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One of the Worst Drug Warriors Makes It Back, Under Mysterious Circumstances

Jeralyn Merritt pointed out on TalkLeft tonight that Jay Apperson -- an infamous drug warrior who was fired from his job working for now-former hard-line Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) for an inappropriate intervention attempt in a federal drug case -- is back and that his name has come up in a Washington Post article as a hiree for whom DOJ officials bypassed the usual process. It's not clear whether the irregular hiring is part of the larger US Attorneys affair. Read more about this heartless, awful man and his dark works in our 2005 Chronicle report on the aforementioned Sensenbrenner incident.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

U.S., allies seen as losing drug war

Location: 
Mexico City, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-cocaine5may05,0,4123403.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Coordinated Drug War Raids as Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying

Peter Guither at the Drug WarRant blog has pointed out what he calls a "blatant and pathetic effort" by the State of Kentucky to secure drug war funding from Congress:
State police, local law enforcement, sheriff's offices, HIDTA and multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the nation collectively conducted undercover investigations, search warrants, consent searches, marijuana eradication efforts, drug interdiction and arrest warrants for a period of one week. This collective effort, Operation Byrne Drugs II, was conducted from April 23-29 to highlight the need and effectiveness of the Byrne grant funding and the impact cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement.
Actually it is the media efforts that seem to be coordinated, in addition to the drug enforcement. I noticed a suspiciously similar press release distributed by the California Dept. of Justice last July about a suspiciously similar incident:
BNE task forces, comprised of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, throughout the state served 16 search warrants, seized three firearms, confiscated 53 pounds of methamphetamine, 91 pounds of marijuana, and 37,747 marijuana plants. State drug enforcement agencies across the U.S. on July 27, 2006 participated in a "national day of drug enforcement." Organized by the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies, "Operation Byrne Drugs" promoted the continued funding of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program that supports local and statewide drug enforcement. The federally funded program has suffered deep cuts over the last few years, directly affecting BNE. In fiscal year 2001-02, BNE received more than $11.5 million for personnel and operating costs. In fiscal year 2006-07, BNE received less than $6 million, nearly a 50% decline over five years.
your tax dollars at work to get more of your tax dollars Now I run an advocacy group, and I can tell you with confidence that this is exactly what groups who want to achieve a legislative objective will do -- organize media-worthy events in order to get the attention of the policymakers you need to influence, in this case Congress. The main differences between what we do and what the narcs are doing are that: 1) They are using taxpayer funds to carry out their media/lobbying campaign to secure taxpayer funds; and 2) They are using the authority the government has given them to wield state power including guns in order to arrest and incarcerate people, as a component of their media-lobbying campaign. We will generally just hold a press conference or a rally, or issue a report. I suspect that in strict legal terms they have not violated the law. But make no mistake -- this is lobbying of Congress by state agencies to get our money, and they are destroying numerous lives in order to do it. I don't agree with drug enforcement at all (as readers know), but even for those who do, clearly enforcement decisions about when and whom to raid should be based on law enforcement/public safety needs, NOT politics. Unfortunately, it is not only drug money that corrupts our law enforcement; it is drug war money too.
Location: 
KY
United States

FedCURE News: Prospective and Retroactive Application of the New USSC Crack Cocaine Guideline Amendment

On 27 April 2007, the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted to approve an amendment of the crack cocaine guidelines to lower applicable sentence ranges. In its press release (http://www.ussc.gov/PRESS/rel0407.htm), the USSC announced that a forthcoming report "will set forth current data and information that continue to support the Commission's consistently held position that the 100-to-1 crack-powder drug quantity ratio significantly undermines various congressional objectives set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act and elsewhere." The report has not been published as of this date. FedCURE will post the report as soon as it becomes available. You can check the USSC site at: http://www.ussc.gov. Because of Booker and various retroactivity rules, it is uncertain as to how the crack amendment will impact present and past cases. Prospectively, the new guidelines could effect 4,000 to 5,000 federal sentencing cases every year. The USSC has authority to make amendments retroactive, albeit, rarely does. The USSC 27 April 2007 press release does not address the issue of retroactivity, and those currently incarcerated for crack offense--some 50,000 to 60,000 federal offenders--are anxious to know. Hopefully the much anticipated USSC report will answer this question and more. It is noted here that the USSC guideline amendment is only a proposal to Congress. The House and the Senate would have to enact specific bills to defeat the amendment. Congress will have six months to consider the amendment. However, the law states that if Congress takes no action before 01 November 2007, the amendment automatically takes effect on 01 November 2007. FedCURE P.O. Box 15667 Plantation, Florida 33318-5667 USA Web Site: http://www.FedCURE.org E-mail: FedCURE@FedCURE.org
Location: 
United States

Colombia aid gets new scrutiny

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
St. Petersburg Times (FL)
URL: 
http://www.sptimes.com/2007/05/04/Worldandnation/Colombia_aid_gets_new.shtml

Alert: Do You Live in AK, CO, CT, GA, IL, IA, KS, MD, MA, NH, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, RI, TN, UT, VT, WA or WY? If So, We Need Your Help

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Last month, DRCNet issued action alerts to our subscribers from 21 different states that are represented on the US Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, asking for phone calls to be made and e-mails sent in support of including full repeal of the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision in the pending Senate HEA reauthorization bill. Special thanks to the hundreds of you who responded to this call to action -- we have reason to believe it has made a difference!

If you are from one of the applicable states, and have not yet e-mailed your senator who is a member of HELP, please visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com/senate to speak up (or http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to learn more about the issue). Those states are: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

Also, please call your senator's office to register your opinion that way too -- a phone call usually makes more of an impact than an e-mail -- and drop us an e-mail at borden@drcnet.org to let us know. Visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com/senate for talking points and further information to help with your call. The senator's phone numbers are as follows:

Alaska: Senator Lisa Murkowki, (202) 224-4654
Colorado: Senator Wayne Allard, (202) 224-5941
Connecticut: Senator Christopher Dodd, (202) 224-2823
Georgia: Senator Johnny Isakson, (202) 224-3643
Illinois: Senator Barack Obama, (202) 224-2854
Iowa: Senator Tom Harkin, (202) 224-3254
Kansas: Senator Pat Roberts, (202) 224-4774
Maryland: Senator Barbara Mikulski, (202) 224-4654
Massachusetts: Senator Ted Kennedy, (202) 224-4543
New Hampshire: Senator Judd Gregg, (202) 224-3324
New Mexico: Senator Jeff Bingaman, (202) 224-5521
New York: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, (202) 224-4451
North Carolina: Senator Richard Burr, (202) 224-3154
Ohio: Senator Sherrod Brown, (202) 224-2315
Oklahoma: Senator Tom Coburn, (202) 224-5754
Rhode Island: Senator Jack Reed, (202) 224-4642
Tennessee: Senator Lamar Alexander, (202) 224-4944
Utah: Senator Orrin Hatch, (202) 224-5251
Vermont: Senator Bernard Sanders, (202) 224-5141
Washington: Senator Patty Murray, (202) 224-2621
Wyoming: Senator Michael Enzi, (202) 224-3424

Thank you for taking action. DRCNet has been fighting against this law since it was passed in 1998, and with your help we could actually win it now!

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Ten members of Congress spoke at the press conference we organized for the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform in 2002.

Book Offer: Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics

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Normally when we publish a book review in our Drug War Chronicle newsletter, it gets readers but is not among the top stories visited on the site. Recently we saw a big exception to that rule when nearly 3,000 of you read our review of the new book Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Much of this reading took place during a week that had other very popular articles as well, so clearly the topic of this book, which was authored by respected academics Matthew Robinson and Renee Scherlen, has struck a chord. As well it should.

Please help DRCNet continue our own work of debunking drug war lies with a generous donation. If your donation is $32 or more, we'll send you a complimentary copy of Robinson and Scherlen's book to help you be able to debunk drug war lies too.

Over the coming weeks I will be blogging on our web site about things I've learned reading Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics. Stay tuned!

Your donation will help DRCNet as we advance what we think is an incredible two-year plan to substantially advance drug policy reform and the cause of ending prohibition globally and in the US. Please make a generous donation today to help the cause! I know you will feel the money was well spent after you see what DRCNet has in store. Our online donation form lets you donate by credit card, by PayPal, or to print out a form to send with your check or money order by mail. Please note that contributions to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, our lobbying entity, are not tax-deductible. Tax-deductible donations can be made to DRCNet Foundation, our educational wing. (Choosing a gift like Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics will reduce the portion of your donation that you can deduct by the retail cost of the item.) Both groups receive member mail at: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036.

Thank you for your support, and hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,


David Borden
Executive Director

P.S. You can read Chronicle editor Phil Smith's review of the book here.

Narcing for Fun and Profit

According to the DEA, people absolutely love working for the DEA (links added for irony):

DEA significantly exceeded ratings of other Government agencies in many measures of “Performance Culture,” including:
• employees feel personally empowered;
creativity and innovation are rewarded along with providing high-quality products and services;
promotions are based on merit;
• performance appraisals are a fair reflection of performance;
• poor performers are dealt with; and
• complaints and grievances are fairly resolved.

Heck I might enjoy working there too if I weren't so knowledgeable about drug policy. But it comes as no surprise that these folks enjoy waging war on their fellow citizens with no performance measures or accountability. In 34 years DEA has exhausted untold sums at our expense while failing to make a dent in America's drug problem.

…But at least they're having a really great time.

Location: 
United States

Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Last Thursday, two Atlanta narcotics officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of an elderly woman during a botched drug raid, but that is just the beginning in what looks to be an ever-expanding investigation into misconduct in the Atlanta narcotics squad. A federal investigation is already underway, and yesterday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch a thorough investigation of issues raised by the case, including police misconduct, the use of confidential informants, arrest quotas, and the credibility of police officials.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kathrynjohnston.jpg
Kathryn Johnston
Things began to unravel for the Atlanta Police Department's 16-man street narcotics team on November 21, when three Atlanta narcs broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston using a "no-knock" warrant that claimed drug sales had taken place there. The elderly Johnston responded to the intruders dressed in plain clothes by firing one shot from an old pistol, which missed the officers. The narcs responded with a barrage of bullets, firing 39 shots, five or six of which hit Johnston, who died shortly afterward.

Since then, investigators have found that in the Johnston case:

  • The narcotics officers planted drugs to arrest a suspected drug dealer, who in turn pointed them toward Johnston's residence.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying that a confidential informant had bought drugs at that address when that did not happen.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying the house was occupied by a large man who employed surveillance cameras.
  • The narcotics officers planted marijuana in Johnston's basement after they shot her in order to bolster their case and impugn her reputation.
  • The narcotics officers asked another confidential informant to lie for them after the fact and say he had bought drugs at Johnston's residence.

But that confidential informant, Alexis White, instead went to the feds with his story (and this week, he went to Washington, DC, to talk to congressional leaders about snitching), and the fabric of lies woven by the Atlanta narcs rapidly unraveled. Last Wednesday, three of them, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were indicted on numerous state charges, including murder, as well as federal civil rights charges. The following day, Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to a state charge of manslaughter, with sentencing to be postponed until after the federal investigation is complete. They face up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and up to life in prison on the federal civil rights charge.

But the problems in the Atlanta narcotics squad run deeper than one incident of misconduct. According to federal investigators, what the Atlanta narcs did during the botched Johnston raid was business as usual.

"Junnier and other officers falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD's performance targets," according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. "They believed that these ends justified their illegal 'Fluffing' or falsifying of search warrants. Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers."

Cutting corners, though, can have serious consequences. As prosecutors noted, once the narcs had received a tip there were drugs at Johnston's residence, Officer Junnier said they could get a confidential informant to make a buy there to ensure there actually were drugs at that location. "Or not," Smith allegedly responded.

At a news conference last Thursday, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Greg Jones called the officers' conduct "deplorable." In an ominous addendum, Jones added that the agency will pursue "additional allegations of corruption that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct."

US Attorney David Nahmias said Johnston's death was "almost inevitable" because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information. "It's a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends," Nahmias said. "We'll dig until we can find whatever we can."

And now, House Judiciary Committee head Rep. Conyers wants to ensure that the feds dig deep. In a letter released yesterday, Conyers told Attorney General Gonzales:

"There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005."

Former New Jersey narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Jack Cole shares Conyers' concerns. "I think this kind of thing is going on across the country," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If anyone really dug into this, you would find similar things in a lot of departments. It's about using a war on drugs metaphor. When you have a war, you need an enemy, someone despicable, so you can do whatever you want to them," he said. "We train our police to feel like they have to win at any cost because it's a war."

Maybe, just maybe, the federal investigation into the Atlanta narcs will morph into the kind of hearings on drug war policing that are long, long overdue. If not, at least Kathryn Johnston has won a measure of justice.

Feature: US Sentencing Commission Announces Reduction in Crack Cocaine Sentences

In an annual report sent to Congress Monday, the US Sentencing Commission announced it had amended federal sentencing guidelines to lower the sentences imposed on people convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses. Unless Congress takes affirmative action to block the move, it will go into effect on November 1. The report also urged Congress to address the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

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The tragic death of basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s prompted passage of the harsh crack sentencing law. But Bias actually overdosed on powder cocaine. (photo from ONDCP's ''Pushing Back'' web site)
Under the controversial crack laws, people convicted of distribution offenses involving five grams of the drug face five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalty. Similarly, someone convicted of distributing more than 50 grams of crack faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it would take five kilograms of powder cocaine to get the 10 years.

But while the congressionally mandated sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is extreme, federal sentencing guidelines make it even worse for the low-level offenders caught under the federal crack laws. The guidelines currently call for a sentencing range of 63 to 78 months for five grams and 121 to 151 months for 50 grams. In both cases, the bottom of the guideline range falls above the mandatory minimum sentence set by Congress.

In an April 27 meeting, the Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the guideline ranges to 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively. Under this scheme, what is currently the low end of the guideline range will become the top end. According to the commission, 78% of federal crack defendants will benefit from the change, with sentence reductions averaging 16 months. With some 5,000 people being convicted under the federal crack laws each year, the move will have an impact.

That is, unless Congress moves to block it. On four previous occasions, the Sentencing Commission has recommended changes to lessen the gap between powder and crack cocaine offenses, but Congress blocked each of those initiatives. It also punished the commission for its temerity in suggesting that the crack-powder disparity be eliminated in 1995 by allowing the commission to dwindle to one member.

"The Commission has long recognized that the current guidelines scheme is unjust, and an amendment is long overdue," said Carmen Hernandez, president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) in a speech responding to the sentencing changes. "Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that 83% of inmates serving time in the federal system for crack cocaine are minorities, and their sentences are more than 50% longer than inmates serving time for cocaine powder, even though crack defendants tend to be low-level street dealers. In fact, the average sentence for possession of crack cocaine is far longer than the average sentences for violent crimes such as robbery and sexual abuse," she noted.

"NACDL urges Congress to respect the Commission's decision, which was made after consideration of the testimony and evidence that it has reviewed at Congress' direction for more than a decade and allow these amendments to go into effect," the group said in a press release. "We also recommend to Congress that it carefully consider the reports and evidence the Commission has compiled."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group whose name is self-explanatory, greeted the amendment by noting that is "has been a long time coming." FAMM noted that the commission considered the sentencing change as "a modest step toward alleviating some of the disparity in sentencing of crack defendants but it is not a solution to the problem because Congress needs to address the mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, over which the Commission has no control." The group will urge Congress to take action to further reform crack mandatory minimums, it said.

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federal prison dorm
"This is a pretend reform; it isn't enough," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group concentrating on freeing drug war prisoners. "This is dramatically less than what the commission asked for in 1994, and it is just heartbreaking that we haven't come any further than this. They think they can throw us a bone and we'll calm down for another 10 years, but we're not going to calm down," she told Drug War Chronicle.

The Sentencing Commission has been cowed by Congress and should be revamped, Callahan said. "We need a brand new, independent commission that can't be intimidated," she argued. "When this commission recommended dramatic reform a few years ago, Congress not only didn't do it, but it spanked them hard and ended up politicizing the commission, and the commission learned its lesson: Just ask for a little bit and tell Congress 'you fix it,'" she said.

A new commission should be modeled on police oversight boards and state sentencing commissions, Callahan suggested. It should include former prisoners and family members, too. "These people need to be on the commission, as do the people who are dealing with all the offenders coming back into the community," she said.

While Congress has for the past two decades given little heed to concerns about the crack-powder sentencing disparity and its disproportionate impact on minority communities, there could be some movement this year, said Bill Piper, head of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Rep. Rangel introduced a bill months ago that would eliminate the disparity," he told the Chronicle. "And Sen. Sessions has told the press he will introduce some sort of reform bill at some point. I suspect that now that the full report has come out, there will probably be some hearings. Rep. Conyers has suggested that might happen, but no hearing dates have been set yet," he explained.

"My sense is that the stars are starting to align themselves in a very good way," Piper prophesied. "There is interest in this in both the House and Senate judiciary committees, including among some Republicans. Now, the Sentencing Commission report is in. It is just a matter of when the process will start and finish," he said. "Still, I don't think anyone believes we will see it actually pass this year, and if it did, Bush would veto it."

While it appears unlikely Congress will act to redress the inequities of the federal crack laws this year, it seems equally unlikely to move affirmatively to block the Sentencing Commission's minor sentencing reform. Now, after two decades that have seen thousands of young black and brown people sent up the river for years for picayune crack offenses, it looks like the tide is beginning to turn.

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