2012 Drug War Killings

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Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim a Step Closer, DC Legalization Battles, Pot and Driving, More (2/9/15)

The fight over legalization continues in DC, Jamaica is now one vote away from decriminalizing ganja, the NHTSA has a study out saying there is no evidence pot use increases the risk of crashes, and more. Let's get to it:

On Bob Marley's birthday, the Jamaican Senate passed decriminalization. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Nominee Says DC Should Be Able to Legalize Marijuana. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli has said that the District of Columbia should be able to determine its own marijuana policy. "As a resident of the District I might not agree about legalization," Botticelli said, "but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that." Federal law requires the drug czar to oppose marijuana legalization, but that didn't stop Botticelli from endorsing home rule for the District even if that meant legalization.

DC Council Cancels Hearing on Taxation and Regulation Bill in Face of Legal Threats. The DC council was supposed to hold hearing on a taxation and regulation bill today, but abandoned those plans after the District attorney general warned lawmakers they and their staffs could face fines or even jail time if they went ahead. Incoming DC Attorney General Karl Racine warned the council in a letter late last week that holding the hearing would violate a congressionally imposed spending restriction prohibiting the city from moving forward on legalization and regulation. Council members and invited witnesses, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to testify, instead held an informal roundtable discussion on the topic to avoid the risk of being found in contempt of Congress.

Idahoans Not Ready to Legalize Marijuana, Poll Finds. An Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that only 33% supported legalization, with 64% opposed -- and they mean it. More than half (53%) of respondents were "strongly opposed," while another 11% were "somewhat opposed." Only 17% said they "strongly supported" legalization, with another 16% "somewhat supporting" it.

Sentencing Policy

Kansas Bill Would Cut Marijuana Sentences. The Kansas Sentencing Commission is pushing a bill through the legislature that would end prison sentences for the first two marijuana possession offenses and allow for increased use of good-time sentence reductions. The bill has been endorsed by the Department of Corrections and many legislators and has passed out of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Passes House. The House last Friday approved House Bill 200, which would require applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for possible drug use. Those deemed to be suspected of drug use after screening would be subjected to drug tests.

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Scheme Yields Few Positives. Six months after the state rolled out its controversial law to drug test some people applying for public benefits, the first results are in, and they're not very impressive. Some 16,017 people applied for the Families First cash assistance program; only 279 were deemed to have provided reasonable suspicion that they were drug users, and only 37 of them tested positive for drugs. Eight people were disqualified for refusing to answer the drug questionnaire; another 81 were denied benefits after dropping out of the application process.

Driving

NHTSA Says No Evidence Marijuana Use Increases Crash Risk. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released last Friday found no evidence marijuana use increases the risk of getting in a traffic accident. While pot smokers are 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than non-users, NHTSA attributed that to factors other than marijuana use itself -- particularly that younger men are more likely to get in crashes. "Other factors, such as age and gender, appear to account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users," the study found. The study is the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use By Drivers.

Law Enforcement

Utah Town Pays Big for 2012 Drug War Killing of Danielle Willard. The city of West Valley City, Utah, will pay $1.425 million to the family of Danielle Willard to settle their wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two police officers. Willard was shot and killed by Det. Shaun Cowley as she sat in her car in an apartment complex parking lot. When detectives approached her vehicle, she began to back up. Two opened fire, but only Cowley was on target, hitting her in the head and killing her. Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill found the shooting unjustified, but a district court judge threw out charges against Cowley. Cowley was later fired for mishandling evidence and dereliction of duty, and the West Valley Vice Narcotics Unit was disbanded. It has just been reconstituted.

Missouri Activists Issue Report on Drug Task Force Misconduct. Show Me Cannabis has released a comprehensive report on misconduct in the state's anti-drug task forces. The report is "Drug Task Forces in Missouri: Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable; A Thorough Exploration of Patterns of Gross Misconduct."

International

Jamaican Senate Approves Ganja Decriminalization. The Senate approved marijuana decriminalization last Friday after five hours of debate. Up to two ounces will be decriminalized, Rastafarians will be able to grow their own, and the country will begin to move toward setting up a legal marijuana industry. The measure must still pass the lower House, but is expected to do so.

Vancouver Looks to Regulate Marijuana Dispensaries. Even though they are illegal under Canadian law, at least 60 dispensaries operate in Vancouver, and the municipal government is now moving to come up with a way to regulate them -- not shut them down. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM: MJ Decrim and Medical Bills Filed, Ramarley Graham Settlement, Jamaica Decrim Progess, More (2/2/15)

Decriminalization and medical marijuana bills are being filed left and right, Maine says pot patients can be unfit parents, Oregon says pot patients can't operate child care centers, New York City pays out big time for the killing of a black youth over weed, Jamaica's decrim bill advances, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) and several cosponsors have filed House Bill 39, which would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction punishable only by a fine. Public use would remain subject to jail time, but for no more than five days.

Maryland Push for Legalization Underway. Supporters of legalization held a press conference last Friday to push the idea forward. State legislators, including Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) were joined by a Colorado legislator and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. The press conference came as legalization supporters prepared to brief legislative committees on the topic. Maryland decriminalized it last year.

Minnesota Poll Finds More Want to Legalize It Than Don't. A new Public Policy Polling survey finds just short of a majority for legalizing pot there. Some 49% said they thought marijuana should be legal and regulated, while 44% thought it "should remain illegal." Support for medical marijuana, meanwhile, was at 76%.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and seven cosponsors have introduced House Bill 618, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not decriminalized.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Dona Ana County) has introduced Senate Bill 383, which would decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces and eliminate jail time for possession of up to eight ounces. Currently, possession of less than an ounce is a petty misdemeanor with possible jail time, while possession of between one and eight ounces is a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Dies in Senate Committee. A bill that would have decriminalized pot possession in the Old Dominion was killed last Wednesday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Senate Bill 686, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) died in a 9-5 party line vote.

Philadelphia Pot Arrests Drop 88% After Decriminalization. Philadelphia police arrested only 63 people for marijuana possession between October 20 and year's end, marking a massive decline in marijuana arrests after decriminalization. Last year during the same time period, there were 559 possession arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut State Commissioner Agrees to Expand Qualifying Ailments List. Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said this morning that he will follow the recommendation of the program's Board of Physicians and is drafting new regulations to include sickle cell disease, post-surgical back pain with a condition called chronic radiculopathy, and severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis to the list of qualifying conditions. But that's not the end of it. Now, the proposal must be approved by the state attorney general and then by the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee. A vote there could come by spring.

Maine High Court Rules Using Medical Marijuana Can Make Parents Unfit. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in a child custody case that even though medical marijuana is legal in the state, its use can make a person an unfit parent. "Determining what is in the best interest of the child necessarily involves considering whether a parent's ability to care for his or her child is impaired, including by his or her marijuana use. As with any medication or substance, the question of whether a parent's ingestion of marijuana is legal is only part of the equation. The more important question is whether that ingestion negatively affects, limits or impairs a parent's capacity to parent his or her child," Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote in the eight-page decision. The case is Daggett v. Sternick.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-District 48) has filed Senate Bill 2318, which would allow patients with specified conditions to use medical marijuana. The bill doesn't envision dispensaries, but would allow patients to grow their own with a physician's recommendation.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Pamela Anderson (D-Fargo) has introduced House Bill 1430, which would allow patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. But there is a big loophole. Patients could also qualify if they suffer "any persistent or chronic illness or condition that, in the opinion of a physician, substantially limits the ability of a person to conduct one or more major life activities; or may cause serious harm to the patient's safety or mental or physical health if not alleviated; if the illness or condition may be improved by the use of marijuana."

Oregon Bars Medical Marijuana Patients From Being Child Care Providers. The state Early Learning Council has voted to bar patients from being child care providers. The decision follows a six-month temporary rule that was issued last August and gave patients an ultimatum: your patient card or your child care business.

Tennessee Low-THC Cannabis Oil Bill Filed. State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-District 11) today introduced House Bill 197, which would allow the use of cannabis oil with less than 0.9% THC for medical purposes.

Law Enforcement

Chicago Federal Prosecutors Drop "Stash House" Cases. The US attorney's office in Chicago has dropped dozens of serious drug conspiracy cases that were based on undercover stings where law enforcement agents enticed people into robbing non-existent drug stash houses. The law enforcement technique has come under strong criticism that it amounts to entrapment and is used disproportionately to target minorities. Clarence Walker has covered this issue for the Chronicle here and here.

New York City Pays to Settle Killing of Black Teenager Over Weed. The city has settled with the family of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old black teen who was shot dead in his own bathroom by an NYPD cop who had stormed into his apartment without a warrant after suspecting he had marijuana. The killer cop, Richard Haste, was indicted in the shooting in 2012, but a judge threw out that indictment and a second grand jury failed to indict. Police said they suspected he had a gun because of the way he moved his hands near his waist. No weapon was ever found. The city has now agreed to pay the Graham family $3.9 million.

National Sheriffs Association Wants Deputy Attorney General Nominee "Investigated" for Pro-Drug Reform Comments. The group is upset with Vanita Gupta, nominated to head the department's Civil Rights Division. She has called for the decriminalization of all drugs, and that "put her at odds with the goal of public safety," the sheriffs complain. How her publicly made remarks would be "investigated" remains to be seen.

International

Jamaica Senate Begins Debate on Decriminalization. The Senate last Friday began debating a bill that would decriminalize marijuana and establish a licensing authority for a marijuana industry on the island. The bill would also allow for Rastafarians to use ganja for religious purposes. Debate is expected to continue in the Senate in coming days before the bill is sent to the lower chamber. It is expected to pass, since the ruling party, which submitted it, controls both chambers and the opposition also supports its broad outlines.

Venezuela Shoots Down Suspected Drug Plane Off Aruba. The Venezuelan defense ministry confirmed last Friday that its fighter jets had shot down a civilian plane suspected of carrying drugs. The plane went down off Aruba. Aruban officials had reported a day earlier that a plane had come down in flames, and human remains and packages of drugs could be seen in the water. Venezuela has shot down a number of suspected drug planes in recent years.

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.

Texas Trooper Cleared in Chopper Drug War Killings

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who opened fire from a helicopter on a fleeing pickup carrying what he thought was a drug load near the US-Mexico border, killing two Guatemalan immigrants, will not face criminal charges. A grand jury in Edinburg declined Tuesday to indict him in the deaths.

Hidalgo County prosecutors had presented the case to a grand jury after the killing stirred outrage not only from the Guatemalan government, but also among people concerned about lax rules for law enforcement use of deadly force from the air.

In the October 2012 incident, Trooper Miguel Avila was aboard the Department of Public Safety (DPS) chopper as it participated in the pursuit of the pickup. DPS said Avila believed the truck, whose bed was covered with a cloth, was carrying drugs, and that he opened fire to disable it because the fleeing vehicle was headed toward a school zone. (The shooting took place on an unpaved rural road.)

The truck crashed after being fired upon. Police found no drugs, but instead found nine Guatemalan immigrants and a teenage driver. Six of the Guatemalans were in the bed of the pickup covered by a cloth. Two of them, Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, were fatally wounded by Avila's gunfire.

While the two men's killer escaped criminal charges, the killing did force DPS to revise its policies on the use of force from the sky. Since February, troopers have been prohibited from shooting from the sky unless they are facing deadly force.

"A firearms discharge from an aircraft is authorized only when an officer reasonably believes that the suspect has used or is about to use deadly force by use of a deadly weapon against the air crew, ground officers or innocent third parties," the revised policy says. Reckless or aggressive driving doesn't count as use of a deadly weapon, the policy states.

Edinburg, TX
United States

New Orleans Police Officer Jailed for 2012 Drug War Killing

A New Orleans police officer who gunned down an unarmed 20-year-old man during a 2012 drug raid pleaded guilty to manslaughter last Friday and was led off to begin serving a four-year prison sentence. Joshua Colclough, 29, who resigned from the force the previous day, apologized to the family of his victim, Wendell Allen, before he was led away.

Colclough was part of a police team that raided a Gentilly home in March 2012 as part of a marijuana investigation. A shirtless, unarmed Allen appeared at the top of the stairs as Colclough searched the house, and Colclough shot and killed him.

Defense attorney Claude Kelly said Colclough made a split-second decision.

"Josh will live with this as will the Allen family, until the day he dies," Kelly said in court.

Colclough's apology to the family was the second in as many days. The day before the hearing, he met with Allen family members and tearfully apologized. The meeting was taped by WVUE-TV.

"I wanted to tell you for a very long time how sorry I am. I am so very sorry," he said during that meeting.

"I prayed for you. I prayed God have mercy on your soul, but what took you so long?" the victim's mother, Natasha Allen said at one point, also crying.

"I am so sorry it took so long. I'm very sorry for what I've put your family through," Colclough said.

Drug War Chronicle tallied 63 drug war deaths in 2012. Eight of the dead were law enforcement officers. Of the 55 civilian deaths, only two resulted in an officer being charged.

The other case was that of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old New York City resident who was gunned down in his own bathroom by an undercover officer who pursued him thinking he was armed. NYPD Officer Richard Haste was indicted in that case, but the indictment was dismissed because of prosecutorial error. The Justice Department is now investigating to determine if federal civil rights charges can be filed.

New Orleans, LA
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Some Utah narcs are having a spotlight shined on them, an NYPD cop goes down for robbing drug dealers, and a Florida deputy gets caught buying pain pills on the street and stealing them from his aunt.Let's get to it:

In Salt Lake City, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday they were dropping eight cases involving the suburban West Valley City Police Department's narcotics unit, which was disbanded in December. Local prosecutors had already dropped an additional 19 cases last month. All but one of those cases involved drug offenses, and all 19 of the cases dropped by local prosecutors involved West Valley narcotics investigator Shaun Cowley. Last week, the FBI announced it was joining investigations into corruption in the dope squad, as well as whether there has been a cover-up in the November shooting death Danielle Willard, a suspected heroin user who was gunned down in her car by Cowley and Detective Kevin Salmon. Five months later, West Valley police have yet to make any public pronouncements about results of investigations into her death.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was a member of a crew that robbed drug dealers of thousands of dollars in cash and drugs. Officer Jose Tejada, 45, is accused of taking part in three robberies or attempted robberies in 2006 and 2007, while he was assigned to Harlem and in uniform, according to federal prosecutors. He also supplied police uniforms, paraphernalia and police vehicles to crew members. He is charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to facilitate drugs, and unlawful use of a firearm. Tejada is the second NYPD officer charged in more than 100 robberies of drug dealers that began in 2001 and netted more than 250 kilograms of cocaine and a million dollars in cash. Former officer Emmanuel Tavarez was sentenced to 25 years in prison last May for his role in the same crew.

In Key West, Florida, a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy was arrested Saturday on charges he bought drugs from an informant and stole drugs from relatives. Deputy Jaime Miranda went down in a sting, buying fake oxycodone from an informant while on duty, in uniform and in his police cruiser. He was stopped shortly thereafter, and police found nine fake oxycodone tablets (he admitted eating the 10th as soon as he bought it), as well as hydromorphone tablets he admitted stealing from his aunt's house.  Miranda is charged with three felonies: conspiracy to purchase narcotics, possession of synthetic narcotics and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. He made $12,000 bond Saturday night and is suspended without pay pending further investigation.

Who Was Killed in America's Drug War Last Year? [FEATURE]

For the past two years, Drug War Chronicle has been tracking all the US deaths directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement, including the border. You can view the 2011 deaths here and the 2012 deaths here.Soon, we will hand our findings out to criminal justice and other professionals and then issue a report seeking to identify ways to reduce the toll. In the meantime, we can look at the raw numbers from last year and identify some trends.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/wendell-allen-200px.jpg
A New Orleans police officer was indicted for killing Wendell Allen during a drug raid in March. (family photo)
Before we begin, though, it's important to note our resource and data limitations, as well as explaining what gets included and what doesn't. We depended largely on Google news alerts for "officer shoots" or "officer kills" and their variations (trooper shoots, deputy shoots, police shoot, etc.) We can't claim that the list is exhaustive -- some initial reports never mention drugs, although they were involved; some others may have slid through the cracks. (Our tally includes several cases where people collapsed and died during or immediately after being arrested; the drug link became apparent only weeks or months later when toxicology reports came back. We could have missed others.)

We also used fairly tight criteria for inclusion. These deaths had to have occurred during drug law enforcement activities. That means people whose deaths may be at least partially blamed more broadly on drug prohibition (overdoses, AIDS and Hepatitis C victims, for example) are not included. Neither are the deaths of people who may have been embittered by previous drug law enforcement operations who later decide to go out in a blaze of glory, nor the deaths of their victims.

It's only people who died because of drug law enforcement. And even that is something of a grey area. One example is traffic stops. Although they ostensibly are aimed at public safety, drug law enforcement is at least a secondary consideration and, sometimes, as in the case of "pretextual stops," the primary consideration, so we include those deaths when it looks appropriate. Another close call was the case of a Michigan father accused of smoking marijuana and reported to Child Protective Services by police. He was shot and killed in a confrontation with police over that issue. We included him even though it was not directly drug law enforcement that got him killed, but the enforcement of child custody orders related to marijuana use. It could be argued either way whether he should not have been included; we decided to include him.

Because we are a small nonprofit with limited resources, we have been unable to follow-up on many of the cases. Every law enforcement-related death is investigated, but those findings are too often unpublished, and we (I) simply lack the resources to track down the results of those investigations. That leaves a lot of questions unanswered -- and some law enforcement agencies and their personnel, and maybe some others, off the hook.

We attempted to provide the date, name, age, race, and gender of each victim, but were unable to do so in every case. We also categorized the type of enforcement activity (search warrant service, traffic stops, undercover buy operations, suspicious activity reports, etc.), whether the victim was armed with a firearm, whether he brandished it, and whether he shot it, as well as whether there was another type of weapon involved (vehicle, knife, sword, etc.) and whether the victim was resisting arrest or attempting to flee. Again, we didn't get all the information in every case.

Here's what we found:

In 2012, 63 people died in the course of US domestic drug law enforcement operations, or one about every six days. Eight of the dead were law enforcement officers; 55 were civilians.

Law Enforcement Deaths

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/officer-victor-soto-velez.jpg
Officer Victor Soto-Velez was ambushed in Camuy, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in June.
Law enforcement deaths began and ended the year. The first drug war death, on January 4, was that of Ogden, Utah, police officer Jared Francom, who was serving on the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force when he was shot and killed during a "knock and enter" SWAT-style raid on a suspected marijuana grower. Five other officers were also shot and wounded, as was the homeowner, Matthew Stewart, who is now charged with his killing and faces a death sentence if convicted.

The last drug war death of the year, on December 14, was that of Memphis police officer Martoiya Lang, who was shot and killed serving a "drug-related search warrant" as part of an organized crime task force. Another officer was wounded, and the shooter, Trevino Williams, has been charged with murder. The homeowner was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

In between Francom and Lang, six other officers perished fighting the drug war. In February, Clay County (Florida) Sheriff's Detective David White was killed in a shootout at a meth lab that also left the suspect dead. In April, Greenland, New Hampshire, Police Chief Michael Maloney was shot in killed in a drug raid that also left four officers wounded. In that case, the shooter and a woman companion were later found dead inside the burnt out home.

In June, Puerto Rican narcotics officer Victor Soto Velez was shot and killed in an ambush as he sat in his car. Less than two months later, Puerto Rican police officer Wilfredo Ramos Nieves was shot and killed as he participated in a drug raid. The shooter was wounded and arrested, and faces murder charges.

Interdicting drugs at the border also proved hazardous. In October, Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie was shot and killed in a friendly fire incident as he and other Border Patrol agents rushed to investigate a tripped sensor near the line. And early last month, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed when a Mexican marijuana smuggling boat rammed his off the Southern California coast. Charges are pending against the smugglers.

Civilian Deaths

Civilian deaths came in three categories: accidental, suicide, and shot by police. Of the 55 civilians who died during drug law enforcement operations, 43 were shot by police. One man committed suicide in a police car, one man committed suicide in his bedroom as police approached, and a man and a woman died in the aftermath of the Greenland, New Hampshire, drug raid mentioned above, either in a mutual suicide pact or as a murder-suicide.

Five people died in police custody after ingesting packages of drugs. They either choked to death or died of drug overdoses. One man died after falling from a balcony while fleeing from police. One man died in an auto accident fleeing police. One Louisville woman, Stephanie Melson, died when the vehicle she was driving was hit by a drug suspect fleeing police in a high-speed chase on city streets.

The Drug War and the Second Amendment

Americans love their guns, and people involved with drugs are no different. Of the 43 people shot and killed by police, 21 were in possession of firearms, and in two cases, it was not clear if they were armed or not. Of those 21, 17 brandished a weapon, or displayed it in a threatening manner. But only 10 people killed by police actually fired their weapon. Merely having a firearm increased the perceived danger to police and the danger of being killed by them.

In a handful of cases, police shot and killed people they thought were going for guns. Jacksonville, Florida, police shot and killed Davinian Williams after he made a "furtive movement" with his hands after being pulled over for driving in a "high drug activity area." A month later, police in Miami shot and killed Sergio Javier Azcuy after stopping the vehicle in which he was a passenger during a cocaine rip-off sting. They saw "a dark shiny object" in his hand. It was a cell phone. There are more examples in the list.

Several people were shot and killed as they confronted police with weapons in their own homes. Some may have been dangerous felons, some may have been homeowners who grabbed a gun when they heard someone breaking into their homes. The most likely case of the latter is that of an unnamed 66-year-old Georgia woman shot and killed by a local drug task doing a "no knock" drug raid at her home. In another case from Georgia, David John Thomas Hammett, 60, was shot and killed when police encountered him in a darkened hallway in his home holding "a black shiny object." It was a can of pepper spray. Neither victim appears to have been the target of police, but they're still dead.

Police have reason to be wary of guns. Of the eight law enforcement officers killed enforcing the drug laws last year, seven were killed by gunfire. But at least 22 unarmed civilians were shot and killed by police, and at least four more were killed despite not having brandished their weapons.

It's Not Just Guns; It's Cars, Too

In at least seven cases, police shot and killed people after their vehicles rammed police cars or as they dragged police officers down the street. It is difficult to believe that all of these people wanted to injure or kill police officers. Many if not most were probably just trying to escape. But police don't seem inclined to guess (which might be understandable if you're being dragged by a moving car.)

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Danielle Misha Willard, a relapsed heroin user, was shot by West Valley, UT police in a parking lot in November. (facebook.com)
Race and Gender

Getting killed in the drug war is mostly a guy thing. Of the 63 people killed, only six were women, including one police officer. One was the Georgia homeowner, another was the Louisville woman driver hit by a fleeing suspect, a third was the unnamed woman who died in the Greenland, New Hampshire raid. Other than the Memphis police officer, only two women were killed because of their drug-related activities.

Getting killed in the drug war is mostly a minority thing too. Of the 55 dead civilians, we do not have a racial identification on eight. Of the remaining 47, 23 were black, 14 were Hispanic, nine were white, and one was Asian. Roughly three out four drug war deaths were of minority members, a figure grossly disproportionate to their share of the population.

Bringing Police to Justice

Many drug war deaths go unnoticed and un-mourned. Others draw protests from friends and family members. Few stir up public outrage, and fewer yet end up with action being taken against police shooters. Of the 55 civilians who died during drug law enforcement activities, charges have been filed against the police shooters in only two particularly egregious cases. Both cases have generated significant public protest.

One is the case of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old black teenager from the Bronx. Graham was chased into his own apartment by undercover NYPD officers conducting drug busts on the street nearby. He ran into his bathroom, where he was apparently trying to flush drugs down the toilet, and was shot and killed by the police officer who followed him there. Graham was unarmed, police have conceded. A small amount of pot was found floating in the toilet bowl. Now, NYPD Officer Richard Haste, the shooter, has been indicted on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, with trial set for this coming spring.

The other case is that of Wendell Allen, 20, a black New Orleans resident. Allen was shot and killed when he appeared on the staircase of a home that was being raided for marijuana sales by New Orleans police. He was unarmed and was not holding anything that could be mistaken for a weapon. Officer Jason Colclough, the shooter, was indicted on manslaughter charges in August after he refused a plea bargain on a negligent homicide charge. When he will go to trial is unclear.

Criminal prosecutions of police shooters, even in egregious cases, is rare. Winning a conviction is even less unlikely. When Lima, Ohio, police officer Joe Chavalia shot and killed unarmed Tanika Wilson, 26, and wounded the baby she was holding in her arms during a SWAT drug raid in 2008, he was the rare police officer to be indicted. But he walked at trial

It doesn't usually work out that way when the tables are turned. Ask Corey Maye, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for killing a police officer who mistakenly entered his duplex during a drug raid even though he argued credibly that he thought police were burglars and he acted in self defense. It took 10 years before Maye was able to first get his death sentence reduced to life, then get his charges reduced to manslaughter, allowing him to leave prison.

Or ask Ryan Frederick, who is currently sitting in prison in Virginia after being convicted of manslaughter in the 2008 death of Chesapeake Det. Jarrod Shivers. Three days after a police informant burglarized Frederick's home, Shivers led a a SWAT team on a no-knock raid. Frederick shot through the door as Shivers attempted to break through it, killing him. He argued that he was acting in self-defense, not knowing what home invaders were on the other side of the door, but in prison he sits.

Both the Graham and the Allen cases came early in the year. Late in 2012, two more cases that would appear to call out for criminal prosecutions of police occurred. No charges have been filed against police so far in either case.

On October 25, undocumented Guatemalan immigrants Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar were shot and killed by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who shot from a helicopter at the pickup truck carrying them as it fled from an attempted traffic stop. Texas authorities said they thought the truck was carrying drugs, but it wasn't -- it was carrying undocumented Guatemalan immigrants who had just crossed the border. Authorities said they sought to disable the truck because it was "traveling at reckless speeds, endangering the public." But the truck was traveling down a dirt road surrounded by grassy fields in an unpopulated area. The Guatemalan consulate and the ACLU of Texas are among those calling for an investigation, and police use of force experts from around the country pronounced themselves stunned at the Texas policy of shooting at vehicles from helicopters. Stay tuned.

Two weeks later, undercover police in West Valley, Utah, shot and killed Danielle Misha Leonard, 21, in the parking lot of an apartment building. Leonard, a native of Vancouver, Washington, had been addicted to heroin and went to Utah to seek treatment. Perhaps it didn't take. Police have been extremely slow to release details on her killing, but she appears to have been unarmed. An undercover police vehicle had boxed her SUV into a parking spot, and the windshield and both side windows had been shattered by gunfire. Later in November, in their latest sparse information release on the case, police said only that she had been shot twice in the head and that they had been attempting to contact her in a drug investigation. Friends and family have set up a Justice for Danielle Willard Facebook page to press for action.

Now, it's a new year, and nobody has been killed in the drug war so far. But this is only day two.

Memphis Officer, Dallas Man Killed in Separate Drug War Incidents

A Memphis police officer was shot and killed early last Friday morning during a marijuana raid, and, hours later, a Dallas man was shot and killed by police investigating a drug complaint. Memphis Police Officer Martoiya Lang and the as yet unidentified Dallas man become the 62nd and 63rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Memphis, according to the Associated Press, Lang was part of an organized crime unit serving a "drug-related search warrant" when a person in the house opened fire, striking Lang and Officer William Vrooman. Lang died of her injuries, while Vrooman, who was struck multiple times, was in stable condition at a local hospital.

Police returned fire, critically wounding the shooter, who was later identified as Treveno Campbell, 21. He has now been charged with one count of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. A second man in the house, Willie Braddock, 26, was charged with possession of marijuana and intent to distribute.

In Dallas, according to KDFW Fox 4 News, police had received a complaint about drug activity at an Oak Cliff apartment complex and pulled over two men in a "suspicious" vehicle in the apartment parking lot. Police said a fight broke out between one of the men and an officer, and when that man pulled out a gun, a police officer opened fire and killed him.

Police have not released the names of any of the parties involved.

The dead man in Dallas was later identified as Kenny Ellis, 30.

Georgia Police Kill Armed Man During Marijuana Bust

Police officers in Buford, Georgia, shot and killed a man who refused to drop his weapon after they encountered him as they investigated a report of marijuana smoking last Tuesday night. Jose Antonio Hernandez-Gonzalez, 20, becomes the 61st person to die so far this year in US domestic drug enforcement operations.

According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, citing police sources, Gwinnett County police arrived at a North Alexander Street apartment complex following a report of "several people smoking marijuana." They found five people in the parking lot and an officer began to frisk an adult Hispanic male, later identified as Hernandez-Gonzalez. He reportedly "pulled away" from the officer, drew a handgun, and held it to his own head.

"During this time officers continuously ordered Hernandez to put down his weapon and Hernandez made verbal refusals," police spokesman Lt. Jake Smith said. "Hernandez told officers that he would not put down the gun, and that they would have to shoot him.

After an attempt to subdue him with a taser failed (one prong failed to penetrate his clothing), four officers opened fire, killing him on the spot.

In addition to the loaded .357 revolver Hernandez-Gonzales was holding, police also found a loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at his feet and several baggies of marijuana in his pockets.

The four officers involved in the shooting have been placed on routine administrative leave while the department's "deadly force investigation team" reviews the shooting.

It was unclear if any of the other men with Hernandez-Gonzalez were detained, but a bystander was arrested for disorderly conduct several hours later for "cursing loudly in the parking lot… for an extended period of time," Smith said.

Buford, GA
United States

Coast Guard Officer Killed By Drug Smugglers

A member of the US Coast Guard was killed in the line of duty early Sunday morning when his vessel was rammed by a panga boat carrying Mexican marijuana. Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, becomes the 60th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to KABC TV in Los Angeles, citing a Coast Guard statement, a Coast Guard cutter intercepted two boats -- a pleasure craft and a panga boat -- near San Clemente Island about 1:00am Sunday. The Coast Guard found marijuana on the panga boat, which was being operated by Mexican nationals.

After taking the pleasure craft into custody and detaining two people on board, the Coast Guard cutter crew lowered its smaller boat into the water to take custody of those aboard the panga boat. As the Coast Guard craft approached the panga, its driver rammed it, driving over the top of the Coast Guard craft and knocking two officers into the water. One officer was recovered without serious injury, but Horne suffered head injuries and was pronounced dead when brought ashore.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our shipmate. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, and his shipmates aboard Coast Guard Cutter Halibut," said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Coast Guard Commandant, in a statement.

The two people in the panga were later taken into custody, along with the two people in the pleasure craft. Their identities have not been released.

In recent years, as US authorities have concentrated on blocking traditional land smuggling routes, Mexican smugglers have increasingly taken to using the sea as a pipeline to the US. The number of smugglers and immigrants arrested at sea in 2010 was 867, more than double the number arrested in 2009.

San Clemente Island, CA
United States

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