Police Corruption

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How Many Innocent People Are in Jail on Drug Charges?

It's a question I've often pondered and one that anybody with strong opinions about drug policy should consider, regardless of where you stand on the issue. Surely, there exists no realistic formula with which to approximate an answer, but one need only observe and understand what the drug war is and how it works to know that grave injustices are forever embedded into the drug war equation.

The question resurfaced this week in an AP report that tells the story of Jose and Maximo Colon. The brothers were arrested and charged with cocaine distribution stemming from an alleged encounter with undercover officers in a sketchy NY bar. The case imploded when surveillance tape from the establishment revealed that the pair had simply not committed the crime or even interacted with the agents. They were arrested moments later by a back-up team, without a clue as to the reason why. Worse still, an outdoor camera captured footage of the undercover investigators "literally dancing down the street" afterwards, apparently pleased with their accomplishment.

It's a striking and gratuitous example of police misconduct to be sure, but the larger question is how many similar cases have led to convictions and prison time for their victims:

Jose quickly got the tape to defense attorney Rochelle Berliner, a former narcotics prosecutor. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.

''I almost threw up,'' she said. ''Because I must've prosecuted 1,500, 2,000 drug cases ... and all felonies. And I think back, Oh my God, I believed everything everyone told me. Maybe a handful of times did something not sound right to me. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic but I was like, sick.''

If it were only possible somehow to reveal the full scope of wrongful, fraudulent convictions in the war on drugs, I don't doubt that the entire nation would be stunned and sickened. Yet, for anyone who's paying attention, it's not necessary to fantasize about the true extent of injustice and corruption that the drug war has unleashed on innocent people. You can read about it in the newspaper all the time.

In Ohio, we saw a DEA agent indicted for helping frame 17 innocent people. In Atlanta, we saw police plant drugs in the home of an innocent 88-year-old woman after shooting her to death. In Tulia, TX we saw a rogue narcotics officer frame and arrest most of the black people in town. In Hearne, TX we saw the same damn thing. And across the country, we've seen dozens of innocent people who might well have ended up in prison if they hadn't been killed first by the police who raided their homes.

Behind all of this lies a matrix of perverse incentives, loose evidentiary requirements, and diminished accountability mechanisms that make mind-blowing miscarriages of justice more than inevitable. A central element of modern drug enforcement involves the use of informants, who trade information on other people for leniency in their own criminal cases. They have every incentive to lie and they do so constantly, as we've seen over and over again. Prosecutors offer leniency in exchange for "substantial assistance" in helping convict others, a practice that inherently favors the guiltiest party. Inevitably, those most directly involved in a criminal conspiracy are armed with names and other critical details that prosecutors crave, while peripheral players and innocent bystanders who become entangled in drug investigations are placed at a remarkable disadvantage.

Of course, it shouldn't be necessary to persuade anyone that our drug laws are designed to make things easy for police and hard for criminal suspects. These vast drug war powers are bestowed on police and prosecutors by legislators who are eager to provide law-enforcement with every necessary tool in the fight against crime. That much power creates countless innocent casualties even at the hands of our most honest public servants, and it's a nightmare when passed along to corrupt cops like the men who framed the Colon brothers.

Yet, when these dramatic fiascoes get exposed, police can often be found downplaying it and insisting that you can't fight the drug war without these sorts of aggressive and dirty tactics. If that's even remotely true, then the war on drugs is just far too filthy and corrupt to tolerate in a free and civil society.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It never ends. Another week of greedy jail guards and thieving policemen. This whole cops robbing drug dealers thing is getting kind of old, too. But let's get to it:

In Carlisle, Indiana, a Wabash Valley Correctional Facility guard was arrested June 4 as he attempted to go to work carrying marijuana, cell phones and chargers, tobacco, and a video game player. Guard James Sheerin, 25, faces drug trafficking and possession charges. When investigators searched his car after his arrest, they also found cocaine, heroin, and more cell phones. Sheerin was last reported being held at the Sullivan County Jail.

In St. Louis, three jail guards were indicted by a federal grand jury June 4 for distributing drugs to inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center. Correctional officers James Lamont Moore, Peggy O'Neal, and Marilyn Denise Brown are accused of repeatedly delivering what they thought was heroin to prisoners this year. In a sting operation, the hapless trio received purported heroin from an individual outside the Justice Center, along with cash, and secretly delivered the fake smack to an inmate inside. Moore and Brown face one count each of attempted distribution of heroin; O'Neal faces two counts. Each count carries a maximum 20-year sentence upon conviction.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was convicted Monday of using his police badge and gun to rob drug dealers. Former officer Malik Snell was found guilty of conspiracy, attempted robbery, and a weapons charge for an attempted home invasion robbery in Pottstown. He was also convicted in another incident in which he ripped-off $40,000 from a South Philly drug kingpin during a bogus traffic stop. Snell had endured two earlier trials than ended in mistrials, but the third time was the charm. He faces up to 17 1/2 years when sentenced on September 9.

In Laredo, Texas, a former Laredo airport police officer was sentenced last Friday to 20 months in federal prison on cocaine distribution charges. Former airport cop Vidal Gerardo Sepulveda went down in an FBI sting after selling $700 worth of cocaine while in uniform.

In Benton Harbor, Michigan, a former Benton Harbor narcotics officer was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in prison and four years probation for staging phony drug raids where he stole drugs. Former officer Andrew Collins, 26, went down after an FBI investigation found crack cocaine and other drugs in his locker. He pleaded guilty to intent to distribute more than five grams of cocaine.

Bad Cops Caught on Camera

Dear Men and Women of Law Enforcement,

There are video cameras everywhere these days. In people's pockets, on trees and lampposts. On your squad car and in front of local businesses. So maybe you should think twice before beating people up for no reason and filing false charges.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Cops pocketing drug money, cops ripping off drug dealers, cops protecting drug dealers, cops stealing dope, and, of course, another dope-smuggling jail guard. Let's get to it:

In South Memphis, Tennessee, a Shelby County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday for pocketing money seized in a drug arrest. Deputy Jeff McCall, who worked for the Shelby County Narcotics Unit, went down in a sting after the sheriff's office received tips he was stealing drug money he confiscated on the streets. The sheriff's office and the FBI set up a phony traffic stop where it was McCall's job to inventory the $4,200 in cash and marijuana seized. Only $3,800 made it to the evidence room. When confronted later that same night, McCall admitted he had taken the money, left work, gone to a local mall, and used the money to buy a Playstation 3. Officers found the game in his work vehicle. He is currently facing state charges of official misconduct and theft of under $500, but federal charges could follow.

In West Manchester Township, Pennsylvania, a former West Manchester Township police detective was charged May 27 with stealing drugs from the department evidence room. Former Det. Steven Crider, 54, has admitted to state police that he stole and ingested cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from more than a hundred cases since 2001. He allegedly replaced some of the stolen drugs with chalk and tampered with records to cover it up. The 32-year veteran was fired last month.

In Texarkana, Arkansas, a former Miller County jail guard was arraigned May 28 on charges he smuggled marijuana into the jail for inmates. Adrian Trevone Tate, 24, was arrested after another guard saw pot inside a soda cup from a convenience store that Tate had brought into the jail. He has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts: furnishing a prohibited item into a correctional facility and possession with intent to deliver marijuana into a jail. Tate is free on $50,000 bond.

In Los Angeles, a former Huntington Park police officer was found guilty May 27 of ripping off cocaine and methamphetamine from drug dealers. Former Sgt. Alvaro Murillo was convicted of two counts of drug conspiracy, one count of extortion, and one count of submitting a false tax return. Murillo was a member of a multi-agency federal drug task force and used his job to recruit informants, then used them to help steal dope from dealers and traffickers. He and his informants formed what they called the "black tactic group" to identify dealers they could rob. Among the thefts were five kilograms of cocaine in 2002 and two kilos of methamphetamine in 2006. Murillo went down after attempting to steal cocaine from a dealer who turned out to be an undercover DEA agent. He faces a mandatory minimum 10-year federal prison sentence.

In Lake City, South Carolina, a former Lake City police officer was sentenced May 27 to 20 years in federal prison for conspiring with drug dealers to help them avoid getting busted. Shanita McKnight had been convicted in October of drug conspiracy and extortion, tipping off local dealers to impending police actions. McKnight must also do five years of supervised release after finishing her prison sentence.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, two former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers were sentenced May 27 to nine years in prison for conspiring to distribute cocaine. Former officers Gerald Holas and Jason Ross admitted they protected a cocaine dealer's operation, but claimed to no avail that they did so in an effort to gain information they could use to arrest his suppliers and customers. Holas tipped off the dealer about police activities, and both officers helped him get revenge on a rival whose home was firebombed. Some 50 criminal cases in which the pair were involved had to be dismissed after they were arrested.

Rogue Philly Drug Cops Add Molestation to Their List of Crimes

Via The Agitator, it looks like the out-of-control narcotics unit in Philly that I keep writing about is even worse than we thought. It was bad enough when they were caught stealing from local businesses, but now one of these guys has been accused by multiple different women of groping them during drug raids. The accounts sound disturbingly consistent and credible.

Really, is there any limit here? Any at all? It's time for the city to jettison these maniacs once and for all.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another jail guard goes down, a California cop takes the bait, an NYPD officer gets slapped, a Massachusetts cop gets busted, a Massachusetts trooper cops a plea, and a Houston drug test watcher gets greedy. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:

In Glendora, California, a former Glendora officer was arrested May 20 for allegedly stealing cash and methamphetamine last year during a sting operation. Former officer Timothy Radogna, 33, was charged with grand theft, drug possession for sales, and possession of drugs with a firearm. Glendora police conducted an "integrity investigation" against Radogna after receiving information he was failing to book drugs and cash into evidence. They left cash and meth in a bait car and asked him to book the evidence. He pocketed $1,000 and a small amount of meth. The three-year veteran was placed on leave after the sting last fall and fired in December. He faces up to nine years in prison.

In Houston, a Harris County drug test monitor was arrested May 21 for taking a $200 bribe to turn in a fraudulent drug test form. Community Supervision and Corrections Department employee Thomas Walker, 22, had worked for the county for only two months when he accepted money from an undercover district attorney's office investigator to report a clean urine sample when the investigator didn't provide one at all. He is charged with bribery and tampering with a government document. He has resigned after being told he would be fired. Walker faces up to 20 years in prison for bribery.

In Mashpee, Massachusetts, a former Mashpee police officer was arrested May 20 on drug charges after Barnstable Police executed a search warrant at his home. Former officer Joseph Kelley, who resigned from the force in February, is charged with one count of trafficking in opiate derivatives after police found 200 oxycodone tablets and various other pills and liquids. Police obtained a warrant for Kelley's home as part of an "ongoing OxyContin investigation," they said.

In New York City, an NYPD sergeant was acquitted May 21 of drug sales charges, but convicted of official misconduct. Sgt. Michael Arenella had been accused of supervising a rogue group of narcotics officers charged with stealing crack cocaine and cash from dealers and using it to pay informants. A state Supreme Court judge found him not guilty of sale and possession charges, but did convict him of official misconduct for falsifying police reports and for stealing $40 from undercover officers posing as drug dealers and giving it to an informant. With his conviction, he is automatically dismissed from the force. He faces up to one year in prison.

In Saugus, Massachusetts, a former Massachusetts state trooper pleaded guilty May 20 to cocaine conspiracy and distribution charges. Former trooper John Foley, 64, a 37-year veteran of the force, was arrested in December 2007 by FBI, DEA, and state and local officers for peddling cocaine in Saugus. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine when sentenced July 29.

In New York City, a former New York City corrections officer was sentenced May 20 to three years in prison for smuggling drugs into Rikers Island. Tamar Peebles, 27, had admitted to accepting $1,500 from an undercover investigator and picking up what she thought was heroin and marijuana for delivery to the prison. She pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance and one count of receiving a bribe. Peebles was one of six city jail guards swept up in a 16-month sting operation that found guards willing to deliver contraband to inmates in return for cash. Cases for the other five are still pending.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There's an embarrassment of riches for the corrupt cops file this week. We've got pot-dealing sheriffs, we've got corner-cutting DEA agents, we've got sticky-fingered cops, and of course, we have dope-peddling prison guards. And that Philadelphia narc squad scandal just keeps reverberating. Let's get to it:

In Shawneetown, Illinois, DEA agents Monday arrested the Gallatin County Sheriff on federal marijuana distribution charges. Sheriff Randy Martin provided marijuana to a confidential informant, typically in one-pound lots, between November 2008 and this month, according to DEA affidavit in the case. The affidavit also says the informant wore a wire and several of the transactions were videotaped. Sheriff Martin would meet the informant at rural locations, "front" the weed to the informant, and take cash payment for the previous shipment. He is charged with three federal counts of marijuana distribution and two counts of carrying a firearm -- his service revolver -- during the commission of a drug crime.

In Cleveland, Ohio, a DEA agent was indicted May 12 for his role in a 2005 drug operation that put more than two dozen residents behind bars. DEA Agent Lee Lucas, 41, faces seven counts of obstruction of justice, seven counts of perjury, three counts of violating individuals' civil rights, and one count of making false statements in an official report. In the 2005 operation, Lucas' informant, Jerrell Bray, intentionally framed 17 people by doing controlled drug buys but intentionally misidentifying the drug sellers, providing people with his drugs and then retrieving the stash so they looked like drug sellers, and staged scripted recorded conversations to make individuals appear to be drug sellers. Lucas allegedly knew his snitch was rogue, but covered it up, included false and misleading information in reports, and concealed potentially exculpatory evidence. Bray got 15 years. Let's see what his DEA handler gets.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested May 13 and charged with trying to steal $900,000 left in a Manhattan apartment by a drug dealer who had been deported. Officer Shawn Jenkins, 41, plotted with a confidential informant to go to the apartment, serve an official looking document on the new tenant, immobilize him with a stun gun, and retrieve the money from its hiding place under the floor. He is now charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and attempted robbery. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge.

In Temple Terrace, Florida, a Temple Terrace Police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he stole drugs recovered in a recent case. Officer Zachariah Brown, 33, was arrested after investigators found missing hydrocodone and Xanax pills in his police cruiser. He was booked and released on bail and has been placed on administrative leave with pay until the internal investigation is concluded. He is charged with drug possession, petty theft, and tampering with evidence.

In Philadephia, prosecutors dismissed the first of what could be dozens of drug cases last Friday as fall-out from the ongoing corruption scandal in the Philadelphia police narcotics squad continues to spread. The scandal began with Officer Jeffrey Cujdik, who is alleged to have falsified affidavits in order to get judges to sign drug search warrants. Now, because of the cloud over Cujdik, prosecutors are seeking delays in his pending cases. The case dropped Friday was not one where Cujdik is alleged to have lied on affidavits, but prosecutors dropped it because they had run out of time to stall any longer and Cujdik's credibility in any case is now in doubt. Cujdik, his brother, Richard Cujdik, and another Philly narc, Robert McConnell have all been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, which has since broadened to include allegations that Philly narcs routinely raided convenience stores, turned off surveillance equipment, and stole cash and goods from the stores before arresting their owners for selling small plastic bags. At least 52 more cases could be dismissed, according to Philadelphia public defenders.

In Summerville, South Carolina, a state prison guard was charged May 14 with selling cocaine to undercover Dorchester County deputies. Guard John Lambert, 28, is charged with distribution of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He is now on administrative leave from his post at the Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville.

In Newark, New Jersey, a former Passaic County sheriff's officer was sentenced Monday to seven years and one month in federal prison for stealing $250,000 worth of cocaine from the department evidence room and selling it to drug dealers. Former officer Alan Souto, an 18-year veteran of the force, was a member of the Sheriff's Evidence Unit, and used his access card to gradually begin stealing drugs until he had stolen 95 pounds of cocaine and 1.5 pounds of heroin. He was arrested in March 2008 after authorities noticed a GPS device missing and cooperated with investigators, leading to two other men also being charged in the case. Maybe that's why he got seven years instead of the life sentence he could have received.

In Toledo, Ohio, a former Sylvania Police officer was sentenced May 14 to three years in prison for stealing drug money from the department property room. Former officer Carl Beckman, a 36-year-veteran of the department, nickel-and-dimed more than $30,000 over a 13-year period. He had pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice.

In Hammond, Indiana, a former St. Joseph County Police officer was sentenced May 13 to more than six years in prison for burglarizing a mobile home and stealing plasma TVs and computer monitors from it -- oh, and cocaine, too, which he tried to sell. Former officer Andrew Taghon was one of three local police officers indicted by the feds in the case dating back to 2004. The other two await sentencing.

Illinois Sheriff Caught Selling Lots of Marijuana

Wow, you don't hear a story like this everyday. Oh wait, actually you do. Thanks to the drug war, dramatic incidents of gratuitous police misconduct have become painfully typical:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Sheriff Raymond M. Martin has been the law for nearly 20 years in a struggling southern Illinois county. But federal prosecutors say he's been breaking it lately by peddling pounds of pot, some seized by his own department, often in uniform and from his patrol vehicle.

Authorities on Monday led away a handcuffed Martin, 46, from his small Shawneetown office after his arrest on federal drug trafficking charges accusing him of supplying a dealer he threatened to kill when that man said he wanted out. The Gallatin County sheriff also allegedly pledged to use his authority to shut down rival drug traffickers.

For 20 years, this creep was the sheriff? Can you even imagine all the filthy things he's done in that time? One of the many reasons the drug war fundamentally will never even begin to work is that you can't even trust the "good guys." I shudder to think how often the federal drug war dollars we pour into regional law enforcement end up accomplishing nothing other than to assist corrupt cops in cornering the local market.

The whole thing is such a colossal joke, it's amazing that anyone would even bother to defend it anymore. Just look at it. How much more fraudulent and corrupt must this thing become before everyone understands what it is?

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A suburban Pittsburgh cop gets probation, two Kentucky cops cop pleas, and a Massachusetts cop gets arrested at work. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it.

In Worcester, Massachusetts, a Worcester police officer was arrested at work May 7 and charged with an unspecified drug offense. Police would not confirm the exact charges, but said he was one of 17 people arrested during a six-month investigation that involved wiretaps. Officer Carlos L. Burgos, 39, has bailed out and is on unpaid leave, but had to turn in his gun and badge.

In Bowling Green, Kentucky, two former Glasgow Police Department majors pleaded guilty April 22 to illegally distributing prescription pain pills and witness tampering. Johnny Travis, 41, and Maxie Murray, 36, admitted to conspiring to illegally possess hydrocodone, a Schedule III controlled substance. They also admitted trying to persuade a witness not to share information about their crimes to law enforcement. They each face up to 21 years in federal prison and a $251,000 fine. Sentencing is set for August 4.

In Pittsburgh, a retired Penn Hills police lieutenant was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation for stealing thousands of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine from the department's evidence lockers. William Markel, 55, was arrested in March 2008 by detectives from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and later pleaded guilty to theft and drug possession charges in exchange for no jail time. The 29-year veteran of the force claimed he stole the drugs for personal use in coping with back problems and has since enrolled in several drug treatment programs.

DEA Agent Indicted for Framing 17 Innocent People

Over and over, the very foundations of the war on drugs are revealed to be utterly fraudulent and corrupt. These laws are harmful enough when they're enforced honestly, but moments like this really illustrate what a colossal fraud this whole thing truly is:

CLEVELAND — An agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was indicted today on charges that he lied repeatedly in a botched 2005 drug case that caused 17 people to be wrongly charged.

Lee Lucas, a 19-year veteran, was charged in U.S. District Court in Cleveland with perjury, making false statements, obstruction of justice and violating a person's civil rights involving a case that resulted in 26 arrests in Mansfield. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

As one might expect, all of this revolves around a lying informant who played everyone in a desperate attempt to save his own hide. Officer Lucas is accused of failing to provide proper supervision and repeatedly lying to cover up the mess.

Of course, Lucas's fellow officers have eagerly come to his defense, because there scarcely exists any form of police misconduct so shocking to the conscience as to disqualify from being treated as a martyr by their colleagues. This comment, posted on the Plain Dealer story, perfectly reveals the mentality that police aren't responsible for mistakes in the war on drugs

Lee Lucas is being a scapegoat for a convicted drug criminal named Jarrell Bray. Jerrel Bray turned on Lee because Lee would not engage in getting Jerrel off the hook for a shooting Jerrel committed.

Jerrel is afraid to return to prison as a snitch. Can you blame him? He is a weasel who is trying to save his skin on the inside.

How do you think a snitch like Jerrel would function in the big House?

Is Jerrell Bray the person you want to trust?

No, he's not, and that's exactly the problem. This shady informant's dubious allegations should never have formed the basis for criminal charges against anyone. It was Lucas and the DEA who trusted this guy and used him to serve their agenda, not anyone else. Everything these informants say is treated as gospel when it comes to getting search warrants and scoring convictions, but the second the informant turns on the cops, all you hear is that informants can never be trusted. No kidding.

If you rely on untrustworthy people to help you make drug arrests, then your drug arrests can't be trusted. It's just that simple. And if you can't (as drug cops often claim) do basic drug enforcement without relying on these people, then it follows that solid and reliable drug enforcement is truly impossible.

It's amazing to watch a disgraced drug cop comes forward and try to defend himself with no better argument than the fact that his whole job revolves around working with notorious liars to put people in jail who may or may not have done anything wrong. It sounds like Lucas stepped way out of line here, but the real fault lies with the way our drug laws are enforced in general. Can you even imagine how often this process produces gratuitous injustices without anyone but the innocent defendant paying the price?

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