Last Thursday, Corporal Anthony Bertanga, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed that Jorge Arroyo, Nicole Lynn Quijas and Brandon Matthew Sontag were no longer with the force. A report from the OC Register suggests that it is not known if the officers were terminated or whether their departure was of their own volition, while an article from NBC 4 clearly states that the officers were fired.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office recently charged the three with misdemeanor theft for their actions during a 2015 raid at Sky High Holistic, which involved the consumption of food items. One of the officers – Sontag — was also charged with misdemeanor vandalism for destroying around five security cameras responsible for documenting the less than professional behavior. All three have pleaded not guilty.
The tumultuous affair got started last May when a mission to crackdown on local dispensaries suspected of operating without a license was launched across the City of Santa Ana. That’s what prompted a group of officers to storm into Sky High Holistic and unleash a despicable level of fury, complete with a recorded conversation about getting violent with a disabled patient.
Despite the attempt at disconnecting the dispensary’s video surveillance system, one camera was overlooked, capturing a wild scene that eventually brought down a great deal of heat on the Santa Ana police.
In the video, cops can been seen ingesting what appears to be marijuana edibles and also playing darts, while a female officer jokes about kicking medical marijuana activist and patient Marla James, an amputee confined to a wheelchair, in her “fucking nub.”
It wasn’t long after the video went viral that the accused officers filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court in hopes of preventing the footage from being used against them in an internal investigation. The complaint argued that the recordings were illegal because “all police personnel present had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded and the undercover officers, feeling that they were safe to do so, removed their masks.”
However, Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer disagreed with the argument, ruling that “[Cops] should not expect privacy in their on-duty performance of an official function at a marijuana dispensary. They have made no claim that their work required secrecy or that it would be impeded by public review.”
Meanwhile, Sky High Holistic filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana and Mayor Miguel Pulido, suggesting that the city was accepting bribes from medical marijuana dispensaries in exchange for special treatment in regards to the city’s lottery system. The complaint also suggested that the officers’ unprofessional behavior during the raid caused over $100,000 in damage to the Sky High facility.
Shortly thereafter, Police Chief Carlos Rojas announced that the three officers featured in the video had been placed on administrative leave until after the outcome of an internal investigation. But once the Orange County District Attorney’s Office decided to file criminal charges back in March, there was no hope that the officers would ever recover from their actions.
All three former officers are expected in court later this month for a pretrial hearing. If convicted, Arroyo and Quijas could be sentenced to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Sontag, who has the additional vandalism charge, could be sent to jail for up to a year and a half and slapped with a fine of up to $2,000.