The Railroading of Christopher Woodard

This came to us last night from Juice friend and Long Beach City Attorney candidate Matt Pappas:

Almost two years ago now, Long Beach Police, using a battering ram and armed with a defective warrant, raided a legal medical marijuana dispensary in Long Beach, California. The entire facility was destroyed. The basis for the destruction was alleged violation of an ordinance banning all medical marijuana in Long Beach that had been hastily enacted as “emergency legislation” at the urging of then City Attorney Bob Shannon.

There was, of course, no emergency. The dispensary had leased the property far in advance of the passage of the ban and the City Council failed to include any amortization period, let alone the minimum 2-year period it should have. More than $30,000.00 damage was done to the interior of the dispensary. Patients were arrested as well as brutalized. Officers, effectuating their defective warrant, were in paramilitary uniforms with machine guns out pointed at patients who were prescribed cannabis pursuant to California state law.

Months after the raid, managing patient Christopher Woodard, a very professional and compassionate African-American man, filed suit against the City along with other patients and dispensaries that had similarly been raided, some without any warrants at all, since early-2011. The lawsuit alleged that the City as well as individually named officers, including Det. David Strohman, had violated various civil rights. Although most of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were patient dispensaries, the only individual plaintiffs were Woodard and his brother because officers had, following the raid of the collective, gone out several nights later and raided their homes. When they raided Woodard’s home in Riverside County, officers terrorized his then eight-year-old daughter, who suffers from a heart ailment.

Following the raid, Woodard left the medical cannabis industry and went back to working as an electrician and E.M.T. Since the raid, his house has gone into arrears and he has had to borrow money from friends. The damage done by police to his home, family, and employer were devastating.

The trial date set for the lawsuit was March 12, 2014. However, about six (6) weeks before the lawsuit was to go to trial, Officer Strohman arrested Woodard. That’s right — almost two years after the raid, Strohman — the main police officer defendant in the lawsuit for violation of civil rights — arrested one of the two individually named plaintiffs in the case just shortly before trial in the civil case was set to begin.

As soon as our office attempted to arrange bail for Chris Woodard, the District Attorney sought a “1275 order,” a program reserved for drug kingpins and large-scale drug traffickers. Essentially, the District Attorney alleged Woodard could not post bail until he proved the proceeds used for bail did not come from illegal drug transactions. In fact, Woodard could not afford the approximately $3,000 required for him to bond out of jail without loans from his family — he never has been and is NOT a drug kingpin. He is a father and responsible person who has worked continuously to support his family and to help patients both as a managing patient and E.M.T.

After he had been jailed for nearly 3 weeks, Woodard’s family was able to raise the money necessary to bail him out of jail. A hearing was thereafter set to determine the origin of the money as required by the Penal Code s. 1275 order the District Attorney had obtained. Prior to the hearing, Sergio Sandoval, who works for my law office, had arranged bail with the bonding company and had, as he has compassionately done for many individuals brutalized by Long Beach Police over the years, co-signed on the paperwork for the bail.

At the Penal Code s. 1275 hearing, just days before the federal civil rights trial was set to begin, Det. Strohman was in court along with Los Angeles Dep. District Attorney Patrick O’Crowley. When it appeared the judge was ready to grant bail and allow Chris to be released on bond, O’Crowley suddenly argued to the judge that he could not allow Woodard’s release because the Pappas Law Firm was under investigation. With a look of disbelief, the judge asked O’Crowley what the firm was being investigated for and what evidence the District Attorney had. O’Crowley reported he had no evidence but that the firm was being investigated meaning that Sergio’s signature on the bond paperwork was questionable. After going back and forth for a period of time, the judge granted the bail request despite Det. Strohman and O’Crowley’s effort to thwart bail and keep Chris in jail.

That evening, bail was posted. However, as had happened before with Woodard, he was somehow “lost” in the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail system. For two days, despite bail being posted, Woodard was not released. Then, much to the surprise of everyone except the D.A., a new hearing before a different judge was suddenly set on the issue already determined by the first judge. Not surprisingly, the new judge was actually one of the most anti-medical-marijuana judges at the Long Beach Courthouse. Without basis, the new judge reversed the first judge, discounted the testimony of Sergio Sandoval, and ordered Woodard to remain in jail through his preliminary hearing set for mid-April.

What has happened with Chris Woodard is wrong. Det. Strohman has repeatedly retaliated against anyone who dares challenge his unconstitutional and illegal conduct. Strohman oversaw multiple raids in 2011 where the police obtained NO warrant whatsoever. He violates the Fourth Amendment regularly by using excessive force during raids of dispensaries. He went after a managing patient who had moved to San Pedro because that managing patient complained to internal affairs about Strohman. Strohman has told people that Police Chief McDonnell is “not his chief.”

Luckily, we were able to obtain a continuance in the civil rights trial. However, Chris Woodard remains in jail. He is there not only because of Strohman’s misbehavior, but because his skin color is black rather than white. He has been repeatedly targeted by officers when he has done nothing wrong.

There is a huge problem in the United States. We have adorned police officers, including the few who are bad and who believe they are above the law. This country has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. We put more people in jail and we do it for non-violent drug offenses. It is no longer the land of the free, but rather is the land of the jailed. Between 40 and 50 percent of the people jailed in this country are in jail for non-violent drug offenses. Costing nearly $100,000 per inmate per year, the budget problems in governments around the country could be solved if we stopped jailing people — homeless people, mentally ill people, non-violent drug offenders — if we actually worked to help correct issues — if we actually worked to correct issues for people when jail is actually necessary — and if we were thoughtful and compassionate about people — we’d save billions of dollars that could be spent on infrastructure or even used to reduce the huge tax burden we now have in this country. We don’t do it right — we just build more jails.

Chris Woodard should not be in jail. He should never have been jailed. He should never have been charged. In my opinion, Det. Strohman should not be a police officer. He is retaliatory, condones the use of machine guns for misdemeanor warrants where there has never been any threat of violence — put simply, Det. Strohman is part of the reason people around the country have such a negative view of Long Beach and its police department.

While the election is around the corner, I’m not writing to urge votes. Rather, I’m writing because Chris Woodard is in jail. I have not had the time or resources to fight for his release. He does not have the money to pay us or any other attorney so we’ve been working on a pro bono basis to help garner his release. We need your help. We need you to write to Jackie Lacey, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, and express why this country is on the wrong track. We need you to write to others in government.

And we do need you to vote. Vote to remove judges who thing the proverbial hanging-rope is required in every case. Vote to remove politicians who blindly support law enforcement that puts thousands of dollars into elections. The police departments around the country are not served well by blind support and zero accountability because we put out a flag and remember times past where good officers have performed or fallen. Rather, responsibility and accountability make for the best police departments. The ability of a police chief to make personnel decisions is critical — a strong department and the best officers work where there is accountability. That is proven by the success of officer body cameras.

Chris Woodard needs to be out of jail. What is happening around the country is wrong. People should be served by those they pay, including police officers — not brutalized and treated like suspects in any encounter. They should not be jailed because they exercise their rights. Retaliation by government is wrong. This is not supposed to be a police state, but it has become one. Please help support Chris. I do not practice in the area of criminal law but Chris does have the help of one of the best public defenders available. She has expressed outrage at what has happened in his case and is working to help him. The Human Solution, through Joe Grumbine and Larry King, have also been working to help Chris. He should not be in jail. He has a family — he is not a criminal — he is a compassionate man who stood up for his rights.

We will continue to support patients, disabled individuals, women who are discriminated against based on gender, people discriminated against because of race or sexual orientation. We will continue this support despite the false statements made by people like Det. Strohman and Deputy D.A. O’Crowley — people who depend on utterly false and inappropriate inuendo against people who do between 50 and 70 percent of their work on a pro bono basis.

Thank you,

Matt Pappas.

D.A. Jackie Lacey
District Attorney’s Office
County of Los Angeles
210 West Temple Street, Suite 18000
Los Angeles, CA 90012-3210
Telephone (213) 974-3512
Fax (213) 974-1484

(Regarding  People v. Woodard, Los Angeles Superior Court #NA09817101)
Chris’ booking number: 3856811

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