Thorne Peters is an advocate of repealing marijuana prohibition. In a nation where 58% of voters say pot use should be legal, advocates of legalization are well on the way to the level of consciousness raising that rewarded the efforts of the women’s movement and same-sex marriage activists.
Thorne Peters has chosen another route. In the Flyer, he makes the case that decriminalization is not enough. His venue is in the courts. He wants to prove that the prohibition of weed is either unconstitutional or legally unenforcible.
Peters points to the Reagan-era introduction of Civil Forfeiture, which “is just too tempting for police. “It corrupts everything”. He is also critical of the “War on Drugs”.
Thorne Peters’ legal theory of “no mens rea” suggests that the mental condition for a crime does not exist in victimless weed “offenses”. No mens rea as a defense of pot prosecutions is rejected by many legal minds. In fact, Peters often ends up representing himself, because he can’t find an attorney who will employ this defense.
There are practical issues. Peters spent 19 months in jail awaiting trial for one of the busts described here, and was jailed in the penal farm for the last year on his current case. He could easily have taken a plea and been free.
One could take issue with Peters’ legal and political strategy, his lurid publications and the cult-like nature of his entourage. But he is entitled to a fair and timely trial,and to petition his elected representatives, and we must defend these rights.
Thorne Peters “I Fought the Law”
Peters’ tanglements with the law come in three main parts.
- In 2008-2009, he operated a weed-friendly nightclub near Millington.
- In 2014, he publicly smoked weed on the courthouse steps
- Currently, he is held at the County Farm, for the last 17 months, on $200K bond, based on a bust in a friend’s house.
For the sake of the narrative, we’re going to break the Thorne story up into three pieces, so we start with the story of Imbibrio’s Club and its two busts.
Even that part is complicated, because the chronologies overlap. We’re separating out the two busts.
The First Bust: Imbibrio’s is Raided.
August 2008 (Thorne Peters aka) the Kingpin opens his nightclub “Imbibrio’s”, branding it: “America’s Most 420 Friendly Nite Club”, allowing patrons to toke. The club was located on Navy Road, in an unincorporated area of Shelby County near Millington.
December 11, 2008: Sheriff Mark Luttrell orders a warrantless raid on Imbibrio’s, where two baggies of weed are found in “common or accessible” areas of the club. The pot was deemed inadmissible at trial. Here’s the affidavit (PDF) filed on 12/11/2008.
April 28, 2009. The pot bust is dismissed at the preliminary hearing. Prosecutors then go to the Grand Jury and get an indictment based on a late-entered document (PDF) in which Deputy Peter Myles now claims to have found 9.3 grams of pot in his cruiser after transporting Peters to 201 Poplar the night of the bust. Detectives Page and Trammel with Sgt Harris are named in the document as part of the bust.
May 8, 2009 . . . before Judge Robert Earl Fowlkes, Thorne Peters asks Deputy Myles whether he was lying the original affidavit or the addendum. Myles is nonplussed. Prosecutor Chris Scruggs objects. The matter is set for jury trial.
September 3, 2009 . . . Before Judge Fowlkes, as a jury is about to be selected, A.D.A. Chris Scruggs dismisses the case, stating that it would not be in the State’s best interest to proceed to trial for a possession of pot charge. Scruggs claimed that Peters had already served more time while remanded on $400K bail than he would have if convicted on the misdemeanor. Peters noted: “The only dope in the squad car that night was the deputy sheriff driving it.”
Takeaways from the first Imbiblio’s bust.
Prosecutor Chris Scruggs, who had seen the arrest affidavit the week of the bust, must have known of the addition of the document with the weed “found” in the cruiser more than four months later.
Prosecutors were working under the assumption that Peters would take a plea rather than remain jailed on remand against $400,000 bond. In that scenario the weakness of their case would never be revealed. Peters’ determination to have his day in court, and their knowledge that they had no case, led to the dismissal.
This is an example of the use of cash bail as a weapon against defendants. When bail is too high for a defendant, there is extreme pressure on an innocent defendant to plead guilty, to get out of jail. Read more about Cash Bail Reform.
Case Documents Purged
All the case documents for this bust have been deleted from the County Criminal Records system. Usually, the only legitimate way for this to happen is for a defendant to request expungement after a dismissal. We have noticed that cases which are problematic to law enforcement often go away in some mysterious manner. This is true of all the CLERB complainants’ cases, for example. We have used documents retained by Peters and his entourage. We assume that the provenance of the documentation of the weed found in the cruiser is what the County is hiding.
Things that Happened between the Busts.
March 24, 2009 . . . Thorne Peters is called before The Beer Board in response to complaints by Sheriff Luttrell, that the club is a public nuisance and that drugs are being dealt. S.C.S.O. Detective Dave Ballard testifies. After reviewing the evidence, The Beer Board concludes that there is no case against the club. The club goes bust while Peters in in jail.
May 21, 2009 . . . Fellow cannabis activist Leo AwGoWhat declares for Shelby Co. Mayor and makes Imbibrio’s his campaign headquarters. Sheriff Mark Luttrell was running for County Mayor which pitted the sheriff’s office against Peters and AwGoWhat, who was arrested on June 26th. AwGoWhat copped an alford plea to get out of remand.
The July 2009 Bust at Imbiblio’s.
The Daily News reports the July 14, 2009 raid.
Confidential informant Ashley Lynn Egan, 26 at the time, testified to buying drugs from Thorne Peters, an unrelated individual, Justin Webster and Sherry Hassan, a bartender at Imbiblio’s . The arresting officers were Detectives Robby K. Jewell and Alex Poston.
The raid was a media spectacle, with County Mayor candidate then-Sheriff Lar Luttrell, MPD Director Larry Godwin, Assistant Sheriff William Oldham, problem prosecutor Chris Scruggs and the Millington Police Chief all mugging for the cameras.
Thorne Peters was held on $400K bail and Hassan released on $10K.
Ashley Lynn Egan
Ashley Egan was the confidential informant used to create the bust.
On 10/20/2010 (while the trial from this bust was still going on) the same arresting detectives, Poston and Jewell, accused her of stealing $250, which they had advanced to her for snitching, and spending the money on smack. She was also accused of stealing a car. They said she was a heroin addict. At trial she was sent to a drug treatment program. She was held without bond and sentenced to 41 days time served.
On 6/26/2012 she was arrested for felony theft and given one year suspended.
On 02/10/2016 a warrant was issued for failure to appear.
On 10/09/2016 she was indicted for theft and for contraband (heroin and works) in a jail. Arrest affidavit for the Jail East contraband. She was sentenced to six months for the contraband and sent for drug treatment.
On 12/19/2016 she plead guilty to theft and was given two years deferred.
On 11/28/2017 she got nolle pros on a driving on a revoked or suspended license.
On 5/10/2018 Ashley Egan was arrested for possession of heroin, metamphetamine and scales. The arresting officer mentioned several out-of-state warrants. Her case went to General Sessions Div. 9, Judge Gerald Skahan’s mental health court. The general theory of this court is that many repeat offenders are mentally ill and self-medicating with illegal substances, leading to addiction and a life of crime to fund their habits. Defendants are mentally evaluated, usually placed on a treatment regimen, admitted in a one year residential treatment program and required to detox, rehabilitate and hold a job. On successful completion of this program, “graduates” are celebrated in the court, court costs are removed and the case records expunged. Egan’s record stops after June 5th when she was scheduled for mental evaluation. This is consistent with her entry into the program, which would come under health records privacy. When defendants fail a drug test or otherwise infract the regimen they appear in court to be admonished by the judge, and there appear to be no such appearances on the docket.
Ashley Egan CI summary
Thorne Peters alleges that Egan was paid $2000 and given a car for her cooperation with Peters’ arrest. The detectives, Poston and Jewell, alleged she was a heroin user while the Peters case was still in progress, and this information was not shared with the defense. Her 2018 General Sessions Division 8 case suggests that she was thought to be mentally ill. As the string of prosecutions since losing the protection of Poston and Jewell and being prosecuted for stealing police CI funds, and multiple out-of-state warrants suggests, Poston and Jewell may well have been protecting her from the consequences of her smack consumption prior to her alleged setup of Peters and his fellow defendants. A very unreliable and possibly corrupt witness.
Background to July 2009 Imbiblio arrests
The sheriff’s department claimed that they had Imbibrio’s under surveillance since November 2008. The police report says that, on 7/9/2009, acting on information from CI Ashley Egan a “reliable informant” who was an undiagnosed mental patient, heroin user, thief and interstate fugitive, they paid her $50 to score weed from Thorne Peters, which she alleged she did, producing less than 8 grams as the result. This misdemeanor quantity was charged as a felony.
On 7/13/2009 Ashley Egan allegedly bought ten Lortabs from Dustin Webster at Imbibrio’s.
On 7/14/2009 Ashley Egan allegedly bought six Lortabs from Imbibrio bartender Sherry Hassan, in a “transaction” where Hassan never touched the product.
September 4, 2009 Defendants offered time served.
Thorne Peters is offered time served on the July bust, and Sherry Hassan is offered diversion. Both refuse, demanding their day in court.
September 4, 2009 Peters and Hassan are indicted on artificially inflated felonies.
October 14, 2010 ADA Chris Scruggs recuses himself from the case because he has been cited for corruption in the December 2008 bust. Mike McCusker is the new prosecutor.
February 8, 2011 the case is set for trial and the prosecution goes Nolle Pros on the felony charges. Sheriff Luttrell, as the senior Sheriff Department officer at the scene of the arrests, would have to appear and testify as to the procedures used in the case.
February 22, 2011 trial starts on the misdemeanor weed charge, for which Peters is found guilty and sentenced to 11-29.
Thorne Peters was framed by a false Sheriff’s Dept report, add months later, for a baggie of weed that was supposedly found in the cruiser which transported him after the December 2008 bust.
In the July 2009 bust, deputies instructed and paid a mentally ill heroin addict to set up Peters and two co-defendants for felonies which were dismissed when the time came to examine them in court, and a minor weed bust was escalated out of proportion.
Throughout, prosecutors proceeded with cases and were surprised when Peters did not plead out, despite being held in lieu of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bail. In the scramble to shore up these ill-documented cases, the defendants were subject to undue coercion and the threats of a maximum penalty versus time served for copping a plea and getting out of jail.
Whatever you think about Thorne Peters legal strategies and self-representation, he is relying on constitutional protections in so doing. We don’t have to agree with his causes or methods to grant him the right to sacrifice his freedom to fight for pot rights. The same goes for Peters’ rather lurid style and bombastic persona.
We are starting coverage of the Peters case and will follow up with at least two more posts in due course.