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Courteous raid at Norman’s Friendly Market causes backlash

Penny Ridenour / Red Dirt Report
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Stephen Tyler Holman is an upstanding member of the Norman community. 

Holman sits on the Norman City Council for Ward 7.  He is also the General Manager of The Friendly Market, 1100 E. Constitution.  Yet he said he was not surprised when a plain-clothes police task force served him with a search warrant on Tuesday.

“I have always told my employees to be prepared for it. One of my hopes in working here is that my position on the City Council would testify that this is a legitimate business,” Holman said.

Holman said the police were courteous to him, but searched his briefcase and asked him to leave, locking him, as well as the owners, out of the store while they boxed and carried out between $8,000 -$10,000 of merchandise from the store, as well as the bank deposit from his briefcase and cash from the register totaling about $2,000.

The search warrant listed the purpose for the raid as the collection of evidence of possession of drug paraphernalia, which is a misdemeanor. Police did not give an inventory of the items seized, but the entire collection of glass pipes were taken from the store, as well as the sign on the door that stated the products in the store were intended for the consumption of tobacco only.

Sarah Jensen, Public Safety Information Officer for the City of Norman told Red Dirt Report that information will become public record once the findings of the search have been reviewed by the District Attorney, who will then determine whether charges are to be filed. 

Attorney for the owners of The Friendly Market, Brecken Wagner said this is a first for him. In his entire career, he has never seen a search warrant granted for a misdemeanor before.

Wagner said it is unconscionable for the police to be able to walk into a small business, shut it down for several hours, and seize the livelihood of the owners.

Jensen said the investigation into the Friendly Market was initiated by a complaint about the glass products sold in the store.

“The public should have the right idea about this,” Wagner said, describing walking into The Friendly Market where they sell art, jewelry, essential oils, and soap and other products made from hemp.  There is an area of the store behind a door to admit only adults over age 18 where pipes of all kinds, tobacco and vaping products were displayed for sale.

Wagner said this shows more consideration than a gas station where all ages are exposed to tobacco products. 

The Friendly Market, open for only about a year, presumably capitalizes on the popularity of the current trend of vaping.  Holman said the glass pipes in the store sell for anywhere from $10 - $200. In addition to smokers, some people even buy the more elaborate ones as décor or as part of a collection.

But why sell them if some people use them to take drugs?  Holman said nearly any product can be used for an insidious purpose, and they are not illegal, so why not sell them?    

In order to meet the legal definition of “paraphernalia,” an item must have the residue of drugs, be sold adjacent to illegal drugs, or be designed expressly for the purpose of consuming illegal drugs. It is very common for an innocuous item to be used as paraphernalia. 

Jensen also cited a portion of the statute that classifies an item as paraphernalia if there is direct or circumstantial evidence that the person selling the products is aware the item will be used to take illegal drugs. 

According to items like pacifiers and lollipops are considered paraphernalia for drugs like Ecstasy, while small spoons, razor blades and dollar bills might be considered paraphernalia for cocaine.

“I have no reason to believe there will be any evidence found that any of these items were drug paraphernalia,” Wagner said.

“The largest retailer of potential paraphernalia in the state of Oklahoma is Walmart.  There are shelves upon shelves of items that can be used not only to ingest drugs, but also to make many illegal drugs.  Why is the Cleveland County Drug Task Force and the Norman Police Department not shutting down Walmart for hours and hours and closing their business down?” asked Wagner.

This is not the first time raids like this have happened in Norman or the OKC metro.  Holman said in cases like this wrongdoing may never be discovered and charges may never filed, but the owners may never get their merchandise back either.

He cited the example of McCloud’s in downtown Norman, where a similar raid took so much inventory from the small business owner, he simply closed shop and moved out of state to friendlier pastures. 

Charges were never filed, merchandise never returned, and the storefront is still empty, Holman said.

Holman said he has already been contacted by Sen. Kyle Loveless (R) – Oklahoma City, to speak at an interim study in the future.  Sen. Loveless has been vocally supportive of reform for seizure laws in Oklahoma.

Wagner said he is waiting to see what the search warrant affidavit says when it is filed with the court within 10 days to see the actual reasons for the raid given to the judge to sign the warrant.

“We are going to look at every option available to our client to use not only for the return of his property, but also to make certain our client’s constitutional rights are protected.” Wagner said.  

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