My Bust: Barbara Benson

It’s a sad, frightening and all too familiar story. In its 6 months as an Emerald Magazine feature, My Bust has often “starred” the Humboldt County Drug Task Force. Victim after victim has spoken of their unprofessional, at times brutal behavior, all staged in their signature black – SUVs, boots, and guns. Well, here we go again….

Barbara Benson trains horses and she was happily doing that in Fresno County when her mom passed away, leaving her an apartment house in McKinleyville. Though she was born in Humboldt, she had not lived here in a while. She came back to fix up her mom’s property to be able to rent out the apartments.

At first, she said, when she found renters using or growing cannabis, she wanted them out. Once Prop. 215 passed she got some advice from the Self-Help Clinic on the third floor of the county courthouse, saying that she cannot evict 215 cardholders without some other cause. Being a practical person and not being anti-cannabis, she got used to it.

Word got around. The money was good; folks would pay well for a safe haven. She checked tenants’ 215 status, made sure they weren’t tearing up walls and floors to accommodate bigger grows. She adjusted.

One day about two years ago everything changed abruptly. She found herself in handcuffs gazing at the black SUVs, boots and guns, subjected to rude comments as officers got their jollies at her expense and quoted Federal law at her. (Innocent until proven guilty. Have these guys heard of that?) She watched them ransack her home and even paw through her mom’s ashes. “I’m just a normal person,” says the 70-year-old, “ they showed no empathy, just anger.”

She remembers the then head of the HC Drug Task Force saying one day, during the ugly blur of months that followed, “I know Barbara Benson hates me now.” She incurred $30,000 in legal expenses, was charged with conspiracy, selling, hash-making (a completely fabricated story built upon one small length of PVC pipe, a fairly typical item for a homeowner to have) and spent some time in a cold jail cell, where her arthritis flared up. She suffered horrible anxiety and developed an irregular heartbeat that has since gotten back to normal. Barbara credits the talented attorney Mark Harris with extracting her from that nightmare. The tenants were guilty only of misdemeanors, being state legal. Gradually, things settled down.

Barbara would never be the same. She now has a fear of police she never had before and deeply sympathizes with the hundreds of young black men harassed, maimed and murdered in officer involved shootings all over the US. She has lost faith in American justice and is a lot more receptive to others’ stories after the cops made up stories about her.

Like other resilient souls before her, she is bouncing back, fulfilling her vision of a healing sanctuary for rescued horses she’s gentled and trained to help autistic kids. She’s climbed out of that financial disaster, got the 3.5-acre property, just build a 60’ round pen, and is eager to realize more of her dream. As 12 step friends of mine used to say, “The best revenge is living well.” Go, Barbara!

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