City, county face lawsuit

By Kelly Ducote / The Observer May 17, 2013 11:56 am

La Grande couple suing for more than $5 million following 2006 raids on residence 

A 2006 drug raid on a local home could end up costing Union County and the City of La Grande dearly.

The two entities are being sued for more than $5 million in damages stemming from a pair of 2006 drug busts. A tentative trial date has been set for Aug. 27 at the federal court building in Portland.

La Grande residents Randy and Rona Lindsey filed the suit in November 2010 in connection with two separate incidents at their South 12th Street home in late January and early February 2006. The January raid resulted in arrests, seizure of marijuana, cash and firearms and the placing of a lien on their home. The charges against the Lindseys were later dismissed and their property recovered.

The lawsuit, claiming numerous civil rights violations, names defendants as the City of La Grande, Union County, former La Grande police officers Gary Welberg and Tom Blackman and Cynthia Wyatt, a Union County officer. Other defendants previously named have been dropped from the suit.

Judge Marco A. Hernandez upheld a recommendation from Judge Patricia Sullivan dropping 10 of the 12 initial complaints in the lawsuit due to statute of limitations running out. The remaining two claims assert malicious prosecution.

A hearing scheduled for Thursday was postponed in order to give the judge more time to go over case
documents.

“It’s been hell,” said Rona Lindsey. “As soon as this motion is taken care of, we can get to court.”

Lindsey said the now seven-year ordeal has dried up their savings, but that they chose to challenge these entities rather than take plea bargains.

“When you’re not guilty, you don’t plea,” she said.

City Manager Robert Strope said he could not provide comment on pending litigation.

The first raid at the Lindsey home occurred on Jan. 30, 2006. According to the lawsuit, about 27 officers and deputies, including Welberg and Blackman, were involved. Lindseys’ complaint alleges that at one point Welberg drew his gun and threatened to shoot Rona Lindsey, and at another point beat Randy Lindsey in the ribs with a phone book. The couple was cited on drug charges and later released.

On Feb. 6, 2006, officers returned to the home with a search warrant looking for any marijuana plants that remained. According to court documents, no plants were recovered. Randy Lindsey was arrested on theft charges, because two firearms recovered in the first raid were allegedly stolen. The Lindseys were both indicted by a grand jury on drug and theft charges on Feb. 8, 2006.

Theft charges against the Lindseys were dropped in August 2008 and all remaining charges were dismissed that November. Rona Lindsey held a federal firearms dealer license, and Randy Lindsey had a license to grow marijuana under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Under the Oregon medical marijuana system, growers can have up to 24 ounces of marijuana. About 3,200 grams — over six pounds — were seized during the raid at the Lindsey home, according to court documents.

The suit also asserts that Welberg and Blackman fraudulently obtained the search warrants used to search the home, making false and misleading statements about an interview they conducted with a drug suspect before the first raid.

Blackman resigned from the La Grande Police Department in April 2008 amid allegations of misconduct during his tenure on the Union-Wallowa County Drug Task Force. Welberg was placed on administrative leave April 30, 2008, due to an investigation into his conduct on the drug task force. He resigned in March 2009. The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the state agency overseeing police officer training and certification, later revoked certifications for both officers.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.