Undercover Work

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New York Man Dies in Small-Time Drug Bust

[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.]

Uniondale, New York, where a man died after swallowing drugs in a bid to avoid arrest. (Image via Wikipedia)
A Long Island man who allegedly fled police after they saw him involved in a possible drug deal died early Sunday morning after swallowing what appeared to be crack or powder cocaine and going into cardiac arrest. He becomes the 21st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to police, officers approached Benjamin Jackson, 43, after observing the possible drug deal. He fled, hiding in bushes near his home. Undercover officers heard a crunching noise and saw Jackson "spitting out what appeared to be crack or cocaine," then arrested and handcuffed him, police said.

Officers called for an ambulance, but said Jackson's heart stopped before it arrived. The officers performed CPR and regained a pulse, but Jackson died at Nassau University Medical Center an hour and a half after he was arrested.

A medical examiner's report is pending.

Uniondale, NY
United States

Jacksonville Narc Kills Armed Drug Suspect

[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try 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.]

Herbert Earl Harris
A Jacksonville, Florida, undercover narcotics officer shot and killed an armed drug suspect at an apartment complex last Thursday afternoon. Herbert Harris, 29, becomes the 17th person to be killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations this year.

According to police, the shooting occurred as heavily-armed police attempted to serve a drug search warrant and a fugitive arrest warrant on Harris. No one answered the door at the apartment, so police forced their way into the unit and encountered Harris. When Harris pulled a 9mm handgun, an unidentified officer fired five times, hitting him twice and killing him. Police said Harris did not fire his weapon.

"You hate when these things turn out this way, but it happens," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief John Harley said. "This is a dangerous business."

In addition to the drug warrant, Harris was wanted for violation of probation on a felony assault charge in Ohio. Police found small quantities of cocaine and marijuana in the apartment. Other occupants of the apartment admitted to police that Harris was selling pot and cocaine from the apartment.

Jacksonville, FL
United States

More Undercover Drug Cases Dropped Amid Growing SFPD Scandal

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Eight more criminal cases were dropped by prosecutors in connection with a looming scandal involving an undercover police unit accused of conducting illegal drug raids and falsifying police reports. The cases in San Francisco Superior Court involved the same officers previously accused of entering residential hotel rooms without warrants or consent and then allegedly lying about their actions on police reports. One officer was accused of falsely arresting a man for drug possession.
Publication/Source: 
The San Francisco Examiner (CA)
URL: 
http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/crime/2011/03/more-undercover-drug-cases-disappear-amid-growing-sfpd-scandal

West Virginia Police Kill Man Trying to Escape Drug Bust

Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try 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.]

This year's sixth drug law enforcement killing occurred Friday afternoon in Charleston, West Virginia, when officers from the Kanawha County Metro Drug Unit shot and killed a Detroit man after his car hit an officer as he attempted to flee a drug arrest. Police identified the dead man as Stiney Richards, 38.

Drug war takes a life in Charleston (Image via Wikimedia)
According to Charleston Police, undercover officers with the Metro Drug Unit made a large crack cocaine purchase from Richards, whom they said had a criminal record that included drug and weapons offenses. When they attempted to arrest Richards, he jumped in his car and attempted to flee, hitting one plainclothes officer as he did so. The officer was not seriously injured.

Other officers opened fire, or, as WSAZ-TV strangely put it, "fired back," mortally wounding Richards, who managed to drive a few blocks before crashing his car. Police have not said that Richards shot at them, or even that he was armed.

"Because the incident took place in Charleston our detectives are investigating," Lt. S.A. Cooper said. "The officers who actually discharged their weapons do not work for the Charleston Police Department but there were officers from numerous agencies at the scene."

Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants will review the case after police file a report, but he was already hinting at what the outcome of his review will be. "This shooting is like any other shooting in Kanawha County -- I have to look at the evidence and make a determination whether that shooting was justified or not," Plants said. "But these are people who put their lives on the line every day, perfect strangers yet willing to sacrifice their lives. In today's age, violence against a police officer is not that uncommon."

The Metro Drug Unit is a federally funded drug task force that has been in existence since the 1980s. It includes officers from the Charleston, South Charleston, Dunbar, St. Albans, and Nitro police departments, as well as the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department and agents from the DEA.

The killing of Richards was the second violent incident for the Metro Drug Unit in little more than a week. On January 28, a Charleston police detective was shot in the hand when an occupant of a house being raided on a drug search warrant opened fire, shooting through a closed door. Residents of the house had been the victims of a home invasion robbery days earlier.

Charleston, WV
United States

Louisiana Cop Kills Man in Drug Deal Gone Bad

Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try 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.]

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/port-allen-wafb.jpg
A Louisiana man became the third person to die so far this year during a drug law enforcement operation. Eric Williams, 18, was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon by an undercover narcotics officer in Port Allen in what police said was a drug buy that turned into an armed robbery attempt.

According to West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Mike Cazes, undercover narcotics agents were making buys in "known drug areas" when a woman and her boyfriend set up a deal. The narc was waiting in a motel room waiting for the woman to arrive so he could purchase $50 worth of Lortab. When the woman entered the motel room, she closed the door, but opened it again, and a masked man entered.

"Came through the door immediately shoved her down and started having a gun at the agent. The agent kicked him, gave him money he was asking for and started shooting," said Cazes, adding that Williams was trying to fire a loaded .45. "The only reason the agent's still alive is the bad guy, the gun he had was on safety."

Cazes said the agent shot Williams four times. The shooting is under investigation by the state police, but the sheriff said his agent did nothing wrong.

The woman and her boyfriend were jailed on $1 million bonds on charges of being a principal to armed robbery by use of a firearm.

Port Allen, LA
United States

Cops Used Fake Patient IDs to Buy Medical Pot; Was It Entrapment?

Location: 
MI
United States
Oakland County Sheriff's deputies used phony Michigan medical marijuana cards -- created on a county computer -- to trick state-approved medical marijuana providers into selling the drug to the police. Days after the drug buys, county narcotics agents raided two medical marijuana dispensaries. Defense attorneys for more than two dozen people arrested in the raids are crying foul, saying their clients were trapped into lawbreaking while trying to stay within the state law.
Publication/Source: 
Detroit Free Press (MI)
URL: 
http://www.freep.com/article/20101020/NEWS05/10200341/Cops-used-fake-patient-IDs-to-buy-medical-pot-was-it-entrapment-

Lethal Sting: How the War on Drugs Killed a College Student

Location: 
Tallahassee, FL
United States
The Tallahassee Police Department isn't getting any medals; they're the targets of a massive lawsuit. And Rachel Hoffman is dead, shot with the very gun the cops sent her to buy.
Publication/Source: 
The Huffington Post (CA)
URL: 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vince-beiser/lethal-sting-how-the-war-_b_767197.html

North Carolina Sheriffs Want to Know What Drugs You're Taking

Location: 
NC
United States
The North Carolina State Sheriffs' Association is seeking access to state computer records that identify which residents have prescriptions for painkillers and other controlled substances. Patient advocates say opening up people's medicine cabinets to law enforcement would deal a devastating blow to privacy rights.
Publication/Source: 
TIME (US)
URL: 
http://wellness.blogs.time.com/2010/09/09/some-state-sheriffs-want-to-know-what-drugs-youre-taking/

Jury Finds Officer "Justified" in Trevon Cole Shooting

Location: 
Las Vegas, NV
United States
As predicted, a Las Vegas coroner's inquest into the Trevon Cole shooting found the police officer's actions justified. Only one police officer has been found at fault in a shooting in the procedure's 30 year history. Officer Yant by contrast has shot peole three times, twice fatally.
Publication/Source: 
Las Vegas Review-Journal
URL: 
http://www.lvrj.com/news/officer--shooting-victim--made-me-do-my-job--as-testimony-continues-101234024.html?ref=024

Raid Victim Family May Hit Vegas Police with RICO Suit

(This article includes minor updates from the original version published 8/19/10.)

Andre Lagomarsino, the attorney representing the estate of Trevon Cole and his fiancé, Sequoia Pearce, said last Thursday he is considering a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit against the Las Vegas Police Metropolitan Department in the shooting death of Cole in a June drug raid at the apartment shared by Cole and Pearce. In addition to a possible RICO claim, the lawsuit would assert wrongful death, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It would also assert civil rights violations.

Trevon Cole
"We are considering a RICO claim," Lagomarsino told the Chronicle. "The claim would say there is a pattern of criminal conduct by this organization. A similar claim was brought against the LAPD. It only takes two events to constitute a pattern under RICO," he said.

There is already one other questionable police shooting that could be the second event. Last month, Las Vegas police shot and killed Erik Scott, 39, outside a Costco store in Summerlin. There have been five officer-involved shootings in the city so far this summer and 17 this year, though Cole and Scott were the only fatalities among them.

Though best known for its criminal provisions targeting certain criminal enterprises with asset forfeiture and up to 20-year sentences per racketeering count, the RICO statute also has a provision allowing for civil lawsuits by plaintiffs claiming to have been harmed by those enterprises. Successful plaintiffs can collect treble damages.

Cole was fatally wounded by Detective Brian Yant as he and other officers executed a search warrant alleging that Cole had sold 1.8 ounces of marijuana to undercover officers in three buys over a series of week. Cole was unarmed. Yant said he shot after Cole made "a furtive movement," but Pearce, who was present during the raid, said Cole was on his knees with his hands raised and complying with commands when he was shot.

Yant has been involved in two other questionable shootings, one of them fatal. In that incident, Yant said the victim was threatening him with a gun, but the gun was found 35 feet away from the victim's body.

Yant also misidentified Cole as another Trevon Cole from Houston, Texas, despite the two men having different dates of birth, middle initials, ages, and appearances. He also mischaracterized the record of the Houston Trevon Cole, portraying him in the search warrant affidavit as a major drug dealer when his only arrests were marijuana possession misdemeanors. (See more detailed coverage of the raid and its aftermath here.)

When there is a police-involved fatal shooting in Las Vegas, it goes before a coroner's inquest to determine whether the officer involved was criminally negligent. That happened on Friday and Saturday, with the coroner's jury coming back with a verdict of "justifiable" on the shooting. The finding was not unanticipated, especially given the history of coroner's inquests there (only one police officer has been found criminally negligent in about 200 inquests since 1976, and that verdict was later overturned) and the one-sided nature of the inquest process (only the district attorney can present evidence and ask questions), it is considered unlikely that Yant will be found criminally negligent.

"I would guess they will find it justified, but I'm hopeful they will look at the fact that [Cole] had nothing in his hands," Lagomarsino said the day before the inquest began.

While Lagomarsino also cited Yant's history of shootings "under suspicious circumstances," he pointed a finger at the police department too. "This is cleared at higher levels," he said. "It is the policy and procedure of the Metro police to conduct these raids the way they do."

The Las Vegas attorney told the Chronicle last week that once the inquest was over he would file a lawsuit "within two or three weeks." He told local media Monday the lawsuit will now move forward, although he did not outline its precise shape.

Las Vegas, NV
United States

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