June 26, 2009 -- Drug War Chronicle (US)
American Nightmare -- Will Foster and Justice, Oklahoma Style
Will Foster became a poster child for the mindless cruelties of the drug war more than a decade ago. The Tulsa small businessman and medical marijuana user -- he suffers from degenerative arthritis -- was raided by police with a warrant for a methamphetamine lab back in 1993. Police found no meth, but they did find a small marijuana garden. The unfortunate Foster was quickly sentenced to a mind-blowing 93 years in prison.
It took a growing national movement and, ultimately, an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision to get that sentence redressed. After the state high court threw out his sentence, Foster was resentenced to 20 years, twice denied parole, then finally paroled to the more medical marijuana-friendly state of California, where he moved in temporarily with "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, who had testified in his defense in Oklahoma and then befriended him.
And they all lived happily ever after, right? Wrong. Although Foster settled into a law-abiding life in Northern California, picking up a new family along the way, and successfully completed what the state of California considered an adequate parole period, that wasn't good enough for the state of Oklahoma. Upset that California officials hadn't kept him on parole as long as they would have, Oklahoma parole officials demanded that he return to that benighted state to finish his parole and when he, perhaps understandably, declined, issued a warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his parole.
Nothing came of that until Foster had his ID checked in a police encounter, but then, the pending Oklahoma warrant popped up, and Foster was jailed in California to be returned to Oklahoma to finish the rest of his sentence. With nothing to lose, Foster fought the warrant by filing a writ of habeas corpus and winning its dismissal in the California courts in 2006.
Once again, Foster was a free man, but Oklahoma still wasn't done with him. Oklahoma parole officials then offered to reinstate him in the interstate compact, which governs the supervision of parolees who parole to states other than the one in which they were sentenced, but then added that they had made a mistake when originally calculating the length of his parole period. His parole didn't end in 2011, but in 2015, they said, demanding he sign a document to that effect. Again, perhaps understandably, Foster declined that offer, and again, the state of Oklahoma issued another warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his parole.
By then, Foster had moved to Santa Rosa, California, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, and made a home with a local woman, Susie Mueller, and her three daughters. There, he had a medical marijuana grow, all completely legal under state law and county guidelines. But he also had a vindictive ex-girlfriend, who told law enforcement officials he was operating a major marijuana grow operation.
The next thing Foster and Mueller knew, DEA agents and Sonoma County sheriff's deputies were kicking down their door, the couple was arrested on state marijuana cultivation charges, and Mueller's youngest daughter was taken into custody as an endangered child.
"It was terrible," said Mueller. "They did a full-on raid and arrested him over seven mature plants, and they arrested me and took my daughter away. They thought because he knew Ed there was something big going on. They said if I told them where the other grows were, they wouldn't arrest me and take my daughter. I told them that's all there was and that he was within the guidelines, and they said 'take her kid,' and they arrested me."
A hard-nosed Sonoma County prosecutor delayed months before dropping the baseless charges, and Foster sat in the Sonoma County Jail the whole time. But even after the charges were dropped, Foster remains behind bars, fighting the extradition warrant back to Oklahoma. It's now going on 16 months of imprisonment for him.
"In their warrant, they said I violated the terms and conditions of parole in Oklahoma, then fled Oklahoma to escape justice," Foster said Wednesday in a phone call from the jail. "But I haven't been back in Oklahoma since I left in 2001. I successfully finished parole here, I beat back that earlier extradition effort, and they're still coming after me."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger routinely signed off on the Oklahoma warrant without knowing all the facts, Foster said. "The governor has not been given all the information. Oklahoma didn't tell him I had finished parole, had an earlier extradition attempt thrown out, or that they had tried to extend my parole six years after the fact," he pointed out.
Neither the California nor the Oklahoma governors' offices nor Oklahoma parole officials responded to Chronicle inquiries about the Foster case.
Now, with his options running out, Foster and his supporters are pursuing two strategies, one political and one judicial. The first is aimed at the two governors, urging them to revoke the warrants. The second is to file another writ of habeas corpus, which Foster said he would do at the end of this month.
"I am asking the governor of Oklahoma to recall the warrant and commute my sentence and let me live in peace in California and just leave me alone," he said. "I'm asking Gov. Schwarzenegger to not honor the extradition request. There is case law suggesting that he does not have to grant extradition; he can deny it and recall his warrant."
Ed Rosenthal is leading the campaign to free Foster. On his blog is complete information about how to contact the two governors to ask them to recall the warrants.
"Every human being whose life is disrupted because of the marijuana laws deserves our attention, but Will's case is important first because people already know about the terrible injustice done to him back in Oklahoma, and second because it's just so weird and egregious," said Rosenthal. "People just shake their heads and say this shouldn't be happening. We're trying to get him out, and we're trying to bring this injustice to the attention of people who don't already know about it," he said.
"Apparently, Oklahoma has a lot of money to burn on this vindictiveness," he noted. "This is a sad and stupid case."
It's costing cash-strapped California, too. The cost for imprisoning Foster for the past 15 months is now in excess of $100,000, and that doesn't include the cost of the bogus marijuana cultivation prosecution.
"I'll be filing a habeas writ on June 29," Foster said, "and the state will have 15 days to respond. There will probably be a hearing in 30 days."
It's unusual for habeas writs to be granted, and Foster is uncertain about his prospects for victory, but is prepared for the long haul. "If I don't win there, I can drag this out for years. I could go all the way to the California Supreme Court, and then into the federal courts. But that would require that I continue to sit here in jail," he said.
Susie Mueller visits Foster in jail almost every day. "This is heartbreaking for me, it's very emotionally difficult because he shouldn't be in there," she said. "But I'm really devoted to him. I go almost every night, and we talk for an hour and play tic-tic-toe and go over the case."
In one of the strange ironies of Foster's ordeal, Mueller said she had gathered signatures for petitions seeking his release when he was imprisoned in Oklahoma a decade ago. "I met him at work here in Santa Rosa and didn't even realize he was that Will Foster," she laughed. "What a coincidence."
"Ed and Susie are the best advocates a guy could have," said Foster. "I'm so grateful for all they're doing."
For Foster, Oklahoma's efforts to punish him further are not about justice, but vengeance. "I beat them on the sentencing, I beat them on the first extradition warrant, and they want to teach me a lesson," he said. "They want to impose their authority."
Right now, the decision to extradite Foster back to Oklahoma is up to the two governors and their extradition specialists. An outpouring of public support in favor of allowing Foster to remain in California as a free man could make the difference.
Will Foster -- 93 Years for Marijuana Conspiracy
I am a 38-year-old male who was sent to prison for exercising my constitutional right of Freedom of Choice, (we are free people right?). I was convicted for cultivation of marijuana, on January 16, 1997, in Tulsa Oklahoma and sentenced to serve 93 years in prison on your tax dollars. This is the first time I have ever been in trouble. I was a productive citizen of the United States for the last 20 years, I paid taxes and even served my country in the United States Army.
I used marijuana for medical purposes. I have crippling arthritis in my feet, hips, lower back and hands. I did not enjoy the side effects of the drugs my doctors prescribed for me, which were mostly codeine based narcotics. These drugs can be highly addictive if used over an extended amount of time. The prescribed drugs left me moody, tired, and edgy, making it very difficult to enjoy my family and to perform my job. I have had my own business for the past 8 years as a computer programmer/analyst. So I elected to medicate myself, which is allowed in the constitution under the FREEDOM OF CHOICE, in the 8th amendment addressing PAIN AND SUFFERING and in the 14th amendment in ALL PEOPLE SHALL BE TREATED EQUALLY.
Right now there are 8 people in the United States who are a part of the Compassionate Use Program. These people receive government grown marijuana on a monthly basis. Some of these people have the same condition as I do. I do not understand how these 8 people differ from others also in pain. I hold no ill feelings for these 8 people, only for the government who continues to discriminate against the rest of us.
I protected my children and my wife, in every respect. My children did not do without any item of which they needed, nor did they EVER SEE OR KNOW of my marijuana garden. I had my medical garden in an underground bomb shelter, with a corrugated steel door, of which only I had the key. If I was going to self medicate, then I would convene to my bedroom and behind closed doors, relieve my pain. We were a happy, typical family, who had a life, and had dreams. The Tulsa Police Department, however had different ideas.
The Tulsa Police Department. and the Special Investigation Division (SID) entered our home on December 28, 1995 on a "John Doe" search warrant, looking for methamphetamine. They found no methamphetamine or any evidence that it had ever existed, they did however find my medical marijuana garden . To make a short story of it, the affiant, who is a sworn Tulsa Police Officer, stated that his affidavit was true, yet they found nothing listed on the search warrant. They found a total of $28.00 in cash. All of this transpired due to a "confidential informant."
During the trial, I was refused the right to face all of my accusers. The judge simply, refused to force the state to bring forth this so called, confidential informant - a direct violation of my constitutional right. During the 2 years it has taken to get this to a trial, the police department has had an "itch!" when it came to my case. You must understand, that almost everyone else in Tulsa County, ever busted for possession or cultivation, has "taken a deal." To take the issue to a jury trial was simply unheard of, and so, in October of 1996, when the District Attorney and the Special Investigations Division, found out that I had no intention of "taking the deal," they decided to "put the pressure" on.
On October 22, 1996 I was leaving my home, (a different residence by this time, my wife simply could not take living in the house where they had violated us). I had pulled into a gas station to fill up my car, when a Tulsa police officer pulled in behind me. Upon exiting his vehicle he called me by name, and insisted on seeing my driver license and insurance form. He stated that I had failed to signal from my residential street onto the main street. He then proceeded to search my person and my vehicle. When I questioned this, he stated that "he knew I had marijuana" either on me or in the car. He also phoned in on his cellular phone, to the same officers who had arrested me in December 1995. They had an amazingly good response time, less than one minute. They found NO MARIJUANA on my person or in my car, yet they still arrested me for failure to signal.
I was detained in the County jail from 10:10 am until 9:00 pm without having any charges brought against me. During the time I was sitting there, my wife found out where I was and came down with my sister in law and posted bail on the traffic violation. They still DID NOT RELEASE ME. They did however manage to get yet another search warrant for our home, and while NO ONE WAS THERE, searched the premises. They claimed on the affidavit for this warrant, that even though they had found no marijuana, I had "the odor" of marijuana about me, therefore granting them access to a warrant.
The same police officers, who had searched our home in December 1995, took my house keys from me and granted themselves entry to our home prior to the search warrant ever being signed by a judge. They then claimed to have found marijuana, however I know this is all a false claim, I NEVER KEPT marijuana in my home after the bust of December 1995. I guess, considering the fact that no one was in the house except for them, they could have found whatever they wanted, do you understand? They needed to insure that the additional charges would deter me from having an actual jury trial - but they thought wrong. In the course of all of this injustice, the District Attorney's advice was decided against, pressing the additional charges. I believe he was doubtful of their authenticity. What has happened to our 4th amendment right, of "UNLAWFUL SEARCH AND SEIZURE?"
Now, I am in prison at the expense of all of you good people. And why? Because, 12 people decided that smoking and/or growing marijuana is more harmful than murder. That is what it really comes down to. My sentence is longer than they give murderers, rapists and child molesters. Since I have been incarcerated I have received NO MEDICAL TREATMENT whatsoever. I risk the loss of my left leg, from the knee down. Is this how it was meant to be? Did I not serve this country faithfully when she needed me? And now that I need her, where is she? Hiding behind the skirts of "law and order"?
Disheartened is an understatement. I am lost. Lost in a system, that just doesn't give a damn. Lost from my family and friends, and for what purpose? Because I chose a clean and safe medicine. Because I chose not to become an addict to the pharmaceutical companies. Because I exercised my freedom of choice.
Upon research, I have found out that over 60% of the people in the same private prison in which I now sit, are non-violent offenders. This is costing the tax payers about 8 billion dollars a year. Before I was sent to Texas, our governor of Oklahoma took 14.2 million dollars from the state educational fund and paid off the debt owed to this facility.
Oklahoma is the 3rd largest incarcerator of people and we are 47th in children's education, in the United States. We spend over a billion dollars a year on out of state prisons. I am tired of the injustice being inflicted upon the people who are in pain and suffering. This is not what our country was based on. It is time for a change in our state and in our nation. Take a long look at the government, and police and you will see. This is not what our founding fathers wanted. This is still a country of BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE! It is our government to do with as we choose. It is time to take control of our own destiny. If we don't, than it will be a time of death for America as we know it to be. I hope that I have touched some of you, I hope that you will remember me, and my family.
Once upon a time, I believed in America and what she stood for, once upon a time I had life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Help to put an end to this travesty. Don't make me a martyr for nothing.
Peace to all.
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