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Originally published Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM

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Pot-grower gets $40,000 from Bothell due to illegal search

Bothell will pay to settle a lawsuit stemming from the illegal search of a home during an investigation into a marijuana-grow operation

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The city of Bothell has agreed to pay nearly $40,000 to settle a lawsuit stemming from the illegal search of a home by police in 2008 that turned up a marijuana-grow operation.

Eric Scott Levine will receive $25,000 as part of a settlement in which the city denies wrongdoing. U.S. District Chief Judge Marsha Pechman awarded Levine’s attorney, John Muenster, an additional $14,700 in attorneys fees on Wednesday.

Police pulled 70 marijuana plants from the basement of Levine’s home after his ex-girlfriend, claiming he had assaulted her, turned him in. Officers also confiscated more than 30 firearms, according to court documents.

However, the warrant obtained by police was invalid because the detective, Sean Ungvarsky, had failed to swear to the validity of the information contained in the warrant when it was issued. Pechman, in an October order, said she was unconvinced by the detective’s excuse that he believed that he was proceeding under oath, simply because he had not taken one as required by the Fourth Amendment.

“No reasonable officer could claim to be unaware of the basic rule that ... a warrantless search of the home is presumptively unconstitutional,” she wrote.

A criminal marijuana-manufacturing case against Levine was dismissed in 2010 because of the faulty warrant and Levine eventually was able to reclaim his firearms — an action that has cost the city another $2,000 in attorneys’ fees, said Levine’s attorney, John Muenster.

The city also tried to seize Levine’s home as the fruits of a drug operation, however that action was dismissed as well, Muenster said.

According to pleadings in the civil case, Bothell police — working with a Snohomish County narcotics task force — learned of Levine’s pot operation from his ex-girlfriend. He was arrested on assault charges, which Muenster said also were dismissed, and while he was in jail, police obtained the warrant and searched his home.

The detective said he believed the warrant was valid because it had been reviewed by a Snohomish County prosecutor and signed by a district judge.

However, Pechman pointed out that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant be based on probable cause and “supported by oath or affirmation,” which the Bothell detective failed to do.

Mike Carter: (206) 464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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