 150, 175 plants, lights for growing, everything. “  On a sudden unexplained impulse, he added, “Some people suspect he’s working with the DEA,” but the dumb Buena Park cops chuckled, “Yeah, sure, whatever.  We’ll check this guy out.”  And they let Paul go home.

Next day, Steele Smith called Paul, in one of his fabled rages:  “Why the hell did you send those Buena Park cops to my place?  We nearly had a shootout!”  LOL, how’s that for admitting a lot?  It was a few days later that Yakubovsky confided to the world via Facebook that he didn’t like his new job.  And we don’t see Steele around any more either, word is he’s doing something up in Montana now.

ROTFLMAO!

In Part Four, we’ll go over everything that happened since that day – the charges, all the court proceedings, Paul’s final plea bargain, what’s gonna happen now, and of course, Nadia Davis Lockyer.  But I want to wrap up this chapter with a little tribute to someone who’s only been mentioned in passing so far – Paul’s late sister, who was a reason for and a member of his medical marijuana collective:

Remembering Danielle Lucas Ortins

1985, First day of the Navy. With her (and Paul’s) father.

Paul’s eldest sister Danielle was born in Orange in 1960.  At the age of 25 she joined the Navy and became a nurse, working on a hospital ship.  Desert Storm, our first invasion of Iraq, happened during her last year of service;  at that time she was serving at Long Beach Naval Hospital.  It was in the Navy that she met her husband Albert, also a nurse, with whom she had two kids, Maggie and Sam.  After the Navy she went to work first for Kaiser, and then for the Sacramento County Jail, Psychiatric Ward.  She loved her work.

In 2006 she was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, one of the rarest and most deadly cancers, and had to have one eye removed.  She went through radiation and then chemo, and began using medical cannabis in 2007 to deal with the nausea and other symptoms.  She didn’t like smoking – preferred brownies.

In 2009 (as we read in Part One) Paul started using medical cannabis to treat his own ailments.  He spent some time at Oaksterdam University to learn how to start a legal collective, and that’s where he met his two grower partners from Plumas County up north.  The collective he started in 2010 was originally just to obtain the cannabis he and Danielle needed; eventually there were 19 other patients that got their medicine through Orange County Organics.

Every few months Danielle was checked to see if her cancer had returned; after five years it seemed that she was free and clear of it.  In late 2011 we know what happened, Paul was arrested, his cannabis and his ability to obtain any more were shut down.  A year after that, Danielle’s cancer returned – the ocular melanoma had re-appeared in her liver.  Paul thinks that the arrest and his inability to provide cannabis to his sister may have caused her relapse – there ARE multiple studies that suggest pot can keep cancer at bay.

Paul describes his sister as a “hip chick and a free spirit, with a great sense of humor,” but also a good responsible mom very active in her local Catholic parish.  “You would have liked her, Vern.” 

She was buried last year at Calvary Cemetary with full military honors.

Danielle Lucas Ortins, 1960-2013.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.