Futile Pursuits

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What's the Big Deal About Narco-Subs?

The DEA is proud of having helped Ecuadoran authorities capture this "narco-sub":

Silly DEA -- don't they realize what the implications are, of drug traffickers having the wherewithal to operate a submarine? It means they have effectively unlimited resources to devote to the task of finding a way to get their product from point A to point B, and to reducing the cost associated with doing so. If it's not over the border, it's under it. If it's not by air, it's on the sea. If not on the sea, then under the sea -- using narco-subs. Apparently lots of narco-subs:

Oh, and don't forget, if not here, then there. Silly DEA. Random thought on the DEA photograph: Does this remind anyone else of Yoda in the jungle on his planet, using the force to lift the damaged spacecraft, Empire Strikes Back movie?

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ciudadjuarez.jpg
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, June 10

In Guatemala City, Guatemala, four human heads were left to be discovered near the national Congress and three other locations in and around the city. A note threatening the interior minister and head of the national prison system was left with one of the heads. While leaving decapitated heads to be found happens with some frequency in Mexico, such cases are rare in Guatemala. Organized crime in Guatemala is integrally linked to Mexico, as Mexican cartels have an extensive presence in the country, which they use to move shipments of cocaine into Mexico from South America.

In Houston, Texas, federal authorities announced the arrest of 2,200 suspects linked to Mexican drug cartels. The arrests came during a 22-month probe which targeted cells of every major drug cartel. On Wednesday, some 400 people were arrested across 16 states. The probe led to the seizure of $154, 1,200 pounds of meth, 2.5 tons of cocaine, 1,400 pounds of heroin, and 69 tons of marijuana.

Friday , June 11

In the city of Chihuahua, 19 people were killed and four were wounded when gunmen raided a drug-rehabilitation clinic. At least 30 gunmen traveling in six vehicles stormed the Christian Faith and Life Center, using assault rifles to kill 14 people immediately, which was followed by the execution of an additional five. The attackers left a threatening message as they withdrew. The attack was similar to two which took place in Ciudad Juarez in September, which left 28 people dead. Initial reports from police suggest that the center may have housed members of the "Mexicles" gang, which is allied to the Sinaloa Cartel as it battles the Juarez Cartel for control of the Chihuahua drug-trafficking corridors.

In Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, at least 20 people were killed in five incidents across the city. The incidents began late on Thursday night when police clashed with an unclear number of gunmen who were moving in vehicles in the city. Police later discovered bodies on a nearby beach on several other locations in Madero.

Sunday , June 13

In Tepic, Nayarit, eight gunmen and a policeman were killed during a chaotic gun fight in a crowded shopping mall. At least 1,500 shoppers were present during the incident, which began when police entering the shopping mall to investigate a report of suspicious activity were met by gunfire from at least 15 gunmen. At least one civilian, a taxi driver, was killed in the crossfire. Four other killings were reported in Tepic on Sunday, making it the most violent day in the city's recent history.

Monday , June 14

Across Mexico, 43 people were killed in drug-related violence. In Michoacan, 12 police officers were killed after being ambush near the town of Zitacuaro. One gunman was killed in the ensuing firefight. The army and police launched an immediate manhunt for the remaining gunmen, who escaped.

In Mazatlan, Sinaloa, 28 prison inmates were killed in a gunfight inside the confines of the prison. At least some of the inmates were said to be members of the Zetas Organization. The incident comes just a week after Sinaloa Governor Jesus Aguilar warned about the repercussions of overcrowding in the Mazatlan prison, which houses 6,000 inmates, many of the linked to drug-trafficking organizations. Sinaloa has long been at the heart of the Mexican drug trade.

Tuesday , June 15

In Taxco, 15 gunmen were killed during a 40 minute-long firefight with elements of the Mexican Army. No soldiers were wounded or killed in the fight, which began after troops came under fire while investigating a suspicious location. Initial reports indicate that the gunmen were part of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel faction loyal to US-born drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, so nicknamed for his blue eyes and light complexion.

Wednesday , June 16

In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were murdered in a 15-minute span across the city, and 22 were killed by the end of the day. In one incident, six people were killed at a methadone clinic, including a man who was killed next to his two-year old son.

In Monterrey, seven police officers were kidnapped and executed by armed men. The bodies of the officers -- all showing signs of torture -- were later found on an abandoned plot of land along with a message. One of the men was decapitated. Three teenagers were also killed in a separate incident in Monterrey. In Santiago, 19 miles away from Monterrey, two police officers were found shot to death.

Thursday, June 17

In Costa Rica, 14 drug traffickers were arrested by police. Four of the suspects were found to Mexican nationals and representatives of an unspecified cartel. Costa Rica has seen an increased presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations who seek new routes for cocaine headed north from South America.

Total Body Count for the Week: 416

Total Body Count for the Year: 5,210

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feature: Reining in SWAT -- Towards Effective Oversight of Paramilitary Police Units

As is periodically the case, law enforcement SWAT teams have once again come under the harsh gaze of a public outraged and puzzled by their excesses. First, it was the February SWAT raid on a Columbia, Missouri, home where police shot two dogs, killing one, as the suspect, his wife, and young son cowered. Police said they were looking for a dealer-sized stash of marijuana, but found only a pipe with residues. When police video of that raid hit the Internet and went viral this month, the public anger was palpable, especially in Columbia.

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SWAT team, Contra Costa County, California
Then came a botched SWAT raid in Georgia -- not a forced entry, but otherwise highly aggressive, and directed at the wrong building -- that left a 76-year-old woman hospitalized with a heart attack.

And then came the tragedy in Detroit two weeks ago, where a member of a Detroit Police SWAT team killed seven-year-old Aiyana Jones as she slept on a living room couch. Allegedly, the officer had a tussle with the girl's grandmother as he charged through the door after a flash-bang grenade was thrown through the window, and the gun discharged accidentally, though the account has been disputed by the family's attorney. In this instance, police were not looking for drugs but for a murder suspect. He was later found in another apartment in the same house. Again, the public dismay and anger was palpable.

Botched (wrong address or wrong person) raids or raids where it appears excessive force has been used are certainly not a new phenomenon, as journalist Radley Balko documented in his 2006 study, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America." But most raids gone bad do not get such wide public or media attention.

The victims often are poor, or non-white, or both. Or -- worse yet -- they are criminal suspects, who generally generate little sympathy, even when they are abused.

And while they were originally created to handle very special problems -- terrorist incidents, hostage situations, and the like -- there just aren't that many of those. As a result the use of SWAT has seen "mission creep," where SWAT teams are now routinely called out to serve search warrants, particularly in drug cases. In 1980, 2,884 SWAT deployments were recorded nationwide; the number today is estimated by experts at 50,000 annually or more.

The sheer normality of SWAT teams doing drug raids now, as well the status of their victims, has resulted in effective immunity and impunity for SWAT teams that commit errors or engage in unnecessary force. Most of the time when a raid goes bad, nothing happens.

It seems to take an especially outrageous incident, like Columbia or Detroit, to inspire public concern, and even then, it is the citizenry and perhaps part of elected officialdom against the powerful law enforcement establishment. Creating effective oversight over SWAT teams and their paramilitary raids is not easy -- but it can be done, or at least started.

The now infamous 2008 raid on the home of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo by a Prince Georges County Police SWAT team is a case in point. In that raid, police were tracking a package they knew contained marijuana, and once it was delivered to Calvo's house and taken inside, the SWAT team rushed in, manhandled Calvo and his mother-in-law and shot and killed Calvo's two dogs.

But further investigation showed the Calvos were doubly victimized, not criminals. They were victims of drug dealers who would send packages to unknowing addresses, then pick them up after they were left by the delivery man. And they were the victims of a SWAT team run amok.

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SWAT team, Pasadena, Texas
But Prince Georges SWAT hit the wrong guy when it Calvo's house, and not just because Calvo and his mother-in-law and his dogs were innocent victims. Calvo was not just an upstanding member of the community -- he was the mayor of his town. And beyond that, his former day job with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) gave him both personal connections to legislators and the knowledge to work the system.

Prodded by Calvo and others, the Maryland legislature last year passed a bill making it the first state to make any attempt to rein in SWAT. That bill requires each agency with a SWAT team to file annual reports detailing their activities and the results of their raids. The effort was opposed by law enforcement, of course, but legislators were swayed by hours of gut-wrenching testimony from raid victims.

"It was the telling of the stories of a number of people who had suffered either botched or ill-advised raids," Calvo explained to Drug War Chronicle. "It happens so often, and the stories don't get told in a meaningful way, but my incident made such wide headlines that people called me reaching out, and once those circles developed, we were able to get some political momentum," he recalled.

"I happened to be in a unique position," he said. "Through my experience at NCSL, I knew a lot of legislators and worked with the Judiciary Committee in Maryland to get a bill drafted. When we had hearings, it wasn't just one or two stories, probably more like a dozen, including people we didn't know about, but who just showed up to tell their stories. There was a wrong house raid with a dog killed, there was a warrant served at a bad address, a mother whose house was raided after her son was caught with a gram of marijuana, there was a triple no-knock raid at three homes with the same name on all three, there was a former member of the judiciary committee whose mother's home was raided because police were looking for a relative. They kicked in her door and knocked her to the ground," Calvo recalled.

"Each story helped connect the dots," he explained. "Those stories made a powerful case. We were not saying the Assembly should micromanage the police, but we wanted to shine a light on what was happening. The first step was making people aware, and getting the SWAT data makes tangible and comprehensive what is otherwise anecdotal."

Although the first formal report on Maryland SWAT raids is not due until this fall, preliminary numbers from the first six months of reporting have already generated more stories in the press and kept the issue alive. And they provide grist for the reform mill.

"It's not just the number of raids, it's that 92% of them are for search warrants, not hostage situations or bank robberies or the like," said Calvo. "It's that two times out of three, they kick in the door. It's that in some jurisdictions -- Prince Georges, Anne Arundel, Annapolis -- the majority of deployments are for misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. Prince Georges had 105 raids against nonviolent offenders in six months, and that speaks to deeper policy problems. Baltimore County deployed only once for a nonviolent offense. That's more a model of professionalism."

Calvo said he plans to use the full year's worth of SWAT raid reporting due this fall to return to Annapolis to push for further reforms. "The legislature could impose training standards or other statewide protocols," he said. "It could impose more transparency. A full year of data will be helpful with that. Hopefully, the reporting requirement passed last year will end up being just the first step in a multi-step process to insert some better judgment into the process for when these paramilitary units are deployed."

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PolitickerMD cartoon about the Calvo raid
The dog-killing SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri, has also resulted in activism aimed at reining in SWAT, and it has already had an impact. Under withering public criticism, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton quickly instituted changes in the SWAT team's command and control structure and when and how it could be used. He also came out for marijuana legalization, saying he believed many police would be happy to not have to enforce pot prohibition.

The activism is continuing, however. "There is a lot going on in response to that raid," said Columbia attorney Dan Viets, a member of the board of national NORML. "The ACLU and NORML are involved, but so are groups of citizens who have not been activists before. And our police chief has been pretty responsive -- he doesn't have that bunker mentality that so many cops do," Viets said.

"For us, it's not so much SWAT as the use of search warrants for nonviolent crimes. Whether they have SWAT on the back of their jackets or not, they still do the same brutal stuff," the defense attorney continued. "The execution of a search warrant is almost always a violent act, it's a home invasion. It isn't that they're SWAT that matters, it's the fact that they engage in violence in the execution of those search warrants," he said.

"We are trying to suggest that police not use search warrants for nonviolent crime," said Viets. "They can rely on the tried and true: Send in an informer to do a controlled buy, then get an arrest warrant. Even the chief has said that they would try to arrest people outside their homes."

Similar outrage and activism is occurring in Detroit, where anti-police sentiments were loudly voiced in the days after the killing of Aiyana Jones. Police brutality activists usually isolated in their complaining are being joined by everyday citizens. The Detroit City Council is investigating. The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at Jones' funeral. But whether the uproar results in a reformed SWAT policy remains to be seen.

"The death of that girl in Detroit was an inevitable result of the broad use of these things," said Calvo. "When you're doing 50,000 or 75,000 SWAT raids a year, it will eventually happen."

"Whatever one thinks about using SWAT tactics when looking for a murder suspect, the results in Detroit show how dangerously volatile these tactics really are," said Dave Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, who is also the moving force behind the Americans for SWAT Reform web site and campaign. "There is every reason to believe that conducting a late night raid and detonating flash bang grenades led to the physical contact between the woman and the officer in which the gun discharged, killing the girl. That's all the more reason to avoid those tactics wherever possible, certainly in routine drug search warrants."

"In Detroit, they were going after a murder suspect, but there are a whole lot of questions about their tactical intelligence," said criminologist David Klinger, a former LAPD and Redmond, Washington, police officer and author of "Into the Kill Zone: a Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force," who now works for the Police Executive Research Forum. "Did they know there were children present? Why didn't they just do a contain and call?" where police secure the perimeter and tell the suspect to come outside, he asked.

While sending in the SWAT team in Detroit may be justified, said Klinger, the use of SWAT for small-time drug raids is not. "If you're sending in a SWAT team for a small amount of marijuana, that doesn't make sense," said Klinger. "There are some domestic agencies that don't understand that they should be utilizing some sort of threat assessment. That's one of the big issues regardless of who has oversight. A lot of it is a training issue about when SWAT should be utilized."

There are different pressure points where reformers can attempt to get some control over SWAT deployments. They range from the departmental level, to city hall or the county government, to the state house, and to Congress.

"The first level of oversight should be within the agency, whether it's the chief or some other officer with oversight over SWAT," said Klinger. "You need to make sure they have appropriate command and control and supervision, appropriate surveillance, tactical intelligence, and evidence of something out of the usual as opposed to just 'there's drugs there.' There needs to be a threat matrix done -- are there unusual fortifications, is there a history of violence, are weapons present other than for self protection?"

Neill Franklin is a former Maryland police officer with SWAT experience. He is also the incoming head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). For Franklin, SWAT has limited legitimate uses, but aggressive, paramilitarized policing has gone too far. He blames the war on drugs.

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s, we didn't use SWAT teams to conduct search warrants unless it was a truly documented violent organization," he said. "As the drug war escalated, we started using SWAT to execute drug-related warrants. When I first started as an undercover officer, the narcotics team executed the warrant, along with two or three uniformed officers, but not with the high-powered weapons and force we use today. The drug war is the reason for using these teams and the driving force behind them," said the former narc.

"Because police have become accustomed to serving so many warrants, they've also become accustomed to using SWAT for every warrant," said Franklin. "In the past, they were more selective. You had to provide the proper intel and articulate why a SWAT team was needed, what was the history of violence, what was the prospect of violence. Some departments now are very strict -- you have to ID the house and the people you're after, you have to photograph the house and the door you're going to go through, you have to know who should be in that house, what special circumstances may be involved, and whether there are children or animals in the house -- but now, I think a lot of departments aren't doing the proper intel."

"You need a threat matrix that talks about unusual weapons," said Klinger. "Does some guy have an automatic shotgun? Is he a major dealer? That's when you might want to send in SWAT, but it's not a good idea to routinely use SWAT."

In addition to doing surveillance and gathering intelligence, police need to ensure they are using the right personnel for SWAT teams, said Franklin, alluding to the fact that such teams are often accused of having a "cowboy" mentality. "These guys are self-selected and handpicked," he said. "You need people in good physical shape, but you have to have a process for selecting the right people with the right personalities."

Franklin also pointed a finger at judges. "I think a lot of the time, judges give warrants out too easily," he said. "A lot of them are just boilerplate, already typed up; you just fill in the blanks and a little detail. They are too easy to draft and get approved by a judge. The judges need to be a bit more strict and ask some questions to ensure a no-knock warrant is justified."

But departmental policies are where to begin, Franklin said. "Policy is the critical point," said Franklin, "policy is the key. And maybe judges need to be involved in asking those policy questions. Are there kids in the home? Dogs? Special circumstances? Do you have photos? I don't think judges are asking enough questions, and there is too much rubber-stamping of warrants. The judges are too loose on this; they need to tighten up."

The next levels of oversight -- and opportunities for intervention -- are the local and state governments, said Klinger. "It generally stops with the mayor and city council, but now Maryland has a law where they have to report, and I don't have a problem with that. We are a representative republic, and the power of the police is very strong. The government operates by the consent of the governed, and the governed need to have information about what their police are doing. Why not?"

There is plenty of work that could be done at the state level, said Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (CJPF). "You could amend a state criminal procedure statute to require that a specialized kind of warrant would be needed to use a SWAT team. You could spell out particular things that had to be established, you might require additional verification of informant information beyond an ordinary search warrant, or specific evidence about possession of weapons and evidence about their connection to criminal activity, you could require higher degrees of confirmation about the address, you could require specific findings regarding the presence of children or the elderly, that a buy be done not by an informant but by a member of the law enforcement agency, that there be continuous surveillance of the property for some period before the raid takes place to verify who is present," Sterling said, ticking off a list of possibilities.

As Missouri attorney Viets noted above, it's not just SWAT, it is aggressive tactics like dynamic entry and no-knock raids that are also under scrutiny, whether done by SWAT or by other police units. It is those situations that are most dangerous for police and citizens, with the breaking down of doors, the yelling of commands, the flash-bangs, the confusion. And even the cops are talking about it.

"There is a big debate going on in the SWAT community," said Klinger. "Do you do a dynamic entry, or do you do something less? Some agencies will do a breach and hold, where they get through the front door, but stop there until they make contact with people inside. Another version is the 'contain and call-out', where they announce their presence and ask the people to come outside. Then, officers can carefully, slowly go through the place, and you know that if someone has a gun, he's after you. Sometimes we need to be aggressive, and there's nothing wrong with a dynamic entry, but you want to make sure you're using SWAT in the appropriate circumstances. We want to be minimally aggressive."

"It's those no-knock warrants, whether it's SWAT or not, where people tend to get hurt, where their animals are slaughtered," said Franklin. "That seems to be the norm now. You hear SWAT personnel joking about this all the time. If you know there's an animal in the house, why don't you just have Animal Control along? Unless that dog is so aggressive he's actually ripping people apart, he could be secured. Mostly they are just doing what they are supposed to do: barking and holding their ground."

[Ed: In many cases including the raid in Columbia, a warrant has nominally been served as a knock-and-announce, but the waiting is so short that it effectively equivalent to a no-knock. The term "dynamic entry" roughly applies to both kinds of situations, and "no-knock" is often used to refer to both kinds.]

"I don't know why they're shooting dogs," Klinger said with a hint of exasperation. "Unless they were being aggressive and attacking, you need to rethink what you're doing if you're shooting dogs. Just take a fire extinguisher with you and zap the dog with it. Shooting dogs unnecessarily suggests a lack of training about how to discern what is and is not a threat."

As long as the war on drugs continues, so will the issues around SWAT, no-knock raids, and search warrants. "The vast majority of these warrants are drug related," said Franklin. "The ultimate solution is ending prohibition. That would resolve so many issues."

Somewhat surprisingly, Klinger agreed. "We should just legalize drugs and call off the hounds, but if we're going to have drug prohibition, we have to be able to enforce it," he said. "If the rest of the polity says no to legalization, we can't have a regime where dopers just sit in their homes and do what they want. But if we are going to have the prohibition model, we need appropriate oversight over policing it."

Sterling pointed out some other pressure points for SWAT reform until we get to that day when drug prohibition is just a bad memory. "A private way of thinking about this is to use the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. to include in accrediting criterion better control or management of the way in which SWAT teams are used," said Sterling.

There are also reform possibilities at the federal level, Sterling said. "If you want to set national standards, Congress arguably has the power under the 14th Amendment in terms of equal protection to enforce the Fourth Amendment," he said. "You could provide that SWAT activity carried out outside the limits of such a special warrant could result in civil liability, denial of federal funds to the agency, or potential criminal penalties. There are examples of this in the wiretap law. It's very, very strict in its requirements about what law enforcement agencies have to do and it has very strict reporting requirements. There is certainly precedent in national law for how we regulate highly invasive, specialized law enforcement activities."

Sterling, a Maryland resident himself, said the Maryland SWAT reporting law passed after the Calvo raid shows political space can be created to support reform, but that it isn't easy. "It took raiding the mayor and killing his dogs and their being completely innocent white people to get relatively minor legislative action," he said. "The record keeping requirement is clearly a baby step toward challenging SWAT, and there was very decided knee-jerk law enforcement opposition to it."

It's going to take some organizing, he said. "You have to have a collection of groups deciding to make this an issue the way they made addressing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity an issue. I'm not aware that this has developed yet, and perhaps this is something the drug reform community should be doing. We could take the lead in trying to raise this with more powerful political actors."

NEW LOCATION: Reformers to Call for New Approach TODAY at Marijuana Eradication Conference

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                 

MAY 10, 2010

Reformers to Call for New Approach TODAY at Marijuana Eradication Conference

Location Changed for Today’s Press Conference; Former Law Enforcement, Clergy Members, Other Advocates Will Call for End to Wasteful, Ineffective Eradication Campaigns

CONTACT: Aaron Smith, MPP California policy director …………… asmith@mpp.org or 707-291-0076

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — At a press conference today, reform-minded advocates will make the case for ending the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which, since 1983, has inarguably failed to achieve its stated goal: reducing marijuana use and availability by eradicating illegal grow sites.

            Today through Wednesday, local, state, and federal law enforcement officers will gather at the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego to begin organizing this year’s eradication campaign, the wisdom of which has been increasingly called into question as Californians prepare to vote on a November ballot initiative that would end the state’s prohibition on adult marijuana use.

         “It’s time to stop this insanity of repeating the futile exercise of CAMP and instead replace marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation,” said Aaron Smith, California policy director for MPP, who is leading Monday’s press conference.

         Today’s press conference was originally planned to be held in the same hotel as the CAMP conference, but organizers were informed at the last minute and without explanation that they would not be able to hold the event in the same hotel. 

         NEW LOCATION: Westin Gas Lamp Quarter Hotel, Coronado Room, (3rd floor), 910 Broadway Circle, San Diego, CA 92101

         WHAT: Press conference to call for an effective marijuana policy and an end to eradication campaigns

         WHEN: Monday, May 10, at 11:00 a.m.

         WHO: Speakers who will question the wisdom behind CAMP will include:

Leo Laurence, a retired deputy sheriff and former legal researcher for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, now a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The Rev. Canon Mary Moreno-Richardson, an Episcopal priest and coordinator for Hispanic Ministries at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, who has worked extensively to prevent violence in the community and help at risk youth.

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

####

Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States

Press Release: Reformers to Call for New Approach at Annual Marijuana Eradication Conference Monday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                 

MAY 7, 2010

Reformers to Call for New Approach at Annual Marijuana Eradication Conference Monday

At Monday Press Conference, Former Law Enforcement Officers, Clergy Members, and Other Advocates Will Call for an End to Ineffective, Wasteful Eradication Campaigns

CONTACT: Aaron Smith, MPP California policy director …………… asmith@mpp.org or 707-291-0076

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — From May 10 to May 13, local, state, and federal law enforcement officers will gather at the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego to begin organizing this year’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which, since 1983, has inarguably failed to achieve its stated goal: reducing marijuana use and availability by eradicating illegal grow sites. On Monday, at a press conference at the same hotel, advocates will call on officials to end this wasteful policy, the wisdom of which is being increasingly called into question as Californians prepare to vote on a November ballot initiative that would end the state’s prohibition on adult marijuana use.

         “These so-called ‘eradication’ efforts have had zero effect on marijuana use, availability, or price, but once again, California law enforcement agencies are perfectly content to throw more tax money down the CAMP rabbit hole. It’s time to stop this insanity of repeating the futile exercise of CAMP and instead replace marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation,” said Aaron Smith, California policy director for MPP, who is leading Monday’s press conference. “Only then will we be able to eliminate the clandestine marijuana plantations — just as the repeal of alcohol prohibition did away with the bootleggers of that era. It’s no coincidence that drug cartels don’t plant vineyards or hops fields in our national forests.”

         WHAT: Press conference to call for an effective marijuana policy and an end to an eradication campaigns

         WHEN: Monday, May 10, at 11:00 a.m.

         WHERE: U.S. Grant Hotel, Sycuan Parlor, 326 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

         WHO: Speakers who will question the wisdom behind CAMP will include:

Leo Laurence, a retired deputy sheriff and former legal researcher for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, now a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The Rev. Canon Mary Moreno-Richardson, an Episcopal priest and coordinator for Hispanic Ministries at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, who has worked extensively to prevent violence in the community and help at risk youth.

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

####

Location: 
CA
United States

Law Enforcement: Video of SWAT Team Killing Dogs in Front of Child During Pot Raid Stirs Outrage

A February SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri, in which police shot two dogs, killing one of them, in front of a Columbia man and his terrified wife and seven-year-old child is stirring outrage months later -- after video of the raid was released this week. Police in Columbia are reporting death threats as the video goes viral and Internet message boards grow bloated with angry, outraged comments.

As of Friday morning , the YouTube video had been watched more than 500,000 times. The Columbia Tribune article linked to below contained a whopping 593 comments Thursday night, the vast majority critical of police, many downright hostile.

The SWAT team hit the home of Jonathan Whitworth, 25, with a search warrant alleging he was holding a major amount of marijuana and was a drug dealer. They found a pipe, a grinder, and a small amount of marijuana. Along the way, they shot the dogs, killing one of them, shouted profanities at the frightened family, and generally behaved as if they were Special Forces raiding a Taliban hide-out.

Police claimed they shot and killed a pit bull because it was "acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner," but while the video shows barking, it shows no growling. No reason was given for shooting and wounding the second dog, a corgi.

According to the Columbia Tribune, police said they were unaware that a child resided at the home. Between the bad intelligence indicating they had a major drug bust and the bad intelligence regarding who lived at the target residence, the raid would seem to suggest a force gone lax in its procedures and a local judiciary inclined to rubber stamp search warrant applications.

Jonathan Whitworth was arrested on marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia charges, and recently pleaded guilty to the paraphernalia charge. Now, he can concentrate on whether to file a lawsuit against the police department. "Their focus right now is to get this behind them," said Whitworth attorney Jeff Hilbrenner said. "Obviously, this was a traumatic event for his wife and son. A final decision has not been made, but they are evaluating all of their options."

The Columbia Police say they are conducting an internal review. It is worth nothing that in 2004, Columbia voted to make adult marijuana law offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. Somebody should mention that to the police department and its out-of-control SWAT team.

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 18,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 2,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Friday, March 19

In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon armed men blocked highways leading out of the city with buses and trucks they commandeered in an apparent attempt to disrupt military operations in the area. The incidents began on Thursday, when armed men began pulling drivers out of vehicles and parking them across the highways. The tires of several vehicles were slashed to make them more difficult to move. At least 31 separate roadblocks were set up.

Saturday, March 20

In Acapulco, a wedding ended in disaster after a ferocious firefight broke out between a group of men attending the party and a group of armed men who arrived in a pickup truck. Five men, all between the ages of 25 and 33, were killed, and four were wounded. In another part of the city, a clash between groups of rival gunmen left one dead. In another incident, two policemen and two gunmen were killed after a gunfight broke out on the Iguala-Ciudad Altamirano highway.

Sunday, March 21

In Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon, gunmen attacked a convoy in which the local public security chief, Rene Castillo Sanchez, was traveling. In the gun battle that ensued, two bodyguards were killed and several people were wounded. The assault was apparently an attempt to rescue two prisoners who had been taken into custody earlier in the day and were also traveling in the convoy. One of the two men was wounded in the clash.

After the shootout, the two prisoners were taken to Castillo's office, where they were transferred into the custody of Mexican marines, who took the two men to a local hospital by helicopter. One of the men, who was unscathed in the attack on the convoy, was later found dead wrapped in a blanket and tossed on the side of a road. The second suspect is now also reported missing. It is unclear exactly what happened, but many fear that the men were executed by the Mexican military.

Monday, March 22

In Chilpancingo, Guerrero, the dismembered bodies of two police officers were discovered outside police headquarters. Notes from the killers were left at the scene, but police have refused to disclose their content. One of the dead was a regional police commander, and the other a state police official. Nearby, in Acapulco, another two mutilated bodies and a note were left outside the home of a former deputy traffic police chief.

Tuesday, March 23

In Ciudad Juárez, several aircraft carrying an additional 450 federal police agents landed in the city. This brings the total number of federal police personnel in the city to 3,500, where they operate alongside local and state police forces and elements of the Mexican Army. So far this year, some 500 people have been killed in Ciudad Juárez.

In Mexico City, Hillary Clinton arrived with a delegation of high ranking officials to meet with Mexican officials, including President Calderon and Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. Among the other individuals in attendance were Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. The subject of the meetings was US-Mexico cooperation on issues related to drug and weapons trafficking and the fight against drug cartels. Clinton's arrival came 10 days after three individuals with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez were gunned down by men thought to be tied to the Juárez Cartel.

Wednesday, March 24

In Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, nine people were killed in a series of incidents involving a group of gunmen. The killings began when individuals traveling in two vehicles shot four men dead in a motorcycle repair shop. A fifth person was killed as the men made their escape. Soon after, the gunmen ran into a Mexican army convoy, and shot dead two soldiers. Following the clash, the gunmen fled into a pizza shop, where another two men were shot dead.

Thursday, March 25

In Michoacan, a high-level heroin trafficker was arrested by police. Jose Antonio Medina, 36, is thought to have run a network that transported 440 pounds of black tar heroin a month into Southern California. Medina's network was independent, but he was known to cooperate closely with La Familia Michoacana, the primary drug trafficking organization in the state of Michoacan.

In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, 41 prisoners escaped from a local prison. Two guards are also reported missing. All but three of the prisoners were charged with federal crimes, rather than state crimes. In the past, many local leaders have complained that the federal government overburdens their prison with federal prisoners, who are often more dangerous and violent, and often tied to drug trafficking groups.

Total Body Count for the Week: 251

Total Body Count for the Year: 2,323

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 18,528

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Law Enforcement: Utah "Meth Cops" Lose Out on Health Claims

More than 50 Utah law enforcement officers have filed workers compensation claims over ailments they believe were caused by exposure to methamphetamine labs, but none have been approved, and most have been dismissed for lack of evidence or because officers sought dismissal in a bid to come up with evidence. Only five cases are still pending.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/methlab4.jpg
meth lab
"They have to have enough evidence to justify the claims," said Carla Rush, adjudication manager for the Utah Labor Commission, which handles the claims. "Preferably a doctor saying they have been injured in a work-related exposure to meth. That would be the best evidence."

Scores of Utah police officers participated in breaking down clandestine meth labs in the 1980s and 1990s, wearing only standard police-issue uniforms. That was before they understood the caustic nature of some of the chemicals involved in cooking meth. Now, officers on meth lab duty wear air tanks and hazmat suits.

Those officers from the old days began filing claims asserting that a variety of physical ailments they were suffering were the result of meth lab exposure. By 2006, the Utah legislature commissioned a half-million dollar study to explore the issue. But that study, which was meant to establish a causal link between meth exposure and everything from cancer to nerve damage, was inconclusive.

The state has also paid out tens of thousands of dollars to the Utah Meth Cops Project for a scientifically unsupported detox regime backed by the Church of Scientology. But toxicologists say that toxins would have left the officers' bodies long ago, and the detox program is little more than quackery.

How about a study of legalization, to eliminate the meth lab problem once and for all -- followed by a detox from the consequences of prohibition?

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,000 so far in 2009. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Wednesday, November 11

In Tijuana, several policemen were the victims of an assassination attempt after gunmen opened fire on them outside a hotel. A TV cameraman from TV Azteca who was at the scene to cover the event was detained and beaten with a rifle by a policeman, even after having identified himself.

Thursday, November 12

Business groups in Ciudad Juarez publicly called on the United Nations to send peacekeepers to quell the violence in the city. The groups, which represent various assembly plants, retailers, and others businesses, said they plan to submit a request to the Mexican government and to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Daniel Murguia, president of the Ciudad Juarez chapter of the National Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism, was quoted as saying that "We have seen the UN peacekeepers enter other countries that have a lot fewer problems than we have." Ciudad Juarez has had 1,986 homicides through mid-October. Antonio Mazziteli, regional chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, quickly dismissed the idea, saying that he believed that the situation in Mexico did not warrant peacekeepers, as they have not been requested by the government.

Sunday, November 15

In Managua, Nicaragua, police seized a large cache of weapons thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel. The weapons -- which included 58 assault rifles, 2 mortars, 10 grenades, and 30 sticks of TNT -- were seized after a car chase and shootout with suspected cartel members, who managed to escape. Police are now searching for a Mexican national who is thought to be the group's leader and who has rented a house in Managua for at least the last month. Mexican cartels are known to have a strong presence throughout Central America, which is an important route for drugs coming from South America on their way to the US border.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 15 people were killed in violence across the city. Among them were a seven-year old child and his parents from El Paso who were killed after being attacked by several gunmen. In a separate incident, a university professor was killed after his car was ambushed. His wife was left wounded. In another incident, soldiers killed a suspected cartel gunman while wounding and capturing another. In Sinaloa, a high-ranking public security official was shot 38 times and killed. At least 6 other people were killed in drug-related violence in other parts of Mexico, including an army officer who was attacked while driving on the Guadalajara-Colima highway.

Additionally, 11 teenagers were wounded in Durango after gunmen opened fire inside a crowded bar. According to some reports, the gunmen had been chasing after rivals that sought refuge in the bar.

Tuesday, November 17

In Chihuahua, three men were killed after gunmen attacked a baseball game in which they were playing. Seven people were killed in various incidents across Ciudad Juarez, and three were killed in Sinaloa. Additionally, two men confessed to having been involved in at least 45 homicides committed in the Ciudad Juarez area.

Body count for the week of November 4th-November 10th: 196
Body Count for Last Week: 97
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,580

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

The Border: US Begins Turning Busted Smugglers Over to Mexico for Prosecution

For years, getting caught trying to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexican border meant being handed over to US authorities for prosecution. Problem was, US Attorneys on the border were so swamped with marijuana smuggling cases, the general rule was they wouldn't prosecute for less than 500 pounds. Instead, local prosecutors got those cases, but they were swamped, too. As a result, thousands of Mexican marijuana smugglers never faced prosecution in the US -- they were simply deported back over the border to Mexico.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/reynosa-hidalgo.jpg
Reynosa/Hidalgo border crossing (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
But now, according to the New York Times, under an agreement reached last month, US authorities have begun returning captured Mexican pot smugglers to Mexico for prosecution by Mexican authorities. Late last month, Sonora, Mexico, resident Eleazar Gonzalez-Sanchez won the dubious distinction of being the first person turned over to Mexican authorities after he was popped with 44 pounds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Nogales, Arizona, border crossing.

The border agreement is a sign of "our effort to enhance cooperation between the US and Mexico on prosecuting drug trafficking cases," said Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke.

There is plenty of work to do. In the past year, ICE opened 646 smuggling cases out of busts at the Nogales port of entry. In the fiscal year ending in October 2008, ICE busted 71,000 pounds of pot on the Arizona border.

The program is a pilot program currently operating in Arizona. US officials will be monitoring the cases returned to Mexico, and if satisfied with the results, may extend it all along the border.

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