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Oklahoma Woman Killed Fleeing Police in Drug Bust

An Oklahoma City woman was shot and killed by police as she attempted to drive away from a drug bust and hit an officer on foot earlier this month. Karen Cifuentes, 19, becomes the 33rd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The incident occurred September 3, but didn't come to our attention until the passenger in Cifuentes' car was charged last Friday with murder in her death.

According to The Oklahoman, citing law enforcement documents, undercover police witnessed what they thought to be a drug deal in the parking lot of a liquor store. As officers approached, Cifuentes backed the car out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed, mowing down metal poles and jumping the curb as she fled.

The reporting does not make clear whether the undercover officers ever identified themselves as police.

As she drove away down a nearby surface street, she hit an officer on foot, who shot her "as she was accelerating." The reporting does not make clear whether the officer shot her before or after she hit him. An earlier report from KFOR Newschannel 4, however, says Cifuentes struck the officer first and that the officer suffered "minor injuries."

Cifuentes was apparently the girlfriend of passenger Juan Manuel Aguilera Perez, 24, who reportedly threw a bag of cocaine from the car as the pair fled. Perez is now charged with first degree murder, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and possession of drug proceeds ($400 in cash).

Because Perez's was allegedly in the midst of the commission of a felony -- drug sales -- when police shot Cifuentes, under Oklahoma law he can -- and has been -- charged with murder in her death.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Florida Man Killed in Drug Bust Gun Battle

A Belle Isle, Florida, man died Wednesday during a gun battle with undercover deputies trying to seize a package from his home. Giles Harrison Carter, 29, becomes the 26th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WOFL Fox 35 Orlando, citing police sources, undercover Orange County sheriff's deputies belonging to the department's narcotics unit were attempting to intercept a package from a home when Carter opened fire, then retreated inside his house. Deputies said he barricaded himself inside and continued to exchange gunfire with them.

"During the shooting, the deputies had some conversation with him [Carter]. They were identified," said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings during a news conference held on Wednesday afternoon. "He [Carter] had a handgun. At that point, the gun was pointed directly at them, is what I'm being told at this time. They fired at him, he retreated into the home and came back and fired another volley of rounds at the deputies."

Sheriff Demings did not say whether the undercover deputies "were identified" as such by Carter before that point.

An Orange County SWAT team was called in to rescue the deputies, who were "pinned down by the gun fire." After a brief conversation between Carter and the SWAT team, the team entered the home and reported finding him dead.

It's not clear whether Carter was shot by police or died at his own hand. Nor is it clear whether he was the intended recipient of the package or what was actually in it.

Carter, an Army veteran, had been arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia last Friday. But other than that, he had no criminal record, his attorney in that case said.

"Mr. Carter is fairly new to the area, and he had previously been in the US military. He told me he was a veteran, and we were approaching the State Attorney's Office about avoiding prosecution completely and looking into a pre-trial diversion program to keep his record clean, so that he could obtain and maintain security clearances with the federal government," said attorney John Gihon. "Mr. Carter, he was a smart guy. He was intelligent and educated, and it really came across in the short time that I knew him. To find out now that he's dead; that's really a shock to me."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will conduct the deputy involved shooting investigation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office Professional Standards section will conduct an administrative review.

Belle Isle, FL
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day! And speaking of which, the US Sentencing Commission is reporting heavy public response to its proposal to make some sentencing reforms retroactive. Meanwhile, marijuana remains on the move, the good burghers of New York will pay for another drug war killing, millennials loosen up on drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

A new ad from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Earns $150,000 in Excise Taxes From First Three Days of Limited Legal Marijuana Sales. Legal pot sales in Washington started last Tuesday with only a handful of shops open across the state, but by last Friday, the Washington Liquor Control Board reported that the sales had generated almost $150,000 in excise taxes alone. The excise tax is 25% imposed on producers when they sell to retailers and another 25% imposed on consumers when they buy retail. The figure doesn't include state and local sales taxes.

Colorado Recreational Marijuana Sales Declined for First Time in May. Retail pot shops sold $21 million worth of marijuana in May, down 5% from the $22 million sold in April. The combined 4/20 celebrations and High Times Cannabis Cup that same weekend may have had something to do with the high April figures. Also, tax-free medical marijuana sales remain strong and still exceeded recreational sales in April, coming in at $32 million.

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off With Innovative Bathroom Ads. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has begun its campaign to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot with "bathroom-themed ads, which are scheduled to appear in restrooms at more than two dozen restaurants and bars across Las Vegas throughout July and August." The ads highlight the costs of marijuana prohibition.

South Portland, Maine, Activists Hand in Signature for Municipal Legalization Referendum. Citizens for Safer Maine, a Marijuana Policy Project affiliate, today handed in 1,521 signatures to place a legalization initiative on the municipal this November. The group needs 959 valid voter signatures to qualify. Similar efforts are underway in York and Lewiston; Portland passed a similar measure last year.

Medical Marijuana

Berkeley City Council Gives Initial Approval for Free Medical Marijuana for the Poor and Homeless. The Berkeley city council last week gave initial approval for an ordinance that would require dispensaries in the city to set aside 2% of their medical marijuana to be given away free to poor and homeless residents who are patients. A second reading is set for next month.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Law Not Working. South Carolina's new law allowing for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil is stymied because no one in South Carolina is making it and federal law prohibits it being shipped across state lines. The new law does create a study committee to determine how to grow the plants and manufacture the oil in state, but it looks like that is years down the road.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Trial of Grower. Protestors gathered in Hendersonville this morning to protest the trial of a man they say is a medical marijuana grower. Todd Stimson is charged with numerous marijuana cultivation and related offenses. His trial starts this afternoon.

Drug Policy

Poll of Millennials Finds Majority for Marijuana Legalization, One in Five for Cocaine Legalization. A new Reason-Rupe survey finds that 57% of millennials support legalizing marijuana and a surprising 22% support legalizing the use of cocaine. Majorities of millennials said people should not be jailed or imprisoned for using marijuana (83%), ecstasy (68%), cocaine (63%), or heroin (61%). Click on the link above for more top lines, cross tabs, and methodological details.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor Gives Up on Testing Some State Workers, But Not All. Gov. Rick Scott's (R) dream of imposing drug testing on all state workers has faded further after attorneys representing the state last month filed court documents conceding that nearly a thousand job classes are ineligible for drug testing. But Scott has yet to concede that his plan to force state workers to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, despite lower court rulings against him. He's vowing to go to the US Supreme Court.

Law Enforcement

New York City Pays $2 Million for Undercover Narc's Killing of Unarmed Man on His Mother's Doorstep. Shem Walker, 59, was shot and killed when he attempted to run off shady characters loitering on his mother's apartment building doorstep. The shady characters were undercover NYPD narcotics detectives. Walker punched one of the plain clothes narcs, who responded by shooting him three times and killing him. Now, the good burghers of New York will pay out $2.25 million to settle the family's lawsuit against the city. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Got 65,000 Letters Regarding Sentencing Retroactivity. The US Sentencing Commission reports that it had received some 65,000 letters regarding its plans to make the changes to drug sentencing guidelines that reduce many drug sentences retroactive. The Commission will hold a public meeting on the issue on Friday. Click on the link for more details and to read the letters.

International

Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Refugee Crisis. In an interview published today, President Juan Hernandez blamed US drug policy for creating violence in Central American countries and thus propelling a surge of migration toward the US. He said US anti-drug policies for generating prohibition-related violence first in Colombia and Mexico and now in Central America. "Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade," Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. "The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it. This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."

Denver Man Shot, Killed in Undercover Drug Operation

A Denver man was shot and killed during an undercover drug investigation last Wednesday afternoon. Joseph Valverde, 32, becomes the 24th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Denver Post, citing Denver Police Chief Robert White, Valverde was shot and killed in the parking lot of Overland Pond Park. White said that when uniformed Denver police officers arrived to arrest Valverde, he pulled a gun. An officer then opened fire, striking Valverde.

White said Valverde threatened officers, but did not fire his weapon. He was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.

Denver 9 News, which first named the victim, reported that Valverde was shot by a SWAT team member, that police sources said the bust involved "a significant amount of cocaine" and that "law enforcement believed the suspect was very violent and dangerous."

In a separate story, Denver 9 News reported that Valverde had prior convictions for drug possession, assault, weapons charges, and criminal mischief.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 20, 2014

Two killer narcs face consequences for their actions, New York is set to become the 23rd medical marijuana state, the Pope comments on drug policy, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico and Peru, and more. Let's get to it:

Killed by a Utah narc. Finally, there might be some justice for Danielle Willard. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Studying Whether to Reclassify Marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is studying whether marijuana should be moved from Schedule I -- no medical use, high potential for abuse -- to a less restrictive schedule. The agency is acting at the request of the DEA, which is considering another rescheduling petition. Federal agencies have fended off efforts to reschedule marijuana for more than 40 years. The FDA reviewed marijuana's classification in 2001 and 2006 and found no reason to change it then.

Medical Marijuana

New York to Become 23rd Medical Marijuana State. The New York legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana this week, and today, the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state.The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Drug Policy

Pope Says Nope to Dope. Pope Francis told participants at a drug control conference that he opposes marijuana legalization, and he's not so sure about using opiate maintenance to treat heroin users. 'Drugs are an evil, and with evil you can't give way or compromise," Francis said. "Even the partial legalization of so-called recreational drugs, besides being questionable on legal grounds, doesn't produce the intended effects," according to the text of his remarks posted on the Vatican web site.

California Set to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. The California legislature has approved a bill that will once again allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps. A 1996 federal law barred drug felons from food stamp programs, but also gave states the ability to opt out. With the passage of Assembly Bill 1468, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to sign, California will have done so. Only 12 other states continue to ban drug felons from getting food stamps.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Injury Free Medication and Drug Overdose Prevention Summit Coming Next Month. State agencies and non-profits will take part in medication and overdose prevention summit on July 14 in Raleigh. Click on the lick for more details.

Law Enforcement

Utah Narc Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Danielle Willard. Former West Valley City Police undercover narcotics officer Shaun Cowley has been charged with manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting death of Danielle Misha Willard. Willard, who was unarmed, was shot and killed as she backed up her car in an apartment building parking lot. Cowley and another officer, who were investigating heroin sales, claimed they feared for their lives, but prosecutors didn't buy it. "Mr. Cowley acted in a reckless manner, and the evidence that we have does not support that his life was in danger or give him the justification to use the force that he did," said Salt Lake County prosecutor Sam Gill. The case has already resulted in a major shake-up in the department, and Willard's family has already filed a civil lawsuit.

Georgia Narc Must Pay Millions to Family of Pastor He Killed in Drug Investigation. A federal judge has ruled that Georgia undercover narc Billy Shane Harrison used unreasonable force in the killing of Pastor Jonathan Ayers and must pay his widow $2.5 million. Harrison shot and killed Ayers in a convenience store parking lot as Ayers attempted to drive away from undercover officers approaching him. They thought Ayers had some connection with a woman they were investigating, but he was just acting as a pastor.

International

Cartel Drug Wars Inflaming Mexico's Tamaulipas State. Dozens of people have been killed and numerous others have gone missing in Mexico's northeastern state of Tamaulipas since April as factions of the Gulf Cartel fight for dominance there. Click on the link to read more.

Peru Clashes Leave Soldier, Shining Path Guerrillas Dead. A Peruvian army soldier and three suspected Shining Path guerrillas have been killed in gun battles this week between security forces and suspected drug traffickers in the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), a major Peruvian coca producing region. The soldier died fighting "narco-terrorists," Peruvian authorities said.

Chronicle AM -- June 4, 2014

Legendary chemist Alexander Shulgin has died, the fight for medical marijuana in New York continues, Chicago sues Big Pharma over prescription opiates, Britain's black police association wants a look at legalization in the US, pot politics continues to get big play in Bermuda, and more. Let's get to it:

Britain's National Black Police Association wants the government to study marijuana reform in the US. (nbpa.co.uk)
Medical Marijuana

Compromise Could Be Coming on New York Medical Marijuana Bill. Two key players in the New York legislature, Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) met yesterday in an effort to find a compromise between their two bills that could lead to passage of a bill before the session ends in two weeks. The Assembly has already approved Gottfried's bill, but the Senate has yet to act on Savino's. Being able to actually smoke marijuana may be an item for discussion.

Ecstasy

Legendary Chemist Alexander Shulgin, "Godfather of Ecstasy" Dead at 88. Alexander Shulgin, the Berkeley-based research chemist who turned the psychotherapeutic community on to MDMA (Ecstasy) died Monday at his Northern California home. In addition to his work with MDMA, Shulgin also created more than 200 other psychedelic compounds. His life's work is distilled in two books PIKHAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved): A Chemical Love Story and TIKHAL (Triptamines I Have Known and Loved): The Continuation. The DEA considers those books handbooks for illicit psychoactive chemistry.

Prescription Drugs

Chicago Sues Pharmaceutical Companies; Claims They Contributed to Prescription Drug Surge. The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against five drug companies -- Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis -- charging they deceived the public about the risks and benefits of highly potent and effective opiate pain relievers. "For years, Big Pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. The lawsuit claims the companies violated city laws against consumer fraud and misleading advertising. The city is seeking cash damages in an unspecified amount, but said it is not seeking to ban the medications.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission to Hold Public Hearing Next Week on Retroactivity for New Drug Quantity Sentencing Tables. On Tuesday, June 10, the US Sentencing Commission will hold a public hearing to gather testimony from invited witnesses on the issue of whether the amendment to the drug quantity table sent to Congress in April should be applied retroactively. The Commission will not be voting on the issue of retroactivity at this hearing, and that issue is open for public comment until July 7. A tentative hearing agenda is available here​.

More Than a Thousand Religious Leaders Call for Federal Drug Sentencing Reform. Some 1,100 religious leaders representing 40 different faith groups have signed onto a letter to Congress supporting passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (S1410/HR 3382), which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses. The sign-on was sponsored by the Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group.

Law Enforcement

Sarasota, Florida, Cops' Reverse Sting on Nickel Bag Marijuana Buyers Raises Eyebrows, Civil Liberties Concerns. Police in Sarasota, Florida, went undercover to sell nickel bags of weed to unsuspecting customers in a city park and then charged them with "purchase of marijuana," a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. The operation has critics calling foul and questioning whether the operation was a good use of police sources, whether it violated the civil rights of some defendants (including a mentally ill man), and why it targeted users instead of dealers.

International

British Black Police Group Call for Government to Examine US States' Marijuana Legalization. Britain's National Black Police Association wants the British government to examine marijuana legalization in US states, with an eye toward moving in the same direction in the UK. "We've had our current approach to drug laws for 20 years. If we can learn anything from the US I think we should to see whether we can get some better outcomes," said Nick Glynn, vice-president of the group. "There about a million stop and searches carried out in England and Wales every year. Around half of those are focused on street possession of cannabis so there's a lot of time spent dealing with that very low level offense. In the US they've done it in separate areas instead of across the whole country so maybe that's something we can replicate here."

Georgia Prime Minister Denies Rumors He Plans to Legalize Marijuana, But.... Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili today denied rumors he plans to free the weed, but he did say that punishments for "soft drugs" may be reevaluated. Under current Georgian law, possession of marijuana can get you seven to 14 years in prison, although the state seems more interested in revenues from fines than in actually imprisoning people.

Bermuda Opposition Leader Stands By His Backing of Medical Marijuana; He Gave It to His Asthmatic Daughter. Opposition leader Marc Bean said Tuesday that he "absolutely" stands by his remarks last week supporting marijuana as a medicine and that he used it to treat his young daughter for asthma. He originally spoke out last week as the House of Assembly debated the findings of the Cannabis Reform Collective, which is calling for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and eventual legalization He also said he had smoked the stuff himself. "I was a Rastaman, full fledged -- I lit the chalice," Bean said.

Bermuda Parliamentary Select Committee Recommends Drug Testing for Legislators. A parliamentary joint select committee has issued a report recommending random, suspicionless drug testing of legislators because they are "guardians of public morality" and any drug use by them "calls into question their ability to uphold the principles of public morality and the rule of law and to lead by example. They might want to speak to Marc Bean first.

Tampa SWAT Team Kills Armed Man in Marijuana Grow House Raid

A Tampa, Florida, police SWAT team attempting to carry out a drug search warrant shot and killed a man they said pointed a gun at them Tuesday night. Jason Joseph Westcott, 29, becomes the 19th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Bay News 9, citing police sources, the residence had been under surveillance after undercover officers bought "narcotics" there on several occasions since March. A SWAT team was used in the raid because police knew Westcott had guns in the home.

The Bay News 9 story used anodyne language to describe the raid, saying only that police "entered" the residence. It is not clear from the reporting whether this was a no-knock raid or how the police entered the residence.

Police said one man in the front of the house surrendered when the SWAT team entered, but that Westcott, who was found armed in a back room, pointed his gun and officers and was then shot.

Although police repeatedly referred to "narcotics," the only "narcotic" Westcott was accused of selling was marijuana. Police found a hydroponic marijuana grow in his home.

Westcott had no prior criminal record except for one incident of driving without a license.

Tampa, FL
United States

ATF's Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race [FEATURE]

Special to Drug War Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part I of a series on the ATF's Operation Gideon, targeting inner city "bad guys" with drug house robbery stings

Early in May, a panel of judges from California's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for an "en banc" hearing that would have allowed the full court to consider overturning long prison sentences for four would-be robbers seduced by an informant into believing they were about to rip-off a stash house loaded with drugs.

The stash house was fictional, those drugs never existed, and the brains behind the plot were not criminals, but federal agents.

The denial of the petition was not a unanimous decision, and it revealed deep fissures on the appeals court. Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash.

"The sting poses questions of whether the government intentionally targets poor minority neighborhoods, and thus, seeks to tempt their residents to commit crimes that might well result in their escape from poverty," Justice Stephen Reinhardt wrote in a blistering dissent. He also called it "a profoundly disturbing use of government power that directly imperils some of our most fundamental constitutional values."

The case involved four Phoenix men -- Cordae Black, Kemford Alexander, Angel Mahon and Terrance Timmons -- who were convicted in 2010 on charges of conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of cocaine, as well as federal firearms charges, for a fake drug rip scheme set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All four are now serving prison sentences of 13 to 15 years.

Even though federal appeals court judges have joined defense attorneys in calling the ATF drug rip schemes "outrageous conduct," they are not an anomaly, but are instead part and parcel of ATF's Operation Gideon, a nationwide program. The ATF, federal prosecutors, and the Phoenix police said a press release announcing a pilot sweep that rolled up 70 people, including Cordae Black and his crew, that Gideon "involved the deployment of some of ATF's most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews."

According to a USA Today investigative report, as of last year, the feds had already locked up more than a thousand people who its agents had enticed into conspiracies to rob fake drug stash houses. And it's not just the AFT. The DEA often uses the fake drug rip-off schemes, as well.

US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt
The argument at the 9th Circuit in the Phoenix case centered on entrapment and whether ATF agents illegally enticed the defendants into the crime through "outrageous government conduct" beyond that allowed by entrapment doctrine.

Relying on the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in US v. Russell, where the court upheld such schemes if the defendant showed a predisposition to commit the offense, 9th Circuit Judges Susan Graeber and Raymond Fisher rejected claims of entrapment and outrageous conduct by the agents, and argued that the reverse sting was within legal boundaries of law enforcement tactics, which includes officers working undercover to infiltrate criminal organizations.

Fisher and Graeber said the agents' actions were reasonable when they offered the men the opportunity to make money by committing a drug robbery. The pair also held the defendants failed to show they lacked "predisposition to commit the offense."

That provoked a sharp retort from a second dissenter as well, Judge John T. Noonan.

"Today our court gives approval to the government tempting people in the population at large currently engaged in innocent activity, and leading them into the commission of a crime, which the government will then prosecute," he wrote.

It's not just the 9th Circuit. Fake drug stash operations that only target inner-cities have ignited a firestorm of controversy, including other caustic remarks from the federal bench.

"There is a strong showing of potential bias in the robbery stings," US District Court Judge Rueben Castillo wrote in an order last year. Castillo noted that since 2011, federal agents have used such stings to lock up at least 26 people in the Chicago area -- and that all of them were either black or Hispanic.

Federal officials retort that they are not engaging in selective prosecution based on race, but are going where known felons often commit violent home invasion-type drug robberies.

But defense attorneys argue that the operations target people who weren't doing anything, entice them with visions of easy wealth, set them up, and then throw the book at them.

"What the ATF is doing is basically targeting low-level criminals for high-level crimes," said attorney Tara Loveland, who is representing Cordae Black on appeal.

The case against Black and his codefendants raises serious questions about racial profiling. According to evidence introduced at the original trial -- and subsequently heard again at the re-hearing (via the appellate brief) -- ATF Agent Richard Zayas had a paid informant travel from Miami to Arizona to find "bad guys" in a "bad part of town."

That prompted Judge Reinhardt to say that Zavas' instructions obviously meant the informant should recruit people from minority communities. The targeting of the fake drug house robbery scheme was a practice "that creates the appearance of selective prosecution based on race and wealth inequality," he said.

"It is a tragedy when ATF has to drum up a crime that didn't exist," attorney Eugene Marquez, who represented Cordae Black at trial, told the Chronicle.

Chicago Operation Gideon suspect William Alexander just before his arrest (atf.gov)
Defense attorneys who represented the defendants on appeal argued that "fake drug stings initiated by ATF amount to entrapment because there were no drugs -- and none of the defendants would have agreed to participate had it not been for a paid snitch and the ATF's scheme of enticing the men to arm themselves with weapons to rip-off a large quantity of drugs that automatically brings severe mandatory prison sentences."

"Our defense was outrageous conduct and sentencing entrapment," Marquez explained.

But 9th Circuit majorities weren't listening to the defense attorneys. In a separate ruling, they reiterated their original decision denying defense counsel's motion to overturn the original convictions.

"There is no bright line dictating when laws enforcement conduct crosses the line between acceptable and outrageous," Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote for the majority. Outrageous government conduct can only occur when government agents engineer and direct a "criminal enterprise from start to finish -- or creating new crimes merely for the sake of pressing criminal charges," he argued.

Judge Reinhardt again dissented.

"In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth, it is especially curious that the government feels compelled to invent fake crimes and imprison people for long periods of time for agreeing to participate in them -- people who but for the government's scheme might not have ever entered the world of major felonies," Reinhardt wrote.

If getting set up and convicted in a sting weren't bad enough, the defendants also got hit with longer sentences based on the imaginary amounts of drugs that were going to rob. Marquez explained that his client, Cordae Black, was hit a 10-year mandatory minimum because the ATF pretended the imaginary drug house had more than five kilos of cocaine in it.

But while jurists and defense attorneys grumbled, the ATF was pleased with its handiwork.

Arizona ATF agent Thomas Mangan welcomed the convictions of Black and his partners, as well as appeals court rulings upholding them. The stings had resulted in over 70 Arizona arrests, and the crew had "ample opportunity to back out, but had remained committed to carry out the robbery until they were arrested," he said in the Operation Gideon press release.

While court-approved enticement has a lengthy pedigree in this country, so does "outrageous government conduct" that can take it over the line into entrapment. A classic case is that of legendary automaker John Delorean, who was acquitted of cocaine conspiracy charges in 1984, even though prosecutors had Delorean on videotape wisecracking and saying that the cocaine stuffed inside a suitcase was "good as gold."

But Delorean's attorney was able to convince the jury that the FBI had leaned on a convicted drug smuggler, James Hoffman, to draw Delorean into a trap, complete with thinly-veiled threats if Delorean backed out of the sting.

"Without the government there would be no crime," Delorean's attorney told the jury.

Taking Down the Phoenix Crew

Putting together a fake drug robbery stings is like assembling the cast of a gritty crime drama. The Phoenix reverse sting worked against Cordae Black and his eager crew in typical take-down fashion. ATF agent Richard Zayas recruited a paid informant to frequent seedy bars and diffferent places in the "bad part" of town -- to find receptive players to rip-off a drug house. Zayas's informant met Shaver "Bullet" Simpson, a big-talking guy ready to play.

Zayas's informant duped Simpson into believing he had a friend with information on a stash house filled with drugs worth thousands of dollars. Simpson boasted he could find some tough-ass homies to do the job. Agent Zayas reminded Simpson that everyone involved with the plot must keep their mouths shut, and not talk about what goes down.

"My people straight," Simpson replied. "I hate snitchers."

Following the informant's meeting with Shaver Simpson, he introduced "Bullet" to undercover ATF Agent Richard Zayas, who fronted himself off as a disgruntled drug courier interested in having someone rob a dope house owned by Zayas's supposed cartel's connections. Zayas informed Simpson that Simpson's homeboys would need the "balls to do it because this ain't no easy lick."

Simpson then posed a question to Zayas: "My goons want to know whether they need to kill the people in the house."

Zayas responded nonchalantly that he "didn't care what they did as long as they took care of business."

Hooked like a fish, Simpson swallowed the bait, "Don't worry Daddy," he told Zavas. You got a real Jamaican (expletive), that's my family business; it's where I worked; I got this shit down to a science, man."

The beat goes on. Press conference announcing latest round of Operation Gideon busts, Stockton, CA, 2014 (atf.gov)
The trap was set. Shaver Simpson, the braggart, strangely, didn't show up for the showdown. But the work crew did. Once Cordae Black, Terrence Timmons, Kemford Alexander and Angel Mahon showed up at the designated meeting spot, the ATF agents and local police took the hapless crew down with guns drawn. A search of their vehicles produced four loaded weapons (which, according to the appellate brief, Zava insisted the crew have with them).

Despite Simpson's bravado about not being a snitch and hating such creatures, he pounced on the first opportunity to become one by testifying against his four homies. Still, at trial, Simpson accused ATF agent Richard Zayas of pressuring him to quickly find as many guys he could find to pull off the robbery.

Same Sorts of Cases, Different Results

In another Operation Gideon case, Chicago native William Alexander, a street-level crack dealer and beauty school dropout, got stung in a fake drug robbery on February 23 2011, along with his cohorts Hugh Midderhoff and David Saunders. All three were convicted of possession with intent to deliver five or more kilos of cocaine, along with firearms charges. To win a new trial, Alexander's lawyer argued on appeal that ATF's systematic strategy of sending informants into "bad parts of town" to recruit "bad people" meant that racial profiling played a vital role in Alexander's case.

His appeal brief noted that in the 17 stash house robbery stings prosecuted in the Northern Illinois Federal District since 2004, blacks were disproportionately represented. Of the 57 defendants, 42 were black, eight Hispanic, and seven white.

His appeal was denied -- because he couldn't show that the ATF and prosecutors intended racially disparate outcomes.

"To establish discriminatory intent, Alexander failed to show the decision makers in (his) case acted with discriminatory purposes -- and that the Attorney General and US Attorneys has broad discretion to enforce federal criminal laws," the appeals court held.

Antuan Dunlap and his heavily-armed posse-mates, Cedrick Hudson and Joseph Cornell Whitfield, had better luck. They were released from jail in an ATF drug house rip-off scheme when California US District Court Judge Otis Wright ruled the ATF crossed the line into entrapment.

Prosecutors had argued that Dunlap "manifested his propensity to commit robberies" by claiming to have engaged in similar activities in the past, and thus, "the defendant's words justified the reverse sting."

But in a 24-page stinging rebuke, the angry judge said the ATF engaged in "outrageous conduct" by enlisting people in "made-up crime" just so they could bust eager volunteers in drug stings. "Society does not win when the government stoops to the same level as the defendants it seeks to prosecute -- especially when the government has acted solely to achieve a conviction for a 'made-up' crime, Wright wrote. He also noted that such tactics "haven't brought down the crime rate nor taken drugs off the streets."

But the ATF and DEA fake drug rip-off schemes remain in full-swing across the nation despite the brewing controversy over tactics some defense attorneys and jurists regard with loathing. If the Justice Department will investigate whether the stings are aimed disproportionately at minority communities remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Phoenix crew sits in federal prison, while their attorneys plan an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Next in the series: ATF's Deadly Takedown in Fake Drug Robberies.

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

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