2012 Drug War Killings

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Utah Undercover Cops Kill Woman Heroin User

Undercover police officers in West Valley, Utah, shot and killed a relapsed heroin user in the parking lot of an apartment building last Friday afternoon. Police have yet to confirm that it was a drug investigation, but all signs point to it. Danielle Misha Willard, 21, becomes the 56th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Danielle Misha Willard (facebook.com)
Because police have been slow to release information, the circumstances of the killing remain somewhat murky. But according to Fox 13 TV, police said two undercover officers were involved, and one received minor injuries, although not from gunfire. The officers were on the scene "trying to contact someone regarding an investigation, but the nature of that investigation hasn't been officially disclosed."

"We want to complete the investigation before any specific details are announced," said West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell. "It's in our best interest and everyone's best interest to collect all details before any specific statement is made."

According to the Deseret News
, a gray SUV belonging to Willard was parking in a parking stall and a red SUV was parked directly behind it. The driver's side of the red vehicle was wedged against the back of the gray SUV , in what appears to have been an effort to block it from leaving, but police said the red vehicle was not a police vehicle.

Willard's body was on the ground nearby. The front windshield of her vehicle had what appeared to be two bullet holes, and both the driver's side and the passenger's side windows also appeared to be shattered.

Police have not said if Willard was the subject of their investigation, whether there was an exchange of gunfire, or whether the young woman was armed.

Her mother, Melissa Kennedy, told Fox 13 Willard had been addicted to heroin and had gone to Salt Lake City to undergo drug treatment, but had recently relapsed.

"Danielle struggled with heroin, she tried many times to get away from it. She tried by herself. I went through with her for a couple weeks. She went through three facilities, the last one in Utah," said Kennedy, Danielle’s mother. It sounds like drugs were involved because undercover cops were there," she added.

While Willard may have been using heroin, she was not likely to have been armed, her mother said.

"My daughter has never carried a weapon in her life. She's about 100 pounds soaking wet," Kennedy said. "How can she be so scary that someone feels like they have to shoot her?"

Police said they would release more information Monday, but failed to do so.

West Valley, UT
United States

Texas Trooper Fires on Fleeing Truck, "Drug Load," Two Dead

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper in a helicopter opened fire on a fleeing pick-up truck suspected of carrying a "drug load" last Thursday, but the truck wasn't carrying drugs -- it was instead carrying undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, and two of them were killed in the shooting. Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar become the 54th and 55th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman Tom Vinger said the incident began when Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens attempted to pull over the truck, which they thought was hauling drugs. When the driver refused to stop, the game wardens called DPS for help.

"During the pursuit, the vehicle appeared to have a typical 'covered' drug load in the bed of the truck," Vinger said. "DPS aircraft joined the pursuit of the suspected drug load, which was traveling at reckless speeds, endangering the public. A DPS trooper discharged his firearm from the helicopter to disable the vehicle."

The truck swerved, then came to halt after a tire was punctured. No drugs were found in it, but it was carrying nine Guatemalan nationals, one of whom was wounded by gunfire in addition to the two who were killed.

Guatemalan consul in McAllen, Texas, Alba Caceres said all the men had traveled together from the city of San Martin Jilotepeque in Chimaltenango, paying $2,000 each to get to the US-Mexico border and another $3,000 to be transported to the interior US. Most were headed to New Jersey. The group had crossed the Rio Grande River Thursday morning and walked six hours through the scrub before meeting up with the pick-up truck, Caceres said.

"We need a serious and big investigation into this case because I cannot understand why DPS made the decision to shoot them," she said. "I have never seen something similar to this."

After talking with survivors, Caceres later told the Associated Press the men told her the tarp covering them in the bed of the pick-up blew off the truck during the chase, leaving them clearly visible from the air.

"These statements taken from the survivors leave me outraged," she said. "I can't conceive how a police officer fires at unarmed humans. These are people from humble origins that even at first glance do not look like hardened criminals."

Caceres wasn't alone in demanding an investigation. Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas also joined the call.

"What we know so far raises disturbing questions," Burke said. "Why is a state game warden involved in enforcement of federal immigration law? Why is a game warden in dangerous high-speed pursuit of people who were suspected of nothing more than a civil offense? And where's the 'public safety' when a trooper in a helicopter opens fire on unarmed persons in a vehicle on a public road?"

Earlier this year, DPS Director Steve McCraw said the use of armed sharpshooters on helicopters patrolling the border region was necessary to secure the safety of law enforcement.

"That's what our aerial assets are doing, and we need to protect those aerial assets and in doing so, we put a sniper on those," he said of armed helicopter agents. "And we're really not apologetic about it. We've got an obligation to protect our men and women when we're trying to protect Texas."

According to DPS policy, lethal force is can be used when the officer or someone else is at "substantial risk of death or bodily injury." Troopers can shoot at vehicles either when deadly force is justified or when it is "for the sole purpose and intent of disabling a vehicle." When shooting at a vehicle, the policy warns, "there may be a risk of harm to occupants of the suspect vehicle who may not be involved, or involved to a lesser extent, with the actions of the suspect creating the threat."

Police use of force experts were stunned by the DPS policies. Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who has studied police pursuits at departments across the country said he'd "never heard of" law enforcement agencies allowing officers to shoot at vehicles from helicopters.

"There's a trend to restrict officers from shooting at vehicles at all," Alpert said. "It's not an efficient or effective policy to let officers shoot from vehicles, and certainly not from a helicopter."

Manuel Zamora of the Center for Security Studies at Angelo State University said some departments had begun training in the use of special weapons in situations where criminals could  kill or injure others. If a trooper "can see someone would be fatally injured or wounded, then they would probably be justified in using deadly force," Zamora said.

But in the Thursday killing, the truck was traveling down an unpaved road surrounded by grass fields in a sparsely populated area. The only people fatally injured or wounded were those who came under fire from the as yet unnamed trooper.

La Joya, TX
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths Last Week

A Louisville, Kentucky, woman was killed in a high-speed chase as police pursued a drug suspect last Tuesday and a St. Paul, Minnesota, man was shot and killed by police officers trying to arrest him on crack cocaine charges that same day. Stephanie Melson, 31, and Victor Gaddy, 41, become the 52nd and 53rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Louisville Courier-Journal, Melson was driving in her vehicle in West Louisville when it was struck by a pickup driven by a man later identified as Joseph Johnson, 63, who was being pursued by up to a half-dozen marked and unmarked police cruisers at high speed.

While Louisville police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley wouldn't initially confirm that a high-speed chase had taken place, she did say the incident began as a drug investigation. Detectives were investigating at 40th Street and Broadway when a pick-up fled the scene. Police pursued it several blocks before it ran a stop sign and collided with Melson's vehicle.

"They still have to review the in-car video," Smiley said. "They still have to interview the officers as well as the guy who's in the hospital [Johnson, the suspect]."

But eyewitness Nita Gardner told the Louisville Courier-Journal she was sitting on her front porch with a friend one house away from the intersection where the accident occurred when they saw Melson's car approach the intersection. At that point, she said, they heard sirens, "and at the same time, the truck just came and smashed her. He rammed her, which pushed her car all the way four houses down and she flipped," Gardner said.

Gardner said she blamed police for Melson's death. "If the police were not chasing that man, he wouldn't have did that. I don't think he woke up to say, 'I'm going to kill this woman," she said. "The truck came fast first, but the police car was right behind him -- not a second behind him, like right behind him," with five or six unmarked cars also following, she said.

Kerry King, the father of Melson's three children, told the Courier-Journal the next day that he held Johnson responsible for her death, but also the police.

"Just as the man who ran into her is responsible, the Louisville police department shares a responsibility too," said King. "These streets aren't that wide. They don't need to be flying through here. It's sickening and it needs to stop."

Police charged Johnson with murder in Melson's death. He is also charged with fleeing police, disregarding a traffic control device, two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and receiving stolen property. Police said they found large amounts of cocaine in his vehicle and more cocaine and guns at his home.

Louisville police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said last Wednesday that the department's Professional Standards Unit would review whether officers complied with policies on pursuits. Those policies say police "must weigh the immediate danger or the potential danger to the public, should the suspect be allowed to remain at large, against the danger or potential danger created by the pursuit itself."

"Every pursuit is always evaluated to see what could have been done differently," Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, undercover Minneapolis police had enlisted the help of St. Paul police to stop Gaddy, whom they had been informed was delivering crack cocaine. When unmarked police cars boxed in Gaddy's vehicle, police said he rammed into the police cars in front of and behind him.

Gaddy "accelerated rapidly toward one of the police vehicles, striking it and nearly pinning a St. Paul police officer between the suspect vehicle and the police vehicle," then reversed and rammed another vehicle, police said. "Several officers were in harm's way while the driver of the suspect vehicle appeared to use his car as a weapon," leading officers to shoot him.

But Gaddy's nephew, Terrence Wilson, 20, who was a passenger in the car and whom police have charged with drug possession, disputes the police account, his attorney said.

"He thinks the police murdered his uncle and doesn't think his uncle was doing anything aggressive to police," attorney Bruce Wenger said. "The police felt threatened, apparently, by his (Gaddy's) driving, but my client has said his uncle was not using his car as a weapon as the police have indicated."

Gaddy had a long criminal history with several drug convictions and was known as a crack supplier by Minneapolis police. They found nearly an ounce of crack in and around his vehicle after the shooting.

His older sister, Rayela Gaddy, told the Pioneer Press said she wouldn't "paint some pretty picture" of him but said he wasn't a "menace" as police portrayed him. "A lot of people do things they shouldn't do, but as far as being a 41-year-old man who is executed in the middle of the street, who is unarmed, who is in his car -- whatever kind of person he was, it didn't justify killing him," she said.

Gaddy said she didn't think her brother would try to escape police or ram their cars. "I think he knew the procedure," she said of his having being arrested before. She added that the family would pursue justice for her brother in the courts.

Georgia Man Holding Pepper Spray Killed in Drug Raid

Georgia police executing a drug search warrant shot and killed the 60-year-old home owner holding a canister of pepper spray of during a confrontation last Wednesday. Daniel John Thomas Hammett becomes the 51st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Paulding County Sheriff's Office, agents with the Haralson Paulding Narcotics Task Force had been investigating the home's occupants for selling drugs and had made several drug purchases, as well as getting complaints from neighbors.

Sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Ashley Henson said before the shooting, officers knocked on the door of the residence in Hiram and announced who they were. They then entered the home -- although Henson didn't make clear how they did so -- and encountered Hammett in a darkened hallway.

"It was very dark because the windows in the front portion of the residence had been covered and were blacked out," Henson said. "When agents first made contact with Hammett, they instructed him to show his hands and he initially did not comply. Hammett then raised his hands up in an aggressive manner while he was holding a black shiny object which was pointed toward agents," Henson said.

"It was then that agents opened fire on Mr. Hammett, fatally striking him once," Henson explained. "It was later determined that Hammett had raised a canister of pepper spray toward the agents."

Hammett was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he died later that afternoon.

Hammett's son Clyde challenged the police version of events in an interview with WSB TV later that same day. His father was arthritic and unarmed, and there was nothing in his hands or next to him after he fell to the floor, he said. Clyde Hammett also said there would be no drugs found at the house.

"They killed him. They killed an innocent man and that's all there is to say to it," Clyde Hammett said. "They say he was armed. They can search all they want, there's no guns in that house."

Cpl. Henson said evidence related to drug trafficking was later found in the home, but didn't specifiy exactly what had been found.

The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending the results of a review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Hiram, GA
United States

Louisiana Man Dies in Car Crash Fleeing Drug Bust

A Morgan City, Louisiana, man was killed last Wednesday when he got into a fatal car crash while attempting to flee deputies doing a narcotics investigation. Irvian Singleton, 44, becomes the 50th person to die so far this year in domestic drug law enforcement operations.

According to the Louisiana State Police, Singleton was fleeing from St. Mary Parish deputies who were attempting to stop him for a drug investigation. His car crossed the center line as he fled from pursuing deputies, and he struck another vehicle, which flipped his car over. Singleton, who was not wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene. The other driver was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

According to the St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Department
, members of the Narcotics Division suspected Singleton had drugs in the vehicle when he drove away.

"It is believed right now that the suspect did possibly have narcotics in that vehicle," the sheriff's department said. "So, as a result, we actually have a dual investigation that's taking place right now with the state police as well as the sheriff's department."

Two More Drug War Deaths -- Border Patrol Involved in Both

A San Diego housewife and an Arizona Border Patrol agent were both killed in recent separate incidents involving drug law enforcement. Housewife Valeria Tachiquin-Alvarado and Border Patrol agent Nicholas Ivie become the 48th and 49th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Tachiquin-Alvarado, a 32-year-old mother of five and a US citizen, was shot and killed September 31 by an as yet unidentified Border Patrol agent as she attempted to leave the scene of a raid, according to Chula Vista police, who are investigating the killing. She was on probation for a 2011 drug conviction at the time.

The fatal encounter began when a group of plain clothes Border Patrol agents went to an apartment to arrest a previously deported felon at an apartment where there had been prior complaints of drug activity. Tachiquin-Alvarado answered the door, was questioned and released, then walked to her car nearby.

Other Border Patrol agents then "contacted" her as she prepared to drive away. She then allegedly pulled away from the curb, striking one of the agents. The agents then told her she was under arrest for vehicular assault and tried to grab her car keys from the ignition. But Tachiquin-Alvarado instead pulled away, striking the first agent again and leaving him perched on the hood of her car.

She drove off at speeds of around 25 mph as the agent yelled at her to stop the car. After driving about 200 yards, Tachiquin-Alvarado began to make a turn, and the agent on her hood drew his gun and fired repeatedly into the windshield, killing her.

Police said they have witnesses to confirm their version, but other witnesses gave a different account.

"I just witnessed the officer walking toward the female's car. She was backing up and then he discharged, his weapon started firing," said Prince Watson, a witness.

Chula Vista police are continuing to investigate and will forward the results to the District Attorney's Office for a ruling on whether the shooting was justified. But Tachiquin-Alvarado's family is not waiting for the investigation to be completed. They held a tearful news conference and candlelight vigil near the scene of the shooting last Monday, and a family attorney has vowed that a civil suit will be filed.

Oh, and the guy the Border Patrol was looking for? They didn't find him.

Then, in the pre-dawn hours last Tuesday, Border Patrol Agent Ivie was shot and killed and a second agent wounded in what federal investigators are now calling a friendly fire incident. According to the FBI, which is investigating the case, Ivie and other agents responded to a tripped sensor that indicated movement in a remote border area "described as a drug-trafficking corridor used by the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle marijuana and other drugs into the US."

Three agents approached the area of the tripped sensor from different directions, perhaps without knowing the others were so close, lost radio contact with each other, then "Ivie got spooked and started to shoot" and "another agent shot back and those bullets killed Ivie," according to an Arizona law enforcement source.

The FBI would only go as far saying there were "strong preliminary indications" that Ivie's death and the wounding of the other agent were "the result of an accidental shooting involving only the agents."

But Arizona law enforcement sources said there was no evidence of illegal border crossers in the area, that the motion sensors sometimes give false indications, and that shell casings on the scene suggested a "blue on blue, friendly-fire event."

Baltimore Police Change Story on Drug Custody Death

A 46-year-old Baltimore man died Friday night after allegedly swallowing drugs as police attempted to arrest him. The as yet unidentified man becomes the 47th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

[Update: The man has been identified as Anthony Anderson, a black male. The police story has evolved. The original version follows below. The updated version appears after that.]

According to Baltimore police spokesman Donny Moses, officers observed the man selling drugs at the corner of Montford and Biddle Streets early Friday evening. As they attempted to place him under arrest, he placed an unknown amount of drugs in his mouth and swallowed. Within minutes, he became ill.

Police transported him to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center for treatment, but he was pronounced dead a short time later. The cause of death has yet to be determined.

Not everyone is buying the police version of events. One local minister told the Baltimore Sun he is investigating what happened.

"There are some sharp differences between the accounts of the eyewitnesses and what we're hearing from the police," said the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, local leader of the Southern Leadership Christian Conference. "We have tremendous concerns about what took place," Witherspoon said, adding that he would not characterize them until he has more information.

Baltimore police said investigations are underway by both the homicide and the internal affairs divisions.

[Update: The Baltimore Sun reported Tuesday that police revised their initial account Monday, saying the cause of death was unclear pending an autopsy. Police also acknowledged that Anderson had physical injuries, including at least one broken bone.

The Sun also reported that "an account that describes Anderson being manhandled by police has whipped through the neighborhood, and those who have had encounters with police say it fits into their perception of overly aggressive drug police they refer to as 'knockers.'"

Dozens of people rallied Tuesday at the trash-strewn field where Anderson died, where activists said they saw the incident as yet another reason for their ongoing protests against police brutality and corruption. They called for city residents to attend Anderson's funeral as small children held signs reading"Jail Killer Police."]

Activists leading the rally Tuesday — the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon and Sharon Black, who represents All People's Congress — said they want to use the incident to step up their ongoing protests against what they say is police brutality and corruption.

They've called for residents across the city to attend Anderson's funeral and march through the streets afterward. Small children held signs that read "Jail Killer Police."

Police said they continued to investigate and asked for patience.].



 

Baltimore, MD
United States

Alabama Man Kills Himself in Drug Raid

A Buhl, Alabama, man apparently shot and killed himself as members of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office went to serve a possession of a controlled substance warrant on the night of September 2. Randall Justin Roberts, 34, becomes the 46th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Citing police sources, the Alabama.com news portal reported that when deputies went to the front door, Roberts' father, Randall Floyd Roberts refused to let them enter even after they showed him their warrant. The elder Roberts was then arrested for obstruction and subsequently charged with resisting arrest when he struggled with officers.

Once in the house, deputies went to the bedroom where they believed Roberts was, but heard a single gunshot go off as they opened the bedroom door. The deputies retreated, removed his mother from the house, and then set up a perimeter around the house. More deputies responded to the call of shots fired, as did the sheriff's SWAT team, replete with "the department's Bear Cat (Armored Tactical Vehicle), Aviation Unit, K-9 and Paramedic."

The SWAT team gave itself a workout. It tried to contact Roberts using the public address system in the Bear Cat. It threw flash grenades and then tear gas grenades. It used a helicopter to provide cover while it "deployed assets." It used a telescopic TV camera to search rooms in the house. It used the drug dog to indicate that Roberts was in the rear bedroom -- the same one where the single shot came from.

After about two hours, SWAT team members entered the house and found Roberts dead in closet in the bedroom. A .22 revolver was found lying next to him.

It's not clear whether the warrant was a search warrant or an arrest warrant. Roberts had been arrested August 13 on drug distribution charges.  

Buhl, AL
United States

SF Bay Area Police Kill Man, Seize Ecstasy Tablets

Police in the gritty San Francisco Bay area suburb of Vallejo shot and killed one man and wounded another early Sunday morning and seized about 50 Ecstasy tablets in a roadside encounter turned fatal. Mario Ramiro, 23, becomes the 45th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to KTVU TV News, citing police sources, two Vallejo Police officers were on patrol about 4:30am Sunday in "an area known for recent gang-related activity" when they spotted two men sitting in a vehicle. The police turned their patrol car spotlights on the vehicle to illuminate it.

Police said the driver, Ramiro, got out of the vehicle and they saw the butt of a handgun in his waistband. Police said Ramiro, partly hidden behind the driver's door, reached for the gun and began turning toward the officers. The officers then opened fire, but Ramiro remained crouched behind the driver's door. Police said he did not comply with their demands to show his hands and instead reached toward the vehicle's center console. So they shot him some more. Police said they fired 30 rounds, and Ramiro slumped over.

Ramiro was taken to a Vallejo hospital where he died shortly thereafter. The passenger, Joseph Johnson, 21, was shot at least five times and was being treated at a hospital in Walnut Creek.

After the shooting, police searched the vehicle and found not a handgun but an airsoft pellet gun, which was the weapon they had spotted in Ramiro's waistband, and more than 50 Ecstasy tablets.

Ramiro's sister, Cynquita Martin, told KTVU that she watched the shooting from inside a nearby home and that neither man posed a threat to police. She accused police of out-of-control shooting as angry friends and family members gathered in front of the police department Sunday afternoon. Video of the aftermath showed multiple bullet holes in the vehicle's windshield.

"When I went to the window I saw him [a police officer] re-clip his gun, hop on the hood and just start firing," Martin said. "His arms was out the window. My brother is slumped in the car already."

Ramiro's mother Cynthia also said the police didn't have to use deadly force.

"The Vallejo Police Department has killed my son, an innocent person sitting in the car and then they're trying to make it like it's a shootout," she said. "It wasn't a shootout. The only shootout was them shooting him."

The Vallejo Police and the Solano County District Attorney's office are investigating. Vallejo Police already announced that both Ramiro and Johnson were on parole for felony weapons violations.

Vallejo, CA
United States

Alabama Narcs Kill One, Wound One

Undercover narcotics officers with the Hueytown Police shot and killed one man and wounded another in nearby Brighton last Wednesday afternoon. Calvin Robinson, 21, becomes the 44th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to a statement on the Hueytown Police Facebook page: "Hueytown Narcotics investigators were involved in an incident today in Brighton. Shots were fired. Thankfully, neither officer was injured. The incident is now being investigated by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. It would be improper for us to comment further until this investigation is complete. We appreciate the timely assistance of the JCSO, Birmingham PD, and Brighton PD. I ask that the public wait until the investigation is complete before drawing conclusions about this incident. Thank you. Chief Hagler."

At this point, there is no indication that Robinson or the as-yet unnamed wounded man were armed or had fired on police. Nor is there any word about whether any drugs were found.

Police have made no further statements since then except to describe the shooting victims as "suspected drug dealers," but a witness interviewed by CBS 42 News said he saw several police cars chasing Robinson's vehicle down the Bessemer Highway before it turned off the freeway and headed toward Robinson's home. 

"It was, you had about five of them that was coming behind that car. But by the time I turned around right here, all you could hear was gunshots," said Briscoe Fuller. "That didn't make no sense all that shooting they did."

Robinson's family told CBS 42 they were still coming to grips with his killing, but wanted justice.

"What's going through my mind right now is he was a 21-year-old young man who still had a whole life ahead of him to lead. And as an educator myself I see a senseless killing that took place today," said Angela Kornegay James, Robinson's cousin. "He was less than, as the young man said earlier, 20 feet away from his house. You can see his back yard from the place where he was killed so apparently he was trying to just make it home."

"I loved my brother," said Tyrus Robinson. "My brother don't bother nobody. My brother works. It was a senseless killing. We not going to stop until we find justice."

Brighton, AL
United States

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