Police/Suspect Altercations

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De Facto Hash Truce in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

The Lebanese government will not attempt to eradicate marijuana fields blooming across the country's Bekaa Valley, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper reported Friday. Sources cited by the Star said it was because of the fragile security situation in the area near the border with Syria and because the government had been unable to live up to pledges to provide financial compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed last year.

marijuana field, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (wikimedia.org)
They are also up against Bekaa Valley marijuana farmers in no mood to see their livelihood messed with.

"In the absence of alternatives, we will break the hands and legs of anyone who dares destroy our crops," one of the region's biggest growers, Ali Nasri Shamas, told the Daily Star. "We will not be gentle with [the security forces] like we usually are," added Shamas, who is wanted on several arrest warrants, including on a charge of attacking the Army. "It will be a full-blown war if necessary."

This after last year's eradication effort led to clashes between would-be eradicators and farmers armed with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. Those clashes, which resulted in the destruction of bulldozers hired by the government to plow under pot fields, ended only when the government promised to pay compensation to farmers. That didn't happen. The Finance Ministry said it didn't have the money.

This year, although the Higher Defense Council had fighting drug cultivation on the agenda this week, sources told the Daily Star that a "tacit agreement" last month between government officials and local leaders from the Baalbek-Hermel region in the northern Bekaa meant that eradication efforts weren't going to happen this year.

"The Army is exhausted by the roving security incidents and the farmers are poor and angry," said a political source. "Everyone wants to avoid a major confrontation with the military. No one wants carnage."

The Syrian civil war raging next door has led to repeated clashes inside Lebanon, especially since the open involvement of Hezbollah members in the fighting earlier this year. The Bekaa Valley is also a Hezbollah stronghold.

Lebanese hash provided funding for feuding militias in the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, and grew into a multi-billion dollar industry before the government cracked down under international pressure in the late 1990s. But its eradication campaigns have often generated violent clashes, and promised alternative development schemes have failed to materialize.

Now, the marijuana fields are back in a big war. The Daily Star described roads in the Bekaa Valley "lined with dark green cannabis fields."

This year's pot crop would be "wonderful," Shamas said. "We moved from 5,000 dunums of cannabis-cultivated land to 45,000 dunums," he said. (A dunum is about a quarter of an acre.) There is no shortage of dealers to buy the resulting hashish, he said, adding that it was destined for markets in Egypt, Turkey, and Europe.

While Shamas reveled in his anti-government outlaw status, other marijuana farmers said they had few other options. "We have no other choice," said Abu Asaad from Yammouneh. "Our region is highly poor and neglected and I prefer planting cannabis to turning into a bandit or a car thief."

The farmers scoffed at international aid and alternative development programs, saying they had been a bad joke.

"It's high time international donors realize that their money is not spent to devise tangible agricultural policies, but rather goes straight to the pockets of officials," Abu Asaad said. "Eradication campaigns are carried out at our expense and used to secure more funds, which will surely be embezzled."

Meanwhile, to save face, Lebanese authorities may do some Potemkin eradication.

"The police and Army might destroy a small plot of land where cannabis is grown in the next few weeks just to demonstrate that they have not dropped the ball on the matter, but I totally rule out a large-scale campaign," a source told the Daily Star.

Lebanon

Cartel Violence Flares in Western Mexican State

The Mexican government may have scored a victory earlier this month with the arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the leader of the violent and powerful Zetas drug trafficking organization, but nobody told the Knights Templar, another drug trafficking organization based in the western Mexican state of Michoacan. They have been involved in recent violence there that has left dozens dead, including a Mexican vice-admiral.

(wikimedia.org)
Michoacan is a key state in the Mexican drug business. Precursor chemicals and cocaine from South America flow through the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas, while the state is also known for methamphetamine production and marijuana cultivation.

Last week, the Knights unleashed a wave of attacks on federal police in the state, resulting in the deaths of 20 cartel members and two federal police officers. Another 15 federal police officers were wounded. Those attacks took place last Tuesday, when the Interior Ministry reported that federal police around the state were subjected to "pre-planned" ambushes carried out by "individuals with large arms hidden in the hills."

"In all the cases, authorities repelled the aggressions to return order to the areas," the statement said.

Those attacks came just a day after a bloody clash in the Western Michoacan city of Los Reyes that pitted members of a local "self-defense" group against cartel gunmen.  The self-defense group was marching to city hall to protest the presence of the Knights Templar when gunmen opened fire on them, killing five and wounding seven.

Rising violence in Michoacan in recent weeks and months has inspired both the formation of the local "self defense" groups and the insertion of thousands of federal soldiers and police into the state in May at the behest of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Local citizens complain that, in addition to their drug trafficking activities, the Knights have engaged in a broad campaign of extortion, rape, and murder of common citizens, while Pena Nieto views their presence as a threat to his efforts to turn attention away from the drug wars and to Mexico's economic development.

The violence did end with the Tuesday ambushes. Two days later, three more federal police were killed and six wounded in another ambush, this one near the state's southern border with Guerrero. The following days, the bodies of four people were found hanging at the entrance to El Limon de La Luna, where some of the worst clashes between the Knights and unhappy locals have taken place. Before the arrival of the military in May, dozens of people had died in clashes between the Knights and the "self-defense" groups.

On Sunday, the Knights Templar gunned down Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar, one of Mexico's highest ranking Navy officers, and a bodyguard. Salazar's vehicle was traveling on a main highway, but was forced to detour onto an unpaved road after pro-Knights demonstrators holding signs saying "Federales Out" blocked the highway.

The vice admiral did not appear to be deliberately targeted, but his marked vehicle became a target of opportunity once it was forced onto the back roads. On Monday, Mexican authorities announced they had arrested three Knights in the killings.

Mexico

Arizona Man Holding Air Rifle Killed in Drug Raid

Tempe, Arizona, police in the Special Investigations/Narcotics Unit serving a drug search warrant Wednesday afternoon shot and killed a man in his backyard as he held an air rifle. John Wheelihan, 43, becomes the 22nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the sixth in the last month.

The victim appears to be a local photographer whose listed business address matches the address the police raided.

According to reports from local TV stations CBS 5 and ABC 15, citing police sources, police were executing a drug search warrant at Wheelihan's home on East Cairo Street when Wheelihan walked out the back door carrying a Whisper .22 caliber air rifle and began to approach detectives working the perimeter.

Tempe Police Sgt. Mike Pooley said Wheelihan raised his air rifle as he approached detectives, ignoring repeated demands to drop the weapon, so they shot him. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died of his wounds. No police were injured in the incident.

Police did not say whether they were serving a "no-knock" warrant, whether they were uniformed or undercover, or whether any drugs were discovered.

In the comments section of the ABC 15 story on the killing, posters who identified themselves as friends of Wheelihan were highly skeptical of the official story.

"I knew this man personally and so did many of my other friends/associates," wrote a poster identifying herself as Sandi Rollo. "This story is BS!!! If you didn't know him, keep your suspicions to yourself. Tempe Police fucked this one up. There is absolutely no way this man was suicidal and no way he did what they say he did. Dirty cops, dirty media."

Rollo pleaded for anyone who saw anything to step up. "If there are any eyewitnesses to this, please come forward," she wrote. "There is no way John would do this."

Tempe, AZ
United States

Baltimore Man Killed in Drug Possession Traffic Stop

A Baltimore man died Sunday night after scuffling with police who had pulled over the vehicle in which he was riding for "a traffic stop involving possible narcotics." Tyrone West, 44, becomes the 21st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the fifth in the past four weeks.

According to WBAL TV 11, police said that after they pulled over the green Mercedes, West interfered with officers' efforts to search the vehicle. A struggle took place, and at some point, West become unresponsive. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he later died.

"He resisted the officers attempt to further investigate the possible possession of narcotics and a struggle ensued," Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said. "Some time after taking him into custody, the officers became aware that the individual was in what they believed was medical distress. They immediately began life-saving measures and requested the response of the ambulance," Rodriguez said.

WBAL reported that West had a lengthy criminal record, including resisting arrest charges, and had done 12 years in state prison on drug dealing charges.

WBAL spoke to various witnesses, none of whom wanted to be identified. One witness said police sprayed West with an unknown substance and beat him with billy clubs.

"The two police officers were on top of the man punching him in his side," the witness said. "They sprayed the man directly in his face. The man tries to get up to avoid that he can't see, but he knew he was being abused, so he ran. Police ran after him. He screamed for help because they started beating him with batons and everything."

Homicide detectives are investigating the incident.

Baltimore, MD
United States

Massachusetts SWAT Team Kills Armed Man in Drug Raid

Members of a Massachusetts SWAT team serving a search warrant in a pre-dawn drug raid Wednesday in the town of Orange shot and killed the apartment resident after he allegedly confronted them with a weapon. Corey Navarette, 23, becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the fifth in the past two weeks.

According to the Boston Globe, relying on police sources, members of the State Police Special Tactical Operations Team (STOP), a paramilitarized SWAT-style unit, shot and killed Navarette around 5:00am as they tried to search his apartment. When troopers entered the apartment, He "pointed an assault rifle at them and refused commands to submit," said State Police spokesman David Procopio. "A trooper or troopers discharged service weapons in response and struck the suspect."

Navarette was given first aid at the scene, but was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. A 25-year-old woman who also lived in the apartment "suffered an eye injury" during the incident, the Globe noted without further elaboration.

Procopio did not reveal whether it was a "no-knock" search, where police make forcible entry with little or no notice, but he did say the STOP team was deployed because "detectives had direct and credible intelligence that the suspect had indicated that he had firearms and would use them," Procopio said.

The two-story Mechanic Street property where the apartment was located has been on the radar of police for some time. In November 2011, a resident shot another man with a handgun hidden in the apartment. In May, police raided the building, seizing heroin, a scale, packaging materials, and five shotguns, and arresting the building manager.

The use of deadly force by state troopers is under investigation by Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan.

Orange, MA
United States

SWAT Team Kills Armed Homeowner in Dawn Drug Raid

An armed West Virginia homeowner who confronted dawn police raiders with a rifle was shot and killed by State Police officers Wednesday. Richard Dale Kohler, 66, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third in less than a week.

According to the West Virginia Gazette, State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said officers from the State Police special response team and DEA agents knocked on the door of Kohler's home at 6:05am. to serve a federal warrant. The newspaper described the special response team as "akin to a SWAT team."

Officers knocked on the door, Baylous said, but no one answered, so police "had to break down the door or forcefully open it somehow." Baylous gave no indication of the amount of time that elapsed between the initial knock on the door and police breaking it open.

When police break down the door, they saw Kohler pointing a rifle at them, Baylous said. The troopers opened fire, shooting multiple rounds and killing Kohler. Baylous said he did not think Kohler had fired his weapon, but it was still unclear.

Baylous said the warrant police were executing was part of a larger, ongoing drug investigation with multiple suspects. He would not comment further on the nature of the investigation, except to say that the DEA division involved was one that focused primarily on prescription drugs.

A neighbor told WSAZ TV that she had seen unusual amounts of traffic going to and from Kohler's home, but that she was surprised to hear he even had a gun.

"I mean, I can't see him just open fire like that, but you know when all that comes after you, you never know what somebody's going to do," Christina Murdock said.

Clay , WV
United States

One Dead After Charlotte Police Stage Drug Sting on Elementary School Grounds

An undercover drug sting in the parking lot of a Charlotte, North Carolina, elementary school ended up with one person killed and one person wounded, and a community wondering why police chose that particular location for their operation. Jaquaz Walker, 17, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to reports from WSOC-TV and WBTV 3, police set up a marijuana buy between an undercover police officer, an informant, and two teenagers last Tuesday afternoon. Police said that during the drug deal, Walker pulled a gun and shot the informant in the shoulder in an attempt to rob him.

The undercover police officer then shot Walker in the head, killing him. The teen who accompanied Walker fled, but was arrested later.

"You know, you have 15, 16 year old kids out here wielding firearms, that's a very dangerous situation," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who also defended the decision to do the deal in an elementary school parking lot. "Anytime you conduct an undercover operation, what's a good location? Whether it's a shopping mall or neighborhood, there is no real perfect location."

Monroe also said that school was out and that the site was chosen by Walker and his companion. "This was a location identified by individuals that we were seeking to purchase drugs from," he said. "We were aware that the school was empty of kids."

But residents of the neighborhood where the shooting took place were not mollified.

"It bothers me that I live right across from the school, and it is bad that it was on school grounds," said neighbor Wilmer Bourne. "That's what bothers me so much."

"It's been quiet in this neighborhood, ain't nothing happened over here, everything been good, it's always somebody come in the neighborhood and do this, it ain't nobody in our neighborhood," said resident Johnny Crank.

Charlotte, NC
United States

NYC Drug Suspect Dies in Struggle with Bronx Cops

A New York City man apparently choked to death on a bag of cocaine as he struggled with police officers Wednesday night. Jose Muniz, 52, becomes the 16th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the New York Daily News, citing police sources, officers spotted Muniz conducting a drug deal, and Muniz took off, ducking into a nearby bodega and attempting to swallow a bag of cocaine.

"We believe (Muniz) took a golf ball-sized packet of cocaine and put it into his mouth," said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. "There was a struggle. When you look at the video, there were no blows struck. There was wrestling, if you will, and also pepper spray was used."

Police said they pepper-sprayed Muniz during the struggle, and he began choking and having difficulty breathing. Police and an EMS crew attempted to revive him at the scene, then the EMS crew took off with Muniz in an ambulance, where they pulled the bag of cocaine from his throat. It was too late; Muniz was pronounced dead upon arrival at North Central Bronx Hospital.

Police were quick to release Muniz' arrest record, which included 23 arrests, mostly for drugs, but also for burglary and grand larceny. He also had nine sealed arrests, mostly for drugs.

NYPD Internal Affairs will investigate the death.

New York City, NY
United States

Chicago Police Kill Fleeing Man in "Drug Area"

Chicago police shot and killed a man early Sunday morning on the city's West Side as he fled after they tried to pull over his car in "an area known for drug activity." Antwoyn Johnson, 21, becomes the 15th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WLS-TV and the Chicago Sun-Times, both citing police sources, officers tried to stop the vehicle in which Johnson was a passenger, and he jumped out and fled. The officers chased him into an alley in their vehicle, where they saw him slip and fall to the ground. They got out of their vehicle and approached him, with Johnson grabbing his weapon as he tried to stand. One officer fired his own weapon, fatally wounding Johnson.

"As he's running, he's got a gun in his belt, in his back. As he goes to the ground, he's falling and reaching for the gun at the same time. At that point, the officers open fire. I believe the offender is DOA," said Fraternal Order of Police's Pat Camden.

Police say they found a weapon at the scene. Johnson's family disputes the police version of events, according to DNA Info Chicago. Family members said police recovered no weapon and Johnson was shot three times in the back.

Johnson, who had arrests for cocaine dealing in 2008 and marijuana possession in 2011 and had spent time in jail, was uncomfortable around police, family members said.

 "They shot my son for no reason," Liberty Johnson said. "He panicked because he doesn't like police. He gets out of the car and runs. You automatically think just because he’s black, he has a gun on him?"

The Johnson shooting received short shrift in a city beset by its worst spate of violence this year. Over the weekend, 10 people were killed and more than 40 wounded in shootings.

Chicago, IL
United States

East Bay Cops Shoot, Kill Fleeing Drug Suspect

An Antioch, California man under surveillance for a drug warrant was shot and killed by police as he fled after the vehicle in which he was a passenger struck a police vehicle. Charles Burns, 21, becomes the 12th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, citing police sources, Concord police had a warrant for Burns' arrest for drug sales and were conducting surveillance on his Antioch home Friday evening when Burns came out of his home and got into a truck driven by another man.

As detectives "tried to contact" Burns, the driver of the truck "accelerated rapidly and rammed an occupied police vehicle," according to Concord Police Lt. Steve Dyer. Burns then ran from the truck. "Two officers, fearing for their safety, fired at the suspect, striking him," Dyer said.

Burns died at the scene. Police did not mention recovering any weapons, and since Burns had left the vehicle and was fleeing the scene, it is unclear why the officers claimed they feared for their safety. It is also unclear whether police were in uniform or plain clothes.

Perhaps answers will be forthcoming, if not from Antioch and Concord police investigations, possibly from a Contra Costa County district attorney's office review or a coroner's inquest.

Burns' father, a grief-stricken John Burns wasn't waiting for investigations. Police did not have to kill his son, who would have turned 22 on Mothers' Day, he told the Chronicle.

"They should be in prison," the elder Burns said through sobs and expletives, referring to the officers who opened fire. "I wish I knew what happened."

Antioch, CA
United States

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