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Cory Maye: Drug War Victim Gets a New Trial

The battle over the fate of drug war victim Cory Maye has been fought quietly in court for the last several months, but Radley Balko brings the long-awaited & exciting news that Maye has been granted a new trial.  

For those new to the case, Maye is a young, single father whose home in Prentiss, MS was raided by police in the middle of the night in late 2001. Unaware that the intruders were police and fearing for the safety of his infant daughter, Maye opened fire and killed an officer. As it turned out, the warrant was for the neighboring unit and Maye had nothing illegal, except marijuana ashes. Nevertheless, Maye was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The case has become widely regarded as a classic example of how aggressive drug war police tactics can lead to terrible misunderstandings and injustices.

But it's also become an inspiring illustration of how bloggers and activists can effectively use the internet to fight for justice. Radley Balko's initial coverage of the case at his blog, The Agitator, ignited national interest in Maye's plight. The case drew the attention of an attorney at the prestigious law firm Covington & Burling, which offered to represent Maye pro bono. That changed everything. Maye's death sentence was challenged and overturned. Then, last week, it was announced that Maye will receive a new trial altogether, one in which he will enjoy superb representation and his best chance yet at securing his freedom once and for all.

It's an incredible story that we'll continue to follow as the new trial approaches. For more detailed background on the case, check out Radley Balko's award-winning 2007 report at Reason.

Update: Reason.tv has a good piece on Maye's case as well:

Cheye Calvo Takes a Stand Against Corrupt Drug War Policing

Ever since police killed his dogs in an epic – yet typical – episode of botched drug raid debauchery, I've been repeatedly awed by Cheye Calvo's judgment, composure and commitment to justice. He didn't pick this fight, but it's become crystal clear he won't give up until it's finished. So if the arrogant police officials in Prince Georges County, MD think that continuing to stall will spare them any embarrassment or accountability, this Washington Post Op-ed should put their delusions to rest.

I'm not going to block quote this because I hope each of you will read the whole thing in its entirety. It's hard to imagine a more honest and powerful response to police who think the drug war gives them the right to abuse the people they serve.

Mayor Calvo's bravery deserves our applause and continued support. I agree with Radley Balko that he should consider running for a higher office in Maryland. There's no better way to establish accountability than to become the person performing the oversight.

Law Enforcement: Minneapolis Pays For Drug Raid Cop's Attack on Bystander

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously two weeks ago today to pay $495,000 to a man who was punched in the head by a Minneapolis police officer during a drug raid last year. The payment settled a pending federal lawsuit filed by the victim, 53-year-old Eldridge Chatman.

Chatman stepped out of his public housing apartment just before noon on April 11, 2008, only to encounter a Minneapolis police SWAT team preparing to execute a drug raid in the apartment hallway. The lead officer, Craig Taylor, carrying a submachine gun, attempted to signal Chatman to move out from in front of an apartment door the team sought to enter, then punched him in the head when he failed to move.

Chatman required two brain surgeries to stanch bleeding in his head caused by a subdural hematoma resulting from the punch. He also lost a tooth.

Chatman was represented by attorney Bob Bennett, who has made a pastime of suing the Minneapolis police for brutality and civil rights violations. Bennett said last Friday there was no reason to use force on Chatman because he did nothing wrong and posed no threat to officers.

Bennett also drew a parallel between Chatman's case and the recent scandal over the release of a Minneapolis police squad car video showing six officers kicking and punching another black man, Derryl Jenkins, after a traffic stop in February. Both cases involved "African-American males who showed the slightest inclination to not obey" a command. "There's a subset of people the police think they can use force on and get away with," Bennett said.

The six-figure pay out has parallels, too. Last December, the city awarded $612,000 to a family after police mistakenly raided their house in 2007. One family member, fearing intruders, fired a shotgun blast, and police shot back. No one was injured. In December 2007, the city paid out $4.5 million to police officer Duy Ngo after he was shot six times by a fellow officer during an undercover operation in 2003.

Until the city fathers can get their police under control, the good burghers of Minneapolis can expect to pay out more of their hard-won tax dollars to the victims of those who are supposed to serve and protect. Also in the meanwhile, the perpetrator (Officer Taylor) remains on the force.

Police Kill Church Pastor in Botched Drug Raid. No Drugs Found.

Via Radley Balko, here's another grave tragedy that we can all thank the drug war for making possible. The victim clearly freaked out when police confronted him, but I'm not at all convinced that he understood who they were. They were in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle jumping out on a guy who'd just drawn money from an ATM. Why would he knowingly try to evade police when he didn’t have anything illegal on him?

It's one more dreadful tragedy that just didn't have to happen. Police pulling guns on harmless people should be a rare event, but it's not. And when it happens, it's almost always the result of some crazy drug investigation with more questions than answers.

When experts like Mark Kleiman say that legalization doesn’t add up, are they factoring events like this into the equation?

An Epidemic of Botched Drug Raids in Maryland

Radley Balko has a new piece at Reason showing that the disastrous Cheye Calvo raid is just the tip of the iceberg. His conclusion is sad, but probably correct:

Terrible as it sounds, it may well take more mistaken raids on high-status victims like Calvo to generate real debate over the wisdom of using violent, high-risk police tactics to serve warrants for nonviolent crimes.

Hopefully Calvo's lawsuit, along with the new SWAT monitoring legislation he helped pass, will bring about needed changes without any more lives having to be lost. I'd hate to think that further bloodshed is the only path to reform.

Drug Raids: Maryland Sheriff Clears Department in SWAT Assault on Mayor's Home -- Mayor Sues Sheriff, Seeks Restrictions on SWAT

The Prince Georges County, Maryland, Sheriff's Department has finished its investigation into a drug raid last summer in which deputies charged into the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights and killed two family dogs. Not surprisingly, the department cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

PolitickerMD cartoon about the raid on the Calvo home
Equally unsurprisingly, Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, one of the victims of the raid, disagrees. He said in a Monday press conference he was would file a lawsuit in Prince Georges County Circuit Court against officials in the sheriff's office and police department. Calvo said he will seek to force the county to change its policies for deploying SWAT teams, adding that he believes there are problems with how the force serves search warrants, treats animals, and detains people.

PG Sheriff Michael Jackson doesn't see it that way. The departmental review of the raid was "consistent with what I've felt all along: My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities," he said at a news conference last Friday as he announced the whitewash.

The raid drew national attention when SWAT team members tracking a package of marijuana delivered to the Calvo home without the residents' knowledge burst into the house, shot and killed the family's two Labrador retrievers, and detained Calvo and his mother-in-law for several hours. One dog was shot four times by the front door. The other was shot twice as it ran from officers. The sheriff's office later admitted that the Calvos had nothing to do with the drug delivery, which was a ruse by traffickers to avoid shipping to their own locations (and avoiding SWAT raids like the one the Calvos endured).

"I'm sorry for the loss of their family pets," Jackson said. "But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community. Lost in this whole incident was the criminal element... In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success."

Again, Calvo disagreed. "It's outrageous," he said. "Not only is he not admitting any wrongdoing, but he's saying this went down the way it was supposed to and he's actually commending his police officers for what they did."

The botched raid has already led to a new Maryland law imposing strict reporting requirements on SWAT teams. Now, given the instransigence of the sheriff's office, it may result in even more changes in gung-ho policing, at least in Prince Georges County.

[Ed: Sheriff Jackson was not entirely straightforward with the public during his press conference last week. First, when he said they were successful in the sense that they "kept these drugs from reaching our streets," that was flat out not true. The package was intercepted by police in Arizona. It was disguised members of Sheriff Jackson's force who delivered the package to the home, before they staked it out waiting for someone to come back and bring it inside. Maybe they just couldn't think of any of the obvious alternatives to doing a SWAT raid in this situation, but Sheriff Jackson at a minimum should be able to distinguish between his police officers and the drug agents in Arizona -- not the same people.

Secondly, Jackson claimed that they were justified in storming the home, rather than doing a standard knock and announce, because Mayor Calvo's mother-in-law had seen them and screamed -- the officers were "compromised," he said, because their presence was already known to the people inside the house. But that makes no sense at all, because knock and announce raids inform the people inside that the police are calling, by definition. By Jackson's line of reasoning, any knock and announce raid automatically compromises the police officers carrying it out -- but knock and announce is the standard way of serving a warrant.

No doubt Jackson's lies and distortions will come back to haunt him in court as the mayor's lawsuit moves forward. -DB]

Police Raid Innocent Elderly Couple, Blame it on the Weather

Police in Indianapolis burst into the wrong and terrified an elderly couple, but they have an explanation:

Officers were trying to serve a warrant for a man wanted on drug charges. The address listed on the paperwork was 4042. The Minton’s home is 4048, with both house numbers clearly marked.

But Major Mark Robinett of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, who is in charge of warrant sweeps, said he was told that officers had a difficult time reading the addresses because of overcast skies.

I've heard a lot of weak excuses for botched drug raids, but this is just classic. As is often the case in such scenarios, the explanation serves only to make police sound even more confused and incompetent than they already did.

Seriously, if you can't even see what you're doing, then don't burst into private homes with your guns drawn. A word of advice to the Mintons: you should sue these people silly. The admission that their vision was obstructed at the time of the raid, though utterly disingenuous, is tantamount to gross negligence. I'd just love to see them on the stand trying to explain this.

Police Applaud Themselves For Raiding Innocent People and Killing Dogs

Police in Prince George's County, MD have completed their internal investigation of the botched raid on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. Their disgusting, though unsurprising, conclusion is that they did a terrific job:

The findings of the internal review "are consistent with what I've felt all along: My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities," Sheriff Michael Jackson said at a news conference.

"I'm sorry for the loss of their family pets," Jackson said. "But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community. Lost in this whole incident was the criminal element. . . . In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success." [Washington Post]

Except that they could easily have intercepted the package before it was ever delivered, thereby eliminating the need for the violent raid entirely. Killing the dogs was completely unrelated to the goal of intercepting the drugs and it's just supremely dishonest to equate those two outcomes. Radley Balko has more on the fundamental incoherence underlying these latest claims from the PG County Sheriff's Office.

In the end, Sheriff Jackson is making a powerful statement to the public: this could happen to you. He's proud of his officers' actions and he has no intention of trying to prevent this from happening again. Cheye Calvo filed a lawsuit today that will hopefully change that.

Wrong Door Drug Raids Are No Laughing Matter

I don't exactly understand what the agenda behind this video is supposed to be, but it kind of gave me the creeps. I think it's supposed to be funny and I wonder if the creators realize how true it really is.

Please: Don't Shoot!

Dear Drug War Chronicle Reader:

The graphic to the left is from the web site of the Lima, Ohio, SWAT team. In January 2008, the team stormed the home of Tarika Wilson and Anthony Terry during an ordinary drug investigation. A member of the SWAT team shot and killed Wilson -- an unarmed 26-year old -- also blowing a finger off the one-year old son she was holding. Another member of the SWAT team killed two family dogs on a different floor. The police department removed the graphic from the web site following the incident. Wilson's killer was charged with two misdemeanors, acquitted, and continues to work for the Lima police department, though not for the SWAT team.

Created for emergency or very high-intensity situations (snipers, hostages and the like), today SWAT teams deploy more than 50,000 times per year, mostly in low-level drug raids. This is dangerous and wrong, as the killing of Wilson, the maiming of her child, and the image the SWAT team chose to represent itself before things went bad all demonstrate. Please watch our online video, "SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe," please forward it to your friends, and if possible please post it on your web site. When you're done, please sign the "Petition for Responsible SWAT Reform" to limit SWAT raids to when they're truly needed.

Please consider donating to this effort, and thank you for helping to stop the "war on drugs."


David Borden, Executive Director
Washington, DC

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