2011 Drug War Killings

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Undercover Narc Kills Drug Suspect in Shootout

[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.]

A 22-year-old Florida man was killed and one of his companions and an undercover police officer were wounded in a drug deal gone bad in Putnam County Wednesday. Rodrigo Espinoza of Pomona Park becomes the 23rd person killed in domestic drug law operations so far this year.


According to police accounts, two undercover police officers had arranged to buy cocaine and weapons from Espinoza and two other men. When the police arrived at the isolated meeting place demanded by the trio, the officers exited their car.

"Almost immediately when these three arrived they produced handguns and gunfire was exchanged," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Keith Kameg. "As far as the motive, we're looking into numerous possibilities about what they were doing."

One of the undercover officers, St. Augustine Beach detective David Tiller, was shot in the leg during the confrontation and was recovering at a DeLand hospital. The other, who was described only as a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent, was uninjured.

One of Espinoza's crew, 19-year-old Avery Corbitt, was shot and wounded in the neck and was hospitalized. He is charged with trafficking cocaine, although no cocaine was found at the scene. The other member of the trio, Espinoza's 17-year-old brother Emmanuel, fled the scene but was captured hours later. He is charged with aggravated assault and cocaine trafficking.

The undercover agents were working on temporary assignment to the Tri-County Drug Task Force, which is composed of officers from Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties and federal agencies under the supervision of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Pomona Park, FL
United States

Ohio Man Killed, Officer Wounded in Drug Bust

Samuel Birch reportedly did not want to go back to jail.
A man police were attempting to arrest on drug charges shot and wounded a Toledo, Ohio, police officer before being shot and killed himself early Saturday morning. The dead man was identified as Samuel Birch, 24. He becomes the 22nd person killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to police accounts, four Toledo police officers arrived at Birch's home at 1:30am Saturday to serve a felony drug warrant. Two officers approached the front door, while two others went to the rear of the property. Birch answered the door, and after a brief exchange with officers, pulled out a 9 mm semi-automatic hand gun and fired off two rounds before his weapon jammed. One shot struck Officer Robert Orwig in the calf. His injuries are not life-threatening.

Orwig and another officer, Neil Piasecki, returned fire. Orwig fired three shots and Piasecki fired eight. Birch was struck by six bullets and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Toledo Police Chief Michael Navarre said that police had been told that Birch, who had been prosecuted on drug charges last year, had vowed not to return to jail. "He had made statements that were relayed to the officers prior to this incident occurring this morning that he was not going to go back to jail, that he was not going to be taken alive," Chief Navarre said.

In the house at the time of the shooting were Birch's girlfriend and two children aged five and 12. They were not injured.

Toledo, OH
United States

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

Man With Shotgun Killed in California Drug Raid

[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.]

[Update: According to the Lake Elsinore-Wildomar Patch, neighbors Tuesday identified the dead man as Fred L. Smith and had created a memorial at the gate of his property.]


It's not always this bucolic in Riverside County (Image via Wikimedia)
An as yet unidentified 58-year-old Lakeland Village, California, man was shot and killed Friday by a deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Southwest Corridor Narcotics Task Force as officers served a narcotics search warrant on his home. He becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to a press release from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, the raid took place at 7:00am, and "one suspect was shot after brandishing a shotgun at one of the deputies." The man was pronounced dead at the scene.

The press release does not give any further details about where in the residence the man was killed or whether the warrant was a "no knock" warrant. No eyewitness accounts have emerged so far.

Neighbors told the local newspaper The Press-Enterprise the dead man was a methamphetamine dealer and "a nice guy." Denny Borders said the man once told him he kept a shotgun under the bed, but that he wasn't violent. "He wasn't a fighter or anything," he said, "he wasn't a violent person."

Another neighbor, Susan Dreiske, said that while she was troubled by activity at the man's home, she would sometimes chat with him about gardening and that he had recently planted fruit trees in his front yard. "It's sad that he's gone," she said, "but the officers are just trying to do their jobs."

The incident is being investigated by the Riverside Sheriff's Department Central Homicide Unit. The unidentified deputy who shot the man is on paid administrative leave.

Lakeland Village, CA
United States

Two More Killed in US Drug Enforcement Incidents

[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.]

Police officers in Houston and Tulsa last week shot and killed two men in separate drug enforcement-related incidents last week. The victims become the 18th and 19th to be killed in US domestic drug law enforcement incidents so far this year.

Not everyone is buying HPD's version of events (Image via Wikimedia)
In Houston, according to a police statement, an off-duty narcotics officer working security at an apartment complex late last Wednesday night when he saw "two men engaging in narcotics activity." The officer, identified as Officer S. Bryant, was wearing clothing that identified him as a police officer. He approached the vehicle, identified himself as a police officer, and ordered the passenger to get out of the car. But the passenger instead began squirming in his seat, and the officer saw he was sitting on and attempting to free a pistol. Bryant repeated his command, but the passenger refused and continued to try to free the gun. "Officer Bryant, in fear for his life, discharged his duty weapon at least one time, fatally striking the suspect," the statement said.

The statement said a loaded weapon and narcotics were recovered from the vehicle. The driver was detained but later released.

Witnesses at the scene told a different story to KPRC Local 2 TV News. "He shot him while he was getting out of the car," said a witness who requested not to be identified. "He put him in handcuffs while he was on the ground. I don't think that's right."

"He was telling him, 'I got my hands up. Don't shoot, don't shoot,'" said another witness who requested not to be identified.

One witness said he did not believe police found a gun and drugs in the car. "If they had drugs and guns, he (the driver) wouldn't be out. They'd have him in custody right now," said a witness.

The dead man was later identified as Kenneth Thomas, 31. The incident is being investigated by the HPD Homicide and Internal Affairs Divisions and the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

In Tulsa eight hours earlier, a man who ran from officers who tried to stop him at an apartment complex was shot and killed after he allegedly produced a weapon. According to police, Marvin Dion Alexander, 31, was serving a suspended sentence on drug and related charges when he encountered two Tulsa Police officers and a US marshal conducting "a pedestrian check" near the entrance of an apartment complex.

Instead of stopping for the officers, Alexander briefly scuffled with the marshal, then broke and ran. The marshal and one Tulsa Police officer chased him, with one of them yelling that their quarry had a gun. The other Tulsa Police officer came around a corner and also saw a gun, so he fired and shot Alexander.

A gun was found with Alexander, police said.

Alexander had been convicted in 2009 of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, assault with a dangerous weapon, and resisting an officer. He got credit for time served awaiting trial and 12-years with the sentence suspended. He was arrested again in January for failure to appear in court in relation to those charges, and then released.

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

South Carolina Drug Task Force Officer Wounded, Suspect Killed

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.]

Philip David Chapman, Jr.
A Greenwood, South Carolina, man who shot and wounded a deputy sheriff before being shot and killed himself March 15 has become the 16th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations this year.

According to law enforcement sources, a Greenwood County drug task force was attempting to arrest David Philip Chapman Jr., when he attempted to get away and opened fire on deputies. Deputy TJ Timmons was shot and wounded. He was briefly hospitalized and released. Other officers and deputies opened fire on Chapman, killing him.

According to another report citing police, the task force was serving a warrant at Chapman's home when he fled. Officers chased him into the back yard of a nearby home, where he produced a pistol, shooting the deputy in the upper leg. Several Greenwood police officers then returned fire, killing Chapman.

"There was a physical struggle when this person produced the gun, and I think they had no choice," said Greenwood Police Chief Gerald Brooks. "When a man pulls a gun and you're struggling with him, you've got no choice but to return fire."

Chapman had twice been convicted of possession of less than a gram of crack cocaine, along with several other relatively low-level offenses. It's not known why police were attempting to arrest him Wednesday.

The officers who shot Chapman have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

Greenwood, SC
United States

Police Officer Walks in Massachusetts Drug Raid Death

The Framingham, Massachusetts, SWAT team officer who shot and killed a 68-year-man lying prostrate on his apartment floor during a drug raid will face no criminal charges. The killing of Eurie Stamps was an "accident," according to a Wednesday report from the office of Middlesex County District Attorney's Gerard Leone.

DA Leone couldn't come up with a criminal charge (Image courtesy Middlesex County District Attorney's Office)
The report named the shooter as Officer Paul Duncan, who was part of a SWAT team enlisted to take part in a drug raid aimed at Stamps' grandson, Joseph Bushfan. Police arrested Bushfan outside the home before kicking down the door, throwing a stun grenade, and ordering everyone to the floor. Stamps had obeyed and was lying on the floor when Duncan attempted to cuff and frisk him.

"As he stepped to his left, (Duncan) lost his balance and began to fall over backwards," the report said. "Officer Duncan realized that his right foot was off the floor and the tactical equipment that he was wearing was making his movements very awkward. While falling, Officer Duncan removed his left hand from his rifle, which was pointing down towards the ground and put his left arm out to try and catch himself. As he did so, he heard a shot and then his body made impact with the wall. At that point, Officer Duncan, who was lying on the ground with his back against the wall, realized that he was practically on top of Mr. Stamps and that Mr. Stamps was bleeding. Officer Duncan immediately started yelling 'man down, man down.' Numerous SWAT members began calling for medics and alerting team members that there was a person down that needed medical attention. Officer Duncan told another officer on scene within moments of the incident that he had stumbled and lost his balance while moving to get in a better position, and as he was falling, his gun fired."

That was good enough for DA Leone: "The conclusion of this office is that the actions of Officer Duncan do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, and the shooting death of Eurie Stamps was an accident."

But it wasn't good enough for Stamps' family members and their attorneys. Both Stamps' widow and his children are pondering lawsuits in the case.

"Eurie Stamps’ death was the result of a fundamentally unjustifiable shooting by law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting public safety," said Anthony Tarricone, a lawyer representing Stamps’ children. "When an innocent man dies this way at the hands of police, there really are no excuses that can satisfactorily explain away such a tragedy," he told the Boston Herald.

"I don’t think it's right," said Adia Boston, Stamps' niece by marriage. "I think he should be suspended, at a minimum. There should be job loss, if not jail. That wasn't an accident... It shouldn't be an accident if it's the SWAT team. They're supposed to be trained."

Joseph Bardouille, the attorney representing Stamps' widow, said that the district attorney's report did not address serious questions about the shooting and that the family is undertaking a civil rights investigation.

"One of the purposes of the family's inquiry is to make sure SWAT officers throughout the commonwealth are trained," Bardouille said, noting experts have told him an officer's finger should not be on the trigger unless he is prepared to shoot. "They want to prevent something like this from happening again."

Officer Duncan remains on paid administrative leave while the Framingham Police Department finishes its investigation of the incident.

A civilian who shot an innocent man in these circumstances would be likely to face involuntary manslaughter charges at the least. But that is not the case when law enforcers investigate themselves.

Framingham, MA
United States

US Marshal, Drug Fugitive Die in St. Louis Fire-Fight

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/us-marshal-john-perry.jpg
Deputy US Marshal John Perry (ksdk.com)
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.]

A deputy US marshal and the fugitive he was trying to arrest were killed Tuesday in a gun battle in St. Louis. They become the 14th and 15th people killed in US drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Deputy US Marshal John Perry, 48, was shot in the head and died later at a local hospital. A second US marshal and a St. Louis police officer were shot and wounded.

All three were shot by the fugitive they were seeking, Carlos Boles, who had a long history of drug and other offenses and who was wanted on charges of drug possession, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer. Boles was shot and killed at the scene by officers returning fire.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/carlos-boles.jpg
Carlos Boles (13wmaz.com)
Boles had at least 12 criminal convictions and had served time for drug offenses and assault. The St. Louis Police Violent Offenders Unit had asked for help from the US marshals because Boles "could pose a threat to law enforcement officials," the department said.

Perry becomes the second deputy US marshal to be killed attempting to serve arrest warrants on fugitive drug offenders so far this year. Last month, Deputy US Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller, 24, was killed in West Virginia under similar circumstances.

St. Louis, MO
United States

Massachusetts Man Dies as Police Execute Drug Search Warrant

A 21-year-old Fall River, Massachusetts, man died last Friday afternoon shortly after police executing a search warrant in a drug investigation entered his apartment. It was the 13th death to occur during a drug law enforcement operation so far this year in the US, and the third in Massachusetts.

Fall River Police Department
Police told the Fall River News that detectives with the Vice and Intelligence Unit were executing the search warrant when they encountered the man. As for the circumstances of his death, police said only that "detectives located the man and at some point he went into cardiac arrest." At some point, police called paramedics, but he was later pronounced dead at Saint Anne's Hospital.

Police did not name the man, but a poster in the comments section of the article linked to above identified him as Dennis Mendez, 21. The anonymous poster, writing under the user name Kei24, appeared to say that Mendez had tried to swallow drugs and choked to death as police stood and watched.

"My brother was struggling to get away from the police," Kei24 wrote. "He wasn't fighting them they did find somethin but no one was charged... we was begging the police to help him because his hand, feet and lips were purple and they just kept saying that he was fine and the drugs that he was trynna swallow was pulled out of his mouth once paramedics got there my brother was dead in less then 2 mins that the police broke down the door they just made jokes about it and were saying he was fakin it... He was human just like the rest of us and they treated him like a dog."

But in a Tuesday interview with WPRI Eyewitness News, Mendez' sister, Keila Lebron (Kei24), said that while Mendez had swallowed crack cocaine, that's not what killed him. "She claims officers immediately began beating him, and Mendez lost consciousness," the station reported.

Fall River Police said the Massachusetts State Police Major Crimes Division, the District Attorney's Office, and the State Medical examiner will conduct an inquiry into the death.

Fall River, MA
United States

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