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Chronicle AM -- February 24, 2014

Marijuana politics continues to dominate the drug news, but meanwhile, the FDA has banned its first tobacco product, the DEA wants you to snitch out pain pill abusers, Delaware makes diverting a pain pill a felony -- and speaking of Delaware and diversion, someone has been diverting Oxycontin from the medical examiner's office, and more. Let's get to it:

Indian-style "bidi" cigarettes -- been banned by the FDA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bankers Still Leery Over Doing Marijuana Business. Although the federal government has issued new guidelines designed to ease their fears, financial institutions need to be convinced that they will not be prosecuted should they open accounts for marijuana businesses. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," said Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association. While he appreciates the effort by the feds, "that doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," he added.

Governors Not Too Keen on Legalization. The nation's governors gathered for the National Governors' Association meeting over the weekend, and they were generally not eager to follow Colorado and Washington down the path toward legalization. They worried about the kids and public safety, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) counseled them to go slow.

Zero Tolerance DUID Bill Introduced in California. Assemblymen Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable amount of THC in one's blood. The bill is Assembly Bill 2500. Correa introduced a similar measure last year, but it was defeated.

Forty Maine Lawmakers Urge Consideration of Marijuana Legalization. On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana. "All options should be on the table," Rep. Russell stated in the memo. "In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use."

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in Florida. Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orange County) last Thursday introduced a legalization bill, House Bill 1039. No word yet on where it's headed.

Maryland Marijuana Reform Measures Get Hearings Tuesday. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold hearings on a legalization bill and a decriminalization bill Tuesday. The legalization bill is Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery). The decriminalization bill is Senate Bill 364, sponsored by Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Plurality for Legalization. A new Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization at 49%, with 43% opposed. Of those opposed, 48% support decriminalization. That means support for decrim is over 70%.

Medical Marijuana

Big Majority for Medical Marijuana in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 87% in the Buckeye State.

Utah CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Committee. A bill that would allow children with epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil passed the House Law Enforcement Committee on an 8-2 vote last Thursday. House Bill 105 now heads to the House floor.

Prescription Drugs

Delaware Law Makes Taking Your Brother's Pain Pills a Felony. A bill drafted by state Attorney General Beau Biden in a bid to stop illegal prescription drug use makes it a felony for a family member or health care professional to divert prescription medications. Offenders will also be placed on a scarlet letter list, the Adult Abuse Registry. House Bill 154 was signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell (D) last week.

Law Enforcement

Missing Dope Scandal at Delaware Medical Examiner's Office. Drugs sent to the Medical Examiner's Office for testing between 2010 and 2012 have gone missing, sometimes replaced with fakes, investigators said Saturday. At least 15 drug cases have been flagged as having tainted or missing evidence, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of the cases involve Oxycontin. The Medical Examiner's Office has quit doing drug analysis for the time being as the investigation continues.

Jury Awards $2.3 Million to Family of Georgia Pastor Killed By Narcs. A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to the wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor gunned down by plainclothes narcotics officers as he attempted to flee from them at a gas station. They were investigating a woman who had allegedly sold $50 worth of cocaine, and saw her in his car. The narcs jumped out at Ayers and he attempted to flee, slightly striking one of them. They then shot him nine times, killing him. Read Radley Balko's complete piece at the link above to get all the hideous details.

DEA Wants You to Rat Out Suspected Pain Pill Abusers. The DEA is rolling out a new text-messaging system to report illegal prescription drug use and sales. Pilot programs are underway in Philadelphia and Georgia. The federal agency is also distributing pamphlets to 1,200 Atlanta-area pharmacies to encourage the use of the reporting system.

Tobacco

FDA Bans First Tobacco Product. For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its regulatory powers to ban a tobacco product. The agency moved against "bidis," a style of cigarette from India. Banned are Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone, which are manufactured by Jash International. FDA used its authority under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to ban them as "not substantially equivalent" to tobacco products sold as of February 15, 2007.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. A 911 Good Samaritan bill (House Bill 965) and a naloxone access bill (House Bill 966) are moving in the legislature. The former passed out of the House Rules Committee Monday and is set for a floor vote tomorrow, while the later goes before the Rules Committee tomorrow. It's time to call your representatives, says Georgia Overdose Prevention.

Buffalo Police to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Buffalo, New York, are the latest law enforcement personnel to begin carrying naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, with them in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. "We've seen a nationwide epidemic of heroin overdoses. It's hitting Buffalo. It's hitting the suburbs," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. "Basically, if somebody's overdosing, this could save their life."

International

Italian Harm Reductionists Call for Thorough Review of Drug Policies. The Italian Harm Reduction Association (ITARDD) issued an open letter Monday calling on politicians and the state to engage in a national dialogue about drug policy that includes harm reduction. The group also called for control over drug policy to be taken from the Anti-Drug Policy Department and be put in the hands of the health and welfare ministries.

Belgian Socialists Adopt Marijuana Legalization Plank. The Belgian socialist party SP.A (the Flemish socialist party) narrowly adopted a proposal by its Young Socialist section to legalize marijuana. The move came at the party's congress in Brussels, ahead of elections set for May 25.

Jamaica Governing Party Legislative Leader Hints Decriminalization is Coming. Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Phillip Paulwell signaled that decriminalization is coming to Jamaica this year. "It is my view that decriminalization of the weed will become a reality this (calendar) year, arising from the parliamentary debate and the support by the majority of the members, I believe it will be approved this year." But legalization is out of the question for now, he added.

Newark Cops Kill Alleged Drug Dealer, Neighbors Attack Police

Two undercover Essex County sheriff's deputies shot and killed a suspected drug dealer Wednesday, sparking an angry response from area residents. The dead man, so far identified only as "Jose," becomes the 35th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Newark Star-Ledger, citing Essex County Chief of Detectives Anthony Ambrose, the deputies were doing a drug investigation and approached "Jose" in a building on North 9th Street. Ambrose said the man came out of the building with a loaded weapon, and both deputies opened fire, killing him.

Neighbors at the scene, who pelted the sheriff's office vehicle with rocks and debris, breaking at least one window, had a different version of events. Several of them told a Star-Ledger reporter that the deputies hit the man with their vehicle, then shot him as he lay on the ground. None of those interviewed would give their names, saying they feared retribution from the police.

"Why did you have to hit him with a car? Why'd you have to shoot him in the back?" people shouted over Ambrose as he spoke to reporters.

One neighbor who did identify himself, Jamar Smith, said he was a friend of the dead man and was on his way to his house when he heard the sound of a car crash followed by the loud bang of two gun shots. Smith and several others said one of the officers involved is well-known in the neighborhood for his aggressive policing and that they had had violent encounters with him, too.

Newark, NJ
United States

Indianapolis Man Killed in Drug Task Force Raid

Members of the Indianapolis Metro Drug Task force shot and killed a man early Thursday morning while serving a warrant. Jose Guerrero, 36, becomes the 34th person to die in UN domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WISH TV, citing police sources, officers with the Carmel Police Department serving on the drug task force had entered an apartment in a Westside complex around dawn Thursday when Guerrero pulled out a gun and refused to put it down. They then shot and killed him.

"We had two veteran narcotics officers in this residence who did what they needed to do when they were confronted with an armed individual," said Carmel Police Chief Tim Green.

There is no word on whether the raid was a no-knock raid or not.

The raid was part of a two-year undercover operation known as "Operation Five Dollar Foot-Long," with the DEA, as well as state and local law enforcement, participating. On the day of the killing alone, police seized 100 pounds of marijuana, 1.5 pounds of methamphetamine, seven guns, 26 vehicles, and more than $80,000 in cash.

The two Carmel police officers involved in the Thursday morning shooting have been placed on administrative duty pending the result of IMPD's investigation into the shooting. That is standard procedure.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

California Cops Gun Down Unarmed Meth Dealer

Undercover police in Sunnyvale, California, shot and killed an unarmed alleged methamphetamine dealer last Wednesday afternoon. Juan Ruelas, 34, becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to NBC Bay Area News, citing police spokesmen, Ruelas was being investigated by the Santa Clara County Specialized Crimes Action Team (SCAT) and members of a DEA drug task force, whose undercover officers had purchased meth from him several times over the past month. Police set up another buy Wednesday afternoon at a Hobee's restaurant in Sunnyvale, and an undercover officer had just purchased a pound of meth from him when the shooting occurred.

Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Captain Dave Pitts said that after the deal went down, Ruelas suddenly threatened the officer and said he had a gun. Then, Pitts said, Ruelas "made a movement that led the officer to believe he was reaching for a gun." No fewer than six officers on the scene then opened on fire on Ruelas, mortally wounding him. He died later the same day in a local hospital.

No gun was found.

In an earlier NBC Bay Area News report, a manager at the Motel 6 next door to the restaurant provided a different account. He told reporters that it looked like a driver had been pulled over for a traffic violation. The manager, John Carroll, said officers were shouting at a person in the vehicle to get out of the car. When that person began to comply, police gunfire broke out, he said.

Ruelas' family wants to know what happened, members told ABC News 7. "Our question was, you know, 'Was he armed?'" said Ruelas' sister, Maria Bunker. "And he just told my brother, 'no, we never found a weapon.'"

Bunker also questioned the police narrative of events. "The pictures that we see all over the media, they show his truck being boxed in," Bunker said. "He had a stroke recently so it's like, he wasn't going to run from them."

Police spokesman Pitts said the shooters were five Santa Clara police detectives and a sheriff's detective. The shooting is being investigated by Sunnyvale public safety investigators, who will forward their findings to the county district attorney's office for review.

Sunnyvale, CA
United States

DEA Must Pay $3 Million in 2010 Killing of LA Teen

A federal judge Tuesday awarded $3 million to the family of an 18-year-old Los Angeles honors student who was gunned down by undercover DEA agents in a parking garage in 2010. But the judge also ruled the officers were not negligent in their actions.

Zachary Champommier (justiceforazac.blogspot.com)
Zachary Champommier died when he drove into a Studio City shopping center parking lot to meet a friend. Also in the parking lot were a group of undercover officers, including DEA agents and LA County sheriff's deputies and LAPD officers who had been deputized by the DEA.

The cops were discussing a search warrant they had just served when they observed Champommier's friend walking in the parking garage. Suspecting the friend was breaking into cars, they detained him. When Champommier drove up, he saw his friend being accosted by people he didn't know and attempted to drive away from possible trouble.

Officers claimed that Champommier's vehicle struck a deputy as he attempted to leave the scene. Officers opened fire, killing the 18-year-old honor student and "band geek."

Both the DEA and the LA County Sheriff's Department said the shooting was justifiable because Champommier had tried to run down an officer.

"The nature of [Champommier's] aggressive actions, actually hitting the deputy -- that is not someone who is without some degree of fault," Sheriff Lee Baca said shortly after the shooting.

Champommier's mother, Carol, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, charging that federal and local drug enforcement officers were reckless in shooting at her son, who she claimed posed no reasonable threat.

US District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the DEA agents did have reason to believe they were in danger, but acted recklessly in shooting at Champommier's vehicle as it passed them because at that point they were no longer in danger.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

New Hampshire Cops Kill Man Fleeing Drug Sting

An undercover drug bust in a Weare, New Hampshire, shopping mall Wednesday night ended with the target of the bust shot to death as he attempted to flee. The as yet unidentified victim is the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Concord Monitor and a press release from the state attorney general's office, several Weare police officers and two confidential informants were outside Dunkin' Donuts in Lanctot's Plaza on US Highway 114 doing a drug sting on the target, a suspected heroin dealer.

When officers attempted to detain the man, he tried to flee. Two officers then opened fire, wounding the man as he sped off in his vehicle. He made it about one hundred yards before crashing near an ice cream stand along the highway. He was taken by ambulance to a Manchester Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police have not said why they opened fire. They have not claimed that the man was shooting or pointing a gun at them, or even if a weapon was recovered. They have not claimed he was trying to run them over and they feared for their lives. And they have not mentioned the seizure of any drugs.

The attorney general's office said the investigation into the killing was "ongoing."

Weare, NH
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Thuggery in Philly, protecting drug shipments in Houston and Detroit, sticky fingers in Los Angeles, and that's not all. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, five undercover narcotics officers are the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was wrongfully arrested during a drug raid at a friend's auto shop that included acts of police brutality directed at him and others present. Thomas Basara claims the narcs used a battering ram to break down an office door and conduct a search without a search warrant.  The lawsuit says the narcs never identified themselves as police, asked those present "where the money and drugs were hidden," then brutally assaulted them. Office Thomas Liciardello was named as an officer who struck one man with a steel pipe, knocking him unconscious, then kicked him in the mouth so hard his front upper row of teeth were separated from their roots.  He also broke the man's index finger and pointed his service revolver at the man's head, threatening to kill him. Basara claims that officers also beat him, knocking out two of his teeth and causing rib and back injuries, and that the narcs stole $41,000 in cash as drug profits, but only turned in $6,600, keeping $34,400 for themselves. The other officers named in the suit are Brian Reynolds, Brian Speiser, Michael Spicer and Lt. Robert Otto.

In Orange, Texas, a former Orange police officer was arrested last Tuesday after a citizen's complaint that he was stealing prescription pain pills. Taylor Scott Saleme resigned from his position as the complaint was investigated. He had worked as a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy for two years before joining the Orange Police Department last August. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance -- hydrocodone. He has bailed out of jail.

In Washington Park, Illinois, a Washington Park police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he smuggled drugs to a female jail inmate. Douglas Young, 61, is charged with official misconduct for bringing narcotics and prescription drugs to an inmate of the St. Clair County Jail, where he "used his position as a law enforcement officer" to arrange jail visits to a woman in custody on theft charges. He was being held on $25,000 bail.

In Los Angeles, a former LA County sheriff's narcotics sergeant was arrested Monday on charges he stole $4,000 in cash during a sting set up by his own department. Bonnie Bryant III, 57, took the money in a July 2012 sting set up by the department's criminal internal affairs division. That sting went down after Bryant was caught on a business surveillance camera stealing money during a May 2012 bust. He is charged with one felony count each of grand theft of personal property and embezzlement by a public official. He was a narcotics task force supervisor when arrested and resigned from the department in December. He's looking at up to four years and six months if convicted.

In Houston, two former Houston police officer were convicted last Friday of protecting what they thought were drug shipments in return for bribes. Emerson Canizales, 27, and Michael Miceli, 27, went down after investigators learned they were involved in illegal conduct involving drugs and bribes. Both men acknowledged taking money to protect the drug load. They were convicted of extortion under color of law and face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in September.

In Detroit, a former Highland park police officer was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in prison for agreeing to take money in exchange for delivering a shipment of cocaine. Craig Clayton, 55, was one of four Highland Park officers charged with taking bribes and conspiring to distribute cocaine. Clayton was accused of bringing his badge and gun to protect a shipment, and accepting $1,500 in cash from an FBI informant. He copped to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. Two other officers in the case have pleaded guilty.

One Dead After Charlotte Police Stage Drug Sting on Elementary School Grounds

An undercover drug sting in the parking lot of a Charlotte, North Carolina, elementary school ended up with one person killed and one person wounded, and a community wondering why police chose that particular location for their operation. Jaquaz Walker, 17, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to reports from WSOC-TV and WBTV 3, police set up a marijuana buy between an undercover police officer, an informant, and two teenagers last Tuesday afternoon. Police said that during the drug deal, Walker pulled a gun and shot the informant in the shoulder in an attempt to rob him.

The undercover police officer then shot Walker in the head, killing him. The teen who accompanied Walker fled, but was arrested later.

"You know, you have 15, 16 year old kids out here wielding firearms, that's a very dangerous situation," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who also defended the decision to do the deal in an elementary school parking lot. "Anytime you conduct an undercover operation, what's a good location? Whether it's a shopping mall or neighborhood, there is no real perfect location."

Monroe also said that school was out and that the site was chosen by Walker and his companion. "This was a location identified by individuals that we were seeking to purchase drugs from," he said. "We were aware that the school was empty of kids."

But residents of the neighborhood where the shooting took place were not mollified.

"It bothers me that I live right across from the school, and it is bad that it was on school grounds," said neighbor Wilmer Bourne. "That's what bothers me so much."

"It's been quiet in this neighborhood, ain't nothing happened over here, everything been good, it's always somebody come in the neighborhood and do this, it ain't nobody in our neighborhood," said resident Johnny Crank.

Charlotte, NC
United States

Undercover Narc Kills Armed Michigan Teen

An undercover Michigan drug task force officer shot and killed a 17-year-old who pulled a weapon and tried to rob him Tuesday afternoon in Southfield, police said. Austin Ryan Thomas becomes the 7th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Detroit Free Press, citing police sources, an as yet unidentified Madison Heights police officer working with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) was working undercover during an investigation at an apartment complex in Southfield when the teenager pulled a weapon and tried to rob him.

"During the investigation a suspect pulled a weapon on one of the undercover NET officers and placed the weapon to the officer's head in an attempt to rob him," said Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe late Tuesday in a prepared statement.  "The officer pulled his gun and was able to fire shots that struck the suspect."

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Wednesday that undercover agents had twice previously bought cocaine from Thomas. He added that Thomas had entered the undercover agent's unmarked vehicle and was seated in it when shot. The vehicle did not carry surveillance cameras because it was an unmarked vehicle, he said.

 Thomas was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead there. No officers or bystanders were hurt.

The NET task force is comprised of deputies and police officers from 13 Oakland County jurisdictions, along with DEA agents. The police shooter has been placed on paid administrative leave pending a review of the killing.

Southfield, MI
United States

Police Kill Oklahoma City Man in Convenience Store Drug Deal

An undercover police officer shot and killed an Oklahoma City man while attempting to arrest him after observing a suspected drug deal Friday. Marcus Dewayne Patterson, 35, becomes the sixth person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Oklahoman, relying on police accounts, Oklahoma City police were called to a convenience store about noon Friday because of reported "narcotics activity." Officers witnessed a drug deal, and three officers and a supervisor, all in plain clothes, drove unmarked police cars toward Patterson, who was in his car, according to Capt. Dexter Nelson.

Another plain clothes officer, Sgt. Charles Schamel, approached the vehicle on foot from the side and was struck by the car as Patterson attempted to flee the scene. As he rolled over the hood of the car, Schamel fired his weapon.

"That officer then fired on the man in the car, killing him," Nelson said. "A car can be used as a weapon anytime you are standing in front of a car and someone comes toward you."

Schamel was treated at the scene for bumps and bruises.

When investigators examined Patterson's body, they found a 9 mm hand gun tucked into his waistband, but police said he apparently never drew the weapon.

Two men in the car with Patterson were arrested at the scene and charged with felony murder. They got hit with that because police charged they were in the act of committing a felony when Patterson's killing took place.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

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