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SSDP Action Alert

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Dear friends,

Please see the video below for an update about a terrible drug testing amendment in Congress ... and find out how you can help us stop it!

Will you help us continue our important work in Washington by making a one time donation today or becoming a monthly donor to SSDP?

Soon, SSDP will finalizing our strategy for the year at our annual retreat. I'm excited about all of the possibilities and to tell you about our plans.  Stay tuned...


Aaron Houston

Executive Director

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Law Enforcement: Atlanta Police House Cleaning Marks End of Kathryn Johnston Case

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner officially announced June 10 that he had fired two veteran police officers for the roles in the 2006 killing of 92-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston during a botched drug raid. The firings came after a department internal affairs report on the incident and a Citizens' Review Board report late last month that found Atlanta Police narcs were willing to break rules and lie in order to obtain search warrants.
Kathryn Johnston
That brings to 14 the number of Atlanta police officers disciplined in the wake of the killing, including five who pleaded guilty to federal charges after an FBI investigation, four of whom are still in prison. Another six officers have been disciplined, and one quit before facing departmental charges.

The two officers fired were Carey Bond and Holly Buchanan. Turner fired them for lying and falsifying incident reports and search warrant affidavits.

"We expect professionalism and integrity from all of our officers -- at all times," Turner said. "Policing is a difficult job, no doubt, but we must be expected to comply with the very laws that we are sworn to uphold."

Johnston was killed in November 2006 when Atlanta narcs raided her home using a "no-knock" warrant based on a tip from a single informant that he bought drugs there. As officers attempted to break down her door, the elderly woman fired one shot from a pistol. Officers on the scene returned fire, shooting 39 times, and leaving Johnston dead. When the officers found no drugs, they planted marijuana on her and attempted to get another informant to lie for them. That informant instead went to the FBI, breaking the case wide open.

In addition to the prosecution, firing, or disciplining of officers involved, Turner said the internal investigation revealed a need for systemic changes in the department, including the way confidential informants are handled and how warrants are served. Now, Turner said, the department requires three buys from a location before issuing a warrant.

Kathryn Johnston died a victim of over-zealous drug war policing. But her death may not have been in vain if the changes in the Atlanta Police Department mean there will be fewer "no-knock" raids and tighter controls on narcs and their snitches.

Cops Kill Father-to-Be in Botched Marijuana Raid

Drug Raids: Las Vegas Narc Serving Marijuana Search Warrant Kills Father-to-Be In His Own Bathroom A 21-year-old father-to-be was killed last Friday night by a Las Vegas Police Department narcotics officer serving a search warrant for marijuana. Trevon Cole was shot once in the bathroom of his apartment after he made what police described as "a furtive movement." Police have said Cole was not armed. Police said Monday they recovered an unspecified amount of marijuana and a set of digital scales. A person identifying herself as Cole's fiancée, Sequoia Pearce, in the comments section in the article linked to above said no drugs were found. Pearce, who is nine months pregnant, shared the apartment with Cole and was present during the raid. "I was coming out, and they told me to get on the floor. I heard a gunshot and was trying to see what was happening and where they had shot him," Pearce told KTNV-TV. According to police, they arrived at about 9 p.m. Friday evening at the Mirabella Apartments on East Bonanza Road, and detectives knocked and announced their presence. Receiving no response, detectives knocked the door down and entered the apartment. They found Pearce hiding in a bedroom closet and took her into custody. They then tried to enter a bathroom where Cole was hiding. He made "a furtive movement" toward a detective, who fired a single shot, killing Cole. "It was during the course of a warrant and as you all know, narcotics warrants are all high-risk warrants," Capt. Patrick Neville of Metro's Robbery-Homicide Bureau said Friday night. But a person identifying himself as Pearce's brother, who said he had spoken with his sister, had a different version of events: "The police bust in the door, with guns drawn to my little sister and her now deceased boyfriend," he wrote. "My sister is 8 ½ months pregnant, two weeks until the due date. But they bust in the door, irritated they didn't find any weapons or drugs, drag this young man into the restroom to interrogate him and two minutes later my sister hears a shot. They shot him with a shotgun, no weapon. For what? My sister is a baby, this young man is a baby, now my sister is at his house telling his mom her son is dead, and he is barely 21." Pearce herself told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Monday that police forced her to kneel at gunpoint in the bedroom and that she could see Cole in the bathroom from the reflection of a mirror. According to Cole, police ordered Cole to get on the ground, he raised his hands and said "Alright, alright," and a shot rang out. According to Pearce and family members, Cole had no criminal record, had achieved an Associate of Arts degree, and was working as an insurance adjustor while working on a political science degree at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He was not a drug dealer, Pearce said. "Trevon was a recreational smoker. He smoked weed, marijuana. That’s what he did," she told KTNV-TV. "They didn't have to kill him. We were supposed to get married next year, plan a black and white affair,” she said. "He was all I ever knew, we were gonna make it." LVPD Monday identified the police shooter as narcotics detective Bryan Yant, a 10-year veteran of the force. This is the third time Yant has controversially used his police firearm. In 2002, he shot and killed a robbery suspect, claiming the suspect, who was on the ground, aimed a weapon at him. But although the suspect's gun was found 35 feet away, a jury took only half an hour to find the shooting justified. The following year, he shot and wounded a man armed with a knife and a baseball ball who had been hired to kill a dog that had killed another neighborhood dog. Yants claimed the man attacked him and that he mistook the bat for a shotgun, but the man said he was running away from Yants when Yants fired repeatedly, striking him once in the hip. Because there was no death in that case, no inquest was held, but the department's use of force board exonerated Yants. Yants is on paid administrative leave while the department investigates. The family has hired an attorney to pursue a civil action. And another American has apparently been killed for no good reason in the name of the war on drugs. "Narcotics warrants are high risk warrants," said Capt. Neville. The question is for whom, and the answer is obvious: The people on the receiving end of them. The police? Not so much, as we have shown in our annual surveys of police casualties in the drug war.
Las Vegas, NV
United States

Law Enforcement: Dog-Killing SWAT Raid Continues to Reverberate in Missouri College Town

The February SWAT team raid on Columbia, Missouri, resident Jonathan Whitworth and his family didn't start causing political tremors until video of the raid, in which one of the family's dogs was killed and another wounded, went viral on YouTube last month. But now, even after the Columbia Police Department has reined in SWAT with new policies, outrage and concern over the raid and the way the SWAT team has been used continues to reverberate.
That was evident at a city council meeting Monday night, where a citizens' group whose formation was inspired by the SWAT raid, CoMoCitizens, urged the council to go a step further and act to make permanent the reforms announced by Police Chief Ken Burton. According to its web site, the group opposes the use of SWAT and the use of search warrants in nonviolent cases, including drug possession and distribution.

"It goes without saying that it is policy that needs to be changed," Warren said in remarks reported by the University of Missouri newspaper The Maneater and the Columbia Missourian. "Chief Burton has made significant policy changes and I've come here to ask you to make these policy changes permanent. I would also like to request that you consider enacting a policy that prohibits execution of search warrants which are inherently violent for nonviolent offenses," said Warren. "This would ensure the public that there is at least less of a risk of an incident such as the February 11 SWAT raid occurring in our community."

Making the restrictions on SWAT and the execution of search warrants binding would reassure the public and keep law enforcement officers safer, Warren said. "The raid itself is what escalates the situation to out-of-control mode," he told the council before reading from Radley Balko's Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors," Warren quoted Balko.

The council did not act on CoMoCitizens' requests, but the emergence of the group is yet another indicator that the February SWAT raid has roused Columbia's citizenry. And that is precisely what it will take to make police law enforcement rein in its aggressive tactics against the citizenry. Maybe something good is coming out of that misbegotten raid after all.

Police Dept. Teaches Citizens How to Flex Their Rights

Police Chief Ken Burton in Columbia, MO took a lot of heat over that brutal SWAT raid in which two dogs were shot in front of a small child. Then, he surprised and impressed all of us by expressing his support for marijuana legalization in order to prevent such outrages in the future. Here's some more evidence that Chief Burton truly cares about protecting the public from police abuse:

In the wake of reports showing disproportionate traffic stops of black motorists in Missouri urban areas, Columbia police statistics were released showing more balance here. The proportion of black detainees is lower than in 2007, the peak year.

Columbia police find no reason to change their procedures, which they believe with good reason are not producing improper actions against racial minorities, but they have taken a good pre-emptive step by creating a video intended to inform citizens of their rights when confronted with police during a traffic stop or other questioning incidents.

Titled "Ten Rules for Dealing with the Police," the video recently was shown by Chief Ken Burton to gatherings of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and the Columbia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. [Columbia Tribune]

Of course, the video was actually created by Flex Your Rights, not the Columbia Police Department. But it's fantastic to see law enforcement embracing our materials. Hopefully the positive press their efforts have generated will inspire other police departments to do the same.

Teachers Suspended for Showing Flex Your Rights Video

Two teachers in Norfolk, VA were suspended this week after showing BUSTED to a 12th grade government class. Apparently, Americans are supposed to remain ignorant about their basic constitutional rights, so we can keep arresting them at record rates every year.

You can read my thoughts on the matter at the Flex Your Rights blog.

Drug Testing: Louisiana House Committee Passes Voluntary Drug Tests for Officials Bill

Setting aside other, less pressing business, the Louisiana House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs approved a bill, HB 1352, which would allow lawmakers and elected officials to take a voluntary drug test and mental health evaluation after election, with the state paying the tab. The bill would also allow testees to post the results on the Internet. The bill is the brainchild of Rep. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), who has also sponsored a bill mandating drug testing for welfare recipients.
John LaBruzzo on the Rachel Maddow show
Under the bill, the House, Senate, or elected official's office would have to pay the cost of the drug test, which could be as much as $40. No figure was given for the costs of a mental health examination. The bill now moves to the House Appropriations Committee, which will evaluate its costs.

LaBruzzo's bill originally contained only the drug testing provision, but according to the account of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Rep. Nancy Lang (R-Lafayette) half-jokingly asked, "Have you considered having legislators undergo a mental health test?" An amendment to that effect was then offered and accepted.

Thousands of state employees, as well as all applicants for state jobs, are required to take drug tests under state law now. "We should apply ourselves to the same rules as state employees," LaBruzzo said.

"I think it is a lot of window dressing," said Rep. Patrick Connery (R-Harvey), before voting for it. He said legislators could simply abstain from drugs for long enough to pass a drug test, then take one and post the results online.

"If it is voluntary, and somebody is on drugs, why would he take it?" asked Rep. Wayne Waddell (R-Shreveport). "You are putting the perception out there that those who don't take it are on drugs."

The evidence is building that those legislators really do need those mental health evaluations.

Blogger Forces Drug Czar's Office to Correct False Information

We talked here a while back about the drug czar's misleading use of drug testing data to suggest that shocking numbers of weekend drivers are high on drugs. Well, Pete Guither actually went and did something about it, creating a petition for correction to the drug czar's misleading propaganda. And the best part is that it actually worked:

Washington, DC

April 15, 2010

Mr. Peter Guither
909 W. Market Street
Bloomington, IL 61701

Dear Mr. Guither:

This letter is in response to the petition for correction that you emailed to the Office of the National Drug Control Policy on March 16, 2010. The sentence on the ONDCP website regarding the Department of Transportation study has been reworded to state “that 16 percent of nighttime weekend drivers tested positive for a licit or illicit drug.” This should fully address the specific point raised in your correspondence.

Pursuant to Section III of ONDCP’s information Quality Guidelines, you have a right to request reconsideration if you believe appropriate corrective action has not been taken. Such a request must be filed within 30 days of notification of ONDCP’s response to your original request.


Timothy J. Quinn
Chief of Staff

It may seem like a small victory at first glance, but the very notion of the drug czar's office actually accepting a correction from a reformer is pretty remarkable. Almost everything that office does is built on a foundation of deception, and if we're able to hold them accountable to the truth on any level, it begins to even the playing field as we make the case for reform. Pete may only have succeeded in correcting one specific lie, but in doing so, he may have prevented any number of similar lies from being told in the future. Awesome job.

Fighting for Legalization Isn't Enough. You Need to Know Your Rights.

As the debate over marijuana legalization rages on and U.S. drug policy draws more public scrutiny than ever before, the arrests and injustices just keep adding up. We can debate the law until we're blue in the face, and we should, but it's equally essential that every American understand the terms of engagement in a battle that catches peaceful people in its crossfire each and every day.

It is because so few of us truly understand our basic rights that police are able to trample them so routinely. But it's also the haunting thought of that knock at the door, and the uncertainty of how to respond, that prevents so many among us from ever coming out of the closet and lending their voices to the debate. Fear and intimidation are the vital instruments without which the war on drugs would have been banished to the bowels of history long ago.

If you haven't yet seen the new Flex Your Rights video 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, please take this opportunity to do so, and please share it with the people you care about. It won't end the drug war, but it might help you get a better night's sleep. And you deserve that.

Refusing a Search Doesn't Give Police the Right to Detain You

Here's an Arizona case that illustrates why you should never give police consent to search your vehicle:

The state appellate court has overturned the cocaine-transportation conviction of a Canadian man passing through Flagstaff after ruling the search of his vehicle was illegal.

The reason: The Arizona Department of Public Safety officer who stopped Alvin J. Sweeney, 53, didn't have reasonable suspicion to search his vehicle. []

The suspect refused the search, and although the officer detained him and ultimately searched the car anyway, the whole thing was ultimately thrown out in court. If he'd agreed to the search, the evidence would have been admissible and he'd still be in jail.

Something to keep in mind, even if you've never broken a law in your life. Unless you're the only person who's ever set foot in your car or house, how can you really be sure there's nothing that could get you in trouble?

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