A former Texas DA partied a little to hearty, cops in New York and California get nailed for dirty dealing, and more. Let's get to it:
In Litchfield, Minnesota, a former Meeker County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty October 14 to stealing drugs from a secured prescription drug drop-off box and toys that had been collected to give to children. Travis Hal Sebring, 34, entered guilty pleas to a felony charge of fifth-degree possession of drugs, a felony charge of theft, and a gross misdemeanor charge of theft. He had been arrested in January after he was caught pilfering the goodies on a surveillance camera. A search of his residence turned up more than a hundred prescription medications, toys, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia.
In New York City, a former NYPD officer was convicted Monday of delivering about 88 pounds of cocaine to drug dealers in the Bronx between 2010 and 2014. Merlin Alston, 33, was convicted of drug conspiracy and weapons charges and is looking at a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence. He will be sentenced February 2.
In Fresno, California, a former Bakersfield police detective was sentenced last Monday to five years in federal prison for conspiring with another cop to steal drugs and marijuana during "drug busts" and sell them to third parties for a profit. Patrick Mara, 36, admitted stealing at least 20 pound of methamphetamine that should have been booked into evidence. Mara's partner in crime, Damacio Diaz, got five years earlier last month.
In Longview, Texas, a former Gregg County DA was sentenced last Friday to 10 years' probation after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. Former DA Rob Foster, 71, was arrested in February 2015 when police found him spinning the wheels of his truck on an icy median and he exited the vehicle holding a glass of scotch. A search of the vehicle then came up with several grams of cocaine and a gun. He was granted deferred adjudication, meaning that if he successfully completes his probation, his record will be cleared. Foster said he was suffering from addiction issues.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Reeling from allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct, Republican presidential contender Donald Trump tried to go on the offensive on drug policy over the weekend, but in a manner typical of his campaign, he touched only briefly on the topic before flying off on new tangents, and he began his drug policy interlude with a bizarre attack on Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump talks drugs. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
At a speech at a Toyota dealership in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Saturday, the GOP candidate claimed that Clinton was on performance-enhancing drugs before their last debate and suggested drug tests were in order.
"Why don't we do that?" he demanded, adding that Clinton was likely "getting pumped up" as the prepared for that debate.
"We should take a drug test prior cause I don't know what's going on with her. But at the beginning of last debate, she was all pumped up at the beginning and at the end it was like, oh take me down. She could barely reach her car," he claimed.
The claim didn't come out of nowhere. Trump was echoing an ad from two weeks ago from the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Number 1 that showed Clinton coughing and then stumbling to her van on the morning of September 11. The super PAC is bankrolled by Trump backer and big time conservative donor Robert Mercer, who dropped $2 million on the PAC in July.
The unfounded allegation of Clinton pre-debate drug use and the demand for a drug test grabbed media attention, but if Trump was attempting to turn a corner and shift the campaign's focus away from his peccadillos, his strange accusation against Clinton only served to raise more questions about his temperament and suitability for the nation's highest office.
Trump wanted Hillary Clinton to submit to a pre-debate drug test. (Wikimedia)
And it virtually smothered any discussion of actual drug policy proposals Trump made during the speech. While Trump has obliquely addressed the heroin and prescription opioid problem in the past, Saturday's speech was the first time he tried to put any flesh on his proposals for dealing with it.
If anyone were paying attention to the policy details amidst all the racket about the drug test challenge, they would have heard drug policy proposals rooted squarely in the failed drug war strategies of the last century.
Trump would, he said, block drugs from coming into the US by -- you guessed it -- building the wall on the Mexican border. He would also seek to tighten restrictions on the prescribing of opioids. And he would reinstitute mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.
"We have 5 percent of the world's population but use 80 percent of the prescription opioids," Trump said, eerily echoing former rival Jeb Bush, who used the same language while campaigning in the state earlier this year.
That statistic is aimed at showing that the US is over-prescribing narcotic pain killers, but according to the World Health Organization, the actuality is that in much of the rest of the world, they are underprescribing them. In fact, the WHO said that in more than 150 countries with 83 percent of the global population, there is virtually no access to prescription opioids for relief of pain.
And the under-treatment of chronic pain isn't just a problem in India or China or Africa. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 50 million Americans suffer significant chronic or severe pain. An opioid policy that focuses only on reducing prescriptions without addressing the need for access to pain killing opioids for actual pain is only half a policy.
When it comes to the border, Trump correctly asserts that Mexico is the source of most of the heroin in the US (it produces 45% itself and another 51% comes from Latin America, mostly Colombia and Guatemala, often through Mexico), but relies on a hyper-interdiction policy ("build the wall") to thwart it. Interdiction -- blocking the flow of drugs into the country -- has been a pillar of US drug policy for decades, but despite massive border build ups and the doubling of the number of Customs and Border Patrol agents in the past 15 years, the drugs still flow.
Long after their popularity wanes, Trump calls for new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. (nadcp.org)
Interdiction hasn't done the trick so far, and there is no indication that even a Trumpian wall would make a difference. The creativity of drug smugglers is legendary, and the economic incentives under drug prohibition are great. As the saying goes, "Build a 50-foot wall, and they'll bring a 51-foot ladder" (or a tunnel).
The third component of his drug policy is a Reaganesque "lock 'em up." In his New Hampshire speech, he saluted running mate Mike Pence for increasing mandatory minimums for drug offenders as governor of Indiana.
"We must make similar efforts a priority for the nation," Trump said.
That position flies in the face of a growing bipartisan consensus that the use of mandatory minimums for drug offenses is draconian, ineffective, and harms mainly minority populations. During the Obama administration, mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced with congressional assent, and Obama himself has granted commutations to hundreds of drug war prisoners serving those draconian sentences, with little dissent.
Trump's drug policy is but a sketch, but even its vague outlines reflect outdated approaches to the issue and a quickness to resort to cheap demagoguery on the issue. Still, while there is plenty of room for discussion of his approach, Trump has apparently already left the issue behind, barely mentioning it since Saturday as he tilts at other windmills.
(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
Los Angeles attempts to prepare for a new era, HIDTA gets an expansion, Indiana voters signal they are ready for medical marijuana, and more.
Indiana Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new WTHR/HPI Indiana poll finds nearly three-quarters of likely Hoosier voters are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had 73% in support, with only 25% opposed. Even among Republicans, support was at 59%. Medical marijuana bills have been introduced, but have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
Drug Czar Designates More Counties as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli announced Thursday that an additional 18 counties have been granted the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation. That designation will allow them access to federal anti-drug resources granted to HIDTAs. Six counties were added to the Appalachian HIDTA, two to the New York/New Jersey HIDTA, four to the Ohio HIDTA, two to the Baltimore/Washington HIDTA, and six to the Wisconsin HIDTA. Created by Congress in 1988, there are now 28 HIDTAs located in 49 states, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
Turkey Okays Cannabis Production in 19 Provinces. The Turkish Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry announced late last month that it will allow marijuana production in 19 provinces across the country "in a bid to combat illegal production." News reports are unclear about whether this refers to recreational or medical marijuana or industrial hemp.
Prison guards go bad on a massive scale in Maryland, a Pennsylvania narc's police station overdose creates problems for his boss, an Iowa trooper cops to stealing pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the police chief was suspended last Friday after one of his officers broke through a wall into the evidence room, stole drugs, consumed them, and was found suffering an overdose on the police station floor. Police Chief Craig Foust knew about security problems with the evidence room and failed to act on them, leading to his suspension, the county prosecutor said. The officer who overdosed, William Slisz, is a multi-year veteran and member of the Cambria County Drug Task Force.
In New Britain, Connecticut, two New Britain police officers were suspended last Friday for interfering in a federal drug investigation. Officer Brian Shea and Brian Solek were suspended for 25 days after they engaged a drug suspect in a high-speed pursuit just after he had been involved in an under-surveillance fentanyl deal. The pair were aware of the federal probe and "directly jeopardized the integrity of the investigation," Police Chief James Wardwell said.
In Baltimore, 18 state prison guards were arrested last Wednesday in a massive bust that led to 80 arrests, including guards, prisoners, and "outside facilitators. Most are charged with orchestrating a vast smuggling operation into the Eastern Correctional Institution, the state's largest prison. Guards smuggled heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and suboxone in exchange for cash, money orders, and in some instances, sexual favors from inmates.
In Mason City, Iowa, a former Iowa State Patrol trooper pleaded guilty last Wednesday to stealing drugs from the evidence room. Michael Haugen, 32, admitted taking over $500 in pain pills by removing them from evidence bags and then altering the labels to cover up the thefts. He has agreed to plead guilty to tampering with official records and 3rd degree theft. Prosecutors are recommending a suspended sentence.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.
More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.
Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.
The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.
"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, AryehNeier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."
Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.
The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.
Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.
"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."
The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.
Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.
And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.
report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.
"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.
"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."
Louisiana cops go down in a contraband cigarette conspiracy, a Massachusetts narc gets suspended for threatening to plant dope on a teenager, a Tennessee chief deputy gets popped for stealing from the drug fund, and more. Let's get to it:
In New Orleans, two New Orleans police officers and an Orleans County sheriff's deputy were arrested last Wednesday for their roles in an interstate cigarette smuggling conspiracy. Officers Justin Brown and Joshua Carthon and Deputy Garrett Partman are accused of accepting bribes and agreeing to protect shipments of contraband smokes across state lines. The conspiracy involved at least 15,000 cartons of cigarettes from North Carolina, where taxes are low. The trio, along with three civilians arrested in the scheme, face a host of charges, including conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes, evading federal excise tax, and interstate transportation in aid of a racketeering enterprise.
In Monroe, Washington, a state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly accepting bribes to smuggle meth into the prison. Guard Michael Bowden, 31, went down after an FBI investigation using confidential sources turned up information he was accepting bribes and then created a sting where Bowden thought he was carrying meth into the prison. He is charged with three counts of extortion under color of official right and one count of attempted distribution of methamphetamine.
In Jackson, Tennessee, a former Wayne County chief deputy was arrested last Friday on charges he stole more than $7,700 from the department, including money from the agency's drug buy fund. Gerald Baer, 62, now faces two counts of theft over $1,000, 111 counts of forgery, and one count of official misconduct. He's now out on $75,000 bond.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, a Springfield narcotics detective was suspended Monday for threatening to kill and plant drugs on two teenagers who stole an unmarked police car. Detective Greg Bigda is suspended for 60 days after video of his encounter with the youths showed he threatened to crush the skull of one of the teens and plant a kilo of cocaine in his pocket. Local defense attorneys are now using the video to impeach Bigda's testimony in pending drug cases, and two cases have already been dropped. Bigda has not been charged with any crime, but the Hampden District Attorney continues to investigate the incident.
California's governor signs asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana "micro farmer" bills, a Massachusetts town pays out big time for killing an elderly black man in a drug raid, Indianapolis narcs have arrested 1,000 people in two and a half months and think that's success, and more.
Eurie Stamps. Killed in a 2011 drug raid, now his family wins a $3.75 million settlement. (Stamps family)
Another California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning. A new KPIX 5/Survey USA poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote, with 41% opposed. It's the latest in a long line of polls that show the initiative winning, but has it winning by a smaller margin than most other polls.
California Governor Signs Marijuana "Micro Farmer" Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.
DEA Ban Delayed, But Only for Days. The DEA says that despite loud protests, its proposed emergency ban on kratom is still coming; it's just been delayed for a few days as the agency deals with paperwork. It was supposed to become Schedule I Friday, but the reprieve could last a week or more. A DEA spokesman said it's "highly accurate" to say the ban won't take effect next week, either.
California Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 443, which requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize property valued at under $40,000. Bill sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a similar bill last year, but it failed after law enforcement grumbled that it would make it more difficult to go after big drug dealers. Police dropped their opposition after Mitchell agreed to the $40,000 threshold.
Federal Bill to Require Police Reporting of Deaths and Injuries Filed. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) has filed HR 6217, which would "require States and units of local government to have in place laws requiring law enforcement officers to submit... reports when an individual is injured or killed by such a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer's employment as a condition on receiving certain grant funding, and for other purposes. Currently, there is no federal database on law enforcement killing or injuring suspects.
Indianapolis Narcs on Mad Arrest Binge. A newly formed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department drug unit has arrested more than 1,000 people in the past two and half months. Local media is calling it a "success" and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs vowed that more of the same was coming. "We're not backing off," he said. "This is the new normal."
A Texas border town cop gets nailed for helping a cartel, an Indiana cop prepares to head to federal prison for peddling dope in uniform, and more. Let's get to it:
In Lawton, Oklahoma, a Lawton Correctional Facility guard was arrested last Wednesday for smuggling methamphetamine into the prison. Darnell Buckley apparently ratted himself out, showing Lawton police where he had hidden 204 grams of speed. He also admitted that he was being paid money to smuggle the drugs in. He is charged with trafficking illegal drugs.
In Rio Grande City, Texas, a Rio Grande City police detective was arrested last Thursday for allegedly helping a drug cartel smuggle hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the US over a period of years by staging fake drug busts. Detective Ramon De La Cruz allegedly conspired with the Beltran Cartel to stage drug seizures and provide confidential police information to the gang. De La Cruz would allegedly set up busts where only some of the stash was seized, letting the rest get away.
In Brewton, Alabama, a Holman Correctional Facility guard was arrested Sunday for trying to smuggle illegal contraband into the prison. DeJuan Rudolph, 25, got caught with drugs, cell phones, and other contraband as he came to work. He is charged with trafficking cocaine, possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, attempting to commit a controlled substance crime, and use of a position for personal gain.
In Indianapolis, a former Anderson police officer was sentenced Monday to eight months in federal prison for selling drugs while on duty and in uniform. Donald Jordan had been charged with one count each of possession with intent to distribute Xanax and hydrocodone and pleaded guilty. He went down last December following a year-long investigation after he sold drugs to a snitch and an undercover FBI agent.
The chain of events that led to the death of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of Charlotte Metropolitan Police Department (CMPD) officers and days of civic unrest in North Carolina's largest city began with a joint, Charlotte police said Saturday.
In an official statement posted on the CMPD's Facebook page and during a press conference last Saturday afternoon announcing that the department was releasing some police body- and dash-cam videos of the fatal encounter, Charlotte police laid out a timeline of what occurred:
Two plain clothes officers were sitting inside of their unmarked police vehicle preparing to serve an arrest warrant in the parking lot of The Village at College Downs, when a white SUV pulled in and parked beside of them.
The officers observed the driver, later identified as Mr. Keith Lamont Scott, rolling what they believed to be a marijuana "blunt." Officers did not consider Mr. Scott's drug activity to be a priority at the time and they resumed the warrant operation. A short time later, Officer Vinson observed Mr. Scott hold a gun up.
Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott being in possession of the gun.
Due to the combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession, officers decided to take enforcement action for public safety concerns…
And Keith Scott ended up dead. According to his family, he was in his vehicle waiting for his son to get off the school bus. But because he was rolling a joint while waiting, and because police just happened to be engaged in an operation nearby, he caught the attention of the cops.
Even when police said they saw him hold up a gun, they used the joint-rolling as probable cause to investigate the presence of the gun. If not for marijuana prohibition, the whole unraveling of events, with dire consequences for Keith Scott, and lamentable ones for the city of Charlotte, most likely would never have occurred.
Polls show thing looking good for marijuana legalization efforts in California and Maine, tight for medical marijuana in Arkansas, possession arrests hit a 20-year-low, and more.
California Poll Has Prop 64 Support at 60%. The latest Field Poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning handily with 60% of the vote. That's roughly in line with other recent polls, all of which have had it above 50%. The Field poll surveyed likely voters. Among demographi groups, only Republicans and conservatives opposed the initiative.
Massachusetts Congressman Endorses Legalization Initiative. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Salem) has bucked the trend among Bay State politicos and come out in support of the Question 4 legalization initiative. "Let's not kid ourselves -- people are using marijuana," he said. "The problem is now that it operates in the shadows. There's no control. We really have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible."
Wyoming Legislators Ponder Lowering Marijuana Penalty. In off-season discussions, the Joint Judiciary Committee is proposing to make first-offense marijuana possession a misdemeanor, but would make subsequent offenses felonies. The proposal isn't set in stone; a subcommittee is now charged with writing a more detailed one.
Arkansas Poll Shows Tough Battle for Medical Marijuana Initiatives. A new poll from KATV shows the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6) with 49% in support, 43% against, and 8% undecided and the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (Issue 7)with 36% in support, 53% opposed, and 11% undecided. "Arkansas voters do appear to distinguish between the two medical marijuana proposals, according to our survey," said pollster Roby Brock. "With legal challenges remaining, high-profile opposition, and the possibility of national groups spending money in support of the issue, these proposals may be the most contested on the November ballot."
Marijuana Arrests at 20-Year Low, But Other Drug Arrests Take Up the Slack. While still occurring at a rate of nearly one a minute, simple pot possession arrests have fallen to the lowest number since 1996, just under 575,000. That's a 25% decline from just nine years ago, when they totaled just under 800,000. Marijuana arrests now account for just 43% of all drug arrests, down from 52% in 2010. There were some 928,000 drug arrests overall last year, which is a nearly 14% decline from a decade ago. These numbers are from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report released Monday.