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At Least Seven Police Officers Died for Drug Prohibition Last Year [FEATURE]

Last Friday, thousands of police from across the country, as well as civilians, gathered in downtown Washington, DC, for a candlelight vigil to honor law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the course of their duties. The event was a highlight of National Police Week, sponsored by the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial Fund, which is set up to honor those who have died.

2009 NLEOMF ceremony (oregon.gov)
There were plenty to remember. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 158 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty last year. Not all of them were killed by criminals. Forty-three died in auto accidents, 12 died of heart attacks, seven were struck by vehicles, five died in motorcycle accidents, four died in vehicle pursuits, two each died of falls, aircraft accidents, and accidental gunshot wounds, and one each died of heat exhaustion, unspecified accident, training accident and boating accident.

According to FBI statistics released Monday, 56 of those law enforcement deaths were felonious, 55 by gunfire and one by motor vehicle. According to a Drug War Chronicle analysis, seven of those deaths were related to drug law enforcement. Our parameters are conservative, but unavoidably subjective, fuzzy, and open to challenge. Those incidents where officers were killed because of the way we address illicit drug use and sales are:

  • On May 3, 2010, Detroit Police Officer Brian Huff was shot and killed after responding to a 3:30am report of shots fired at "a drug house." Huff and several other officers surrounded the house. When Huff and other officers made entry, they were hit by gunfire. Huff was killed, and four other officers were wounded. The suspect, who was also wounded, was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
  • On May 20, 2010, West Memphis, Arkansas, Police Officer Bill Evans and Sgt. Brandon Paudert, who were working drug interdiction on Interstate 40, were shot and killed when they pulled over a vehicle carrying a heavily armed father and son with a serious grudge against the government. When the two officers ordered the men out of the vehicle, a struggle ensued and they were both killed by fire from an AK-47. The suspects fled, but both were later killed in separate shoot-outs with law enforcement. The Crittenden County sheriff and one of his deputies were wounded in one of the shoot-outs.
  • On July 21, 2010, George County, Mississippi, Sheriff Garry Welford was struck and killed by a vehicle being pursued by deputies. The driver of the vehicle was wanted on a warrant for failing to appear for sentencing on a narcotics charge. The driver and his passenger were later arrested and charged in connection with Welford's death
  • On July 28, 2010, Chandler, Arizona, Police Officer Carlos Luciano Ledesma was shot and killed while conducting an undercover "reverse" sting operation in Phoenix. Working with two other undercover officers, Ledesma was attempting to sell 500 pounds of marijuana when the suspects came out firing. The other officers were able to return fire, killing two suspects and taking six others into custody. The two other officers were also wounded.
  • On November 14, 2010, Green County, Georgia, Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Kevin Roberts was shot and killed at his home by the target of a narcotics investigation the sheriff's office was undertaking. The subject had gone to his home and knocked on the door at about 8:30 am on a Sunday morning. When Chief Deputy Roberts answered the door he was fatally shot by the man, who then killed himself.

If these seven deaths all qualify as drug war-related, that means police killed as part of the drug war account for 12.5% of all felonious officer deaths. The number may seem small -- only seven dead officers -- but that is seven officers who most likely would not be dead today but for drug prohibition. And nobody seems to know how many were wounded, sometimes with grave consequences, but it is almost certain to exceed the number killed.

[Editor's Note: Nor is anybody counting how many civilians are being killed in the name of drug law enforcement -- except for Drug War Chronicle. This year, we are tallying every reported death due to US domestic drug law enforcement operations. Just for perspective, so far, we have 25 dead civilians and two dead law enforcement officers.]

"One dead police officer is too many in my book, said Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and Maryland State Police who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "If we can save one life through drug policy reform, it's worth it to me."

"I may have to die as a cop, but I certainly don't want to die just because some 13-year-old is slinging crack," said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and author of Cop in the Hood, who is now on the faculty of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

There are ways to reduce that likelihood, both men said. They range from harm reduction measures such as decriminalizing marijuana possession, decriminalizing all drug possession, and providing heroin maintenance for addicts, to rebuilding police-community relations, especially in the inner cities, to revisiting and revising police tactics, particularly SWAT-style no-knock raids and perhaps those "reverse sting" operations, to shifting police resources and priorities.

"Why are the cops selling pot?" asked an incredulous Moskos as he reviewed the killing of Chandler Police Officer Ledesma in a "reverse sting" gone horribly awry. "Why sell 500 pounds of marijuana? What were you hoping to do?"

"We're starting to see marijuana decriminalization in more states, and I think that's important," said Franklin, citing New York City's policy of mass stop and frisks and mass marijuana possession arrests, almost always against young people of color. "If more states starting moving toward decriminalization, we could relieve some of the pressure from this steaming tea kettle. That would make for a more relaxed environment between police and young people. Prohibition has made our communities extremely tense and dangerous, and the cops are on edge. We have to rebuild this relationship."

"We can fight the war on drugs less," said Moskos. "Police do have discretion. They can focus on other crimes and shift resources accordingly."

And they could rethink the gung-ho paramilitary raids, said Moskos. "I always think of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco," he said. "They could have just picked him up at McDonald's. But from the cop perspective, these raids are pretty safe. They represent a shift in police mentality. They're not so safe for civilians, but that's a risk police are willing to take. They would rather have collateral damage than damage to their own ranks."

Both Franklin and Moskos said that only counting incidents where there is a direct drug war connection probably results in undercounting the number of police officers killed because of drug prohibition. The case of Georgia State Patrol Officer Chadwick LeCoy, which didn't make the list, is illustrative of the broader impact of decades of drug war on the safety of police. LeCroy was shot and killed after a short vehicle pursuit on December 27. He wasn't enforcing the drug laws, but the driver who killed him had extensive experience with the criminal justice system, including prior drug, firearms, and eluding police convictions.

Given the millions of drug arrests in the past few decades, the tens of millions of years worth of prison sentences handed out, the lives knocked off track by a drug-based encounter with the criminal justice system, it is no leap of the imagination to think there are plenty of people out there nursing very serious grudges -- grudges that might manifest themselves as attacks on police even if there is no immediate drug link.

"Maybe we need a separate category: this would not have occurred if drugs were not illegal," said Moskos. "If someone has a long record because of drugs and then shoots at a cop at traffic stop, that could fit that category. Police get the brunt of it because of the war on drugs."

"These decades of drug war have poisoned the well," said Franklin, recalling his teenage years in Baltimore. The kids would be hanging out, and when the patrol car rolled around the corner, they would chat and joke with the officer before he went on his way, he said.

"Now, in that same neighborhood, when a police call turns the corner, the first thing you hear is shouts of '5-0' and everyone scatters," he related. "If I tried to talk to them, they were very standoffish and using words you don't want to repeat. It's a very antagonistic and uncomfortable situation; you can feel the tension. They will tell you they don't trust the police and that the police mainly come into their neighborhoods to search them, their cars, and their homes for drugs. The foundation for this separation of police and community is our drug policies and the environment they create."

There are ways to reduce the death toll, both law enforcement and civilian, in the war on drugs. We know what they are and how important the task is. The problem is political will. And the very law enforcement organizations whose officers' lives could be saved are among the biggest obstacles to change.

[Click here for a Flickr slideshow from the 2011 NLEOMF Candlelight Vigil.)

Drug Warriors Gun Down Young Father (Opinion)

Location: 
AZ
United States
James Peron, President of the Moorfield Storey Institute, recounts the recent drug prohibition related death of a young husband, father, and Iraq veteran who was shot at 71 times by heavily armed men who then allegedly prevented medical assistance from being given until he was dead. The heavily armed men were from the Pima County Sheriff's Department. Another drug raid gone bad.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-peron/jose-guerena_b_863278.html

Tucson SWAT Team Kills Armed Homeowner in Drug Raid

[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

The Pima County SWAT team is under the spotlight. (Image courtesy Pima County Sheriff's Office)
In a mid-morning drug raid May 5, a Pima County SWAT team executing a search warrant shot and killed a 26-year-old Afghan and Iraq war veteran after he confronted the intruders with a weapon in his hand. Jose Guerena become the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. (Actually, he was the 25th, but the Pima County Sheriff's office has been so dilatory in releasing information that we logged two more drug war deaths before we were able add this one to the list.)

According to the initial police account, when SWAT officers broke down the door of Guerena's home, which he shared with his wife and young child, he confronted them and opened fire. "The adult male had a long rifle, opened fire on the SWAT team. The SWAT team returned fire and the male is pronounced deceased. The woman and the child are unharmed," said Pima County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Ogan.

Six days later, police admitted that while Guerena, a former Marine, was holding an AR-15 assault rifle, the safety was on and he had not fired it. They also admitted that SWAT officers fired 71 rounds at Guerena in seven seconds. It was also later reported that even though Guerena's wife called 911 as soon as he was shot and that EMTs arrived two minutes later, deputies never allowed them to treat Guerena, citing security concerns. (Recall that in the Jared Loughner mass killing in Tucson earlier this year, EMTs were allowed to treat the wounded in a matter of minutes despite the chaos of that scene.)

In an interview with KGUN9-TV, Guerena's wife, Vanessa, explained that her husband had worked the night shift at his job at a mine and been asleep only a couple of hours when the raiders arrived. When she saw armed men in her house pointing guns at her, she said, "Please don't shoot, I have a baby... and I yell 'Jose! Jose! Wake up!'"

The SWAT team didn't identify itself before breaking in her door and entering her home, Guerena said. "You're saying [they] only yelled SWAT after the shootout?" KGUN9asked. "Oh, yes! Yes," said Guerena.

Her husband grabbed a gun to protect himself from what he thought were home invaders, she said.

Police said Guerena's home was one of four targeted in simultaneous raids and that a large amount of cash was found in one of them. It wasn't Guerena's. All they have said about what they found there was that it was "evidence pertinent to the case."

But at a Wednesday memorial service for the veteran of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, an attorney retained by his family, Christopher Scileppi, told FOX11-TV that Guerena was not part of any drug conspiracy. "What I do know is that they collected phones, computers the family has conveyed to me that they're confident that there is nothing that will be of inculpatory incriminating information," said Scileppi.

No lawsuit has yet been filed, but Scileppi is laying the groundwork. "We'll be sending our investigators out to find out what the neighbors saw, what mutual observers saw because this was obviously a big deal certainly to the Pima County sheriff's office," he said.

Tucson, AZ
United States

Pennsylvania SWAT Team Kills Meth Cooker in Drug Raid

[[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A member of a Pennsylvania state police SWAT team shot and killed a Wayne Township man during an early morning drug raid Wednesday. Jeffrey Wolfe, 56, becomes the 24th person to be killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Jeffrey Wolfe was shot and killed in a dawn drug raid in Pennsylvania after police said he pointed a gun at them in his bedroom.
According to police, members of the state police Special Emergency Response Team were executing a search warrant for a meth lab. They identified themselves as police, then entered the house and encountered Wolfe in a bedroom, where he pointed a loaded pump-action shotgun at them. One of the team members then opened fire on Wolfe, striking him twice in the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A woman who police have not identified was also in the home. She was not injured, and police said she is part of the ongoing investigation.

An affidavit of probable cause attached to the warrant said a confidential informant had made three controlled meth buys from Wolfe in recent weeks. The SERT team was called on to execute the warrant because of the "paranoia associated with a long-time user of methamphetamine," and the presence of guns and an active meth lab. Police said using the SERT team was the "prudent" thing to do.

Troopers found an operational meth lab, chemicals, and another weapon at the scene, as well as video surveillance equipment. Police said Wolfe had a monitor in his bedroom to see who was approaching the house, but they didn't say it it was turned on.

The unnamed state trooper who shot Wolfe has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the killing. That will be handled by the Schuykill County district attorney's office.

Summit Station, PA
United States

Police Officer Walks in Massachusetts Drug Raid Death

The Framingham, Massachusetts, SWAT team officer who shot and killed a 68-year-man lying prostrate on his apartment floor during a drug raid will face no criminal charges. The killing of Eurie Stamps was an "accident," according to a Wednesday report from the office of Middlesex County District Attorney's Gerard Leone.

DA Leone couldn't come up with a criminal charge (Image courtesy Middlesex County District Attorney's Office)
The report named the shooter as Officer Paul Duncan, who was part of a SWAT team enlisted to take part in a drug raid aimed at Stamps' grandson, Joseph Bushfan. Police arrested Bushfan outside the home before kicking down the door, throwing a stun grenade, and ordering everyone to the floor. Stamps had obeyed and was lying on the floor when Duncan attempted to cuff and frisk him.

"As he stepped to his left, (Duncan) lost his balance and began to fall over backwards," the report said. "Officer Duncan realized that his right foot was off the floor and the tactical equipment that he was wearing was making his movements very awkward. While falling, Officer Duncan removed his left hand from his rifle, which was pointing down towards the ground and put his left arm out to try and catch himself. As he did so, he heard a shot and then his body made impact with the wall. At that point, Officer Duncan, who was lying on the ground with his back against the wall, realized that he was practically on top of Mr. Stamps and that Mr. Stamps was bleeding. Officer Duncan immediately started yelling 'man down, man down.' Numerous SWAT members began calling for medics and alerting team members that there was a person down that needed medical attention. Officer Duncan told another officer on scene within moments of the incident that he had stumbled and lost his balance while moving to get in a better position, and as he was falling, his gun fired."

That was good enough for DA Leone: "The conclusion of this office is that the actions of Officer Duncan do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, and the shooting death of Eurie Stamps was an accident."

But it wasn't good enough for Stamps' family members and their attorneys. Both Stamps' widow and his children are pondering lawsuits in the case.

"Eurie Stamps’ death was the result of a fundamentally unjustifiable shooting by law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting public safety," said Anthony Tarricone, a lawyer representing Stamps’ children. "When an innocent man dies this way at the hands of police, there really are no excuses that can satisfactorily explain away such a tragedy," he told the Boston Herald.

"I don’t think it's right," said Adia Boston, Stamps' niece by marriage. "I think he should be suspended, at a minimum. There should be job loss, if not jail. That wasn't an accident... It shouldn't be an accident if it's the SWAT team. They're supposed to be trained."

Joseph Bardouille, the attorney representing Stamps' widow, said that the district attorney's report did not address serious questions about the shooting and that the family is undertaking a civil rights investigation.

"One of the purposes of the family's inquiry is to make sure SWAT officers throughout the commonwealth are trained," Bardouille said, noting experts have told him an officer's finger should not be on the trigger unless he is prepared to shoot. "They want to prevent something like this from happening again."

Officer Duncan remains on paid administrative leave while the Framingham Police Department finishes its investigation of the incident.

A civilian who shot an innocent man in these circumstances would be likely to face involuntary manslaughter charges at the least. But that is not the case when law enforcers investigate themselves.

Framingham, MA
United States

Cut Drug War Spending (Action Alert)

Hi Friends,

In a recent Q&A with YouTube viewers, President Obama said that U.S. drug policy focuses too heavily on law enforcement. He also took a huge step forward calling drug legalization an "entirely legitimate topic for debate." If you haven't taken action on the email alert I sent you last week, please take a minute to do so now. We have a great opportunity to cut funding for arrests and incarceration by treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal issue.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance

We Are the Drug Policy Alliance.

 

 

Tell President Obama to stop wasting money on the failed war on drugs.

Take Action!

Email the President

Dear Friends,

In his State of the Union address a few days ago, President Obama said it is time for the federal government to tighten its belt and stop wasting so much money. One of the biggest – and most destructive – wastes of money is the war on drugs. President Obama is working on a new federal budget – urge him to stop wasting money on the failed war on drugs.

In these times of deficits and budget cuts, let’s send a clear message: no more money for marijuana arrests. No more money for laughably stupid anti-marijuana ads. No more money for random drug testing. No more money for SWAT raids on people's homes for suspected drug law violations. No more money for long prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. No more money for the drug war. Period.

Tell the President that our tax dollars should be spent more wisely.

With your help we can eliminate or cut drug war waste and dismantle the war on drugs. Please take a minute to write the White House and tell President Obama to stop wasting your tax dollars on failed drug policies.

Sincerely,

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance

MPP Insider: Hostile Police, Medical Marijuana in the Courts, Deadly Raids, and More...

 

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Medical marijuana bill introduced in Idaho

Newsletter IdahoOn January 19, Idaho made a great stride toward securing medical marijuana patients against the threat of arrest and prosecution when representative Tom Trail introduced a medical marijuana bill into the state's legislature. If passed, the legislation would make Idaho the 16th medical marijuana state. Read more ...

Why are some cops so hostile to marijuana policy reform?

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Utah man killed in outrageous police raid

Newsletter RaidA recently released video of a police raid in Utah last September, which depicts a man being shot and killed as police force entry into his home, has enraged many readers of our blog. Take a look, but be forewarned: the contents of this video are shocking and outrageous, and likely to induce commentary. Read more ...

Courts hearing cases on rights of medical marijuana patients

Newsletter V1_I8 courtroomTwo separate cases (in two separate states) involving the rights of medical marijuana patients will be heard by supreme courts. One case deals with employment protections for registered medical marijuana patients, and the other deals with issues of handgun permits for medical marijuana patients. Read more ...

Find us on Facebook

Newsletter V1_I3 FacebookCome join the Marijuana Policy Project on Facebook! MPP maintains not only a very active Facebook page, but also a very popular Facebook Cause as well: End Marijuana Prohibition. The fastest, easiest, and most useful thing you can do for marijuana policy reform today is to join us on Facebook and show your support!

 

The MPP Video of the Month

Todd Blair Drug Raid

Featured Person

Newsletter V1_I10 VictimIn January 2000, 18-year-old Marisa Garcia received a ticket for marijuana possession that nearly cost her a college education.
Hear her story...

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Where's the Outrage Over 'Wrong-Door' Drug Raid? (Opinion)

Location: 
Spring Valley, NY
United States
Bob Goldberg opines on the surprise early morning raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Spring Valley police which terrorized an innocent Spring Valley family asleep in their home.
Publication/Source: 
The Journal News (NY)
URL: 
http://www.lohud.com/article/20110126/OPINION/101260312/1076/OPINION01/Where+%27s%20the%20outrage%20over%20+%27wrong-door+%27%20drug%20raid

More FOX Coverage of Botched Drug Raid Killings

Radley Balko was on Freedom Watch last night for the second time this month, discussing the SWAT killing of Todd Blair that went viral last week.

Reagan Turns 100: Fawning Media Ignore His Disastrous War on Drugs (Opinion)

Tony Newman, communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance, opines on Ronald Reagan's legacy. Newman says Reagan's harsh drug policies not only exploded the prison population, he also blocked programs that could have prevented hundreds of thousands of AIDS deaths.
Publication/Source: 
Alternet (CA)
URL: 
http://www.alternet.org/drugs/149658/reagan_turns_100%3A_fawning_media_ignore_his_disastrous_%27war_on_drugs%27

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