GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — He does not want his job back, but a former Kent County Corrections Officer prosecuted after an illegal search discovered marijuana butter in his home thinks he is entitled to his pension.
“I don’t want to go back to the jail, but I would very much like to have my pension,” said Brian Tennant.
Tennant and three other corrections officers lost their jobs five years ago when marijuana butter was found in their homes, during what the State Supreme Court later said was an illegal, pre-dawn, warrantless search. Three of the officers and Tennant’s wife had Medical Marijuana Cards and were sharing marijuana butter a licensed care giver made them from stems and scraps.
At the time, state law permitted patients to smoke marijuana to relieve symptoms, but a recent appeals court ruling did not cover butter and other edibles.
The butter-maker was arrested for sending marijuana through the mail, not to the corrections officers, but their names were found on his client list.
Soon a squad of investigators, including supervisors from the jail, made pre- dawn visits to the officers’ homes, awakened them and started asking questions.
“Pounding on the door at 3 in the morning,” recalled Christine Tennant.
“I showed them where it was, right in the fridge,” said Brian Tennant.
“When I got my license, edibles were legal,” said Christine. “The law became very jumbled and edibles became illegal. We wouldn’t have had it if we had known.”
Concerned the prosecutors would target his wife, Tennant accepted a plea bargain that included five years of probation, a $10,000 fine and he was forced to resign from his job.
Officer Timothy Bernhardt also accepted a plea but died from suicide before he was sentenced.
The two other officers fought the case and, although it cost them thousands in attorney fees, their charges were dropped when the State Supreme Court ruled the warrantless “knock and talk” pre-dawn search was illegal.
"The cops cannot come to your door in the middle of the night," explained attorney Bruce Block. "If they want to talk to you without a warrant, they have to knock on your door at a reasonable hour when you would be awake."
If he had been on the job instead of on probation for the past five years, Tennant would have retired with 25 years of service in February and would now be collecting his pension.
“I would love for it to be fixed but I don’t know if that is something that can happen,” he said. “The system did me wrong, I can’t emphasize that enough. I heard stories when I was in the jail about guys saying we are always getting screwed over by the police. And I’m like, ‘Yea whatever.’ Until it happens to you.”
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