David He files lawsuit against city of Reedley

Suspect behind illegal lab in Reedley serves complaint against city for damages, other claims as he awaits trial

Shot of “DO NOT ENTER” sign from left view. Showroom is shown in the background (Kenny Goodman)
Darren Fraser
Published July 2, 2024  • 
9:30 am

REEDLEY – David He, the face behind the illegal biolab that was operating at 850 I Street in Reedley, sits in a federal facility awaiting trial. But his incarceration has not stopped him from pursuing a complaint for damages against the city, the county and the United States government, claiming one and all were responsible for a litany of charges committed against He and his company, United Meditech, Inc. 

According to the complaint for damages that He’s attorneys filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court on June 25, 2024, the eight defendants named in the complaint – including Reedley Building Officer Jeremy Harrison and Code Enforcement Officer Jesalyn Harper, as well as the various unnamed and unknown government officials – carried out unreasonable searches and seizures against UMI’s business assets. 

The complaint further alleges that UMI “had its assets safely and securely stored” in the warehouse – despite the fact many of the containers were unlabeled with unknown contents. The complaint also alleges that the federal Animal Welfare Act preempted state laws; therefore, the nearly 1,000 laboratory mice that eventually had to be euthanized because they were starving and had been reduced to cannibalism should not have been disposed of.

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said there was nothing in the complaint that surprised her. He filed a $50 million dollar claim against Reedley about six months ago, which shares similarities with the complaint filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court – although, this latest complaint did include new allegations.

“There are allegations that we tried to stoke xenophobia. That’s new in there,” said Zieba.

According to the complaint, the defendants filed false and misleading affidavits as public records, and this “resulted in a wave of negative publicity, fueled by a combination of xenophobia, discrimination, ignorance and the motivations of public officials seeking to capitalize on those sentiments.”

Because UMI was accused of operating an illegal Chinese lab and of engaging in bioterrorism, the company has suffered irreparable harm. According to the complaint, the accusations have turned the multimillion company into a “worthless pariah.” Because of the negative publicity, the company also had to shelve its plans for opening a new facility in Fresno.

The complaint also names Humero Prado, the assistant director of Fresno County Public Health, and Reedley Fire Department Chief Jerry Isaak as defendants.

THE STING AGAINST HE

On Oct. 19, 2023, Harper and Zieba helped orchestrate a sting operation with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents to arrest He. He was lured to the lab under the ruse that he would be allowed to inspect the contents of the warehouse. With guns drawn, federal agents forcibly took down He and arrested him.

The complaint names FDA agents Jeffrey Maurice and Maridehl Mather as defendants. These were the two agents who arrested He outside of the warehouse.

Because of the rough handling He was subject to – the complaint alleges unreasonable and excessive force – he sustained a serious head injury that continues to cause him serious health issues and pain.

After the city was served with the $50 million claim, Zieba said she and others involved have had “coordinating” conversations with the city attorney and the city’s risk management authority (RMA). Zieba is wholly confident the city will prevail.

The He/UMI story began in March 2023 when Harper noticed a garden hose protruding from a wall in the warehouse at 850 I Street. After a cursory investigation and receiving no reliable information from UMI employees in the facility, Harper alerted her superiors that something was amiss in the building.

The facility was shuttered a few months later. The warehouse stored thousands of chemicals and dangerous viruses, many in unmarked or improper containers. Federal, state, county and local agencies spent months emptying the warehouse.

Zieba said the thousands of COVID and pregnancy tests remain on site.

“The state embargoed those. No one can touch those but the state,” she said. “And all of the business records are still in the warehouse. We’re waiting for the state to make its move and then we’ll connect with a company to see how those records can be retrieved.”

Does Zieba know when the state will be removing the test kits?

“Every month for about the last eight months, we’ve been told it is coming up,” she said.

Darren Fraser
Reporter