The first official lawsuit has been filed in the Operation Candy Crush debacle in Rutherford County.
You may recall, more than 23 businesses were padlocked and the owners arrested after authorities accused them of targeting children by selling hemp-based CBD gummies and other products containing THC, the illegal substance in marijuana that makes you high.
Attorneys with Brazil Clark Law Firm filed the first Operation Candy Crush lawsuit naming the Town of Smyrna, Smyrna Police Chief Kevin Arnold, Rutherford County, District Attorney Jennings Jones, Assistant DA John Zimmerman, and Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh as defendants.
It alleges James Swain Rieves, the owner of Cloud 9 Hemp, was deprived of his civil rights when they conducted a raid on his lawful business.
“He was dispensing CBD products, which are fully legal in our state and nonetheless was incarcerated, his products seized, and his reputation damaged,” attorney Frank Brazil said.
Cloud 9 Hemp was raided twice.
In September 2017, more than $60,000 in CBD hemp-based products were confiscated from the online business.
Then again in February of this year as part of Operation Candy Crush.
Authorities raided 23 businesses, arrested the owners, and padlocked the businesses.
They claimed the owners were selling CBD products that contained illegal drugs.
“They say we were drug dealers selling drug-laced candies to kids, with the intent of getting high,” Rieves said.
Those charges were later dropped, and the products and money seized were returned.
Rieves said he filed the lawsuit because his good name has been dragged through the mud.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It was a series of unfortunate events that never should have happened,” Rieves said. “It’s forever changed my family and our life, our businesses for the worse.”
He said his business is still suffering.
“Trying to get back on my feet and at a pace that the business was going before September 2017, it’s just like I’ve been swimming against the current the whole time,” Rieves said.
Count one of the lawsuit claims in part a violation of civil rights, saying Rutherford County and the Town of Smyrna failed to train its officers on the differences between industrial hemp and the most common illegal drug, marijuana.
Counts two and three claim a violation of 4th Amendment rights to be free from false arrest, unlawful seizure, and unlawful prosecution of all defendants, claiming Zimmerman undertook investigatory functions usually conducted by police and the other defendants participated in the illegal seizure, arrest, criminal prosecution, and nuisance petition against Mr. Rieves.
It adds Jennings and Zimmerman entered into an agreement to violate their civil rights by pushing law enforcement agencies to move Operation Candy Crush forward.
“It’s unfortunate that it requires a lawsuit to right this wrong, but again, my client clearing his name,” Brazil said. “It’s one thing to say case dismiss, it’s quite enough to admit wrongdoing, to admit depriving someone of their Constitutional liberties, and that’s what this case is about.”
Rieves is asking for $500,000 in compensatory damages as well as other damages, including severe emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of income, diminished reputation, and standing in the community as well as attorney fees.
Once all six defendants have been served with a copy of the lawsuit, they will have 21 days to respond with an answer.
“We have not seen or received any lawsuit on this matter, so we cannot offer any comment,” said Rutherford County Attorney Josh A. McCreary.
“No comment,” said Smyrna Police Chief Kevin Arnold.
“As of this afternoon, we haven’t been served with a lawsuit,” said John Lanza with the Town of Smyrna.
“The Sheriff’s Office does not comment on lawsuits,” Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Lisa Marchesoni said by email.
News 2 hasn’t heard back from the Rutherford County District Attorney’s office.
To read the federal complaint in its entirety click here.