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Indiana Man Pursued By DEA Kills Self, Huge Stash Found

An Indiana man being pursued by the DEA and local police led law enforcement on a high-speed chase before crashing and then shooting himself Tuesday. Omar Eduardo Proano-Montano, 24, becomes the 38th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Indianapolis Star, citing law enforcement sources, Indianapolis police and DEA agents doing a drug investigation attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Proano-Montano, but he fled, leading police on a high-speed chase.

The chase ended when Proano-Montano crashed into a tree. After a short standoff, police heard a gunshot from within the cab of Proano-Montano's vehicle. They found him dead from a self-inflicted wound.

After Proano-Montano's death, agents executed a series of searches and traffic stops at locations linked to him and found cash, guns, and drugs. In his truck, they found nine pounds of crystal meth and three pounds of cocaine. At other locations, they also seized $9,000 in cash, five fully loaded military grade semi-automatic rifles with 1,000-plus rounds of ammunition, one shotgun, eight handguns, a ballistic vest and a Cadillac, police said.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

White Phoenix Cop Shoots, Kills Unarmed Black Man in Attempted Drug Bust

A Phoenix police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man while responding to reports of a drug deal taking place Tuesday night. Rumain Brisbon, 34, becomes the 37th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Unlike most drug war deaths, and undoubtedly because of the context of police officers escaping criminal charges in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this one led to angry protests.

An estimated 200 people rallied Thursday night in Phoenix to protest the killing. At press time, they were planning on marching to police headquarters to demand answers, including the name of the officer who shot and killed Brisbon.

According to KPHO TV News, citing police accounts, the unnamed Phoenix police officer had been on a burglary investigation when he learned that the driver of an SUV was allegedly selling drugs at a nearby 7-Eleven. After obtaining a description of the suspect and the license number of the vehicle, they officer get the address of the vehicle's owner and went to the apartment complex listed.

When he got to the apartment complex, someone told him the occupants of the SUV were selling drugs. When he approached the vehicle, the driver, later identified as Brisbon, got out, opened a rear door, and reached into the back seat. As Brisbon then closed the door, the officer ordered him to show his hands, but Brisbon instead placed one or both of them near his waistband.

The officer then drew his weapon. Brisbon fled into a corridor, where the officer caught up with him, and a struggle ensued. Brisbon put his left hand into his pocket, and the officer grabbed his hand, while telling him to keep his hand in his pocket. The officer wrote in his report that he believed he felt the handle of a gun while holding Brisbon's hand in his pocket.

The officer was not able to maintain his hold on Brisbon's hand and, fearing he had a gun, fired twice, striking Brisbon in the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police didn't find a gun in Brisbon's pocket. Instead, they found a bottle of oxycodone tablets. Police did find a gun in the vehicle, along with a jar containing marijuana.

The officer was not injured.

Brisbon's criminal record included a DUI, two aggravated DUIs, driving with a suspended license, and two separate counts of "marijuana use and possession and failure to pay a fine."

Chronicle AM: Bad Cops in CO, CT MedMJ, VA Decrim Bill, WA Drug Defelonization Bill, More (11/26/14)

We have a couple of disturbing Colorado police stories, a marijuana decrim bill will be filed in Virginia, and a drug decrim one in Washington state, Connecticut patients seek to expand the list of conditions, Florida will try again on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Idaho Group Forms to Fight for Pot Law Reform. A new group has formed to push for marijuana legalization in a most pot-unfriendly place: Idaho. Although it now borders two legal marijuana states -- Oregon and Washington -- Idaho continues its last-century approach to marijuana. Now, New Approach Idaho wants to change that with a new initiative effort. It has its work cut out for it: The last time activists tried to get an initiative on the ballot there, they were only able to come up with 11,000 of the necessary 60,000 voter signatures.

Virginia Legislator Will File Decriminalization Bill in January. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has said he will fill a bill to decriminalization the possession of small amounts for the next session of the legislature. "This is not going to legalize marijuana. It is going to make it no longer have a criminal penalty," he said. Under current law, a first possession offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Ebbin's bill would make possession a civil offense, with a maximum $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Doctors' Panel Hears Request to Add More Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard today from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy -- chronic pain after back surgery -- to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida Advocates Announce Plans for a 2016 Initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana" on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fund raising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Law Enforcement

Citizen Video Captures Denver Police Beating Drug Suspect, Knocking Down Pregnant Wife; Cops Tried to Destroy Evidence. Denver resident Levi Frasier happened upon two police officers attacking a man on the ground and began recording with his tablet computer. Police were repeatedly punching the man in the head, and when his seven-month pregnant wife approached the scene, one of the officers swept her legs out from under her, dropping her to the ground. When police noticed Frasier recording the scene, they seized his tablet without his consent or a warrant and erased the video. But Frazier had software that automatically uploaded his videos to the cloud, and now he has made it available to a local TV station, which is raising many questions about the incident. Click on the link to see the video and the TV station's investigative report.

One Colorado Town's Horribly Out of Control Snitch-Driven Drug Busts. The Denver alternative weekly Westword has a lengthy investigative report on a series of drug busts in the town of Trinidad that repeatedly wrapped up innocent people based on the word of confidential informants who stood to benefit from snitching out others. Most of the cases have now been dismissed, but not without severe damage to the innocent. Local police and prosecutors seem not to care much. Click on the link to read the whole damning piece.

Sentencing

Drug Defelonization Bill to Be Filed in Washington State. State Reps. Sherry Appleton (D-Bainbridge Island) and Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) will reintroduce legislation to make drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill will be identical to House Bill 2116, which didn't pass this year. The effort is being supported by Sensible Washington.

International

Cannabis Cafe Quietly Operating in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A members-only marijuana consumption club, the High Life Social Club, has been open for business since early September. The club doesn't allow pot smoking, just vaporizing, nor does it actually sell marijuana -- it's a BYOB (bring your own buds) operation, and local police seem to be okay with it. The only requirement for membership is a payment of $5 and an ID showing you are over 18.

Chronicle AM: US Agents on Mexico Drug Raids, New Federal Cash Seizure Guidance, New Pain Pill, More (11/24/14)

Some House Republicans still want to mess with DC legalization, a key Washington state solon is planning a bill that would fold medical marijuana into the legal regulation system, federal officials issue a new code of conduct for highway asset seizures, US Marshals are reportedly going on drug raids in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

WA state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is moving to fold medical marijuana into the legal pot regulatory system.
Marijuana Policy

Some House Republicans Plan to Try to Block DC Legalization. While some GOP senators have no interest in blocking DC's legalization initiative, some GOP House members do. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) said he "absolutely" intends to block implementation, but that he probably wouldn't try to do so until next year. Earlier this year, he successfully attached an amendment to the DC appropriation bill to block decriminalization, and that amendment passed the House, but was never taken up by the Democratically-controlled Senate. Harris called legalization "crazy policy."

Washington State Senator Outlines Marijuana Regulation Bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult -- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Okays Fourth Dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakotans to Try Legislature, But Hold 2016 Initiative in Reserve. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky 911 Good Samaritan Bill Proposed. At a press conference last Friday, state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he wants to file a bill that would exempt drug overdose victims and people who seek help for them from being charged with drug possession offenses. "This should be another tool to keep people from dying, and that's what we're after," he said. But McDaniel also said such an exemption from prosecution could only be used once.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Officials Issue New Guidance for Highway Seizures. Officials with the White House's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program have issued new guidance for highway police in a bid to curb questionable civil asset forfeiture seizures of cash and property from drivers. The voluntary code of conduct reminds state and local police that the need to observe the Constitution and the civil rights of motorists. "Emphasize interdiction programs are NOT purposed for enhancing agency budgets," the code says. "Underscore forfeited ill-gotten proceeds be spent prudently in accordance with applicable statutes, sound policies and regulations." Asset forfeiture programs are currently under an intense spotlight in the wake of repeated revelations about abuses and aggressive enforcement by police.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Approves Second Hydrocodone-Only Pain Pill. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Purdue Pharma's extended-release Hydrocodone tablet Hysingla for use. The agency said Hysingla is designed to be difficult to abuse, but acknowledged it could still be. It is the fourth opioid to be granted abuse-deterrent status, after Purdue's reformulated Oxycontin, it's oxycodone-naloxone combo Targiniq, and Pfizer's morphine-naltrexone combo Embeda. And it is the second hydrocodone-only pill approved by the agency. FDA approved Zohydro in October 2013.

International

US Marshals Are Going on Drug Raids in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal has reported that members of the US Marshals Service have been taking part in drug raids disguised as Mexican Marines. Mexican officials flatly deny the charge, but the newspaper reported that the Marshals Service sends small teams several times a year to help hunt drug suspects, some of whom are not even wanted by the US. The Journal cited a July incident in which a US Marshal was shot and wounded while attached to Mexican Marines patrolling a field in Sinaloa. Six cartel members were killed in the ensuing shootout.

Australian MPs to Introduce Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Members of parliament from the Labor, Liberal, and Green parties will this week file a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be grown under federal license. The bill would not require states to allow medical marijuana, but it would create a federal model and address how medical marijuana would be supplied. The MPs will brief colleagues on the plan Wednesday.

Australia's Tasmania Rejects Medical Marijuana. Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson has rejected an interim report calling for allowing the use of medical marijuana. He ruled out any changes to current laws, citing advice from the Tasmania Police. He said that Tasmania Police would not seek to criminally pursue terminally ill medical marijuana users.

Another Southern California Man Killed in Police Drug Investigation

Police doing a drug investigation in Riverside, California, shot and killed a man after he pointed a gun at them Tuesday afternoon. The as yet unnamed dead man becomes the 36th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year and the second in Southern California in the past week.

According to The Riverside Press-Enterprise, citing police sources, officers taking part in a drug investigation tried to stop a vehicle, but the driver didn't stop until he reached a driveway and then fled on foot with officers in pursuit.

When the man reached the back yard of a home, he stopped, turned, and pointed a pistol at the pursuing officers, police said. Officers then opened fire, killing the man.

"The suspect is deceased," Lt. Mike Cook said from the scene.

[Update: The dead man has been identified as Vincent Martinez, 34, of Riverside. Family members said they heard a someone shouting at Martinez to stop, followed by gun shots, but that they didn't hear anyone identifying themselves as police officers. It is unclear if the officers involved were in plain clothes.]

Riverside, CA
United States

Georgia Homeowner Killed in Fruitless Drug Raid

A Georgia SWAT team shot and killed an armed homeowner during a September 24 drug raid sparked by the word of a self-confessed meth addict and burglar who had robbed the property the previous day. No drugs were found. David Hooks, 59, becomes the 34th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WMAZ TV 13, Laurens County sheriff's deputies with the drug task force and special response team (SWAT team) conducted a no-knock search on Hooks' home in East Dublin on the evening of the 24th. When the raiders burst through the back door of the residence, they encountered Hooks carrying a shotgun. Multiple deputies opened fire, shooting and killing Hooks.

According to his family, Hooks was not a drug user or seller, but was a successful businessman who ran a construction company that, among other things, did work on US military bases. Hooks had passed background checks and had a security clearance.

The search warrant to raid Hooks' home came about after a local meth addict named Rodney Garrett came onto the property two nights earlier and stole one of Hooks' vehicles. Garrett claimed that before he stole the vehicle, he broke into another vehicle on the property and stole a plastic bag. Garrett claimed he thought the bag contained money, but when he later examined it and discovered it contained 20 grams of meth and a digital scale, he "became scared for his safety" and turned himself in to the sheriff's office.

Hooks' family, however, said that Garrett had been identified as the burglar and a warrant issued for his arrest the day after the burglary. He was arrested the following day; the raid happened that same night.

Garrett's claims were the primary basis for the search warrant. But investigators also claimed they were familiar with the address from a 2009 investigation in which a suspect claimed he had supplied ounces of meth to Hooks, who resold it. Nothing apparently ever came of that investigation, but the five-year-old uncorroborated tip made it into the search warrant application.

And it was enough to get a search warrant from a compliant magistrate. Hooks family attorney Mitchell Shook said that even though the warrant was not a no-knock warrant, the Laurens County SWAT team did not announce its presence, but just broke down the back door of the residence.

Shook said David Hooks' wife, Teresa, looked outside and saw people with hoods on the evening of the raid and woke up her husband. Fearing the burglar or burglars who had struck two nights earlier had returned, Hooks armed himself.

"David and Teresa were under the impression that the burglars were back and that a home invasion was imminent," the family said in a statement. "David armed himself to protect his wife and his home. Despite the fact that the illegal search warrant did not have a 'no knock' clause, the Drug Task Force and SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered firing in excess of 16 shots. These shots were from multiple firearms and from both 40 caliber handguns and assault rifles. Several shots were fired through a blind wall at David with the shooters not knowing who or what was on the other side of the wall. The trajectory of the shots, coupled with the number of shots infers a clear intent on behalf of the shooters to kill David Hooks."

"The task force and the SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered, firing an excessive sixteen shots. There is no evidence that David Hooks ever fired a weapon" said Shook.

Nor was there any evidence he was involved in drugs. As Shook emphasized, after the shooting, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an intensive 44-hour search of the property and came up with not one item of contraband.

Hooks' family is called on the Laurens County district attorney to do its own investigation of the killing after he receives the GBI's report and "take whatever action the law and justice demands." It is also calling on Sheriff W.A. "Bill" Harrell to immediately suspend all the officers involved until the investigations and any prosecutions are settled.

East Dublin, GA
United States

Chronicle AM: CO MedMJ Crackdown, Heroin ODs Up, Mexican Soldiers Charged in Massacre, More (10/2/14)

A Colorado legislative panel wants to tighten up on medical marijuana, a South Carolina legislative panel studies medical marijuana, the CDC says heroin overdoses are up, a North Carolina county engages in more drug war same old-same old, and there's news from Mexico, too. Let's get to it:

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Lawmakers Want to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana. A state legislative panel, the Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee, yesterday recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one caregiver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Panel Meets Today. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state is meeting at the Medical University of South Carolina today. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

CDC Report Says Heroin Overdose Death Rate Doubled. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the heroin overdose death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 in the 28 states covered in the report, but that twice as many people died from prescription opiate overdoses. The study says two things appear to be driving the increase in heroin overdoses: widespread exposure to prescription opiates and increasing rates of opiate addiction, and easier availability of heroin. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Craven County, NC, Makes Penny-Ante Drug Roundup. After a "two-month investigation," the Craven County Narcotics Unit and the New Bern Police Narcotics Unit (CNET-the Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team) rounded up 16 drug suspects this week, but the charges are less than impressive. Of the 16 people arrested in the big bust, five were charged only with possession of drug paraphernalia (which was also tacked onto nearly everyone else's charges, too), two were charged solely with failure to appear in court, and one was charged with possession of marijuana in jail. Five were charged with "possession with intent to sell" various drugs and one with "possession with intent to sell" marijuana. One person was charged with possession of meth precursors. Of the 16 arrested, only one was arrested on an actual drug trafficking charge.

International

Mexican Special Forces Grab Beltran-Leyva Cartel Head. Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel since his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican marines in 2009, was captured at a San Miguel de Allende restaurant yesterday. It's another coup against the cartels for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has also captured Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and at least two leaders of the feared Zetas cartel.

Three Mexican Soldiers Charged With Murder in Massacre of 22. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced late Tuesday that three soldiers have been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of 22 people killed in Mexico state on June 30. The military originally said they were cartel members who died in a shoot-out with troops, but witnesses described them being executed after surrendering. Just last week, the Defense Ministry had charged eight of the soldiers with crimes against military justice.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Poll, Colombia Drug Accord, Big Philly Drug Case Dismissal, More (9/26/14)

A new poll is surely leading to nail-biting in Oregon, a dirty narc is costing Philadelphia prosecutors dozens of drug cases, Colombia reveals details on drug accords with the FARC, a Canadian drug policy rally is coming next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Latest Oregon Poll Has Initiative at 44%. A new SurveyUSA poll has support for the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative at 44%, with 40% opposed, and 16% undecided. The high number of undecideds may be an artifact of the way the poll question was asked -- it asked if voters were "certain" to vote for or against the measure. An even split among undecideds would result in passage of the initiative. This is a decline from an August SurveyUSA poll, which had the measure at 51%, but the questions were worded slightly differently in the two polls. Click on the links for more poll details.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Dismisses 59 Drug Cases Involving Dirty Narc. The cases involved former narcotics officer Jeffrey Walker, who has been convicted of plotting to rob drug dealers. That brings to 160 the number of cases involving Walker that have been vacated since he was indicted in May 2013. Another 58 cases remain open. Walker is now cooperating in a broader probe of the narcotics unit, where six officers were charged in July with robbing, beating, and kidnapping drug suspects.

International

Colombia Reveals Details on Drug Policy Treaty Provisions With FARC. Colombia Reports has an in-depth look at the drug provisions in the work-in-progress peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC. A preliminary agreement was released Wednesday in the face of criticism over the lack of transparency in the process. The two sides have agreed on national-level programs to conduct consensual illicit crop substitution, address drug use through a public health approach, and beef up law enforcement to combat criminal groups involved in drug trafficking. Click on the link for much more.

Mexican Congressman Assassinated By Drug Cartel. Prosecutors in the state of Jalisco are saying they believe Dip. Gabriel Gomez Michel, who was abducted from a highway on the outskirts of Guadalajara on Monday, was most likely killed by a drug cartel. The bodies of Gomez and his driver were found in his burned out vehicle on Tuesday and positively identified on Wednesday. Prosecutors are pointing the finger at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a relatively new entrant in the cartel wars.

Mexico Arrests Eight Soldiers in Apparent Execution of Drug Gang Suspects. Seven soldiers and their commander have been arrested over the killing of 22 suspected drug gang members in a June 30 incident in the village of San Pedro Limon in Mexico state. The army had said the victims died in a fire fight with soldiers, but witnesses said they were killed in cold blood, and further suspicions were raised by the one-sided nature of the conflict. Only one soldier was slightly injured. Witnesses said only one person died in an initial confrontation; the rest were killed after surrendering. The army said they were members of La Familia Michoacana.

Canada First Annual National Drug Reform Rally Set for Tuesday. The first Annual National Rally for Canadian Drug Policy Reform will take place September 30 in Ottawa. A day earlier, proponents will meet with members of parliament to discuss evidence-based drug policy reforms. The rally is sponsored by the Canadian Drug Reform Network, the Canadian Harm Reduction Coalition, and Canada NORML, among others. Click on the link for more information.

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

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