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Law Enforcement: 77-Year-Old Man Killed in Marijuana Raid After Firing on Officers

A 77-year-old Foley, Alabama man was shot and killed during a pre-dawn raid by police officers with a search warrant for marijuana. Robert Woods had emerged from a rear bedroom holding a gun and fired once, wounding one police officer. Four other officers returned fire, killing the homeowner.

Arrested in the raid was Woods' son, Michael Woods, 51, who had been the raid's target. Woods had told an undercover investigator he had a large quantity of marijuana, resulting in the search warrant served during the fatal raid. It is not clear how much marijuana was seized. Michael Woods shared the home with his parents.

In the police version of events, officers knocked on the door, then announced they were entering the house, then entered the house yelling "Police! Search warrant!" Then they detained Michael Woods and his mother before a man came out of the bedroom holding a handgun. Officers shouted for Woods to drop the gun, but he fired, striking Officer Randy Stillworth. The other officers then fired back, killing Woods. That version of events has not been corroborated by witnesses.

In the comment section of the article linked to above, a person who identifies herself as Wood's granddaughter had this to say: "He and my grandmother survived being robbed at gunpoint in their home in McCalla, Alabama. He also survived a horrible accident when the golf cart he was driving, working as a security guard, lost control and went up under an eighteen wheeler. He had to have brain surgery to remove a tumor due to that accident. Now, let me set the scene for y'all. For one, he didn't have his hearing aids in. Secondly, he didn't have his glasses on. Thirdly, what the hell would y'all do if you give his history, if all of sudden you where woken by a loud boom?!?!?!? You would grab the nearest object that you have by your bed. And seeing that we all live in Alabama, you either have a baseball bat or a gun. So, he grabs his gun and goes running towards the sound of the boom, all he sees is a figure moving in his home!!! Now, Mike sold to an undercover the night before in the driveway and says he has a large supply in the house. People, it was 4 small bags of pot. My paw-paw lost his life for 4 small bags of pot."

Foley Police have called in the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, as is standard with police shootings. They will be assisted by the Baldwin County District Attorney's Office and the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, he said. Meanwhile, the officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave.

Feature: "Dangerous" Drug Raids? Not So Much for Police -- Unless They Make Them So

Law enforcement officials justify the frequent use of heavily-armed SWAT teams and no-knock warrants -- police do about 50,000 SWAT raids per year -- as protecting officer safety. The dramatic deaths of two officers, Chesapeake, Virginia's Jarrod Shivers and the FBI's Samuel Hicks, both caused by the choice to use SWAT tactics, suggests the opposite interpretation. So does the small number of officer fatalities relative to the large number of drug arrests across the country each year -- with 1.8 million drug arrests in the US during 2008, a total of seven police officers were killed while doing drug enforcement, according to statistics on police line of duty deaths compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page. Three of the seven were killed doing drug raids. An eighth officer was killed following a traffic chase, not initiated as part of drug enforcement, of a suspect (a former police officer) who was on bail facing a drug possession charge.

[Ed: We originally included a ninth officer in this list, Timothy Scott Abernethy, as a second example of a case in which the drug war appeared to have played a role, despite it not having started as a drug investigation. A colleague of Officer Abernethy criticized our inclusion of his case as having too tenuous of a relation to the drug war if any, and after reviewing it we concluded that our decision to include Officer Abernethy in the listing was erroneous, and we have edited this article accordingly. If you would like to read more about this, click here.]

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/pasadenaswat.jpg
drug raids -- not as dangerous as they make them
"In the last 10 or 11 years, traffic accidents killed more officers than anything else," said Kevin Morison of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which also compiles a list of line of duty deaths. "When it comes to being killed enforcing the laws, traffic stops and domestic violence seem to be the top two. Serving warrants can also be dangerous," he said.

According to the foundation, 140 officers died in the line of duty last year, 71 of them in traffic accidents. Only 41 officers died of gunshot wounds, the lowest figure since 1956. One police officer was stabbed, one beaten to death, one drowned, one was electrocuted, one died in a train accident, two were blown up by a bomb, three died in aircraft crashes, and 17 died of job-related illnesses. Seventeen officers were struck and killed by other vehicles, typically while directing traffic.

According to historical data provided to the Chronicle by the foundation, last year's low death toll among officers enforcing the drug laws is not a fluke. In the decade between 1978 and 1988, an average of 6.5 officers were killed each year; in the following decade, the number was 6.2; and in the last 10 years, an average of 4.3 officers were killed each year enforcing the drug laws. The single bloodiest year for drug law enforcement was 1988, when 12 officers died.

There are slight differences between figures provided by the foundation and those provided by Officer Down, most likely related to the way each death is coded. The numbers below are based on Officer Down's count, as well as additional investigation done by the Chronicle.

Here is the list of those who gave their lives maintaining drug prohibition:

  • Chesapeake, Virginia, Police Detective Jarrod Brent Shivers was shot and killed while battering down the door of Ryan Frederick on January 17, 2008. Although Frederick was supposedly running a marijuana grow, no grow was found. Frederick was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • Senior Border Patrol Agent Luis Alberto Aguilar was run over and killed by Mexican drug smugglers near San Diego on January 19, 2008.
  • Harris County, Texas, Constable's Office Corporal Harry Theilepape died January 26, 2008 of gunshot wounds suffered nearly a month earlier when he arrested a suspect for possessing drugs and illegally possessing a handgun.
  • Grundy County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Deputy Sheriff Anthony Shane was shot and killed June 5, 2008, serving a probation violation arrest warrant for a man on a drug charge. The shooter shot himself as more police closed in, saying, "God just let me die. I don't want to live in this hell anymore."
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia, Police Detective Michael Smith Phillips was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy on August 7, 2008.
  • Chicago Police Officer Nathaniel Taylor Jr. was shot and killed while executing a search warrant as part of the gangs and drug squad on September 28, 2008. The shooter had a history of violent and drug offenses.
  • FBI Special Agent Samuel Steele Hicks was shot and killed by a suspect's wife during a no-knock search of a Pennsylvania home on November 19, 2008. The shooter, who claimed she fired in fear for her life, now faces murder charges.
  • Another officer, Texas Highway Patrol Trooper James Scott Burns, was shot and killed following a traffic stop and brief car chase on April 29, 2008. The killer was a former police officer turned drug offender and manufacturer, who was out on bail facing a drug possession charge at the time and who eventually committed suicide. Whether Burns belongs on this list is open to interpretation -- he was not doing drug enforcement, so far as we know, when initiating this traffic stop, but appearances suggest that past drug charges and fear of more may have played a role.

These officers died in a year where there were more than 1.8 million drug arrests, as noted above, meaning police can expect to do 200,000 drug busts for each officer killed. In addition to the three who were killed on drug raids, two died after stopping drivers who had been arrested and imprisoned before on drug charges and were apparently not ready to return to prison, one was killed doing undercover work, one was killed in an encounter with smugglers, one was killed arresting a drug suspect, and one was killed attempting to bring in a probation-violating drug offender.

SWAT raids seem no less hazardous for the occupants of the homes being hit than they are for the police conducting them. (The following information is taken from the police militarization archives at Radley Balko's The Agitator blog. Readers with the stomach for it can find much, much more there as well.)

On January 6, 2008, police in Lima, Ohio, shot and killed a 26-year-old mother of six, Tarika Wilson, during a raid aimed at her boyfriend. The police shooter was eventually found not guilty for killing her.

The following day in North Little Rock, Arkansas, a police SWAT team raided the home of Tracy Ingle. Awakened by a ram battering his door and thinking he was under attack by armed robbers, Ingle grabbed a broken pistol to scare them off. Officers fired multiple shots, wounding him five times. He spent a more than a week in intensive care before police removed him, took him to the police station, and questioned him for five hours. He was charged with running a drug enterprise even though no drugs were found.

In May, Connecticut police raiding an apartment after being informed that people were smoking crack there, shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan, who was unarmed. Police said he charged at them. All they found was a crack pipe.

It's not just people. Dogs also seem to be a favorite target of drug-raiding police. In what is only one case out of the dozens that seem to occur every year, Cheye Calvo, the mayor of the Washington, DC, suburb of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, saw his two dogs shot and killed by a Prince George's County SWAT team that burst into his home after his mother-in-law accepted delivery of a package containing marijuana. Calvo and his family were twice victimized, once by the pot traders who used his address to have their dope sent to, and again by the gung-ho, itchy trigger finger police.

It is unclear how many people were killed by police enforcing the drug laws in general or conducting drug raids in particular. Although in 1999 Congress authorized legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to submit such data, it neglected to fund the program. The incidents mentioned above are only some of the most egregious and well-publicized, but they suggest that even if doing drug raids isn't particularly dangerous for police, it is for their victims.

"Tactically, those SWAT units are quite impressive, but they're vastly overused," said Peter Moskos, an assistant professor of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, former Baltimore police officer, and author of "Cop in the Hood." "The problem is once you've got those units, you're going to use them. Their goal is to have overwhelming force and have all the cops live, but innocent people die," he said.

Law enforcement can have it both ways, said Balko, author of Overkill: the Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "If not many police are being killed in drug raids, they can say these tactics are working," he said. "If more are being killed, they can say this is why they need to be more aggressive."

Drug squad cops are a special breed, said Moskos. "Many cops never would want to work in one of those units," he said. "Even though the raids are pretty safe, they do more dangerous things like undercover operations. These guys tend to be whiter, more conservative, and guys who like breaking down six doors a day. In the drug squads in particular, they really tear it up. There is a certain vindictiveness; they think 'these people are assholes, they deserve it.'"

"Nobody has to be killed at all if they would just legalize the stuff," said David Doddridge, a 21-year veteran of the LAPD who rose to the rank of narcotics detective before he retired in 1994. "When I first started, we used to go to roll call, and they would tell us who has warrants, and we would drive out there and knock on the door. Then we went to a narcotics bureau, and we worked in teams, with battering rams," he recalled. "More citizens died than police," Doddridge said.

"I spent several years down in South Central kicking in doors and raiding homes, and probably served 50 search warrants," said Doddridge. "We weren't SWAT, just a couple of narcotics detectives with our vests on, and none of us got seriously injured. There was seldom any resistance."

Narcotics could be dangerous, Doddridge said, but not because of the raids. "The raids themselves are not very dangerous, more a danger to civilians," he said. "Doing plain clothes by yourself and buying drugs when nobody knows you're a cop is when it gets dangerous. We had a couple of our officers get beaten up buying drugs undercover on the street."

Things began to change with the introduction of the federal Byrne grant program to state and local law enforcement in the late 1980s, said Doddridge. "Then, with Byrne, we got Velcro vests and holsters, we got Kevlar helmets, all that stuff. Now, there are thousands of SWAT teams across the country. They don't have a lot to do, so they end serving drug warrants now."

It's a fool's errand, said Doddridge, who has, since his retirement, joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "After a year or so of doing those drug busts, I thought it was crazy. We weren't doing any good. And I thought about the looks of the faces on those families, the children crying when we're dragging their Dad or their brother out. I thought to myself what are we doing? -- these weren't real criminals out robbing and attacking people. I started feeling really bad about all that."

Short of legalizing drug use and the drug trade, which would be his preferred option, Moskos said, there are a couple of things that could be done. "One thing we could do is just turn back the clock," he said. "It wasn't until the 1970s that we got all obsessed about drugs. I think we should just treat it like other minor crimes, like back in the 1950s. One problem is the productivity of drug squads is measured by how many doors they knock down. They need to knock down fewer doors."

Eliminating outdoor drug markets would help, too, Moskos said. "If you're worried about the violence there, you have to push it indoors, off the street. Fear of arrest and raids on their homes push dealers into the street, but maybe we could call a truce. Close your blinds, keep the music down, act like a good neighbor, then we could leave you alone."

Q: How Dangerous is Drug Law Enforcement for Police? A: Apparently Not Very

Law enforcement likes to argue that it needs to resort to heavy-handed tactics such as SWAT-style raids and no-knock warrants because drug law enforcement is just so darned dangerous. You know the spiel: "We're outgunned and up against crazed drug dealers, so we need to come on like gangbusters for our own safety." But I'm in the process of reviewing police deaths in the drug war since the beginning of 2008 for a Chronicle article that will appear Friday, and so far, I've only found two officers who were killed in drug raids during this time. I'm using the Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Memorial data bases and I still have to dig a little deeper into the numbers and the discrepancies between the two, but so far, it doesn't appear that enforcing the nation's drug laws is that dangerous for police. For civilians, it is perhaps a different story. Nobody's keeping a data base of citizens killed by the police, let alone those killed by police enforcing the drug laws, although I have a few ideas on where to come up with some figures, or at least some especially horrendous cases. I'll be looking into that, as well. I'll be talking to as many cops, criminologists, and other interested parties as I can, but at this point, it seems that it is going to be hard to justify the overwhelming use of force typical of police drug raids. As much as they would like to think they are, cops are not US military Special Forces units, and drug law violators are not terrorist fugitives. Look for the story on Friday.

Drug Cop Admits His Career Was Built Around Lies and Wrongful Convictions

Even if you support arresting people for drugs, do you trust the people who are paid to fight the drug war? Via DrugWarRant, here is but one example of what can happen when police are given too much authority and not enough oversight:

"They called it Doomsday work and instructed me to take this dreadful secret to the grave," O'Brien wrote.

"In every case I lied to the courts and I lied to the juries to obtain convictions against my targets.

"Telling lies was easy - 'policemen don't tell lies' - and my targets never stood a chance." [New Zealand Herald]

This happened in New Zealand in the 1970’s, and we only found out about it now and only because the officer could no longer contain his guilt. Imagine how many people sit in prison around the world at this very moment because of this kind of viciously dishonest drug war policing. And if you think police aren’t taking advantage of the innocent right here, right now, just scroll down an inch or two.

You Know the Drug War's Gone Too Far When It Shows You Its Penis

Allegations of weird and inappropriate behavior by narcotics officers have become so commonplace that one struggles to feign shock or surprise upon learning of them.
A drug informant's allegations that a Marin narcotics agent offered her leniency in exchange for three-way sex - and then sent a photo of his penis to her cell phone - have left a legal mess at the Hall of Justice that could take months to clean up. [Marin Independent Journal]
This poor woman agreed to cooperate after being arrested for selling an ounce of marijuana, and the next thing she knows, there's a penis in her phone. Prosecutors subsequently dropped the charges against her, so the penis was ultimately the only punishment she received. Not a bad deal by drug war standards, but it does make you wonder…

Will investigators be contacting other female informants this detective worked with? My understanding is that people who like to show other people their penis tend to do so habitually. For all we know, this cop could have been going around for years targeting women for arrest and then texting them pictures of his penis.

The bottom line is that the entire process of turning arrestees into informants is inherently coercive and morally dubious to begin with. When you have undercover cops making shady deals with drug defendants, it's just a matter of time before someone sees a penis.
Location: 
United States

Six Months Since Police Shot an Innocent 80-Year-Old Man, and Still No Explanation

80-year-old Isaac Singletary had a habit of chasing drug dealers off his property. Then, one fateful day, he emerged with a pistol to threaten two dealers that were creeping around his yard. They turned out to be undercover cops, and Singletary was promptly shot and killed.

That was six months ago, and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is almost ready to explain what the hell happened:
While a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office review of the shooting is scheduled for next week, State Attorney Harry Shorstein said in April that while he was very concerned with how undercover operations like this one were conducted, he would not file criminal charges against the officers. [News4Jax.com]
That's how this works, folks. The determination that police weren't at fault tends to emerge quickly, while actual reports explaining what happened take several months. How they figure out that the police were innocent without yet completing the report is a trade secret, I guess.

Perhaps they're right that the police didn’t do anything illegal, but that's a huge part of the problem. It should be illegal for police to dress up as drug dealers and trespass on private property. And it should be even more illegal for police to shoot innocent people who don’t know they're the police.

If police act so much like criminals that well-intentioned citizens can’t tell the difference, those officers should not be permitted to defend themselves with deadly force. So, once again, if these officers' actions turn out to be legal, it's time to change the law.
Location: 
United States

Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Last Thursday, two Atlanta narcotics officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of an elderly woman during a botched drug raid, but that is just the beginning in what looks to be an ever-expanding investigation into misconduct in the Atlanta narcotics squad. A federal investigation is already underway, and yesterday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch a thorough investigation of issues raised by the case, including police misconduct, the use of confidential informants, arrest quotas, and the credibility of police officials.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kathrynjohnston.jpg
Kathryn Johnston
Things began to unravel for the Atlanta Police Department's 16-man street narcotics team on November 21, when three Atlanta narcs broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston using a "no-knock" warrant that claimed drug sales had taken place there. The elderly Johnston responded to the intruders dressed in plain clothes by firing one shot from an old pistol, which missed the officers. The narcs responded with a barrage of bullets, firing 39 shots, five or six of which hit Johnston, who died shortly afterward.

Since then, investigators have found that in the Johnston case:

  • The narcotics officers planted drugs to arrest a suspected drug dealer, who in turn pointed them toward Johnston's residence.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying that a confidential informant had bought drugs at that address when that did not happen.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying the house was occupied by a large man who employed surveillance cameras.
  • The narcotics officers planted marijuana in Johnston's basement after they shot her in order to bolster their case and impugn her reputation.
  • The narcotics officers asked another confidential informant to lie for them after the fact and say he had bought drugs at Johnston's residence.

But that confidential informant, Alexis White, instead went to the feds with his story (and this week, he went to Washington, DC, to talk to congressional leaders about snitching), and the fabric of lies woven by the Atlanta narcs rapidly unraveled. Last Wednesday, three of them, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were indicted on numerous state charges, including murder, as well as federal civil rights charges. The following day, Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to a state charge of manslaughter, with sentencing to be postponed until after the federal investigation is complete. They face up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and up to life in prison on the federal civil rights charge.

But the problems in the Atlanta narcotics squad run deeper than one incident of misconduct. According to federal investigators, what the Atlanta narcs did during the botched Johnston raid was business as usual.

"Junnier and other officers falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD's performance targets," according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. "They believed that these ends justified their illegal 'Fluffing' or falsifying of search warrants. Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers."

Cutting corners, though, can have serious consequences. As prosecutors noted, once the narcs had received a tip there were drugs at Johnston's residence, Officer Junnier said they could get a confidential informant to make a buy there to ensure there actually were drugs at that location. "Or not," Smith allegedly responded.

At a news conference last Thursday, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Greg Jones called the officers' conduct "deplorable." In an ominous addendum, Jones added that the agency will pursue "additional allegations of corruption that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct."

US Attorney David Nahmias said Johnston's death was "almost inevitable" because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information. "It's a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends," Nahmias said. "We'll dig until we can find whatever we can."

And now, House Judiciary Committee head Rep. Conyers wants to ensure that the feds dig deep. In a letter released yesterday, Conyers told Attorney General Gonzales:

"There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005."

Former New Jersey narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Jack Cole shares Conyers' concerns. "I think this kind of thing is going on across the country," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If anyone really dug into this, you would find similar things in a lot of departments. It's about using a war on drugs metaphor. When you have a war, you need an enemy, someone despicable, so you can do whatever you want to them," he said. "We train our police to feel like they have to win at any cost because it's a war."

Maybe, just maybe, the federal investigation into the Atlanta narcs will morph into the kind of hearings on drug war policing that are long, long overdue. If not, at least Kathryn Johnston has won a measure of justice.

Futile drug war ignores target: Safety

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/tucker/stories/2007/05/01/0502edtuck.html

Pleas won't end probe of Atlanta police

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2007/04/27/0427metjohnston.html

2 Plead Guilty In Police Drug Raid Death

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
CBS News
URL: 
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/26/ap/national/main2731851.shtml

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