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"You were had," Maj. Robert Smith of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department told News Hits when we gave him a call after hearing from a well-informed source that a photo we'd run in this column wasn't the real deal.
The picture, part of a digital press kit handed out by Rick Thompson of Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine at a protest in front of Oakland Sheriff Mike Bouchard's Pontiac office, showed cops with a small alligator that was supposedly one of two found during a series of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and growing operations in late August.
Thompson, after we began looking into the issue further, told us he obtained the photo from William Teichman, co-owner of Everybody's Café in Waterford, one of the "compassion clubs" that was raided. He, along with his wife Candace, faces charges related to the manufacture and sale of marijuana.
Teichman said that the photo was sent to him anonymously via cell phone, and that he had no reason to doubt its authenticity.
Smith, after we sent him a copy of the photo, checked with his counterparts in Clinton Township to make sure that the pic wasn't of the gator impounded during a raid there. It wasn't.
Some further checking by MT found that the photo actually comes from the Aug. 20 issue of the New York Post. The paper described it as an "18-inch gator that crawled out of an overflowing Astoria storm drain ..."
The hoax is part of a larger campaign by medical marijuana advocates who are attempting to paint police in the worst possible light, Smith told us, adding: "We're getting a bad rap."
"They are putting a lot of disinformation out there," Smith said. "But putting out a fake picture is pretty over-the-top."
The alligators became an issue when Bouchard, in a press conference following the raids, told reporters: "We came across some places that were routine drug houses. In one location, a guy had live alligators protecting his marijuana plants. It was like something out of a bad Cheech and Chong movie."
As best as News Hits can tell at this point, there were two alligators, but at different locations.
When asked Smith about the actual alligator his troops confronted, he said that he couldn't give us an exact size, but that it was large enough to be of concern. "It was not some little lizard," he said. "It was big enough to scare people. It was big enough to get our guys' attention."
Sgt. Brent Miles of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office told reporters for the C & G Newspapers that one of the alligators was found in the home of Birmingham resident Max A. Brochert, 22. That gator, Miles told the reporters, was 18 inches long.
And what happened to it?
Brochert, who, as the C & G reporters noted, is alleged to have been in possession of psilocybin mushrooms and cocaine along with the plants he is accused of growing, was allowed to keep the reptile, Smith said.
As for the Clinton Township gator — that one was turned over to Macomb County animal control officers. And how big was it?
"It was very small," said Sue Jeroue, Macomb County's chief animal control officer. "It was only about 6 or 7 inches long. It was the smallest alligator we've ever had."
Whatever the size gators, though, the mistake we made in publishing a hoax photo was a big one, and we sincerely apologize.
News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.