Last month, Riverside County reached a settlement with an elderly couple who had been raided by sheriff’s deputies based on a suspicion that they were growing marijuana.
The deputies had taken note of the couple’s low energy use, which some law enforcement officials view as an indicator of a grow operation. According to the elderly couple, the deputies searched their homes based on this hunch without obtaining warrants.
The couple has been identified as 67-year-old Chen-Chen Hwang and 75-year-old Jiun-Tsong Wu.
They indicated in their complaint that the deputies raided two of their homes in search of marijuana, but found nothing.
“This was a very strange and frightening incident,” Hwang said. “We did nothing to deserve this, and it made us feel unsafe in our own homes.”
The couple claimed the deputies used battering rams to break down a door in their first home, and then broke down multiple doors in their second house while conducting a search that took hours.
The attorney for the couple, Alex Coolman, related that Hwang believed “she was being directly accused of a crime by a group of uniformed deputies, and she was not free to terminate the encounter.”
When her husband got on the phone with one of the deputies during the search, he demanded that the police leave his home. It was then that, according to Wu, a deputy admitted that the searches were illegal.
In a settlement reached last month, Riverside County paid for that mistake, giving the couple $136,000 to settle the federal civil rights suit filed against them. Following the settlement, on August 15, the lawsuit was officially dismissed.
As for the low energy consumption, Coolman explained that the couple is just frugal and gathers most of their energy from solar panels.
Coolman also questioned energy usage as a basis for police to conduct searches.
“The way the Sheriff handled this situation was unreasonable and illegal,” Coolman said. “Nobody’s home should be broken into based on a hunch about their use of electricity.”