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California Man Killed in Drug Raid Shootout

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing or death related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

A Santa Maria, California, man was shot and killed and two officers were wounded in a December 8 drug bust gone bad. Samyr Ceballos, 24, becomes the 48th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Police told KION-TV
that Ceballos was under surveillance as part of a drug investigation, and officers followed him to his home Thursday morning. Ceballos was tazed after he refused a command to get out of his SUV, but police said he got back up and drew his firearm, and the shootout began.

Ceballos was pronounced dead at the scene. Two officers were hit, one in the hand and the other in the leg. They have been treated for their injuries and released. Police are not releasing their names because threats against them have been made by the West Park Street Gang.

"We will not back down. Let me tell you, we will not," said Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni. "It's not a good thing to threaten police, especially from a criminal street gang. We don't negotiate with those people, and we'll handle those threats accordingly."

The drug investigation is ongoing. Police said Ceballos had a lengthy criminal history, including burglary, assault, armed robbery, and multiple drug violations.

Santa Maria, CA
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths

An Atlanta-area man was killed in a drug raid over the weekend, and a coroner's report shows that a pregnant Georgia teenager died after trying to hide drugs during a traffic stop earlier this year. Dwight Person and Megan Long become the 43rd and 44th persons to die during US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In East Point, Georgia, an East Point police officer shot and killed Person during a Friday afternoon narcotics raid at a suspected drug house. According to police, officers with the department's narcotics unit arrived at a home where they had previously purchased drugs. Seven people were inside.

"One of the people made a threatening move towards the officer and he ignored a verbal command to stop," said Lt. Chris Chandler. "Fearing for her safety, the officer fired one shot and hit the individual in the chest."

The victim, Dwight Person, was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police have not revealed whether they recovered any weapons or drugs, but they arrested seven people at the residence.

Person's mother, Verdelle Person, told My Fox Atlanta that her 54-year-old son was the father of two, a military veteran, and a gentle person. "Ain't no way in the world he would have fought with an officer. That's from the bottom of my heart. I'd stand on a stack of bibles. He wouldn't have fought no officer," she said. "He was a good hearted person. He was helping people and a lot of times I would tell him, you don't know those people. He said, mama they need help, the car broke down. He'd get out and help people anytime. That's the type of person he was. He wasn't an aggressive person, a mean person," said Person.

Person had just gone to visit his nephew at the address, family members said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now reviewing the shooting.

Person's killing has raised hackles in Atlanta, where police infamously shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in a botched 2006 drug raid, and where the killings of young black men by police, including Joetavius Stafford, 19, who was shot and killed at a subway station October 15, have heightened police-community tensions.

Occupy Atlanta announced it was holding a protest march Monday against the "reckless and wanton police murders of fellow Atlantans" and police brutality in general. "With each passing month, many of Atlanta's residents, especially its African-American population, feel increasingly targeted by police," the group said in a press release. "The police continue to kill because they do not face the consequences of their actions."

The second drug war death, that of Megan Long, actually occurred in September. Long was hospitalized after a traffic stop while traveling with her mother and boyfriend, first losing the fetus she was carrying on September 2, then dying herself two days later. But the cause of death, a methamphetamine overdose, was not revealed until last week, when the coroner's office released a toxicology report.

According to Long's father, when Long, her mother, and her boyfriend were pulled over by police, Long's mother told her to hide a bag of meth, and she stuffed the drugs inside her vagina. Later that night, she began having seizure-like symptoms and died after being hospitalized.

In another media report, Long's father elaborated: "They had got pulled over and she stuffed a quarter ounce insider her and when they got here they were going to take it back out, but there wasn't anything left but a bag."

No charges have yet been filed in Long's case, but both the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Murray County District Attorney's Office are looking into it.

GA
United States

Eradication Sparks Conflict in Peru's Coca Fields [FEATURE]

Newly installed Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is facing the first serious challenge to his authority as coca farmer unions have gone on strike to protest the resumption of coca plant eradication. Just last month, in a nod to growers whom he had promised he would halt involuntary eradication, Humala's government announced a temporary halt to eradication in the Upper Huallaga River Valley, but now eradication is again underway, and the coca farmer unions are up in arms.

CONPACCP members in the coca fields (photo by the author)
Earlier this week, strikers erected roadblocks on a major regional highway, and two people had been injured and seven arrested by the time Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the Ucayali region Tuesday night. Coca grower unions are threatening an "indefinite national strike" within two weeks if forced eradication isn't ended.

Coca has been grown in Peru for thousands of years and is an intrinsic part of Andean life. Although international anti-drug treaties consider it a controlled substance, tens of thousands of Peruvian farmers grow it legally under license from ENACO, the Peruvian state coca monopoly, which then sells the product for traditional, nutritional and industrial uses.

But tens of thousands of other coca farmers are not registered with ENACO, and their product often ends up being processed into cocaine for the insatiable North American, European, and Brazilian markets. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Peru has now surpassed Colombia as the world's largest coca leaf producer with 61,000 hectares planted, up 2% from last year.

"Eighty percent of the population here are farmers who want the government to redirect its eradication efforts," Jaime García, deputy mayor of the town of Padre Abad in Ucayali, told local radio in remarks reported by the Financial Times.

The same newspaper reported that Nelson Torres, head of the Ucayali chamber of commerce estimated the growers' road blockade was costing $3.6 million a day. He was dismissive of the Humala government's early steps to contain the conflict. "It's the same policy as the previous government," he told local radio. "You have to have to go on strike or create stoppages just to sit down and talk."

Perhaps Ricaro Soberon, the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA, is belatedly getting that message. He finally met with coca growers on Monday, but not before he told reporters in Lima last week that the Humala government will implement a "sustainable" eradication program that replaces coca with alternative crops. The country will also increase anti-drug spending 20% next year, step up interdiction efforts, and institute tighter controls on chemicals used to process coca into cocaine, Soberon said.

"Crop reduction must be definitive, which means replacing coca with an economically viable alternative," said Soberon. "This problem is well beyond our ability to confront alone so we're worried about the trend of declining international aid."

Soberon, an attorney and drug policy expert who has been a critic of past eradication programs, has already faced calls for his resignation for being "soft" on coca, and the temporary halt to eradication also raised concerns in the US.

Now, though, Humala and Soberon have to balance their sympathy for coca farmers whose support they successfully sought during the election campaign, against demands from Washington and conservative factions inside Peru that they repress the crop. On Tuesday, the national coca growers' union CONPACCP (the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the Coca Valleys of Peru) issued a communique which announced that they would support an "indefinite national strike" against forced eradication within the next two weeks, even as they defended Soberon against attacks from the right.

"Coca or death" -- CONPACCP field office (photo by the author)
"Agents of US interests, like [former interior minister] Fernando Rospigliosi have unleashed a campaign of destruction against one of the few specialists in drug traffic, Ricardo Soberon," CONPACCP noted. "They say that Soberon's closeness to the cocaleros is a defect, when in reality, it is a logical consequence of his work as an analyst who has studied deeply the problematic of coca leaf cultivation and who could, if they let him do his job, propose solutions that transcend mere repression and criminalization of the weakest link in the chain, which in this case is the growers, and not the grand narcos and the apparatus that they have created around the commercialization of cocaine hydrochloride and its derivatives."

While defending Soberon, CONPACCP called for further meetings in a bid to find a nonviolent solution to the conflict and demanded that Humala fulfill his campaign promise to end forced eradication. It also had specific criticisms of the eradication program in Ucayali.

"The forced eradication campaign is going on in zones next to the highway that are affiliated with the CONPACCP, small parcels where farmers deliver their coca to ENACO, while they are not eradicating the grand plantations of coca that can be found 12 miles from the highway," the union complained. "They are taking photos and making recordings of these roadside eradications and then showing them next to images of [cocaine production] maceration pits as if they were at the same site in order to deceive the population."

Authorities are not going after the big plantations because they have "corrupted" the eradication program to be "untouchable," CONPACCP continued. To not eradicate the big plantations connected to the drug trade while eradicating small plots of registered farmers results in "incoherent anti-drug policies of the government," the union argued.

The eradicators themselves are behaving lawlessly, CONPACCP complained. "Besides the unjust eradication, they are robbing the animals and goods of the population" and have "unjustly detained" seven peasant farmers "whose immediate liberation we demand."

CONPACCP is supporting the current "indefinite strike" in Ucayali and is giving the Humala government two weeks to show good faith before it calls for a national coca grower strike. Humala and Soberon are going to have their work cut out for them as they attempt to chart a course that pleases both the coca growers and Washington.

Peru

Chronicle Book Review: The Wars of Afghanistan

The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers, by Peter Tomsen (2011, Public Affairs Press, 849 pp., $39.99 HB)

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/the-wars-of-afghanistan.jpg
With a publication date this week, The Wars of Afghanistan couldn't be more timely. On Monday, the Obama administration, angered by Pakistani double-dealing, announced it was cutting $800 million in military assistance, and the Pakistani military responded by announcing it would withdraw troops deployed near the Afghan border whose stated purpose was to assist the US effort in Afghanistan by blocking infiltration routes for Taliban and allied fighters. On Tuesday, a gunman assassinated a major Afghan government player, regional warlord, CIA asset, and reputed opium and heroin trafficker, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who just happens to be the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (The Taliban took credit for the deed, but who really knows?)

Meanwhile, US drone attacks killed a reported 58 suspected terrorists on the Pakistan side of the border, the latest in an escalating campaign aimed at Al Qaeda, Taliban, and affiliated fighters in what had formerly been a secure rear base for Afghan insurgents and Arab Islamist holy warriors alike. And, nearly a decade after the US invaded Afghanistan to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban, US and NATO soldiers are killing and being killed on a daily basis. Five French NATO troops died Tuesday in a roadside bombing.

If its timing couldn't be better, it is also difficult to imagine a more impeccably informed author than Peter Tomsen, a career State Department diplomat who served as the ambassador-rank US special envoy to the Afghan mujahedeen from 1989 to 1992, met with everyone from Saudi and Russian diplomats to Afghan warlords of various stripes to the Taliban to the Pakistani military and intelligence officers who guided the jihad against the Russians, then played the Americans for fools for the past quarter-century. Tomsen, now retired from the State Department, has kept a close eye on the region ever since, and, with The Wars of Afghanistan, has produced a magnum opus.

The Wars of Afghanistan is not about opium farmers or drug trafficking. Tomsen mentions US concerns about the drug trade as part of longstanding American policy considerations in Afghanistan, and he makes occasional references to this or that warlord fighting over control of the drug trade, but that's about the extent of it for drug policy. And that's just fine, because while Drug War Chronicle is by its very nature drug policy-centric, larger reality is not necessarily so, and neither are the conflicts in Afghan and Pakistan. As drug policy wonks, it behooves us to view our concerns within the broader context, and in this particular case, while Tomsen perhaps underplays the role of drug prohibition and the poppy trade in the Afghanistan wars of the past 30 years, he does an outstanding job of making a hideously complex and complicated conflict comprehensible to the educated lay reader.

Tomsen guides readers through the intricacies of Afghanistan's still powerful ethnic and tribal politics, the delicate balance between center and periphery in the Afghan state, and -- very importantly -- how successive outside powers have failed to understand the nature of Afghan politics, fatally undermining their efforts to control Afghanistan for their own purposes. The US is just the latest, and, Tomsen argues, is making the same errors as the British, the Soviets, and the Pakistanis before them.

Equally importantly, Tomsen makes a highly persuasive case that since the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1988, the US and Pakistan -- ostensible allies -- have actually been deadly rivals in Afghanistan, with the Pakistani intelligence services (the ISI) and the Pakistani military high command working relentlessly to create an "unholy alliance" of Islamic fundamentalist radicals -- Wahhabite Arabs including bin Laden and Al Qaeda also supported by Saudi cash, disaffected Pashtuns from both sides of the border, Pakistani religious parties and their militias, Islamic militants from around the world, and now, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban -- first to drive out the Soviets, then later and to the present day to impose an Islamic fundamentalist puppet state in Kabul. Tomsen names names and cites specific meetings, as well as relying on once classified diplomatic cables and other sources to make his case.

It's bad enough to think successive US governments dating back to Clinton have been suckered by Pakistani duplicity -- the US government has given the Pakistanis $13 billion in military assistance since 2001, some not insignificant portion of which has gone to support the Taliban and associated warlords (Gulbuddin Hekmatyr, the Haqqani network) killing US, NATO, and Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan -- but Tomsen offers an even more damning assessment of the role of the CIA and, to a lesser degree, the Pentagon.

Going back to the Afghan civil wars of the early 1990s, after the Soviet effort at hegemony in Afghanistan collapsed (and helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union itself), Tomsen argues persuasively that the CIA effectively allowed itself to be led by the ISI, thus subverting official US policy in Afghanistan. In that era, US policy (running on autopilot after the Russians left) was to support movement toward a broad-based, moderate, democratic Afghan government, but the CIA instead supported the ISI in its efforts to impose a fundamentalist Islamic warlord government. The CIA thus helped turn Afghanistan into a bloody "shatter zone" for years and abetted the rise of the Taliban. This is ugly and disturbing stuff and cries out for deeper investigation.

While Tomsen has harsh words for every US administration since Bush the Elder when it comes to Afghanistan policy, he does give the Obama administration some props for its belated efforts to turn the screws on the Pakistanis and to actually make a working Afghan government. In fact, the US action cutting military assistance this week could have come right out of Tomsen's playbook for how to begin extricating ourselves from this graveyard of empires.

But we're a long way from there right now. There are currently about 100,000 US and 30,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan and, Tomsen reports, about 150,000 mercenaries and contractors. We are spending $2 billion a week to support our war efforts there, and through a decade of military assistance to our Pakistani "allies," contributing hundreds of millions or billions more to the people who are killing our troops. Bizarrely, in this Afghanistan war, we seem to be paying for both sides.

The drug trade in Afghanistan is probably worth a billion or two dollars a year, but that's what US taxpayers are spending there in a week. Yes, the profits of prohibition fill the coffers of the Taliban… and criminal gangs… and Afghan traffickers… and Pakistani traffickers… and Afghan government officials, not to mention tens of thousands of Afghan farm families, but, as Tomsen makes perfectly clear, it's not all about the drugs.

The Wars of Afghanistan is an important work and an urgent warning. Anyone with an interest US foreign policy in the region needs to read it, starting with our policymakers.

Afghanistan

At Least Seven Police Officers Died for Drug Prohibition Last Year [FEATURE]

Last Friday, thousands of police from across the country, as well as civilians, gathered in downtown Washington, DC, for a candlelight vigil to honor law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the course of their duties. The event was a highlight of National Police Week, sponsored by the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial Fund, which is set up to honor those who have died.

2009 NLEOMF ceremony (oregon.gov)
There were plenty to remember. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 158 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty last year. Not all of them were killed by criminals. Forty-three died in auto accidents, 12 died of heart attacks, seven were struck by vehicles, five died in motorcycle accidents, four died in vehicle pursuits, two each died of falls, aircraft accidents, and accidental gunshot wounds, and one each died of heat exhaustion, unspecified accident, training accident and boating accident.

According to FBI statistics released Monday, 56 of those law enforcement deaths were felonious, 55 by gunfire and one by motor vehicle. According to a Drug War Chronicle analysis, seven of those deaths were related to drug law enforcement. Our parameters are conservative, but unavoidably subjective, fuzzy, and open to challenge. Those incidents where officers were killed because of the way we address illicit drug use and sales are:

  • On May 3, 2010, Detroit Police Officer Brian Huff was shot and killed after responding to a 3:30am report of shots fired at "a drug house." Huff and several other officers surrounded the house. When Huff and other officers made entry, they were hit by gunfire. Huff was killed, and four other officers were wounded. The suspect, who was also wounded, was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
  • On May 20, 2010, West Memphis, Arkansas, Police Officer Bill Evans and Sgt. Brandon Paudert, who were working drug interdiction on Interstate 40, were shot and killed when they pulled over a vehicle carrying a heavily armed father and son with a serious grudge against the government. When the two officers ordered the men out of the vehicle, a struggle ensued and they were both killed by fire from an AK-47. The suspects fled, but both were later killed in separate shoot-outs with law enforcement. The Crittenden County sheriff and one of his deputies were wounded in one of the shoot-outs.
  • On July 21, 2010, George County, Mississippi, Sheriff Garry Welford was struck and killed by a vehicle being pursued by deputies. The driver of the vehicle was wanted on a warrant for failing to appear for sentencing on a narcotics charge. The driver and his passenger were later arrested and charged in connection with Welford's death
  • On July 28, 2010, Chandler, Arizona, Police Officer Carlos Luciano Ledesma was shot and killed while conducting an undercover "reverse" sting operation in Phoenix. Working with two other undercover officers, Ledesma was attempting to sell 500 pounds of marijuana when the suspects came out firing. The other officers were able to return fire, killing two suspects and taking six others into custody. The two other officers were also wounded.
  • On November 14, 2010, Green County, Georgia, Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Kevin Roberts was shot and killed at his home by the target of a narcotics investigation the sheriff's office was undertaking. The subject had gone to his home and knocked on the door at about 8:30 am on a Sunday morning. When Chief Deputy Roberts answered the door he was fatally shot by the man, who then killed himself.

If these seven deaths all qualify as drug war-related, that means police killed as part of the drug war account for 12.5% of all felonious officer deaths. The number may seem small -- only seven dead officers -- but that is seven officers who most likely would not be dead today but for drug prohibition. And nobody seems to know how many were wounded, sometimes with grave consequences, but it is almost certain to exceed the number killed.

[Editor's Note: Nor is anybody counting how many civilians are being killed in the name of drug law enforcement -- except for Drug War Chronicle. This year, we are tallying every reported death due to US domestic drug law enforcement operations. Just for perspective, so far, we have 25 dead civilians and two dead law enforcement officers.]

"One dead police officer is too many in my book, said Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and Maryland State Police who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "If we can save one life through drug policy reform, it's worth it to me."

"I may have to die as a cop, but I certainly don't want to die just because some 13-year-old is slinging crack," said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and author of Cop in the Hood, who is now on the faculty of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

There are ways to reduce that likelihood, both men said. They range from harm reduction measures such as decriminalizing marijuana possession, decriminalizing all drug possession, and providing heroin maintenance for addicts, to rebuilding police-community relations, especially in the inner cities, to revisiting and revising police tactics, particularly SWAT-style no-knock raids and perhaps those "reverse sting" operations, to shifting police resources and priorities.

"Why are the cops selling pot?" asked an incredulous Moskos as he reviewed the killing of Chandler Police Officer Ledesma in a "reverse sting" gone horribly awry. "Why sell 500 pounds of marijuana? What were you hoping to do?"

"We're starting to see marijuana decriminalization in more states, and I think that's important," said Franklin, citing New York City's policy of mass stop and frisks and mass marijuana possession arrests, almost always against young people of color. "If more states starting moving toward decriminalization, we could relieve some of the pressure from this steaming tea kettle. That would make for a more relaxed environment between police and young people. Prohibition has made our communities extremely tense and dangerous, and the cops are on edge. We have to rebuild this relationship."

"We can fight the war on drugs less," said Moskos. "Police do have discretion. They can focus on other crimes and shift resources accordingly."

And they could rethink the gung-ho paramilitary raids, said Moskos. "I always think of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco," he said. "They could have just picked him up at McDonald's. But from the cop perspective, these raids are pretty safe. They represent a shift in police mentality. They're not so safe for civilians, but that's a risk police are willing to take. They would rather have collateral damage than damage to their own ranks."

Both Franklin and Moskos said that only counting incidents where there is a direct drug war connection probably results in undercounting the number of police officers killed because of drug prohibition. The case of Georgia State Patrol Officer Chadwick LeCoy, which didn't make the list, is illustrative of the broader impact of decades of drug war on the safety of police. LeCroy was shot and killed after a short vehicle pursuit on December 27. He wasn't enforcing the drug laws, but the driver who killed him had extensive experience with the criminal justice system, including prior drug, firearms, and eluding police convictions.

Given the millions of drug arrests in the past few decades, the tens of millions of years worth of prison sentences handed out, the lives knocked off track by a drug-based encounter with the criminal justice system, it is no leap of the imagination to think there are plenty of people out there nursing very serious grudges -- grudges that might manifest themselves as attacks on police even if there is no immediate drug link.

"Maybe we need a separate category: this would not have occurred if drugs were not illegal," said Moskos. "If someone has a long record because of drugs and then shoots at a cop at traffic stop, that could fit that category. Police get the brunt of it because of the war on drugs."

"These decades of drug war have poisoned the well," said Franklin, recalling his teenage years in Baltimore. The kids would be hanging out, and when the patrol car rolled around the corner, they would chat and joke with the officer before he went on his way, he said.

"Now, in that same neighborhood, when a police call turns the corner, the first thing you hear is shouts of '5-0' and everyone scatters," he related. "If I tried to talk to them, they were very standoffish and using words you don't want to repeat. It's a very antagonistic and uncomfortable situation; you can feel the tension. They will tell you they don't trust the police and that the police mainly come into their neighborhoods to search them, their cars, and their homes for drugs. The foundation for this separation of police and community is our drug policies and the environment they create."

There are ways to reduce the death toll, both law enforcement and civilian, in the war on drugs. We know what they are and how important the task is. The problem is political will. And the very law enforcement organizations whose officers' lives could be saved are among the biggest obstacles to change.

[Click here for a Flickr slideshow from the 2011 NLEOMF Candlelight Vigil.)

DEA in New Spokane Medical Marijuana Dispensary Raid

In the latest round of the federal assault on medical marijuana in Washington state, the Cannabis Defense Coalition reports that the DEA conducted a Wednesday afternoon raid on Medical Herb Providers, one of the few dispensaries left in the city after a flurry of federal raids last month. It's not clear whether any other dispensaries are being targeted.

Spokane River
According to the CDC, a Medical Herb Provider manager reported that one employee was arrested.

The raids today and last month come as the state legislature and Gov. Chris Gregoire are struggling to come up with legislation to provide some sense of what is and is not allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. It currently does not explicitly allow for dispensaries, but that hasn't stopped dozens, perhaps more than a hundred, from opening.

Late last month, at least two Spokane area dispensaries were raided. Those raids came three weeks after the US Attorney for Eastern Washington, Michael Ormsby, warned the then 40 dispensaries in the area that they should shut down or face federal action.

The letter from Ormsby and a similar one from his counterpart in Western Washington, were crucial in persuading Gov. Gregoire to veto the portions of a medical marijuana patient registry and dispensary bill. They warned that state employees who licensed or registered medical marijuana businesses could be subject to federal prosecution.

Now, as Gregoire and the legislature tussle over what to do about medical marijuana, the feds are reminding everyone that they haven't gone anywhere.

Spokane, WA
United States

Two More Killed in US Drug Enforcement Incidents

[Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement during the year. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

Police officers in Houston and Tulsa last week shot and killed two men in separate drug enforcement-related incidents last week. The victims become the 18th and 19th to be killed in US domestic drug law enforcement incidents so far this year.

Not everyone is buying HPD's version of events (Image via Wikimedia)
In Houston, according to a police statement, an off-duty narcotics officer working security at an apartment complex late last Wednesday night when he saw "two men engaging in narcotics activity." The officer, identified as Officer S. Bryant, was wearing clothing that identified him as a police officer. He approached the vehicle, identified himself as a police officer, and ordered the passenger to get out of the car. But the passenger instead began squirming in his seat, and the officer saw he was sitting on and attempting to free a pistol. Bryant repeated his command, but the passenger refused and continued to try to free the gun. "Officer Bryant, in fear for his life, discharged his duty weapon at least one time, fatally striking the suspect," the statement said.

The statement said a loaded weapon and narcotics were recovered from the vehicle. The driver was detained but later released.

Witnesses at the scene told a different story to KPRC Local 2 TV News. "He shot him while he was getting out of the car," said a witness who requested not to be identified. "He put him in handcuffs while he was on the ground. I don't think that's right."

"He was telling him, 'I got my hands up. Don't shoot, don't shoot,'" said another witness who requested not to be identified.

One witness said he did not believe police found a gun and drugs in the car. "If they had drugs and guns, he (the driver) wouldn't be out. They'd have him in custody right now," said a witness.

The dead man was later identified as Kenneth Thomas, 31. The incident is being investigated by the HPD Homicide and Internal Affairs Divisions and the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

In Tulsa eight hours earlier, a man who ran from officers who tried to stop him at an apartment complex was shot and killed after he allegedly produced a weapon. According to police, Marvin Dion Alexander, 31, was serving a suspended sentence on drug and related charges when he encountered two Tulsa Police officers and a US marshal conducting "a pedestrian check" near the entrance of an apartment complex.

Instead of stopping for the officers, Alexander briefly scuffled with the marshal, then broke and ran. The marshal and one Tulsa Police officer chased him, with one of them yelling that their quarry had a gun. The other Tulsa Police officer came around a corner and also saw a gun, so he fired and shot Alexander.

A gun was found with Alexander, police said.

Alexander had been convicted in 2009 of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, assault with a dangerous weapon, and resisting an officer. He got credit for time served awaiting trial and 12-years with the sentence suspended. He was arrested again in January for failure to appear in court in relation to those charges, and then released.

Ft. Worth Man is Year's 12th Drug Law Enforcement Fatality

A Fort Worth, Texas, police shot officer and killed a local man as he attempted to elude arrest after police doing narcotics investigations pulled him over in his vehicle Monday night. The victim, 32-year-old Charal "Ra Ra" Thomas, is the 12th person killed so far this year in US drug law enforcement operations.

According to a police statement, undercover officers had reports that Thomas may have been involved in drug trafficking and had been conducting surveillance in the Rosedale Park area when they requested that a patrol officer identified as J. Romer pull him over for an outstanding warrant. Thomas was driving an SUV with his three children in the back seat.

"The driver stated that he was not going to jail and locked the door," the statement said. "The officer reached into the half-opened window and attempted to unlock the door to extract the driver. While reaching in the window, the driver rolled up the window trapping the officer's arm, while simultaneously accelerating towards the freeway."

Police said Officer Romer yelled for Thomas to stop numerous times, but Thomas continued accelerating.

"The officer was able to place his feet on the driver's side running board, unholster his service weapon and order the driver to stop," the statement said. When Thomas failed to stop, Romer opened fire. "The officer believed that, at the speed they were now traveling, he would have been run over and killed if he did not immediately stop the driver," the statement said.

Officer Romer was uninjured, as were Thomas's three children, who were interviewed and then released to relatives.

The killing sparked a protest by Stop Six neighborhood residents, who said the shooting was unjustified and that they wanted a federal investigation. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that dozens of people gathered in Eastover Park to protest what they called excessive use of force.

"Word has to get out concerning what's happening in the black community," said the Rev. Randolph Shaheed, who helped organize Tuesday's protest. "We're not trying to be radical as it relates to violence. We're out here trying to be radical as it relates to change. Change has to come."

Earlier Tuesday, residents of the Stop Six community gathered at Eastover Park to protest the shooting, alleging excessive force was used against Thomas, who had only one leg due to a shotgun wound he reportedly received when he was 12. Some complained that police officers frequently and unfairly target black residents in the neighborhood.

"We've been getting drugged through our own community for years now," said Kendrick Moore, who said that police frequently targeted neighborhood residents. "We're grown. Now we've got some power behind us, whether the police department knows it or not, and we're fixing to take action... This was wrong."

The Fort Worth Police are "just another form of militia; they're just an organized gang," said Terrance Montgomery. "This man was killed with three children in the car," Montgomery said. "I ask people all over the world, if your father, your mother or your brother was killed with children in the car, how would you respond?"

Thomas had two previous convictions for possession of a controlled substance, one for delivery of a controlled substance, and one for possession of marijuana.

Fort Worth, TX
United States

Ex-World Leaders Form Global Drug Policy Commission

A group of world political leaders, intellectuals, and businessman Richard Branson have formed a Global Commission on Drug Policies in a bid to boost the effort to achieve more humane and rational drug laws. The commission is headed by former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso and builds on the work Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria did with the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy.

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Latin America Commission panel, 2009, President Gaviria on left (courtesy comunidadsegura.org)
The commission's goals include reviewing the basic assumptions, effectiveness and consequences of the 'war on drugs' approach; evaluating the risks and benefits of different national responses to the drug problem; and developing actionable, evidence-based recommendations for constructive legal and drug policy reform. The commission will issue a report in six months.

The commission will examine the current international drug control regime, conduct a global overview of drug policies and laws, examine the drug production and supply chain, address criminal justice challenges, study the lessons learned from harm reduction, treatment, and prevention campaigns, and examine the economic and political ramifications of the massive illicit global drug trade.

In addition to the three Latin American ex-presidents, commission members include former US Secretary of State George Schulz, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, former European Union official Javier Solana, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Thorvald Stoltenberg.

"There is a growing perception that the "war on drugs" approach has failed," the commission said in a statement as it announced its existence in Geneva this week. "Eradication of production and criminalization of consumption did not reduce drug traffic and drug use," the commission said.

The harm from corruption and violence resulting from prohibition "largely exceeds the harm caused by drugs," the statement says.

We will be looking forward to seeing the commission's report this summer. The report from the Latin American Commission helped stir debate and advance the cause of reform, and this should, too.

Geneva
Switzerland

Texas Man Allegedly Kills Self During Drug Raid

Editor's Note: This year, Drug War Chronicle is going to try to track every death directly attributable to drug law enforcement this year. We didn't have to wait long, did we? We covered the year's first drug war death last week. We can use your help. If you come across a news account of a killing related to drug law enforcement, please send us an email at psmith@drcnet.org.]

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The year's second death during a drug law enforcement operation occurred Tuesday night in Corpus Christi, Texas, where police said an as yet unidentified man shot himself to death as they searched a house suspected of drug activity. The dead man was identified only as a 20-year-old Hispanic male "deceased from a possible gunshot wound."

According to the Corpus Christi Police account, patrol officers investigating drug activity at the address received permission from one of the inhabitants to enter the house and search. As an officer entered a bedroom, he heard a single gunshot from a closet or bathroom. The officer found seven men and one woman in the bedroom and ushered them out, but another shot was heard as they left, as well as a male voice yelling he had a hostage. The officer attempted to talk to the man, but heard only a third gunshot.

A SWAT team was called in and surrounded the house, but attempts to negotiate with the man inside were met with silence. SWAT officers then entered the residence and found the dead man, the police report said.

There was no word on any drug arrests and no mention of any evidence seized, other than a handgun police said was found beside the dead man's body. They said it was stolen. The seven people detained by police were released back to the same address.

The death did not sit well with someone in the community. Police returned to the same address early Wednesday morning to find the house covered with anti-police graffiti. One message called police murderers, while another referred to them with an expletive. Graffiti visible in a photo shown by a local TV news station said "You take ours, we take yours" and "We love you, homie."

Corpus Christi Police said Wednesday some of the messages seemed to be a direct threat. "We take this very seriously and we will be following up on that," said Lt. G. Ermis.

Corpus Christi, TX
United States

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