The Naulls Case: Psychological Torture in the Name of Family Values
By FRED GARDNER
Which psychological torture would you rather not have to endure (bearing in mind that you don’t know how or when it will end):
1. Being made to wear panties and chained to a heap of fellow prisoners while rude foreigners insult you. Or,
2. What Ronald Bradley Naulls endured after his house and his Corona, California cannabis dispensary were raided by the DEA July 17?
Naulls’s torment was amplified because his wife Anisha was put through it, too, and their children were the very instrument by which it was applied. On the day of the raids Aaliyah, Amaiyah, and Aryanna Naulls -ages 5, 3, and 1, respectively- were taken from their home and placed in foster care at a location undisclosed to their parents. In the name of “family values” these healthy, well-cared-for little girls – impressionable, frightened little girls- were taken from their mother and father because the raiders had found edible marijuana stored in a refrigerator in the Naullses’s garage.
The rip-off of the Naulls kids was described to your correspondent on July 26 by an outraged attorney named James Anthony -a former assistant city attorney in Oakland who had helped Naulls fight a move by Corona politicians to close his dispensary. According to Anthony, Naulls had gotten a retail-business license and opened “Healing Nations” in April 2006, just before the city imposed a moratorium on cannabis dispensaries. He joined the Chamber of Commerce, donated to charities, got on well with his neighbors in a nondescript Corona strip mall. Anthony thinks the city’s attempt to close Healing Nations signaled the DEA that a raid would be welcome by the local power structure.
Anthony regrets having advised Naulls to pay taxes to the state Board of Equalization. When Healing Nations was raided a DEA agent told the media that it had grossed $1.2 million in nine months; the tax statement was the apparent source of the info. All the Naullses’s assets were seized, including accounts from a computer consulting company and a property management firm that Ronnie had started in years past. Financial ruin and prison was the worst-case scenario Anthony had foreseen for Naulls -not losing the kids.
Naulls is 27. Anthony described him as “a Republican, a church-goer, a computer nerd, a small business person. He looks like Will Smith. Anisha’s a beauty queen. The kids are cute as buttons. There was no trauma in their lives until the cops showed up and kicked the door in at six o’clock in the morning. They rousted everybody out of bed, waved shotguns around, handcuffed mommy and daddy and put them in separate police cars with helicopters overhead. Now the kids are in the clutches of Riverside County Health and Human Services and their mother is being held to answer on felony child endangerment charges.
“Grandma wants to take the kids,” said Anthony. “She’s a real estate broker, Japanese-American. But they won’t let her until they’ve completed a background check because grandpa has a 19-year-old DUI… The California Supreme Court has said that marijuana should be treated like any prescription drug. If CPS has some other evidence that somebody is abusing the kids, fine, step in and see that they’re protected. But the presence of medicine is utterly irrelevant. Is the county going to take children out of every home where there’s a prescription drug? Why not put a padlock on the school at 3 o’clock and keep them all?”
Don’t give them any ideas, James.
After the raids, Ronnie Naulls’s mother had put up her house to secure his release. The process took six days and he didn’t emerge from a federal detention center in Los Angeles until July 23. In addition to consoling his wife and agonizing over his daughters (with whom they would have brief supervised visits in a Riverside County office building on Wednesday mornings), Naulls had to focus on his looming federal prosecution and Anisha’s felony child endangerment case –how to find lawyers, how to raise funds to pay them, what approaches to take. He also had to make ends meet, i.e. get a job.
Anisha recounts: “They took my SUV. I’d had it for a year before Ronnie started [the dispensary]. We were told that the DEA had given it back to the bank. I called the bank and asked to get my car back. The bank said ‘Sure,’ but then they called the DEA and the DEA said ‘If you give them the car back, we’ll take it right back from them again.’ So the bank got scared and wouldn’t give it back. So it’s like ‘Wow, can you leave us alone, we’re trying to move on!'”
Ronnie and Anisha Naulls went to Riverside County Superior Court July 27 seeking custody of their children. They were represented by Geoff Gerber, a local family law specialist. According to James Anthony, who debriefed Gerber, “The judge got it that both parents are out of custody now and seem to be okay parents, so why not give the kids back to them? He looked to the social worker for guidance. ‘Oh, right the parents are pot smokers!'” The judge authorized CPS to return the children when the parents showed declining THC levels. This condition may not be legal, says Anthony, who wished he had the resources to argue to an appellate court that the parents’s THC levels were irrelevant.
Anthony described an episode that had ratcheted up the Naullses’s terror level. While Ronnie was still in jail, DEA agents had come to their house unannounced to return the computers confiscated during the raid. Anisha told them to leave everything on the porch. The agents tried to assure her that their intentions were benign but she would let them in the house. The next day, Anthony said, “a social worker called to say that the DEA had informed them that Anisha was being resistant and uncooperative. The social worker said ‘You have to cooperate with any government official who comes by your house, otherwise it looks like you have something to hide and you’re not a fit home for these children.’ The county is being used by the DEA to increase their leverage. ‘We have your children so you have to throw your doors open to the DEA without a warrant.’ Anisha’s position was correct.”
Ronnie had been ordered to undergo drug testing by two separate tentacles of The System: federal pretrial services and county social services. “Ronnie had to do drug testing for pretrial services up in Orange County and we had to do drug testing for social services in Corona,” Anisha expalined. “We had to call a number every day and if it said our color, we had to go in. It’s overwhelming.” Ronnie Naulls naively figured that going to a job interview took priority over going to a drug test. He had been asked back for a follow-up after an initial interview with a local company in the computer field –“a good-paying job and they really liked him,” according to Anisha. “Ronnie thought they were going to hire him.” Instead, he was picked up and returned to federal detention on August 23 for having missed two pee tests (the second miss being on a day he went to court in an attempt to get the girls back) and failing to keep his ankle bracelet charged. Middle-class people who have had little contact with The Syste, often think they can explain to an understanding supervisor, that common sense will prevail, that exceptions will be granted; poor people tend to be conversant with The System and to know better.
Naulls had made another foolish move after the July 27 hearing when he went to greet well-wishers who were holding a rally in front of the Healing Nations dispensary. He was observed by government agents. “The DEA got on the phone with Ronnie’s mom,” according to Anisha, “and told her, ‘You’re about to lose your house and your son doesn’t care, he’s out there protesting.’ Ronnie’s mom called and she’s crying. They put Ronnie through hell. Even the judge noticed, he said ‘These things they brought you back on are very minor … it’s kind of silly but I have to go along with it.'”
Ronnie Naulls’s folks came from Kansas. They are not related to the great UCLA basketball player Willie Naulls (a question he gets asked all the time). Ronnie discovered the analgesic effects of marijuana after fracturing his neck and shoulder in an auto accident; large doses of Ibuprofen and Naproxen had caused bleeding in his stomach. He decided to open a dispensary when his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “It seemed absurd that you would pay for a card and there’s nowhere to get your medicine in the county,” Naulls said. He did research on the internet and hired attorney Robert Raich to help him create a non-profit. The pent-up demand turned out to be enormous. At the time of the raid, Healing Nations had almost 3,000 members and Naulls was attempting to repeat his success in an underserved area north of San Diego.
“I thought that in America if you don’t infringe on anyone’s life, liberty or property, the government would stay out of your business,” Naulls said when we spoke on Friday, Aug. 10. He was dreading the prospect of federal prosecution but hopeful about getting the girls back soon from the county –maybe that very afternoon. During their once-a-week supervised visits the children seemed “bewildered,” Naulls said. They didn’t know why they had been taken from their home and he and Anisha were not allowed to explain it to them. How could you, honestly? “The plant that mommy and daddy smoke that makes them feel better, some people think it’s very, very bad … “
RN: Our five-year-old thinks she’s she’s being punished. She promises to be good. She doesn’t understand why she can’t come home.
CP: What do you tell her?
RN: The social worker won’t allow us to tell her anything. All I can tell her is that Jesus teaches us to be patient and to pray and daddy promises that you will come home. But I can’t say you’re going to be home soon or anything with regard to the time frame.
CP: That must be torture.
RN: It’s absolute torture.
CP: Do you know anything about whose house they’re in?
RN: No. All we know is that they’re with a foster parent. We don’t know where they are or who they’re with. Nothing.
CP: Is it just your three girls living there or is there a bigger group?
RN: From what I gather they have other kids there. Aaliyah says that the kids are being mean to her. They don’t allow her to use the night light -she had a night light at home. My one-year-old has a diaper rash, which she never had before. Amaiyah had a scratch on her arm.
CP: What’s the criterion for the decision to let them come home? James Anthony said they were going to drug test you and if your THC level was going down, that would be a factor.
RN: My levels have been going down. But the social worker said that the criminal investigation could curtail them from coming home.
CP: Any sense that the social worker is sympathetic?
RN: No. They’re treating it like another drug case. I can tell by his demeanor, we’re just “drug people.” I gave him a copy of my doctor’s recommendation, but… Our lawyer is trying to be tactful and not offend the social workers. We’re afraid if we make any demands they’ll say ‘you’re not cooperating’ and they’ll keep them longer.
On Aug. 13 Naulls told CP that the girls were still in foster care.
RN: We still haven’t gotten our kids back. The social worker came by on Friday afternoon to inspect the house and make sure it was safe for the girls, so we got our hopes up. He went through the house, said he would make his decision today. He told us to call him at 3. We were still trying to reach him after 4. The fact that we couldn’t get ahold of him told me the news wasn’t going to be positive. Then he finally called back and said that their decision was not to give us the kids back because of the pending criminal investigation. He told Anisha, “You have an open case and Ronnie has an open case and what if you go to jail?” She said, “It’s not up to you to decide whether we go to jail.” So we go for another hearing to ask a judge to overrule Child Protective Services.
CP: How often does that happen?
RN: We’re told it’s 50-50. They look at the situation and also if we’ve been following Child Protective Services’ requests, like I am not using medicine and my THC levels are declining and my wife doesn’t have any THC in her system at all. We’ve been testing every other day.
On Aug. 16 the Naullses went to court and prevailed –they got their kids back after 30 days of separation, fear, and uncertainty– but there is no happy ending. Ronnie is facing federal charges for selling a controlled substance and may have to rely on a public defender. Federal law doesn’t acknowledge that cannabis is a medicinal herb or that California voted to legalize it. In the land of Common Sense there would be a “this-family-has-suffered-enough” defense; but we live in the land of Mandatory Minimums.
In the land of Common Sense the Naullses would have been given a warning of some kind instead of having their kids ripped off. The Naulls girls seem to be overcoming their ordeal. Some forms of torture leave no visible marks but cause nightmares down the line. We can only hope that their foster home was one of the good ones and that, having had each other throughout the five-week separation from their parents, they pulled through in tact. This is Anisha’s take on things after the girls had been home about five weeks:
“They told the girls that they were at the babysitters. And that we were working. So, that’s what they think. And they’re just kind of like: ‘Why did it take so long?’ And we say, ‘Well, we were trying to get things together for work.’
“They’re adjusting to being back home. It’s a process. They have a little bit of separation anxiety right now. My oldest will wake me up, ‘I had a nightmare the police took you.’ When Aaliyah started back to school -she had to miss a week of school- one of her classmates came up to her and was like ‘My mommy said that your mommy’s in jail.’ So Aaliyah comes home and says,’Mommy, my friend says that you were in jail. Is that what you were doing when I was at the babysitters?’ And I’m like ‘Wow, no. Mommy wouldn’t go to jail. Why would mommy go to jail? Your friend doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’ We’ve had a few conversations like that.
“My three-year-old will say, out of the blue, if I’m leaving, ‘Please don’t leave me on the freeway.’ And I’m like ‘Wow, mommy’s not going to leave you on the freeway.’ So … But they’re okay, they’re getting back to normal.”
Anisha had just learned that Riverside County is charging her with three counts of felony child endangerment -one for each of the girls, including Aryanna who could barely walk back in July, let alone get into the refrigerator in the garage. “These people are not nice,” says Anisha.
The False Premise of Endangerment
The premise on which government snatched the Naulls girls is as fraudulent as the premise on which the government invaded Iraq. In the extremely unlikely event that the girls went into the garage and the parents didn’t hear the alarm and the girls opened the refrigerator and found the marijuana edibles and unwrapped them and proceeded to gorge themselves, they would experience a cannabis overdose, which involves a very unpleasant torpor that can last for eight hours (some of which is typically spent asleep). There is no subsequent adverse effect. The most likely longterm reaction to an overdose of edible cannabis is an aversion to cannabis in any form. Just as there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there is no poison in cannabis. The government promulgates whatever lies and policies are needed to advance corporate interests. War in Iraq: good for the oil companies. War on pot: good for the drug companies. War by any lies necessary.
The vote by more than 5 million Californians for Prop 215 was above all a testament to its safety, not its efficacy. Most people who smoked pot in social settings in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s were unaware of its medical effects, let alone that it had been widely used in tinctures produced by Eli Lilly, etc.. But they did know that they and their friends never experienced reefer madness or any other health problems. Even most people who never smoked pot have known people who did and observed that its impact is negligible compared to alcohol and tobacco. The Prop 215 vote was a message from the people to the government that marijuana is relatively benign.
The government’s response has been, “Our mind is made up, don’t confuse us with the facts.” It is not just the feds who treat cannabis as if it causes grave harm; Riverside County’s Department of Social Services is operating on the same false assumption. After Prop 215 passed, Tod Mikuriya, MD, warned that implementation would hinge on state, county, and city agencies revising their protocols. Tod implored Ethan Nadelmann of the Lindesmith Center (now the Drug Policy Alliance) to conduct or underwrite what he called an “audit” that would involve contacting, advising, and pressuring every agency that had to adjust to marijuana becoming legal for medical use. Nadelmann said no, his group would be devoting its resources to funding medical marijuana initiatives in other states.
You don’t have to study Clausewitz or Sun Tzu on the art of war to know that sometimes a victory has to be consolidated before you try to gain more ground. The danger with advancing too soon is that your forces get overextended and you’re unable to defend what you’ve won.
Contributions to the Naulls Defense Fund can be made on a tax-deductible basis through Green-Aid.
Fred Gardner edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. He can be reached at email@example.com.