Reefer madness? Copter and SWAT team weeded out 2 plants on their property

Philip Cobbs likes gardening. You can tell from the neat perennial beds, the carefully trimmed yard, and from the fenced vegetable garden on the 39-acre tract in southeastern Albemarle that's been in his family since the 1860s.

In his greenhouse this spring he started the tomato plants, cantaloupes, and watermelons, as well as flowers, including asters and hollyhocks, that he sells at a roadside stand near his home. The harvest helps make ends meet since the 53-year-old quit his job three years ago as an instructional assistant with Charlottesville schools to take care of his 90-year-old mother, who was left blind and deaf following a stroke.

Cobbs says he was out spraying blueberry bushes along his driveway one late-July morning when he noticed a black helicopter hovering in the sky.

"I didn't think much about it," says Cobbs. "I went back to spraying. Then it was above me, circling. I thought maybe it was Donald Trump, so I got binoculars."

His house stands next door to his mother's, where he was born. That morning, in one of his many daily trips back and forth, he stepped out of his door to go help his mother get off the toilet, one of the tasks– along with feeding, washing, and dressing– that he assumed when he became her caretaker.

That's when five sport utility vehicles pulled into his driveway and discharged a squad of nearly a dozen men wearing flak jackets and carrying automatic weapons.

"The thing that was so frightening," remembers Cobbs, who served in the U.S. Navy for nine years, "is that I could hear the safeties coming off their rifles."

Green thumb

Even two months after that day, July 26, Cobbs says he has trouble sleeping as a result of the unexpected visit from law enforcement. As he stood, shirtless, in his yard, he recalls what could have been as many as 10 men yelling commands at him.

"They said, 'We spotted some marijuana plants on your property,'" says Cobbs.

Cobbs says the leader seemed to be conferring by radio with the helicopter pilot and directed the ground team to an overgrown area where an oak had fallen near his fire pit. There, the officers pulled out what they said were pot plants. Two of them.

"About this high," says Cobbs, putting his hand above his knee. He says he wasn't certain the plants were Cannabis sativa, but he figured the cops knew more about them than he did.

"They asked, 'What's in the greenhouse?' he recounts. "I said, 'You can look.'"

It quickly became clear that the little containers in which he'd started his tomatoes were not what the SWAT team had in mind. Cobbs recalls the leader saying the team was looking for a bigger find, and the beleaguered resident got the sense that the whole raid was a mistake. One other thing Cobbs, who is African-American, remembers.

"One of them said, 'You sure are tan.' I'm not sure what that means," says Cobbs, who wonders whether racial profiling played some role in the incident.

Cobbs says he identified himself as the landowner, and as he sat in the State Police car, he heard the helicopter pilot say on the radio he needed to refuel. The SWAT team departed after what he estimates was between 30 and 45 minutes.

"The whole time," he says, "Mom was on the potty."

Greenhouse effect

Cobbs proceeded to get his mother dressed, and then he took her to an adult day center by noon, a weekly ritual that allows him to buy groceries and run errands. He says his mind somehow pushed away the morning's incident.

"I was in shock," he explains.

But when he got home that Tuesday afternoon, he eyed the business card left behind by the SWAT team leader as well as the scorch marks in the yard left by the five SUVs that had idled throughout the bust.

"That's how I knew it had happened," says Cobbs, who notes that he began experiencing difficulty with sleeping, frequently waking up in the middle of the night drenched in a cold sweat.

"After that, I let my crop go because I was afraid to go outside," he says. "It made me question whether I wanted to have a small farm."

Cobbs dismantled the 12-by-5-foot greenhouse near his house, and he seems incredulous when a reporter asks why.

"I believe I was randomly profiled because of the greenhouse," he says. "The helicopter circled around, and it drew their attention.

"Do you understand?" he continues. "I feel like it would have been possible to be shot in that situation. I don't want to be put in that situation again. I don't want anyone else to be."

After a month without further menace from sky or land, Cobbs says he gradually stopped obsessing about the incident.

His peace of mind ended August 29. That's the day that an Albemarle County police officer showed up at his door with a summons. Cobbs was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and was ordered to appear before a judge four days later.

SWAT terror

John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, the civil liberties nonprofit that is representing Cobbs as he fights the criminal charge, remembers the 1960s when SWAT teams, which stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, were used sparingly– typically in hostage situations or during bank robberies when human life was in imminent danger.

That changed in the 1980s when the so-called War on Drugs "brought a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of these paramilitary units," Whitehead writes in his 2008 book, The Change Manifesto. Today, Whitehead estimates, there are between 40,000 and 50,000 SWAT raids in this country every year.

"People have been killed in these raids," says Whitehead, mentioning the Tucson case in May in which two-tour Iraq War veteran Jose Guerena was the target of 71 shots after a SWAT team burst into his house.

"Why couldn't one officer come out with a search warrant?" Whitehead wonders of the Cobbs case, noting that except for a speeding ticket earlier this year, the former school employee has no recent history on the wrong side of the law.

"Why the SWAT team?" asks Whitehead."Why the show of force for a victimless crime? The outrage is putting citizens in harm's way with this sort of thing."

Whitehead says he routinely tells gun-owning Americans that if a SWAT team kicks in their door, they should get on the ground– and that their dog will probably be shot. That's what happened to the two dogs belonging to the mayor of a small Maryland town in 2008 when 32 pounds of pot were delivered to his front porch unbeknownst to him.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Hook (for which the newspaper was billed $104.46), Sergeant Darrell Byers reveals that Albemarle County Police have conducted 49 SWAT missions since 2000.

In 2008, Edgar Dawson was shot when police burst into his Crozet-area home in the middle of the night and he grabbed his gun. They arrested his son, Brandon, and Slade Woodson, who'd been on a rampage that included taking potshots at cars on I-64.

And in 1998, after clerk Osama Hassan had been gunned down at the Ivy Road Shell station, Albemarle police burst into the wrong address.

"We'd received information that the suspects were there," says Byers. "It was bad intel." He notes that no one was injured in the raid.

Charlottesville police had their own share of bad intel in 2001. They said they'd heard that Douglas Michael "Beefy" Brown (who five years later led police into a high-speed chase that killed an off-duty officer), had holed up in a Belmont house late that March.

"He'd broken into the Woodbrook gun shop, stolen guns, and was armed," recalls Lieutenant Gary Pleasants, who called in the SWAT team, which fired 15 rounds of tear gas and three stun grenades into 815 Nassau Street.

As it turned out, no one was inside during the seven-hour stand-off (except, reportedly, for a poodle and three other pets), but the residual tear gas temporarily rendered the house uninhabitable to humans, so the city relocated the residents to a local hotel.

"The tear gas was not meant for indoor use," says Pleasants. "We've corrected that."

Charlottesville and Albemarle police use a threat matrix to weigh the factors in deciding whether to call in a SWAT team, says city Police Chief Tim Longo. He cites the Coal Tower murders later in 2001 as an example of an event triggering the threat matrix.

"If it's a high-risk warrant service and there's a criminal history, or weapons or crimes of violence, if the score is above the threat matrix, we could use a SWAT team," says Longo. "It's my call."

Since 2006, that's happened 15 times, according to city police.

Although Charlottesville contributes officers to JADE– the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force– as do Albemarle and UVA, the city normally isn't a hotbed of outdoor pot growing. If a report came in that someone had two pot plants in the backyard, would Longo send in a SWAT team?

"If that's all the info they have, I don't know it warrants it," says Longo. "It is a use of force. Sometimes in deploying a SWAT team, courts have called that an excessive use of force."

Business as usual?

Some law enforcers may not agree that a parade of police showing up at Cobbs' residence constituted a "raid." In fact, the man leading that day's charge, Virginia State Police agent Bradley McManaway, who was working with JADE, says what happened that day was pretty typical for the state's marijuana eradication program.

"They're not raids," specifies McManaway, referring a reporter to Senior Special Agent Keith Kincaid, who handles the pot program for this area's division of the State Police.

"I'm not going to discuss the details of how we find them," Kincaid says. "The success of the program is based on a shroud of secrecy."

He does reveal that police either receive a tip or spot the pot plants while flying around– even, allegedly, just a pair of marijuana plants.

Search warrants can be obtained, says Kincaid, but more typically they're not "if the individual is at home and we make contact and request to be allowed onto the property."

And what if a resident is too terrified by an advancing phalanx of armed police to say no?

"That's why we try to identify ourselves, and we try to have marked cars," says Kincaid, who says the men taking part in this program have had SWAT or tactical training. "We've had several situations with violence or the propensity for violence was there."

He's not aware of anyone getting shot in the marijuana eradication program, which was put in place under Governor Doug Wilder and is called GIANT, the Governor's Initiative Against Narcotics Trafficking.

Kincaid wasn't familiar with Cobbs' case, but he says, "If there were five cars and a helicopter, they weren't out there specifically for two plants." And despite this meager haul, Kincaid points out, "Marijuana is illegal, whether we see one or 100,000."

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller has a take on Cobbs' bust. She disputes any notion of racial profiling and asserts that the helicopter team didn't see Cobbs– just the marijuana.

As Cobbs was told at the scene, the two plants were spotted from the air, and the officers drove to his property. And in what Geller describes as a "cordial" conversation, "Mr. Cobbs gave consent, so a warrant was not needed," she says.

"What choice did I have?" asks Cobbs.

"They walked to the back, and the plants were just beyond the curtilage," says Geller, using the legal term that describes the area immediately surrounding a dwelling where a citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

Finding the marijuana outside the curtilage, says Geller, is another reason no search warrant was necessary. And she notes that the police weren't storming through any door.

"It was not with guns drawn," says Geller. "We didn't have any tip information this guy was dangerous."

The effort, she says, started as a GIANT operation, but with enforcement now turned over to Albemarle police. She puts the street value of the two plants at $6,000.

Fighting pot in times of budget crunches

Since the Reagan administration intensified the War on Drugs in the 1980s, keeping Americans unstoned has gotten tougher with budget shortfalls in all levels of government, and more complicated as 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical pain relief.

In June, Representatives Ron Paul and Barney Frank introduced a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level and let states make their own laws about legalization, regulation, or taxation. Congressman Robert Hurt, who represents Charlottesville and the surrounding area in Congress, did not respond to a Hook request for his position on the bipartisan proposal.

Some states are eyeing marijuana legalization as a potential revenue source and a way to reduce enforcement expenses, and on September 30, Governor Bob McDonnell asked all state agencies to figure out further savings strategies. Could Virginia's pot policies become an area in which the state could save money or even generate revenue?

Probably not. Those strategies, says the governor's spokewoman Taylor Thornley, will have to come from agency heads, who typically defer to the chief. Although declining comment on any specific program, she notes that GIANT, which is run by the Virginia State Police, is endorsed by the governor's office.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency has traditionally been a cash cow for state pot interdiction efforts, and Virginia is no exception. In 2011 and 2010, the DEA contributed $285,000 to marijuana eradication in the Commonwealth, and the feds help out in other ways, like paying for helicopters, fuel, ATVs, and overtime expenses, says State Police spokesperson Geller. The National Guard also joins in the reefer-eradication effort.

"There are a number of opportunities for grant funding from the DEA," explains Geller. "If we have more arrests and seizures, we can get more money."

The number of arrests from pot eradication throughout Virginia, which includes indoor operations, has grown slowly the past few years, with 377 arrests in 2009 and 385 in 2010, according to the State Police. What has leaped are the number of plants seized: 18,583 in 2009 to 47,453 in 2010.

In a paper published last year, "The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition," Harvard University economics prof Jeffrey Miron calculates the cost of marijuana prohibition in Virginia at $246 million, a number that includes police costs in making arrests, the judiciary's cost in prosecuting, and the cost of incarcerating offenders.

On the local level, Albemarle police assist the state operation once a year with a ground team of three to five officers to seize pot plants, says Sergeant Byers. In the past five years, county officers have taken 1,046 plants off the street.

The county has 14 officers with SWAT team status, although that's a part-time, as-needed assignment. Four Albemarle officers are assigned to JADE, which takes part in the state's GIANT operations– and two did so in Cobbs' bust, according to Byers.

While neither state spokesperson Geller nor Albemarle spokesperson Byers was able to provide an estimate of what the the two-plant operation in southeastern Albemarle cost, the Rutherford Institute's Whitehead figures that– with nearly a dozen men, with SUV engines running, and with a helicopter circling overhead for so long that it needed to refuel– it could measure well into the thousands of dollars.

"That's taxpayer money," says Whitehead.

"It doesn't seem reasonable to say, 'We saw two marijuana plants, send in a SWAT team,'" Cobbs says.

A chat with the DEA

For much of his 16 years with the Drug Enforcement Agency, spokesman Jeff Scott has done marijuana eradication in California and Kentucky. Typically, his experience has been hunting illegal crops on public lands, some so remote that agents "fast rope" down from helicopters, chop the plants, and then pack up the harvest.

"These fields we often deal with are on national forests," he says. "The individuals doing it aren't respectful of the land. They're huge, hazardous trash sites, and two, they're dangerous individuals. Do you want to go camping with your family in a national forest with these people there?"

Without knowing the circumstances, Scott is hesitant to comment on a case in which an eradication team would swarm to confiscate two pot plants. "That's generally not our M.O.," he says.

There are some indicators that can give away a pot patch, such as the color, which the pros can get good at distinguishing. "Sometimes you see hoses from the air rather than the plants themselves," says Scott. And you can use "binos"– that's binoculars in DEA lingo. (He also says agents might wear BDUs– battle dress uniforms, which are "more comfortable attire.")

About pot-spotting in general, Scott says, "Even someone who's done it a lot is not going to easily observe two plants from 500 feet in the air."

And what about greenhouses– do they draw the attention of helicopter teams or provide probable cause to justify a search, as Cobbs fears?

"A greenhouse is a legal structure," says Scott. "If it's in the backyard, that's not indicative of anything. If it's in the middle of nowhere, it could be indicative of something."

One other thing the DEA does differently from state and local drug enforcement is getting search warrants when making a bust on private land, according to Scott.

"If you spot it, you go get a search warrant," he says. "If it's clearly in the backyard, clearly in the curtilage, and you don't see someone running out in the backyard, it's a good idea to go get a search warrant."

High anxiety

In the 1830s, an Albemarle magistrate named Thomas Garland purchased the property where Cobbs lives, in an area called Buck Island. In 1868, Garland deeded 600 acres to his former slave and housekeeper, Elizabeth Allen, an ancestor to Philip Cobbs whom Garland later married. Most of the land was sold off to Westvaco in the 1970s, all except the 39 acres retained by Philip Cobbs.

Now, on the terrain he's known all his life, Cobbs says he no longer feels safe.

"The black helicopter was frightening enough," he says. "Combined with the raid, I can't say how traumatizing it's been. I still wake up at night drenched in sweat."

And he still ponders how police came to see two pot plants he says he didn't even know were there.

"As far as I know, all the decisions for that raid were made in 15 minutes," he says.

Cobbs is grimly amused at the idea he gave consent to the search. "I didn't feel like I had any choice," he says. "I was extremely cooperative."

He's scheduled to appear in Albemarle General District Court October 18, and he says he has refused a deal to plead guilty.

"They were not my plants," he insists. " I feel like any kind of plea would affect my ability to take care of my mother."

Aside from this year's speeding ticket (and, of course, the two-plant pot bust), Cobbs says he's had no run-ins with the law in more than a quarter of a century, and feels like he's been a law-abiding citizen, though he notes that he does have a couple of blemishes from his younger days.

One was a 1984 charge for petit larceny when he allegedly took a light switch cover from a hardware store. "There was no fine or anything," he says.

And he been in trouble before over marijuana– in 1976, when he was 18 years old, he was charged for possession. "It was dismissed," he notes.

Besides the Charlottesville school system, Cobbs has worked for the U.S. Census, served as a Boy Scouts of America scoutmaster, and he directed a Charlottesville Parks & Rec swim team. He has two sons, one of whom is in the Army.

"I have a reputation in Charlottesville," says Cobbs. "Many people in the community know me. I find it bizarre they would think I'm a drug dealer or manufacturer."

Says Cobbs, "For me, I didn't know it was there and so close. I feel vulnerable. It's extremely frightening. The only thing I can do is make choices to keep it from happening again."

He also feels intimidated. "I would't want anyone to go through something like this," says Cobbs. "I'm just an average citizen. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone."

***

Three days after a reporter spoke to the Virginia State Police about this case, Cobbs was awakened on another quiet morning by the sound of a helicopter circling over his land. It was October 9, and the episode lasted about 10 minutes. Police spokesperson Geller says the State Police helicopter was not doing marijuana eradication that day.

85 comments

Thank goodness he didn't have Belmont Farms 'shine in the cabinet!

Legislation backing the "war on drugs" purports to reverse the onus of proof in drug-possession trials. That reversal is incompatible with the rule of law and is therefore unconstitutional in ALL jurisdictions.

More: http://is.gd/noreverse .

Legalize it already. sheesh. What they did to Cobbs is so unnecessary.

Great reporting Lisa.

What a waste of our money, and I am so sorry for the mental torment Mr. Cobbs has endured. He is providing an invaluable service to his mother and should be given an award not this abuse !

The whole marijuana prohibition issue, like the alcohol prohibition last century, is at its core a personal freedom issue. If we continue to allow our government to limit inherent natural personal freedoms, all personal freedoms can become sacrificial. There is no legal justification for this in ‘the Land of the Free’. Surely we can no longer allow prohibitionists to hide behind the yellow press smear done on cannabis in the last century. The only question is when will enough people realize that defining the activities of a minority, (cannabis users), that are (arguably) causing minimal social harm, as criminal, is a policy that impacts everyone’s freedom.

This is not an issue about the will of the majority: the will of the majority is what we use to elect candidates. The freedoms of a peaceful minority must not be infringed unless they are inflicting grievous social harm, and by every reasonable measure, cannabis consumers are not doing so. Informed people realize that cannabis prohibition causes much more hardship than its consumption.

In this country traditionally we have opted for government that maximizes (or attempts to maximize) productivity. Perhaps in this case it would be prudent to remind our government that if they can’t achieve what they want, (and after forty years of trying that conclusion should be self-evident), they can always focus on minimizing harm. Creating a criminal class with the stroke of a pen was not good government then, and asserting that criminality ‘by decree’ now, is such a heinous affront to basic civil personal human rights, prohibition is a policy that can no longer be tolerated.

Two lives destroyed and what have we gained. Is this a matter of public safety ?

Perhaps the real test of sanity will occur on the 18th at the Albemarle General District Court, which will hand down some decision on Phil's case. That's just 6 days from right now (the 12th). Hopefully there will be some show of support for Phil at that time. In the narrowest sense, he is, I suppose, guilty of possession, although I think there are some reasonable legal arguments to support a not guilty plea. So, OK, you're guilty as charged, Phil. Your fine is $1.00. Have a nice day. The unlucky judge has an opportunity, as well, to admonish the heavy-handed tactics of enforcement. Let us hope he or she seizes the day to do just that.

A bunch of goobers with guns and a liscense to kill. Heaven forbid they should go after some real bad guys that peddle meth, coke and heroin. But these guys are not just lazy, they're scared the real dealers might shoot back. We pay for this group of terrorists and just like all other terrorists they firmly believe in they're cause. Land of the free my ...

Another side to this would be to look at the va law.. if he is convicted or even pleads to simple possession he will lose his drivers license for 6 months and have to submit to drug tests.

Just another example of government run amok.

Dear Potheads...

Save you seeds and throw them in the parks and on the sides of highways...

Within a decade there will be so many they can't keep up with it.

I would like to show support for Mr. Cobbs! If there is anything planned or more information on when and where he is to appear please make some noise!!!

I would like to show support for Mr. Cobbs! If there is anything planned or more information on when and where he is to appear please make some noise and inform me and others where we can voice our disgust about this injustice.

Yes let's do muster and make a stink about this. Or go observe the court appearance.

And Bill the Johnny Ganja-Seed idea is a great one. Start the Guerilla Ganja movement today and go plant in public spaces.

I can handle the truth!

Legal or not, this drug has to be used with a great deal of caution.

Shooting an Iraqi war veteran 71 times and killing him.

Bursting into wrong addresses..... nationwide on a somewhat regular basis.

Tear gassing homes.

7 hour standoff with a vacant home.

Dawson shot in his home after pulling a weapon to defend his castle.

12-by-5-foot greenhouse. Guilty until proven innocent with a search!

Totally out of control come to mind?

And it would be real nice if Longo would acknowledge his troops are given false and misleading information by his own "veteran officers" as they approach a suspect's house! Three officers in dark clothing park their cars blocks away and walk around a suspect's house in total pitch black darkness, the suspect having been a sworn deputy sheriff in Virginia for 30 years with no record whatsoever . The only thing that prevented this from escalating to a deadly shootout was the fact that I (yes, that's right, ME!) decided to walk outside without a firearm in my hands to see who was circling my home in the dark and causing my dog to wake up the entire neighborhood. Thank God the tool that had told them all that I was "armed and dangerous" is no longer employed with them as a police officer. All they had to do was call me on the phone and ask me to meet them at the Magistrate's Office or police department. Which is exactly what they did do the next night when they had another question to ask of me.

And for those who don't like listening to me in these topics of discussion - tough luck! I have been there, done that! Almost shot 71 times just like Iraqi war veterans are. I firmly believe my decision not to step out outside with a firearm is the only thing that saved my life on this cold winter evening.

Sheriff, why did you shoot the suspect 85 times?

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd: "That's all the bullets we had!"

http://www.snopes.com/crime/cops/judd.asp

All of us in LE know: where theres smoke, theres fire. The SWAT team would not be there unless there was a need for them. Bad guys come in all sizes.

"All of us in LE know: where theres smoke, theres fire. The SWAT team would not be there unless there was a need for them. Bad guys come in all sizes."

Yeah, and you guys and the prosecutors and prosecutors in black robes (judges) know that everyone is guilty and everything in police reports is the gospel truth written by the divine hand of God.

Pot will be legal by the end of the next decade. Nationwide, support in the polls keeps growing by around one percentage point a year for the last couple of decades and is currently in the mid forty some odd percent range. In the second half of this decade the majority of Americans of voting age will support legalization. More and more politicians will get onboard as popular support grows and the time will come in the not too distant future that pot is produced and distributed in an industry regulated similar to the alcohol industry. It's only a matter of time, and after it happens we'll be wondering why we didn't do it a long time ago. The sky won't fall in. We won't legalize meth. Pot use won't go up that much because most everyone who wants to smoke it already does. Organized crime will have a much harder time getting the hard stuff to end consumers because they won't be able to run it through pot distribution channels. We'll save a fortune currently blown trying in vain to keep up the ban, and we'll generate tax revenues.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I can't believe that in 2011, pot is still illegal and treated as some serious criminal issue. It's a fricking PLANT. You can smoke half the s*** out there in nature and probably get some sort of effect, yet that particular plant warrants helicopters circling and a SWAT team storming onto a guy's property with guns drawn and safeties coming off? Please.

Meanwhile, teh world continues to be filled with rapists, child molestors, kiddie porn makers, sadistic murderers, etc. But we all know, pot is the real crime!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Law Enforcement-they need to justify the chopper, the fancy swat guys, so go out on raid for nothing but maybe score big, they get some practive, act like Big Men and if you are a legal farmer with two wild mary jane plants of your property-TOO bad. This is the Bir Brother State we pay for

$6000. for 2 little plants? I have a bridge to sell Ms. Geller....

DonDig;
You put the case very eloquently. This whole business is a cluster&&&& and a misallocation of resources for no greater good despite what the Mugwump faction says to the contrary.
Back in the eighties I had a teenage son who rather innocently asked what was the best sort of land to grow Pot on. I told him "someone else's land"...
Marijuana is a hardy weed and others who have posted about guerrilla growing by planting seeds everywhere have a good point. If enough people would do this it would reach the point where the authorities would simply be unable to tell cultivars from non-cultivars and the whole helicopter campaign would go away..
The stuff is easy to spot from the air; nothing else has quite the same shade of green and once you see a few from the air it's child's play to spot more.

Self Satisfied Gas Guzzler, that's what law enforcement said about me, "where' there's smoke, there's fire". Nevermind the fact that the suspect who impersonated a police officer was a 20-ish year old Hispanic male, 5'4", 140 pounds with jet black hair and no mustache.

Who did the cop shoppes falsely arrest? Me. White male, 52 years old, 5'11", 220 pounds, gray hair and a mustache. Add in my living 120 miles from where the alleged crime took place at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. The only time I have been awake at 5:00 a.m in the last thirty years was while working at either the Charlottesville Sheriff's Office or the Greene County Sheriff's Office.

If you're a cop like you want people here to believe..... you're an example of the problem in law enforcement nowadays, you're not the solution.

The only solution to the problem in law enforcement is more people suing cops for wrongful actions and wrongful arrests. Just like I had to do.

Thank God 98% of the officers in this area are good decent and honest cops. The other 2% belong in jail themselves. Firing this 2% or asking them to resign is not enough to discourage other rookies from not following the same path. Perhaps the police chiefs, sheriffs and commonwealth attorneys will wake up someday.

Gasbag, your habit of interjecting your person drama into the comment sections of countless unrelated articles became tedious years ago. Now it's just really pathetic. This story has NOTHING to do with you.

@ Self Satisfied Gas Guzzler

Who knew that two little pot plants justified a "need" for law enforcement to be there.

Or that two little pot plants makes somebody the "bad guy."

Sounds to me like you can't admit that law enforcement was wrong. In this case there was no smoke, let alone fire, and there was no bad guy. "Law enforcement done screwed up!" As they're so often doing more and more nowadays. End of story.

I would like to know what to do to protect myself. The helicopters have been inspecting a pile of junk in our yard and greenhouse and I don't want to walk outside to a SWAT team and guns.

Sorry cookieJar, but my little story most certainly does pertain to special weapons and tactics. The tactics they used when visiting my residence were totally uncalled for. Which is the main theme in this story as well.

5-11 220 pounds Gas Man? Lay off the twinkies and Ho-Ho's sir!

Yeah, I know! But it's Pepsi and Twinkies. :)

Having sat down and read this story again, I see where Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller says, "It was not with guns drawn.... we didn't have any tip information this guy was dangerous."

And yet Mr Cobbs says, "...a dozen men wearing flak jackets and carrying automatic weapons. The thing that was so frightening is that I could hear the safeties coming off their rifles."

Which account is more credible? I think we all know who is telling the truth. I would like to see Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller produce any written reports or documents which claim it was not with weapons drawn.

Ms. Geller is not a cop. She is a journalism graduate in a PR job...

I don't care if she is a cop, circus clown or a plumber. I want to know where she got the information that Cobbs wasn't approached by men with full automatic weapons drawn? Did a specific person tell her this or did she pick it up in some report or document she saw?

I personally know Corinne Geller. She is a nice person, a trustworhty person. I don't think she would say no weapons were drawn unless somebody had told her this or put it in writing.

Not much difference between a one self righteous toad with a gun and a self righteous toad with a gun and badge, except the badge of course.

Not sure how this is related to the topic being discussed, but there is a HUGE difference between a self righteous toad with a gun and a self righteous toad with a gun and badge. The toad with the badge and gun can automatically claim fear for his/her life and never get criminally charged by the commonwealth attorney. The toad without the badge will have to spend $100,000 to $150,000 to clear themselves in a court of law even though the same fear for his/her life existed.

I dunno, but seems to me that a 9 year veteren of the Navy would know the difference between automatic weapons being present, drawn, and with safeties coming off, versus no weapons. And uh, it seems to me that if the SWAT team shows up someplace they're gonna have weapons. Drawn. Ready to go. Just in case. 'Cause you know, they're the frigging SWAT TEAM after all.

So, my guess is that Ms. Geller was told to write that. I dunno know, just a hunch.

This was a drill for SWAT. They spend alot of our money and time with their toys and need to justify their use.

Why does it take one month for ACPD to show up? Was this crime not that important or was it retaliation?

Retaliation.

Combined with the fact if a conviction takes place, it makes it much harder for Cobbs to proceed in a lawsuit against the entire bunch.

ACPD tried this on me back in 1997, but it backfired in their faces.

The Albemarle Court has ruled in Cline vs.Stonefield Development that there was no duty for Stonefield or a rural land owner to inspect their trees along Rio Road (to know if one is rotten and about to fall)(one tree beside the road fell on a dentist driving down Rio Rd). But there is a duty for Dr. Hurt, Stonefield, Mr. Cobbs to know what pot looks like and is it growing on their rural land? Then you say that within sight of a house or structure you are obligated (the same as if you had a helicopter) to know what every plant is within X feet of your house.

JADE should have their own book series, like Curious George. I'm thinking "JADE and the Two Pot Plants" or "JADE and the College Student's 'Meth Lab.'"

Does anyone have the court case/docket information? If so, please post it up. I'd like to attend and show support for Mr. Cobbs. It'd be great to see some like-minded individuals out there.

Thanks!

Albemarle General District Court
possess marijuana
10-18-2011 at 9:30 a.m.
case # GC11015076-00
complainant ROSS

I saw Chief Longo at the wine shop buying a buncha wine...

Thanks GSOE! I know that we can't take cell phones or anything else electronic into the court room. Anything else we should know before showing up?

So let me get this straight. The Hook is doing an article on a guy who was doing something that he knew was illegal, got caught doing it, and is paying the piper for it. What is wrong with that? There is no way on earth I am going to think of him as the victim. There also is no way I am going to believe that he didn't know about the plants. I just suppose someone came to his property and hid the plants right next to his house right? Yeah, sounds like another useless doper got caught growing his own stuff and now wants to cry about it. Maybe he should have kept his job, I'm more than sure he is mooching off the government to make his "ends meat". If he can't sleep at night from the fear of police kicking in his door, than maybe he should think about not committing any more illegal acts and being a productive member of society.

Let me guess "give me a break", you are either in LE and believe: accused= guilty or you have some investment in the prison industrial complex...

Cobbs Supporter, if you are a Cobbs supporter, sit on the side of the courtroom he is on.

Don't sit on the commonwealth's side. :)

Mr/Mrs/Miss Give Me A Break, if I come by and toss a few random seeds around on your property, you would automatically be guilty. Right? Even better yet, suppose a relative, unbeknowst to you, planted some pot on your property..... you would be guilty too, right? I sure am glad we have competent judges in this area rather than letting citizens sit on the bench once in a while. I think you would be quite surprised to learn just how many people are found not guilty in our courts every day in traffic, criminal and civil cases. By subscribing to the "guilty until proven innocent" theory you are nothing more than government sheepel.

Deleted by moderator.

@give me a break
It's called 'weed' because it grows like one.

Also, vegetation spreads naturally all the time. If an animal consumes plant matter containing seeds in one location, they end up depositing those seeds somewhere else in a nice little pile of fertilizer.

I believe in doing the right thing and obeying the laws of the land that are in reason. I have spent my time in the trenches for my country and state and dare any man to challenge that. So a sheep I am not. No I don't believe in accused = guilty however, the hook is portraying him as victim before the trial has taken place. The fact of the matter is, nobody on here knows the facts on the case. I don't buy his story on its face value. That of course is my opinion, like everyone I am entitled to it. And no, I don't believe a deer ate a marijuana plant and pooped in a pot on this mans land.

Where did it say the alleged marijuana was growing "in a pot"?

Sorry cvillian, it does not say that, however, I still don't believe the animal dropping story.

@give me a break
Would you mind showing us where it says that the plants were in a pot? That would certainly change the story, but as you said, I/we don't have all the facts. Please share with us where you are getting your additional info.

@thread
Nevermind that last bit. No additional sources.

Also, per finding marijuana growing wild; It sounds like you've got some years under your belt. I'm surprised that you've never run across plants growing wild in a creek bed. Even excluding animal intervention, it's not super uncommon to find a plant growing in a rainwater run-off near an apartment complex.

Cobbs supporter, I clarified this earlier, I was mistaken by the containers that the tomato plants were in.

Face it folks, there's two kinds of people in this discussion:

1. guilty until proven innocent

2. innocent until proven guilty

You can determine who is who by their own words.

And this old "served my country" is getting old real fast. People use it often to somehow reinforce their beliefs or opinions in a debate. In this case, used to claim the man is guilty because his story can't be believed.

I believe we all have a "Witness" moment coming to us on Tuesday. Someone's in trouble and the bell has been rung: we can drop what we're doing and peacefully, unarmedly run to the nearest hill to see what's going on and, by our presence, possibly change the outcome.

Five SWAT cars for two plants? Really? This is an acceptable, reasonable response on the part of the government agents whose salaries and resources we all pay for? This is how we want our money spent?

It isn't how I want my public servants to serve me --- or my neighbor. I think I'll be late to work next Tuesday.

A lot of creepy stuff in this story. The alleged racial comment by a LE officer, leaving Mr. Cobb's mother alone in the position she was in despite his (no doubt) explanation of her condition. Kind of shameful on many levels it seems to me...

Another prime example of how law enforcement has its priorities up its collective derrieres. Aside from the obvious fact that they have too much money money to spend on jet fuel, I would think local hard core drug dealers would be at the top of they're list, not this guy. But again, he was an easy target and not dangerous. Well done, you've displayed your total lack of professionalism and concern for us, the real people.

"it's not super uncommon to find a plant growing in a rainwater run-off near an apartment complex"

Any in particular?

@entrepreneur
The plant that I happened across here in cville was near JPA. I'd wager that your best hunting grounds would be near apartment complexes popular with the kids.

Guilt or innocence really isn't the issue here. The focus should be on the execution of this bust. Bottom line: it was excessive, dangerous, unnecessary and makes the organization tasked with this operation look like idiots.

Rather than focusing on the pot issue, maybe we should be focusing on the Fourth Amendment question. Helicopters flying over private land spying on people sounds like a violation to me. I have no problem with them flying over public lands like national forests looking for pot plants.
Maybe instead of the oldtime moonshiner with his shotgun on the lookout for "revenooers"
it should be citizens with surface to air missiles taking out black helicopters.
People tolerate such behavior by the government; therefore it will only grow worse until we are living under a dictatorship. And then it will likely be too late.
Department of Homeland Security- such a Third Reich-like sound.

I am a grower of specialty produce in FL who has longed to relocate to VA or NC. After reading this article, VA is out. I, too, have a greenhouse and if a greenhouse is a signal to overzealous cops that I should be raided and terrorized, then I want no part of moving to VA.

give me a break,

Serving in the trenches doesn't make you not a government sheeple. It is also not a justification for denying other citizens their rights under the Constitution. I served in the trenches too, and I know that your first job is to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. You seem to have missed that part, which commonly goes along wit those who do serve, but want to make a big deal about it when they say something they know isn't right.

Sting operations run by people who violate the Constitution make them enemies of the state, no matter what you might want to think.

I wonder what you would say if Cobbs turns out to be someone who served 20 years in the trenches and has a purple heart to boot.

One day it will be your turn, and you will scream to high heaven victim victim victim, and nobody will listen to you. They'll let you get served as you sit here dishing.

It costs roughly 5 thousand dollars every time a helicopter is used in any sort of law enforcement raid.

What a waste

It was worth it to get a dangerous criminal/caregiver off the street and destroy $6000 worth of illegal narcotics.

Marijuana is chemically unrelated to narcotics. Anyone who is so uninformed as to not know that elementary fact really has little to add to the discussion.

@mr morris

Not worth my tax dollars to eradicate a couple of plants. Feral hemp population occur all over North America, probably because of the historical significance of hemp production. Two plants growing in some unused land on this guy's property sounds more like feral hemp (ditch weed) than marijuana cultivation to me. Even the DEA admits that almost all of the cannabis plants they destroy are just feral hemp:

http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t4382005.pdf

Imagine a politician proposing a plan to eradicate dandelions in Virginia, and imagine if having dandelions growing on your property resulted in a SWAT team showing up. That is how ridiculous this situation is. If all the police need is evidence that a particular species of plant is growing on your property to justify the use of a SWAT team, then nobody with any amount of land should feel safe.

Mr Morris

$5K is based off a surbaban county I used to work for. That is generally the mininum. In a rural setting like this, it is probably much more. That hardly factors in the cost of all the latest military gear and lazer guided guns that SWAT teams generally buy.

What a colossal waste of money.

This happened mid-80's. Then it was under Governor Robb's emergency legislation and copters were circling all over, every summer. They terrorized farmers and farm animals in Rockbridge (there was a suit brought on their behalf, with named Plaintiff Letcher who had been in Nam and got nightmare flashbacks from the aerial surveillance), and they invaded with dozens of vehicles, as I recall, a couple's Fluvanna farm where they took care of disabled seniors (pattern?), held them all at the point of AK-47s while they canvassed the property, then, when the supposedly offending SINGLE PLANT turned out to be something else, one of the guys, not the leader, was nice enough to say "sorry" before they got in cars and left. Guess they don't say sorry anymore.

Wrong then, wrong now.

Maybe the helicopter pilot was texting and they attacked the wrong farm...

Back in the early 70s the local area had two officers attempting to work drug investigations in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Attempting is the key word here. The first officer was Detective Bobby Hughes with the Charlottesville Police Department. The second officer was Wayne Davis with the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office (Albemarle's police department didn't exist yet). Neither officer was given the tools, time, resources or support in this "War On Drugs" because the police chief and sheriff did not want people knowing that the drug trade was slowly moving into our area. Right at the beginning of one of the biggest drug purchases and arrests this area would have ever seen at the time, Deputy Wayne Davis and Detective Bobby Hughes had to scrap the mission because Deputy Wayne Davis had to respond to an auto accident on Route 250 East. Having to scrub missions and return to other duties wasn't unusual, it was normal. A few people will debate the history of drug enforcment in the city and county, but I know the above to be true because I was sitting in the front seat of Wayne's patrol car every night he was working. We sure have come a long way since then. In 2011, dozens of men with the time, tools, resources and support find 2 marijuana plants. Detective Hughes and Deputy Davis would be proud of them. May the late Detective Hughes rest in peace, and may former Deputy Davis laugh himself to sleep tonight.

Back in the early 70s the local area had two officers attempting to work drug investigations in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Attempting is the key word here. The first officer was Detective Bobby Hughes with the Charlottesville Police Department. The second officer was Wayne Davis with the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office (Albemarle's police department didn't exist yet). Neither officer was given the tools, time, resources or support in this War On Drugs because the police chief and sheriff did not want people knowing that the drug trade was slowly moving into our area. Right at the beginning of one of the biggest drug purchases and arrests this area would have ever seen at the time, Deputy Wayne Davis and Detective Bobby Hughes had to scrap the mission because Deputy Wayne Davis had to respond to an auto accident on Route 250 East. Having to scrub missions and return to other duties wasn't unusual, it was normal. A few people will debate the history of drug enforcment in the city and county, but I know the above to be true because I was sitting in the front seat of Wayne's patrol car every night he was working. We sure have come a long way since then. In 2011, dozens of men with the time, tools, resources and support find 2 marijuana plants. Detective Hughes and Deputy Davis would be proud of them. May the late Detective Hughes rest in peace, and may former Deputy Davis laugh himself to sleep tonight.

The Hook should not be reporting $6000 for two little plants without a great deal of skepticism. These numbers have no basis in fact at all. When public officials give outrageous information, the media has a responsibility to ask them to back it up.

Dont' mean to criticize an otherwise excellent article.

Two pot plants thigh high might be worth what? ...$100.00, a helicopter, six or eight highly trained swat guys, and a day in court all add up to what? $10,000.00. Yea, this war on pot really seems to be paying off.

John, that is really sad.

"We fabricated drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas, former NYPD detective testifies."

I thought I could handle the truth, until Bonita put me to the test.

I guess Bonita's version of the truth tested more than just me. It disappeared pretty quickly and without a trace.

Guess I didn't read close enough. Who/what is Bonita (other than a tuna)?

Occupy Charlottesville: occupy a courthouse:
Albemarle General District Court
possess marijuana
10-18-2011 at 9:30 a.m.
case # GC11015076-00
complainant ROSS

It's right next door: be there or be square.

This needs to be on the latest four posts:
Albemarle General District Court
possess marijuana
10-18-2011 at 9:30 a.m.
case # GC11015076-00
complainant ROSS

Maybe these scores of officers should have been watching their own house instead of spending ten of thousands of dollars to find 2 pot plants:

Va. Deputy Fired After Allegation of Sex Crime BEDFORD, Va. (AP)

October 20, 2011

Police say a Bedford County sheriff's deputy has been fired following his arrest on charges of taking indecent liberties with a child.

The sheriff's office says in a news release that Virginia State Police arrested 47-year-old Ernest William Grubbs on Wednesday. The Bedford resident faces 12 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child by a person in custodial relationship.

Grubbs had served a school resource officer at Liberty High School. He remains free on $5,000 bond.

The sheriff's office says a special prosecutor will be assigned to assist in the investigation.

There is also a Major Presidential Error which was made in the Obama Healthcare Bill, The President signed INTO LAW the LEGALIZATION OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA FOR WASHINGTON, D.C.............. So, Once again, who gets to use pot and who doesn't?????????? And why???????? And no one caught this? This must be a LEGAL DILEMMA if the Right Lawyers Understood this.