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DEA Facing Fallout from Deadly Honduras Raid

In the Honduran village where four residents were killed last week by gunfire from a helicopter on a US-backed anti-drug operation complete with DEA agents on board the chopper, feelings continue to run high. On Monday, they told the Associated Press that DEA agents also accompanied Honduran commandos who stormed into homes and mistreated residents after the raid, but the agency denies that.

In the predawn hours of May 11, Honduran National Police and DEA agents were searching for a boat supposedly carrying a load of cocaine when they said they came under fire from the river. The Hondurans opened fire, but the boat they attacked was a small fishing vessel, not a smuggling craft, and the attack left two pregnant women and two others dead and four other people wounded.

The helicopter is owned by the US State Department and was one of four being used in the operation, which had already resulted in the seizure of cocaine from the banks of the river. Police on the ground and the door-gunner for one helicopter opened up on the boat.

The DEA said its agents did not open fire and did not participate in heavy-handed raids in the immediate aftermath. But villagers in the town of Ahuas said masked agents then landed in their community and broke down doors, looking for a trafficker they called "El Renco." The witnesses referred to some of the agents as "gringos" and said they were speaking English.

After the commandos left, angry villagers formed a machete-wielding mob and burned government installations and four homes belonging to families associated with El Renco. Police Chief Filiberto Pravia Rodriguez said he tried to stop the mob, but had to run for his life.

The incident comes as the US is ramping up its support of Honduran anti-drug efforts. The Obama administration is increasing the amount of anti-drug assistance and is working with the Honduran military to create forward operating bases to fight the cocaine traffic from Colombia en route to North America.

Human Rights watch has called for an investigation into the killings.

"It is critical that both Honduran and US authorities ensure that the killings are thoroughly investigated to determine whether the use of lethal force was justified," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for the group. "If evidence demonstrates that security forces violated international standards, they must be held accountable."

At least one congressman, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) is calling for a review of US military assistance to Honduras, where the Honduran military took part in a coup in 2009 and where continuing human rights violations are alleged to be taking place.

"I have consistently expressed deep concerns regarding the danger of pouring US security assistance into a situation where Honduran security forces are involved in serious human rights violations," he told National Public Radio last week. "The problems are getting worse, not better, making such a review all the more urgent."

Local leaders aren't waiting for investigations or reviews. They want the DEA out now.

"For centuries we have been a peaceful people who live in harmony with nature, but today we declared these Americans to be persona non grata in our territory," the leaders of five indigenous groups said in a press statement last week picked up by the AP.

Ahuas
Honduras

Michigan Father Killed in Marijuana Child Removal Incident

A prosecutor in northern Michigan has cleared the police officer who shot and killed a Grayling man as police and Child Protective Services (CPS) employees attempted to seize his three-year-old. The attempted removal of the minor child came after a police officer who came to the scene on a call earlier that same day reported that he smelled marijuana and reported the incident to CPS authorities, who decided the child needed to be removed. The dead man, William Reddie, 32, becomes the 17th person killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/170505100-16111437.jpg
William Reddie
[Editor's Note: This case illustrates the difficulties that arise in determining which deaths qualify as being a direct result of drug law enforcement. Police here were enforcing child protections laws, not drug laws, but the only reason CPS was called in was because of the allegation of marijuana use. There was no allegation of crazed behavior due to marijuana use; only the allegation of use. For Michigan CPS authorities, that was enough to remove the child. Bottom line: This guy died because the state tried to take his kid because he was accused of smoking pot, so he merits inclusion. That doesn't mean his own actions didn't contribute to his death.]

Reddie's killing took place on February 3, but we only became aware of it when news broke this week that prosecutors had decided that the police officer's use of deadly force in the incident was justified.

According to the Crawford County Avalanche, Grayling police Officer Alan Somero was called to Reddie's apartment for an alleged domestic disturbance. Somero made no arrests, but believed he smelled marijuana and reported it to CPS. Two CPS employees went to Reddie's apartment to check on the situation. They then got a court order to remove Reddie's 3-year-old son, Cameron, and asked police to escort them to the apartment to serve the court order.

The Gaylord Herald-Times, which obtained the CPS removal order, added more detail. It reported that Reddie had been accused of smoking marijuana in front of his son, and that Reddie had become "agitated" and threatened police when confronted by that accusation earlier in the day.

The court order gave the following reason for removing the child: "There are reasonable grounds for this court to remove the child(ren) from the parent... because conditions or surroundings of the child(ren), and is contrary to the welfare of the child(ren) to remain in the home because: It is alleged that the father used marijuana in the home in the presence of the child. In addition, there is concern for the safety of the child due to a domestic disturbance and threats made toward law enforcement by the father."

Returning to the Avalanche's narrative, when police and CPS workers arrived to seize the child, Reddie then reportedly displayed a pocketknife and lunged at them. Crawford County Deputy John Klepadlo shot and killed him. Police had been deploying Tasers, but holstered them and grabbed their guns when Reddie displayed the knife.

Crawford County Sheriff Kirk Wakefield then asked the Michigan State Police to investigate his deputy's use of deadly force. The Michigan Attorney General's Office referred the case to the neighboring Roscommon County Prosecutor's Office. After receiving a report from the State Police, Roscommon County DA Mark Jernigan determined that the use of deadly force was justified and that Klepadlo would not be charged with any crime.

"The deceased was in possession of an edged weapon," Jernigan said. "The deceased pulled a knife and hid it behind his back. At the point where he pulls his hand forward and lunges at the officer, he is in such close proximity, and presents a clear danger of deadly force, the officer is left with no option other than to use deadly force to protect himself, the other officer and the three civilians that were present. The use of deadly force is completely justified and therefore, the homicide was justified."

Toxicology reports, which were included in the final investigation, showed there was no marijuana or alcohol in Reddie's system when he was killed.

Reddie had been seeking permanent custody of his son and was due in court for a hearing on that matter three days after he was killed.

"They took the only thing he ever loved," Reddie's mother, Michelle VanBuren, told the Avalanche after the prosecutor's announcement.

VanBuren said she was baffled by the conduct of authorities, especially since no evidence or alcohol or marijuana use was found. She said she had been in contact with her son throughout that day.

"I was on the phone with my son all day, and that cop was bullying him and harassing him so badly," she said. "Where was protect and serve?" VanBuren asked. "The officers always have to stick together and for them to do this is just totally uncalled for."

VanBuren said the family would continue to fight to ensure that CPS and law enforcement are held accountable for their actions. "They need to be held accountable and they will be held accountable, believe you me," she said.

Reddie's family is not alone in questioning police and CPS actions. "I can't believe they (police) could not subdue Will without killing him, and over what, marijuana," said Joanne Michal, who knew Reddie for half of his life. "Why didn't police just arrest him or cite him for marijuana instead of removing his child?" she told the Herald-Times.

"It is particularly sad that Will was shot to death right in front of his son," Michal continued. "Why not use a Taser? Even if he (Will) had a knife and lunged at police, they didn't have to kill him. Instead of using a Taser, you shoot him in front of his child. It is just totally unjustified. They didn't have to kill him. I think it's very sad that his life was taken during the removal of his son. And the smell of marijuana shouldn't have been a reason for an emergency order. Just a few days before he was killed, Will was visiting, and he was so excited because a hearing was coming up for custody. And it seemed to give him hope of getting permanent custody. His son was everything to him."

Crawford County Clerk Sandra Moore said she also knew Reddie. "It's truly a shame," Moore said. "He was a good guy and very fond of his son. He had been very excited just days before" about gaining permanent custody.

Cameron Reddie is now in foster care. His father's family is seeking visitation rights.

Meanwhile, Deputy Klepadlo, who had been on administrative leave after the shooting, is back on the job.

Grayling, MI
United States

Two More Drug Raids, Two More Deaths

Two drug raids last Wednesday, one in Miami Lakes, Florida, and one in New Orleans, have resulted in the deaths of two men, one in each raid. Michael Ray Santana, 26, of Miami Lakes and Wendell Allen, 20, of New Orleans become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Miami Lakes, according to police, Santana was shot and killed after he confronted members of the Miami-Dade police Special Response Team, a SWAT-style outfit, serving a "high risk narcotics search warrant" at his residence. Police said officers knocked, announced themselves, and then went inside, when they were confronted by a man armed with a firearm.

Santana was the subject of the police investigation, and police said they found numerous firearms and a substantial amount of unspecified "narcotics" in the residence.

In New Orleans, according to police, Allen was shot in the chest and killed by a police officer serving a search warrant at a home where he was present. Officers from both the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department took part in the raid, but the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shot has not been made public.

Police made no mention of any weapons found.

New Orleans Police Superintedant Ronal Serpas said the house in the Gentilly district had been under surveillance for several days.

"Today, multiple narcotics transactions of a distribution nature were observed," he said, adding that a person who left the house was later charged arrested for intent to distribute "narcotics."

Serpa did not identify either the shooter or the dead man, and he didn't take questions during a brief press conference.

But a distraught woman at the scene of the shooting told the New Orleans Times-Picayune he was her grandson, Wendell Allen.

Allen's shooting was the second fatal police shooting in the NOPD's 3rd District in less than a week.

As people milled around the scene of the shooting, one woman screamed, "Lord have mercy! Why does this stuff keep happening?" Another shouted, "The policeman killed him. They killed my baby."

Allen had one arrest on his record, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was one year into a five-year suspended sentence when he was shot and killed.

In the days since Allen's death last week, a growing clamor has arisen.The Louisiana Justice Institute is threatening to sue the city unless it releases more information on the killing. Police have yet to supply a narrative of what happened, and the officer who pulled the trigger has yet to be interviewed. Family members and community activists demonstrated last Friday and again on Tuesday to keep up the pressure.

What is clear is that the raid was aimed at small-time marijuana dealing, and Allen wasn't the subject of the raid.

 

Bronx Narc Kills Unarmed Teen

A NYPD narcotics officer shot and killed a Bronx 18-year-old Thursday as the teen was allegedly trying to flush drugs down a toilet in his own home. Ramarley Graham becomes the eighth person to die in US drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and it appears to have been over a small amount of marijuana.

Police told the Wall Street Journal the undercover narcs had already arrested two other men they watched allegedly selling drugs Thursday afternoon when they approached Graham. He ran to his home nearby, followed by police, and into a second-floor bathroom, where he was possibly trying to flush drugs, police said.

When an unidentified officer confronted him in the bathroom, Graham spun around, and, according to police, there was a struggle, and the officer then shot him in the chest. It wasn't clear what caused the officer to fire. Graham was pronounced dead at a local hospital. A small amount of pot was floating in the toilet bowl.

An earlier report from PIX-11 TV, however, had police telling local media Graham "made a motion near his waist leading them to believe he was armed" when he was still on the street. He wasn't, police have conceded.

Police were quick to tell local media about Graham's arrest record, which included busts for burglary, robbery, dealing marijuana, and other offenses. But they didn't say how those cases had been resolved or whether they were even aware of his identity when they shot him.

After the shooting, PIX-11 TV reported that "Graham's parents were at the White Plains Road intersection visibly agitated and a crowd of approximately 80 people were openly hostile towards police, berating officers lined up along the crime scene tape."

Graham's mother, Constance Malcolm, 39, told the Wall Street Journal, a neighbor had called her at work to tell her her son had been killed. Malcolm said her mother and her six-year-old son were also in the apartment during the shooting.

"The cops told me they were chasing him. He had weed, and that's it," Ms. Malcolm said. "Nobody deserves to be shot like that in their own house."

Bronx, NY
United States

At Year's End, Five More US Drug War Deaths

[Editor's Note: Drug War Chronicle is trying to track every death directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement during the year. We're doing it again this year, too. 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.]

Slain officer Arnulfo Crispin
Five people, including a Florida police officer, have died in recent days in incidents related to domestic drug law enforcement. They become the 49th through 54th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations in 2011. Of those 54, three were law enforcement officers.

In North Charleston, South Carolina Wayne Mitchell, 20, died on November 30 after eating an ounce of cocaine while he and his brother, Deangelo, 23, were detained in the back seat of a police car after they were pulled over by police. According to local media citing police sources, police car video showed the brothers discussing their situation, and Deangelo was seen removing cocaine from his pants and giving it to his brother. Deangelo, who has a record of previous cocaine arrests is heard saying he can't afford another strike and "one of us gotta do it." Wayne Mitchell swallowed the cocaine and later died at a hospital. It was only three weeks later, after toxicology tests came back, that police announced the death and said they planned to charge Deangelo Mitchell with manslaughter.

In Lakeland, Florida, Lakeland police Officer Arnulfo Crispin was shot in the head on the night of December 18 as he attempted to frisk five men for guns and drugs in a local park. He died of his wounds three days later. According to police, Crispin radioed in that he was getting out of his patrol car to talk with "suspicious subjects." Two of the men present told police Crispin asked the men for their consent for a "pat-down" search for weapons and/or illegal drugs, and as he was searching them, Kyle Williams, 19, pulled a weapon and shot him. At that point, everyone fled the park, leaving Crispin lying on the ground. Another Lakeland police officer sent as back-up arrived on the scene minutes later to find Crispin had been shot. Williams has been arrested and is facing murder charges.

In St. Louis, Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, was shot and killed by a St. Louis police officer on December 20. According to police, officers on routine patrol saw a transaction they suspected was a drug deal take place outside a chicken restaurant. As officers approached, one man ran off on foot, while Smith jumped into a car and fled. Police said he drove the vehicle toward them, so one officer fired a shot, but didn't hit Smith. Police chased Smith's car until it spun out, and a police car hit Smith's car, causing the air bag to deploy and blocking the cops' view of the driver. Smith refused demands to get out of the car, and when one of the officers tried to move the air bag to get a view of Smith, he saw him reach under his seat and fired shots, killing him. Police said they searched the vehicle and found a gun and suspected narcotics. A police investigation of the incident is under way.

In Houma, Louisiana, Wayne Michael Williams, 27, died December 21 after being tasered by police as he tried to swallow plastic bags of suspected cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. According to local media citing police sources, Williams was stopped by narcotics agents after they saw him exchange an object with another man. Police said he tried to swallow something and drive away as agents approached. They tasered and handcuffed him before noticing he wasn't breathing. Medical workers pulled a bag of suspected cocaine out of his throat in the ambulance and another containing suspected heroin and marijuana was removed at the hospital.

Williams' death drew sharp criticism from his relatives and residents of the trailer park where he was stopped, who have accused the Terrebonne Narcotics Task Force of heavy-handed tactics and harassing the community. But Terrebonne Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois said his office has completed an internal review and cleared all the officers to return to duty.

In Camden, New Jersey, Eddie Velazquez, 29, was shot and killed by a state trooper December 23 behind a liquor store in what police called "a high crime area." According to police, troopers were in the area to investigate suspected drug activity. When one trooper approached the SUV Velazquez was sitting in, he accelerated in reverse, striking and dragging the trooper. He then pulled forward and struggled with the trooper, who then shot him. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police said he was carrying a loaded .45 caliber handgun in the pocket of his sweatshirt, but they did not say he had shot it or brandished it.

State troopers are patrolling Camden under orders from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who deployed them there earlier this month in response to a rash of deadly violence. Christie said at the time the troopers would provide "a visible surge" in uniformed officers on Camden's streets.

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

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

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