Store owner sues sheriff after synthetics seized
HAMMOND - The owner of The Float Dog LLC in Hammond, La. sued Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards for unlawful seizure of his property and violation of his civil rights.
Steve Spell was selling an herbal blend called "Skyscraper" which is meant to be used as potpourri. The lawsuit says, and subsequent video Spell provided to News 2 shows, on March 16, 2012, three sheriff's deputies raided Spell's store at took all of his Skyscraper product saying it was a public safety concern.
In a video Spell posted on youtube.com, you can hear the agent tell Spell someone overdosed on Skyscraper which led to the raid.
"Someone bought my product today?" Spell asked the deputy in the video. "That is correct," He responded. Spell asked, "And you have factual evidence of that," and the deputy responded, "That is correct."
Spell has multiple cameras throughout his store which captured the entire exchange. In the video you can hear Spell ask why they don't need a warrant or some kind of grounds for entering his store and taking his property, and the deputies say it's a public safety concern.
Spell's attorney Vincent Booth of New Orleans said the product is legal and should never have been taken.
"The sheriff's actions are arbitrary and based strictly on his own personal feeling and beliefs. There didn't seem to be any dispute that the product Mr. Spell was selling was, in fact, legal," Booth said.
In an interview last month, Spell showed News 2 documentation he said was from Tulane University that verified chemical testing of Skyscraper for the banned compounds listed in Louisiana Law. Spell said it was clean and legal.
Another attorney Spell confides in said before The Float Dog LLC began selling Skyscraper, he did his own research.
"[Steve's] question was one question and one question only," Townsend Myers said, "I don't want to break the law. Let me know if I'm doing anything wrong."
Myers said he researched prior and current Louisiana Law, lab results, and consulted with a professional before giving Spell the go-ahead to sell Skyscraper. It went on sale roughly a month ago, and the product clearly says on the back, "not for human consumption."
But in Spell's youtube.com video, deputies question Spell as to why he would advertise his business as a smoke shop while selling "an herbal sachet" as strictly potpourri. Spell said his tobacco license was pulled months before and told deputies he renewed his license that day.
In a statement to News 2, Sheriff Edwards acknowledged the raid of what the sheriff's office called "legal marijuana" and said, "What we did was a bit unorthodox, but I was trying to save lives and do the right thing by taking the product off the shelves..." The release continued, "There is some chemical agent in these products which is causing episodes of psychotic behavior when young people use them. Until we find out what that chemical agent is, we won't know whether or not this product is illegal. But right now, we already know it's dangerous, and my obligation to protect the public safety requires me to keep it off the streets. That's what I intend to do."
While deputies documented every single package of Skyscraper for flavor and quantity, Spell asked them if his product had been tested.
One deputy responded, "No this happened today," referring to the overdose, "We are taking everything off the shelves... This is out of public safety. Just like they take Tylenol off the shelves when someone gets sick over it because it may be a bad product because of E. coli or whatever."
The lawsuit seeks damages for the property that was seized, a declaratory judgement stating Sheriff Edwards is in violation of the constitution, and a permanent injunction to stop law enforcement from seizing legal products.
News 2 called the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office multiple times trying to get an on-camera interview with Sheriff Edwards, but no calls were answered or returned by the time of submission.