Two years into Apothio LLC’s lawsuit against Kern County, Calif., and others—relating to local and state government officials’ alleged destruction of roughly 500 acres of hemp—the company is bringing forth new allegations.
On May 25, Apothio filed an amended complaint against various defendants previously named in case filings, including representatives from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). It also added another name on the defendant list: Andrew Halverson of the CDFW, who was not mentioned in the original April 2020 complaint but has been mentioned in subsequent case filings.
In the case playing out in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of California, the amended complaint alleges, among other things, that “Halverson intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly misrepresented Apothio’s terminated processing agreement with [a company called] ProCann … in the Halverson Warrant and Affidavit to manufacture a narrative that Apothio intended to sell hot hemp rather than legal hemp below the 0.3% THC threshold.”
The complaint continues: “In the Halverson Warrant and Affidavit, Halverson stated (1) that Apothio cannot sell hemp with over ‘0.3% THC content,’ (2) that a contract between Apothio LLC and ProCann states that Apothio will send biomass to ProCann, and (3) that Apothio is ‘planning on selling the hemp that it is [sic] over 0.3%.’”
However, the language in the since-terminated contract allegedly stated, per the May 25 complaint, that “the biomass extract to be sold is to be ‘less than 0.3% THC,’ showing that Apothio possessed the opposite intent of what Halverson falsely attributed to Apothio.”
Another allegation in the complaint centers around an interview that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents supposedly had with Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Glenn Fankhauser and Deputy Director Cerise Montanio about a week prior to the crop’s destruction in October 2019. The complaint cites a four-page FBI report of that interview that stated that Apothio CEO Dr. Trent Jones was working to be compliant with laws and hemp industry regulations, didn’t appear to have criminal intent, and provided documentation about Apothio’s legal hemp research with Cerro Coso Community College.
However, Halverson, who was not in the interview but had been in contact with Montanio and the agents, didn’t share his knowledge about the agent’s findings, the complaint alleges.
According to the May 25 complaint, defendant KCSO Sheriff’s Sergeant Joshua Nicholson had “intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly, misrepresented” a proposed settlement agreement that Apothio had with another company, vendor Newbridge Global Ventures.
At least a couple of Newbridge employees, per the complaint, had “demonstrated to Apothio that they were willing to break the law and violate the parties’ agreement.” Months after Jones allegedly wrote to a Newbridge executive “summarizing Newbridge’s illegal conduct” in July 2019, Newbridge sued Apothio in September of that year, “then began a smear campaign to bring law enforcement and negative publicity down on Apothio based on false claims.”
Nicholson’s affidavit for the search and seizure of Apothio’s hemp crop cites one of the Newbridge employees whom Jones had accused of misconduct (outside of court) months prior.
But not all government officials in the county were apparently on board with destroying Apothio’s crops. In a meeting among local government officials prior to the crops’ destruction, “Fankhauser and at least one other person in attendance” warned KCSO Sheriff and defendant Donny Youngblood that Apothio’s crops were legal because the company was conducting research, according to the complaint.
“Youngblood responded by screaming and swearing at Fankhauser, claiming that he did not care and that he was destroying the crops to prevent a crime,” the complaint states.
Later, following the crops’ destruction, Nicholson and Halverson interviewed Jones and tape-recorded at least part of the conversation, according to the May complaint.
Addressing that interview, the amended complaint reads: “Nicholson admitted that he was destroying the crops without determining whether Apothio’s conduct was criminal. In explaining his investigation, Nicholson said he takes ‘all that I’ve learned’ to the district attorney ‘and then it’s up to them to decide whether what you have done was criminal, non-criminal, or it could go either way, so we’re not going to deal with it.’”
As with previous case filings by Apothio, the amended complaint highlights 2015 reporting by The Guardian about Kern County having “the largest number of people killed by police per capita in the entire country” and alleged police misconduct by KCSO involving aggressive baton use, placing threatening decals on their patrol cars, witness intimidation and more.
The complaint also notes a damning ACLU investigation into the KCSO and that it “entered into a settlement with the California Department of Justice regarding its pattern and practice of unconstitutional behavior.”
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