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MN: Second Chance Day on the Hill

Please join us for this very special event. This day is a day for all of us. It is the chance to turn back the tide and NOT end up like Illinois, with 47 prisons and 30,000 inmates in re-entry each year. Or, Wisconsin, with 32 prisons. In Minnesota, our prison population has increased by over 45% in the past five years. 6,000 people per year leave corrections and return to their communities. They cannot find jobs at a living wage. They have great difficulties finding affordable and adequate housing. They are ineligibile for Financial Aid to go to school and for many other basic services. Representative Michael Paymar, Senator Julianne Ortman, Anoka County Attorney Bob Johnson (Former Chair, ABA Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions), Dan Cain (RS Eden, former MN Sentencing Guidelines Commissioner), Les Green (SCSU, former Parole Board Commissioner), and our good friend, Sue Watlov-Phillips (Co-founder of the National Coalition for the Homeless, ED of Project Elim) will be amongst those speaking--full slate attached. We have one of the best corrections systems in the United States, yet I submit that if we continue to increase the number of incarcerated at the current levels, the system will break...as it has in 5 other States where, according to a recent study by the Justice Policy Centers, the budget for Corrections exceeded the budget for Education. Whether you are driven to the table via work on; Racial justice: (3.5% of our citizens are Black, yet they form 35% of our prison population; Natives 1%, with over 7% of the incarcerated); Homelessness: Wilder's last survey noted a 30%+ increase in the number of those without housing (of our 20,000+ homeless) who cited criminal records as a barrier to sustainabilty. Mental Health: We have become the "New Bedlam" after the infamous hospital in 19th century England where the mentally ill were indiscriminately housed with predatory offenders. In a city (Minneapolis) where a schizophrenic panhandler who was homeless was arrested 47 times...how was his behavior corrected? Answer: It wasn't. Veterans: In 1998 there were over 221,000 veterans in prison and Jail in the USA, and now we have over 200,000 on the streets, homeless. As our young women and men fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan they fight for Democracy and Freedom in the name of a nation that imprisons more of its own citizens than any nation on the face of the earth. No matter who you are, surely you see the problem in that set of statistics. The Chemically Dependant: Since 1980, the number of those in prison for non-violent offenses in the US has increased 600%. Our corrections budgets exceed the costs of the current conflicts in the Middle East. In the words of Justice Kennedy (paraphrased) in his 2002 to the ABA Hall of delegates, "I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that an 18 year old sentenced to 10 years in prison cannot conceive of what 10 years means." How does a jail cell "fix" an addiction? Members of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession: Surely, you must see this series of problems more clearly than all of us...the endless chain of men and women in their 20s who mull through the dockets day after day, year after year...in time, perhaps, they (we) become just numbers. Surely, what you see each day must strike you as an impossible equation to carry out for another 25 years. My grandfather was a physician at the Mayo Clinic. My Dad a College professor for 37 years. I, like so many of us in the 70s, strayed. I've been a soldier, a homeless veteran, a teacher and a social worker. I've come to see and understand the need for Second Chances. Once, we believed in and took pride in being the State that treated those who were ill...now we lock them up. Surely, this situation is not tenable for much longer and I think we all sense that. Join us for this event. It is one last chance for us to pause and ask, "Is this really what we want for our children, for the next generation?" Surely, we were meant to be so much more. For more information, please contact: Guy Gambill Community Organizer Second Chance Day on the Hill (612)-208-1815 (612)-644-4817
Date: 
Wed, 02/13/2008 - 11:00am - 12:00pm
Location: 
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
United States

Minnesota: Second Chance Day on the Hill

[Courtesy of Second Chance Day on the Hill] Greetings, On February 13, 2008 in the Rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol between the hours of 11:00 and 12:00, large numbers of people will converge for the first ever "Second Chance Day on the Hill." In Minnesota, our prison population has increased by over 45% in the past five years. 6,000 people per year leave corrections and return to their communities. They cannot find jobs at a living wage. They have great difficulties finding affordable and adequate housing. They are ineligibile for Financial Aid to go to school and for many other basic services. Representative Michael Paymar, Senator Julianne Ortman, Anoka County Attorney Bob Johnson (Former Chair, ABA Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions), Dan Cain (RS Eden, former MN Sentencing Guidelines Commissioner), Les Green (SCSU, former Parole Board Commissioner), and our good friend, Sue Watlov-Phillips (Co-founder of the National Coalition for the Homeless, ED of Project Elim) will be amongst those speaking--full slate attached. We have one of the best corrections systems in the United States, yet I submit that if we continue to increase the number of incarcerated at the current levels, the system will break...as it has in 5 other States where, according to a recent study by the Justice Policy Centers, the budget for Corrections exceeded the budget for Education. Whether you are driven to the table via work on; Racial justice: (3.5% of our citizens are Black, yet they form 35% of our prison population; Natives 1%, with over 7% of the incarcerated); Homelessness: Wilder's last survey noted a 30%+ increase in the number of those without housing (of our 20,000+ homeless) who cited criminal records as a barrier to sustainabilty. Mental Health: We have become the "New Bedlam" after the infamous hospital in 19th century England where the mentally ill were indiscriminately housed with predatory offenders. In a city (Minneapolis) where a schizophrenic panhandler who was homeless was arrested 47 times...how was his behavior corrected? Answer: It wasn't. Veterans: In 1998 there were over 221,000 veterans in prison and Jail in the USA, and now we have over 200,000 on the streets, homeless. As our young women and men fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan they fight for Democracy and Freedom in the name of a nation that imprisons more of its own citizens than any nation on the face of the earth. No matter who you are, surely you see the problem in that set of statistics. The Chemically Dependant: Since 1980, the number of those in prison for non-violent offenses in the US has increased 600%. Our corrections budgets exceed the costs of the current conflicts in the Middle East. In the words of Justice Kennedy (paraphrased) in his 2002 to the ABA Hall of delegates, "I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that an 18 year old sentenced to 10 years in prison cannot conceive of what 10 years means." How does a jail cell "fix" an addiction? Members of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession: Surely, you must see this series of problems more clearly than all of us...the endless chain of men and women in their 20s who mull through the dockets day after day, year after year...in time, perhaps, they (we) become just numbers. Surely, what you see each day must strike you as an impossible equation to carry out for another 25 years. This day is a day for all of us. It is the chance to turn back the tide and NOT end up like Illinois, with 47 prisons and 30,000 inmates in re-entry each year. Or, Wisconsin, with 32 prisons. My grandfather was a physician at the Mayo Clinic. My Dad a College professor for 37 years. I, like so many of us in the 70s, strayed. I've been a soldier, a homeless veteran, a teacher and a social worker. I've come to see and understand the need for Second Chances. Once, we believed in and took pride in being the State that treated those who were ill...now we lock them up. Surely, this situation is not tenable for much longer and I think we all sense that. Join us for this event. It is one last chance for us to pause and ask, "Is this really what we want for our children, for the next generation?" Surely, we were meant to be so much more. Guy Gambill Community Organizer Second Chance Day on the Hill (612)-208-1815 (612)-644-4817
Location: 
St. Paul, MN
United States

Search and Seizure: The Smell of a Burning Joint Does Not Justify a Warrantless Entry, US Fourth Circuit Holds

Police who entered an apartment after smelling marijuana being smoked there violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals held in a late January ruling. Evidence found during a subsequent search with a search warrant based on that illegal entry must also be thrown out, the court held.

The decision came in US v. Mowatt, in which Bladensburg, Maryland, police showed up at the door of Karim Mowatt's 10th floor apartment to investigate a noise complaint. They smelled marijuana and demanded they be allowed to enter the apartment, but Mowatt refused, repeatedly asking if they had a search warrant. Police then claimed they feared Mowatt had a weapon, forced their way in, and found guns and drugs. Police then used the evidence they found at the apartment to get a search warrant to further search the apartment. Based on contraband found there, Mowatt was charged with various drug and gun offenses.

Before trial, the trial judge denied Mowatt's motions to suppress the evidence, buying prosecutors' contentions that the warrantless entry was lawful because "the risk of destruction of the evidence of marijuana possession constituted exigent circumstances." Mowatt was found guilty in May 2006 and sentenced to a total of 16 years and 5 months.

The 4th Circuit disagreed, noting it was only the arrival of the officers at the door that created any exigent circumstances. "[A]lthough the officers had every right to knock on Mowatt's door to try to talk to him about the complaint... without a warrant, they could not require him to open it," Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote. The officers "needed only to seek a warrant before confronting the apartment's occupants," Traxler wrote. "By not doing so, they set up the wholly foreseeable risk that the occupants, upon being notified of the officers' presence, would seek to destroy the evidence of their crimes."

US Attorney Rod Rosenstein, who argued the case, wasn't happy, he told the Maryland Daily Record. "The implications of this opinion are very broad for what police officers should do in this situation -- which isn't an uncommon one," he said. He added that he is working with the Justice Department to decide whether to appeal the decision.

A Cop is Dead Because An Informant Mistook Japanese Maple Trees For Marijuana

This is one of those stories that is simultaneously so unbelievable and yet nauseatingly familiar that you just know our deeply flawed drug laws are behind it.

Ryan Frederick is an amateur gardener who grows tomatoes and Japanese maple trees, which look like marijuana. An informant told police there was pot growing at the residence and a warrant was issued. Frederick, who had been burglarized earlier in the week, mistook the police for thieves and sought to defend his home by firing on the unexpected intruders. Police officer Jarrod Shivers was killed.

Now, as we learned in the strikingly similar case of Cory Maye, law-enforcement does not take kindly to people defending their homes during mistaken drug raids. Ryan Frederick has been charged with first-degree murder on the theory that he knew the intruders were police and fired on them anyway.

Frederick had no criminal record and no marijuana plants. The informant was just wrong. Although a few joints were found in the home, it just doesn’t make much sense to contend that Frederick would provoke a shoot-out with police over a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, he's being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and can only hope the jury understands the horrible situation he's been placed in.

This is still a developing story, but at this point it seems pretty clear that the only reason this raid ever happened is that some idiot mistook Japanese Maple trees for marijuana. That's all it took. There are no safeguards built into the drug war to prevent this type of thing. If you call in a suspected marijuana grow, you are assumed to be a botanist capable of accurately identifying plants. Police will even risk their lives to investigate your idiotic claims.

Prosecuting Ryan Frederick for murder will do nothing to curb the inevitable result of continuing to raid homes based on informant testimony. This is all just one more injustice stacked atop a precarious edifice. Like Cory Maye, Ryan Frederick is lucky to even be alive, which begs the question of how many dead innocent people would have been unfairly charged with attempted cop-murder if they'd been fortunate enough to even survive the raid.

Much more at The Agitator and DrugWarRant.
Location: 
United States

How many drug dealers does it take to supply a 10,000-person community? Or, is Twiggs County, Georgia, the latest Tulia?

Pete Guither over at Drug WarRant has spotted a report on what looks to be a suspiciously large number of drug busts -- 17, with 11 more warrants pending, all following a six-month undercover investigation -- in the sparsely populated Twiggs County in Georgia. Twiggs has 10,184 residents, at latest count -- the largest city, Jeffersonville, boasts a mere 1,028 residents. The county is so small, in terms of its population, that there is exactly one auto repair shop. Which raises the question, can a county that small really support 28 drug dealers? The same question came up in the Tulia scandal, where about 46 people, almost all of them black, were convicted and imprisoned for drug dealing based on the testimony of a rogue cop, who as it turns out had made it all up. Many of the names listed in the indictment have an African American sound to them. Comments from local officials also raise questions about the operation's timing. In issue #520 of the Chronicle, we reported that Congress had substantially cut funding for the federal grant programs that support these kinds of task forces and that law enforcement organizations were engaged in a massive lobbying/media campaign to try to get the funding back. Twiggs police clearly had that situation in mind when they spoke with the press:
Officials, however, are concerned about the future of such major operations. Special agent Martin Zon of the GBI's state drug task force said federal funding for the task force has been cut by nearly 70 percent in the newest budget. Once it takes effect in July, the budget cuts could hamper law enforcement efforts in the drug war. "We've been a recipient of these funds for many years, and in December we learned that these grants would be cut drastically," Zon said. "Our budget was cut by 70 percent, which cuts our ability to fulfill requests from places like Twiggs." Mitchum said he's also concerned that he may not have certain state resources to call upon in the future. "The task force is a big help to departments our size," he said. "We use their equipment, their personnel, their expertise. We wouldn't want to see their funding cut. It's really important they keep it."
If it is a case of law enforcement busting people as taxpayer-funded lobbying for funding, it would be nothing new -- Pete pointed out such a case in Kentucky last year, and I noted a 2006 press release from the California Attorney General's office that directly admitted it, in a previous blog post on that topic. There are other examples, too.
Location: 
Jeffersonville, GA
United States

Law Enforcement: Nebraska Man Files Complaint Over Bogus South Dakota Bust

As part of a new Drug War Chronicle occasional series on victims of the war on drugs, we told the story of Eric Sage back in November. Now, there are new developments.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/ericsage.jpg
Eric Sage
On his way home to Nebraska after attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last summer, Sage's motorcycle was pulled over by a highway patrolman. A pick-up truck accompanying him also stopped, and when the patrolman searched that vehicle, he found one of the passengers in possession of a pipe and a small amount of marijuana. Bizarrely, the patrolman charged not only all the pick-up truck passengers but also Sage with possession of paraphernalia.

Unlike most people arrested on drug charges -- even bogus ones -- Sage refused to roll over. That prompted local prosecutors to threaten to charge him with "internal possession," a crime (so far) only in South Dakota, and a charge even less supported by the evidence (there was none) than the original paraphernalia charge. After repeated multi-hundred mile trips back to South Dakota for scheduled court hearings, Sage's charges mysteriously evaporated, with prosecutors in Pennington County lamely explaining that they had decided the charge should have been filed in another county.

Sage was a free man, but his freedom wasn't free. Sage says his encounter with South Dakota justice cost him thousands of dollars, lost work days, and considerable stress. Now, he is seeking redress.

On Monday, Sage and South Dakota NORML announced that he had filed complaints with several South Dakota agencies and professional standards groups regarding the actions of the prosecutors, Pennington County (Rapid City) District Attorney Glenn Brenner and Assistant DA Gina Nelson, and the highway patrolman, Trooper Dave Trautman.

Sage accuses Trautman of improperly charging everyone present at the incident with possession of paraphernalia. He also accuses Trautman of concocting an arrest report long after the fact to support the new charge of internal possession. Sage accuses Assistant DA Nelson and her boss of prosecuting a case they knew was bogus and of threatening to convict him of an offense where they knew he was not guilty because he refused to plead to the original paraphernalia charge.

"They mugged me," Sage said. "They cost me $4,000. I had to travel to Rapid City several times, I had to hire a lawyer, I missed work. It cost me three times as much to get them to drop a bogus charge as it would have cost me to say I was guilty of something I didn't do and pay their fines. They only quit when they ran out of clubs to hit me with."

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/sturgisrally.jpg
Main Street during Sturgis Rally (courtesy Wikimedia)
Prosecutors didn't even have the courtesy to let him or his local attorney know they had finally dropped the charges, Sage said. "My lawyer called Gina Nelson several times to see if I needed to drive up on Nov. 21," he said. "She wouldn't return the calls. So when I got there, I found the charges had been dropped on the 16th. Gina had purposefully made me drive one more 500 mile round trip, for nothing."

Now, we'll see if the powers that be in South Dakota will bring the same dogged determination to seeing justice done in this case as they do to going after anybody who even looks like a small-time drug offender. You can read Sage's complaints to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the South Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Committee, and the Pennington County Commission here.

Europe: German Police Use Grow Shop Customer Lists in Massive Marijuana Garden Busts

German police Monday unleashed a massive crackdown on marijuana growers, raiding more than 200 gardens in an effort that involved police forces from 16 regional states and some 1,500 police investigators. There is no word yet on the number of arrests.

According to the Times of London, the trigger for the raids was the increasing popularity of a grow shop that has been selling equipment over the Internet. The paper reported that at least some of the raids were based on information drawn from the shops' customer lists.

But also arousing the concern of German authorities was what they described as increasing interest among Dutch marijuana traders in growing outside the Netherlands, where the conservative national government has been trying to move the country away from its decades-long policy of pragmatic tolerance of the herb.

"In the old days, hash farmers were almost always on the Dutch side of the border, but since the Netherlands got tougher we have been saddled with the problem," Ulrich Schulze of the Essen Customs and excise authority told the paper.

Although marijuana remains illegal in Germany, German police typically treat it with some tolerance, although that varies from state to state. German police are generally stretched to thin to control marijuana grows, Schulze said, but they could resort to using helicopters to look for outdoor grows. But most German grows are indoors.

Pain Wars in the Heartland: With Their Doctor Behind Bars, Kansas Patients Wonder Where To Turn

In a drama that has been played out all too many times across the country in recent years, the Justice Department's campaign against prescription drug abuse -- if you can call it that -- came in crushing fashion to Haysville, Kansas, last month. Now, a popular pain management physician and his nurse wife are being held without bond and more than a thousand patients at his clinic are without a doctor, but the US Attorney and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts say they are protecting the public health.

It all started December 20, when federal agents arrested Dr. Stephen Schneider, operator of the Schneider Medical Clinic, and his wife and business manager, Linda, on a 34-count indictment charging them with operating a "pill mill" at their clinic. The indictment charges that Schneider and his assistants "unlawfully" wrote prescriptions for narcotic pain relievers, that at least 56 of Schneiders' patients died of drug overdoses between 2002 and 2007, and that Schneider and his assistants prescribed pain relievers "outside the course of usual medical practice and not for legitimate medical purpose."

In their press release announcing the arrests, federal prosecutors also said that four patients died "as a direct result of Schneider's actions," but the indictment does not charge Schneider or anyone else with murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide. In all four deaths, the patients died of drug overdoses, with prosecutors claiming Schneider ignored signs they were becoming addicted to the drugs or abusing them.

A handful of Schneider's former patients have filed malpractice lawsuits, claiming they became addicted as a result of his treatments. The Kansas Board of Healing Arts was investigating several complaints against Schneider before it backed off at the beginning of 2007 at the request of federal prosecutors seeking to build their case. (The US Attorney's office in Wichita denies that it asked the board to desist, but the board insists that is in fact the case.)

Under pressure from state legislators, the board acted this week, suspending Schneider's license to practice and effectively shutting down his clinic, which had remained open with physicians' assistants writing prescriptions. That move came as a surprise to Schneider's patients and supporters, who had been engaged in negotiations with the board to keep the clinic open.

But if federal prosecutors, the state board and a few patients are painting Schneider as a Dr. Feelgood, for some of his patients, he was a life-send. Debbie Sauers was one of those patients. Suffering from the after-effects of a dissecting aortic aneurysm and chronic pain from four failed back surgeries, the former nurse said she now has nowhere to go. "The clinic is shut as of tomorrow, and today was the last day to get prescriptions filled," she said Wednesday. "Dr. Schneider was the only one who would treat me with pain medicine, and now I don't know what I'm going to do," she said.

Her efforts to find another doctor to take her on have been a stark exemplar of the stigmatization faced by pain patients whose physician is accused of being a pill-pusher. "I've had doctors' offices refuse to see me or laugh in my face or tell me to check into drug rehab when I tell them I was one of Dr. Schneider's patients," she said. "If you go to the ER, they hand you a list of drug rehab places. They put my doctor in jail, and no one will treat me now." Sauers is currently on massive doses of morphine and high-dose Lortab and says her cardiologist tells her a rapid withdrawal could kill her. "I don't know what to do," she repeated.

Darren Baker is another patient who swears by Dr. Schneider. The operator of a tree gardening service, Baker has bone spurs in his knees from years of climbing, and two years ago, he fell out of a tree, shattering both his heels. "They put all kinds of hardware in my heels, and I have to have pain medications just to walk," he said. "With the pain meds, I can't walk real well, but without them, I can't walk, period. Dr. Schneider was the only one who would treat me."

Now, like Sauers, Baker is in search of a doctor. "I haven't found one yet," he said. "I got a list today, but most of them are turning you away if you're associated with Dr. Schneider. If I can't get another doctor, I won't have any option except to retire and go on disability. I take my medicine to be a productive member of society," he said angrily. "I need my meds to survive and pay my bills and fight the daily grind. This really goes against our constitutional rights. How the hell can I pursue happiness lying in bed?"

If convicted, the Schneiders face a minimum of 20 years in federal prison, and given the multitude of counts, they could theoretically face centuries. While, since their arrests, they have been excoriated in the Kansas press and by politicians, they have also received strong support, not only from patients, but also from a national pain advocacy organization, the Pain Relief Network. Headed by Siobhan Reynolds, a former documentary film maker turned crusader after her life partner suffered horrendously from lack of adequate pain treatment before dying in 2006, the network has done highly effective advocacy on cases ranging from that of imprisoned Northern Virginia pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz to wheelchair-bound, formerly imprisoned, and now pardoned Florida pain patient Richard Paey.

Reynolds senses a similar injustice on the Kansas prairies. "Dr. Schneider is a wonderful doctor and he ran a wonderful clinic," she said. "But the Justice Department comes in here and after the fact characterizes his medical practice as drug dealing and also after the fact decides that a patient death is caused not by a doctor but by a 'drug dealer,' making it now tantamount to murder, with a 20-year mandatory minimum. If anyone wonders why doctors don't take care of sick people, this is why."

The root of the problem, said Reynolds, is the Controlled Substances Act, under which the Justice Department determines what constitutes proper medical practice and what doesn't. "Under the act, the exchange of money for drugs is presumptively illegal, and doctors have to show they are doing medicine in an 'authorized fashion' approved by the Justice Department. Under the act, doctors are effectively presumed guilty until proven innocent. It's backwards, and it helps explain why it is so difficult to win these cases," she said.

The Pain Relief Network will shortly bring a federal lawsuit challenging the Controlled Substance Act, Reynolds said. "The act is profoundly unconstitutional and unlawful. It reverses the presumption of innocence, and we think we can win that challenge, even if we have to go to the Supreme Court."

While the network had vowed to file the lawsuit last month, it hasn't happened yet. That's because the network has been too busy putting out fires in Kansas, she said, adding that the lawsuit will be filed soon.

Meanwhile, Dr. Schneider and his wife remain jailed without bond at the request of federal prosecutors pending a first court date later this month. His patients are now scrambling to find replacement doctors with little success, especially now that other local doctors see what could await them if they apply aggressive opioid pain management treatments. And a chill as cold as the February wind is settling in over pain treatment on the Kansas plains.

Perhaps Dr. Schneider is guilty of failing to adequately screen his patients, said Darren Baker, but that's not a crime. "Pain meds are narcotics," he said. "Some people have to have them to survive, but other people just want them. I think Dr. Schneider should have covered his ass more. A drug addict is going to get his drugs, whether through a doctor or on the street. They can buffalo a doctor. But when they abuse their prescriptions, how can it be the doctor's fault? Maybe he could have done things differently, but he operated in good faith."

Eric Sage Fights Back

As part of a new Drug War Chronicle occasional series on victims of the war on drugs, we told the story of Eric Sage back in November. Now, there are new developments. On his way home to Nebraska after attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last summer, Sage's motorcycle was pulled over by a highway patrolman. A pick-up truck accompanying also stopped, and when the patrolmen searched that vehicle, he found one of the passengers in possession of a pipe and a small amount of marijuana. Bizarrely, the patrolman charged not only the pick-up truck passengers but also Sage with possession of paraphernalia. Unlike most people arrested on drug charges--even bogus ones--Sage refused to roll over. That prompted local prosecutors to threaten to charge him with "internal possession," a crime (so far) only in South Dakota, and a charge even less supported by the evidence (there was none) than the original paraphernalia charge. After repeated multi-hundred mile trips back to South Dakota for scheduled court hearings, Sage's charges mysteriously evaporated, with prosecutors in Pennington County lamely explaining that they had decided the charge should have been filed in another county. Sage was a free man, but his freedom wasn’t free. Sage says his encounter with South Dakota justice cost him thousands of dollars, lost work days, and considerable stress. Now, he is seeking redress. On Monday, Sage and South Dakota NORML announced that he had filed complaints with several South Dakota agencies and professional standards groups regarding the actions of the prosecutors, Pennington County (Rapid City) District Attorney Glenn Brenner and Assistant DA Gina Nelson, and the highway patrolman, Trooper Dave Trautman. Sage accuses Trautman of improperly charging everyone present at the incident with possession of paraphernalia. He also accuses Trautman of concocting an arrest report long after the fact to support the new charge of internal possession. Sage accuses Assistant DA Nelson and her boss of prosecuting a case they knew was bogus and of threatening to convict him of an offense where they knew he was not guilty because he refused to plead to the original paraphernalia charge. "They mugged me," Sage said. "They cost me $4000. I had to travel to Rapid City several times, I had to hire a lawyer, I missed work. It cost me three times as much to get them to drop a bogus charge as it would have cost me to say I was guilty of something I didn't do and pay their fines. They only quit when they ran out of clubs to hit me with." Prosecutors didn't even have the courtesy to let him or his local attorney know they had finally dropped the charges, Sage said. "My lawyer called Gina Nelson several times to see if I needed to drive up on Nov. 21," he said. "She wouldn't return the calls. So when I got there, I found the charges had been dropped on the 16th. Gina had purposefully made me drive one more 500 mile round trip, for nothing." Now, we'll see if the powers that be in South Dakota will bring the same dogged determination to seeing justice done in this case as they do to going after anybody who even looks like a small-time drug offender. You can read Sage's complaints to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the South Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Committee, and the Pennington County Commission here.
Location: 
Rapid City, SD
United States

Law Enforcement: Snitch Culture Gone Bad in Ohio -- 15 Prisoners to Go Free Because of Informant's Tainted Testimony

In a case that has been stinking up northeast Ohio for several years now, a federal judge in Cleveland Tuesday decided that 15 Mansfield men imprisoned on drug charges should be freed because their convictions were based on the testimony of a lying DEA informant. The men, convicted on crack cocaine dealing charges, have collectively served 30 years already.

The men were all convicted solely on the testimony of informant Jerrell Bray and his handler, DEA Special Agent Lee Lucas. But Bray has since admitted lying in the Mansfield drug cases and has since been sentenced to 15 years in prison on perjury and civil rights charges. He is now working with a US Justice Department task force investigating what went wrong in the cases.

"It's about time," said Danielle Young, the mother of Nolan Lovett, who was serving a five-year sentence but could be home by the end of the month. "This is long, long overdue. These boys will finally get justice, even if it is late," she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

US District Judge John Adams told attorneys Tuesday he hopes to have the men returned to Northeast Ohio from federal prisons across the county. Then, federal prosecutors can formally ask Adams to drop the charges because there is no evidence to convict the men. That could have happened as early as this week.

Bray and Lucas originally collaborated on a massive drug investigation that resulted in 26 indictments for drug conspiracy. Three people were sentenced to probation, judges or juries tossed eight cases, and 15 men were sent to prison. But that was before Bray's lies were exposed.

The Plain Dealer noted that 14 of the 15 had pleaded guilty, a fact the paper naively said made the situation "unique," but then pointed out that they may have pleaded after seeing what had happened to Geneva France, a young mother with no criminal record who was indicted, but refused to plea bargain and steadfastly maintained her innocence. Convicted on the testimony of Bray and Lucas, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

France served 16 months before being freed after Bray's perjury came to light. In a heart-rending article this week, the Plain Dealer recounted France's sorry tale. Her real offense? Refusing to date the informant.

While the victims of Bray and Lucas are about to be freed, the case isn't over yet, and now, the hunter has become the hunted. According to the Plain Dealer, Lucas is the focus of the Justice Department investigation. But it is the snitch system itself that should really be on trial.

Drug War Issues

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