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Law Enforcement: Federal Judge Slams NYPD for Widespread Lying in Drug Cases

The federal judge hearing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NYPD by two men who claim they were busted on bogus drug charges has blasted the department as plagued by "widespread falsification by arresting officers."
Judge Weinstein
The comments from Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein came in his decision refusing to throw out the lawsuit by Maximo and Jose Colon, who claim that Queens narcs arrested them last year on false cocaine sales charges. A surveillance tape of the bust exonerated the brothers and led to the charges against them being dropped and the indictment of arresting Detectives Henry Tavarez and Stephen Anderson.

"Informal inquiry by [myself] and among the judges of this court, as well as knowledge of cases in other federal and state courts... has revealed anecdotal evidence of repeated, widespread falsification by arresting officers of the New York City Police Department," Weinstein wrote. "There is some evidence of an attitude among officers that is sufficiently widespread to constitute a custom or policy by the city approving illegal conduct."

Weinstein's attack came after he gave Afsaan Saleem, the attorney representing the city, a chance to document steps the department and prosecutors have taken to address false testimony -- often called "testilying" -- and fabrication of criminal charges by NYPD officers. Saleem couldn't come up with enough to satisfy the judge.

The Colon case is only the most recent of a number of scandals that have left the department's credibility tattered. This year alone, hundreds of drug cases have been dismissed because of corruption in the Brooklyn South narc squad, three officers have been arresting for covering up the sodomizing of a pot smoker in a Brooklyn subway station, and a Bronx detective was convicted of perjury.

As New York Civil Liberties Union president Donna Lieberman told the New York Daily News: "The NYPD has a serious credibility issue if federal judges are convinced the department puts officers on the stand who lie."

California Tax and Regulate Cannabis Initiative Suspends Signature Gathering--Because They Have Enough Already!

The Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative, sponsored by Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, has laid off its paid signature gatherers, saying they already have sufficient signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. Lee told the Chronicle this afternoon that more than 650,000 signatures have been turned in, and that he expects an additional 50,000 or so to dribble in in the coming weeks. Precisely 433,971 valid signatures of registered California voters are required for an initiative to be approved for the ballot. That leaves Lee and the initiative a substantial cushion of about a quarter-million signatures to make up for any invalid signatures. The campaign will wait to turn in signatures until January 15. If they were turned in this month, the initiative would appear on the June ballot, not the November ballot. Lee wants the initiative on the latter. Lee's initiative, which would allow individuals up to 25 square feet to grow their own and would allow counties and municipalities to opt to tax and regulate marijuana sales on a local basis, is controversial. Some national figures believe it is premature and risks going down in flames at the polls, thus setting the movement back, while some California activists believe it does not go far enough and does not entice voters with potential revenues for the crisis-ridden state budget. But it will be on the November 2010 ballot, provided the signatures are certified by election officials in February. It may not be the only legalization initiative on the ballot. At least two other signature-gathering campaigns for competing initiatives are under way.
Oakland, CA
United States

Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update--December 2

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: Friday, November 27 Twenty-three people were killed in drug-related violence in the state of Chihuahua. Eight of these killings occurred in the capital city of Chihuahua, and 12 occurred in Ciudad Juarez. In Chihuahua, four men and a teenager were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling was ambushed by a group of gunmen. In another part of the city, an eight-year old boy was killed after being hit by a stray bullet. Among the dead in Ciudad Juarez was a woman who was badly burned after an explosive device went off in the brothel in which she was thought to work. Saturday, November 28 An army officer and six gunmen were killed in two separate gun battles in Zacatecas and Michoacan. In Zacatecas, the army repelled an attack by gunmen, killing five and capturing eight. They also seized five vehicles, weapons, clothing and food. In Michoacan, an army officer was killed after a military convoy was ambushed by gunmen in a hillside community. Two other people were killed in drug-related violence in Michoacan, six in Ciudad Juarez, and one in the greater Mexico City area. Sunday, November 29 At the Calexico, CA border crossing, authorities seized more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana hidden in a shipment of door knobs. Dogs alerted officers to the truck in which more than 458 wrapped packages of marijuana were found. A 30-year old Mexican national was taken into custody. In Tijuana, three men were shot and killed by suspected cartel gunmen wielding AK-47s. The killings came just hours after a firefight between soldiers and drug traffickers at a gas station left one soldier wounded in the foot. In another part of Baja California, six men were arrested on suspicion of being tied to a known drug trafficker, Raydel Lopez Uriarte, aka “El Muletas” (“crutches”). Seven people were killed in Chihuahua , six of whom were killed in Ciudad Juarez. One of the murders occurred just feet from soldiers that were guarding the city’s main plaza, where national security officials were meeting to analyze drug-related violence. In Chiapas, an anti-mining organizer was killed by a gunman on a motorcycle. Mariano Abarca was head of the Mexican Network of Communities Affected by Mining. In Reynosa, police rescued a US citizen that had been kidnapped a week earlier in McAllen, Texas. Raul Alvarado, 36, was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and taken to a safehouse in Reynosa, where he was bound and beaten. His abductors demanded a ransom of $30,000 and two luxury cars. It is unclear is any ransom was paid. There has been an increase in kidnappings on the US side of the border, most of them linked to illegal activity. Tuesday, December 1 In Mexico City, a protected state witness was gunned down in a Starbucks. Edgar Enrique Bayardo, a former federal policeman, was killed by two gunmen wearing dark suits. His bodyguard was seriously injured in the attack, and a customer at a nearby table was also wounded. Bayardo was arrested last year on suspicion of being employed by the Sinaloa Cartel. Bayardo, whose lavish lifestyle raised suspicion, was made a state witness under the protection of the attorney general’s office. He had apparently been followed by gunmen for several days, and it is unclear why he was not better protected or out in public. Wednesday, December 2 In the Ciudad Juarez area, nine suspected assassins were arrested in an operation carried out by the army. The men are all suspected of working for El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel and it’s enforcement arm, La Linea. Total Body Count for the Week: 144 Total Body Count for the Year: 6,882

Medical Marijuana: San Diego Dispensary Operator Found Not Guilty

In a blow to hard-line San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who has yet to find a medical marijuana dispensary she considers legal and who has coordinated a series of raids on dispensaries in recent years, a jury in San Diego Tuesday acquitted the manager of a local dispensary of marijuana possession and distribution charges. Jovan Jackson, 31, a Navy veteran, cried as the not guilty verdicts were read. He was, however, convicted on possession of Ecstasy and Xanax, small quantities of which were found in his home during an August 2008 raid. Still, Jackson expressed relief outside the courthouse. "I was very thankful," Jackson said. "This has been a long road. It hasn't been easy. I felt like a lot of weight was on my shoulders." Jackson's was the first medical marijuana case to go to trial since a series of Dumanis-orchestrated raids on dispensaries in September that resulted in 31 arrests and the closing of 14 San Diego-area dispensaries. Dumanis led other mass raids in 2006 and in February of this year. Jackson operated the Answerdam Alternative Care Collective, which was twice approached by undercover officers who had fraudulently obtained medical marijuana recommendations. Since the narcs had proper documentation under California law, and once they joined the collective by paying a $20 fee, Jackson let them purchase medical marijuana. Prosecutors presented evidence of $150,000 in credit card receipts and five pounds of marijuana seized during raids at the dispensary as evidence that, "This case is about making money, plain and simple," as Deputy District Attorney Chris Lindberg put it to the jury. But a large-scale operation is not out of line for a collective that boasted 1,649 members, as defense attorney K. Lance Rogers told the jury. He also reminded jurors that the narcs had signed up for the collective under false pretenses and that state law allows medical marijuana patients to legally buy marijuana from a collective that grows it. Jurors agreed, acquitting Jackson on the marijuana charges. Jurors told reporters after the trial that they found Jackson innocent because the state laws regarding medical marijuana sales from collectives were vague. "On a personal level, if you're going to hold somebody to a law, you have to define that law," said juror Perry Wright. It's not the end for Jackson. He faces up to three years in prison on the Ecstasty and Xanax possession charges, although he will most likely receive probation. And he faces another round of marijuana distribution charges from a similar undercover buy made this year. Given the verdict in this case, DA Dumanis might want to consider whether a re-run trial is worth the taxpayers' money and whether any of her pending dispensary prosecutions should go forward. But she probably won't.
San Diego, CA
United States

Middle East: Hamas Adopts Tough New Drug Laws, Includes Death Penalty for Dealers

The Hamas government running the Gaza Strip has adopted a law that allows for the death penalty for drug dealing. The move came Monday with a Hamas decision to cancel Israeli military laws on drugs and replace them with Egyptian drug laws. "The government has approved a decision to cancel the Zionist (Israeli) military law with regard to drugs and enact Egyptian law 19 of 1962," Gaza Attorney General Mohammed Abed said in a statement. "The latter law is more comprehensive in terms of crime and criminals and the penalties more advanced, including life sentences and execution. The Zionist law included light punishments that encouraged rather than deterred those who take and trade in drugs, and there is no objective, national or moral justification for continuing to apply it," Abed said. The Egyptian drug law will remain in effect until the Palestinian parliament passes a new drug law. But the parliament has only met rarely since elections in 2006. The Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt from 1948 to 1967, when Israel seized the territory, along with several others, during the Six-Day War. Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the territory in 2005, when it was under the control of the secular Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. But Hamas unexpectedly defeated Fatah in Gaza elections in the 2006 elections and consolidated its power in a bloody factional struggle with Fatah the following year. Because of an ongoing Israeli blockade, most goods, including illicit ones, imported into Gaza are smuggled in, primarily through a network of tunnels on the Egyptian border. But Hamas has cracked down on drug trafficking and drug traffickers, claiming more than 100 arrests, and the seizure of dozens of kilograms of drugs, mostly marijuana.
Palestinian Territory

Law Enforcement: Man Trying to Snuff Joint at Checkpoint Ends Up Dead; Attorney Accuses Police

A Worcester, Massachusetts, man who died after being taken into at a sobriety checkpoint near Andover last Wednesday as he tried to snuff out a marijuana joint was beaten by as many as 20 police officers, an attorney for his family said today. Kenneth Howe, 45, died at the Andover State Police Barracks when police noticed he "became unresponsive" during booking. The official version of the story, promulgated to the local media by Essex County District Attorney's Office spokesman Steven O'Connell is that Howe, a passenger in a vehicle stopped at the checkpoint, made "furtive movement," then "jumped out of the vehicle, struck the trooper, and fled." After a brief chase on foot and an "ensuing struggle," Howe was handcuffed and charged with assault and battery on a police officer. O'Connell said that Howe was taken to the Andover barracks, and, while being booked "slumped over and became unresponsive." He was taken to Lawrence General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:45 a.m. last Thursday. But today, attorney Francis King, hired by Howe's widow to represent her and her three young children, painted a starkly different picture of the events leading to Howe's death. Citing the testimony of the driver of the vehicle Howe was a passenger in, King said Howe was pulled out of the truck, beaten by police, and dragged before he collapsed next to a police cruiser. The driver has made a taped statement about what he saw that night, King said. The "furtive movements" were Howe attempting to snuff out a marijuana joint and put on his seat belt, King said. A female state trooper approached the truck, and Howe held up his hands and tried to explain that all he had in his hand was the joint. The trooper then reached into the truck, pulled Howe out, and screamed that he had assaulted her, King continued. "Our position is that he never assaulted her, "King said. Quite the contrary, se maintained: "It appears there were at least 10 to 20 officers all over the deceased, hands flailing." Howe was also "seen handcuffing and slumping to the ground, dragged over to the cruiser," she said. The sobriety checkpoint was staffed by Massachusetts State Police, North Andover police and the Essex County Sheriff's Department. It was stopping every vehicle for a "threshold observation" to check for impaired drivers, a practice upheld by the US Supreme Court. The Essex County District Attorney's Office is investigating, said O'Connell. An initial autopsy has been performed, but the cause of death has not been determined. Toxicology results are also pending. Police said they found one oxycodone tablet on Howe, for which he had a prescription. “At this point, we’re confident the Essex County DA’s office is conducting a thorough investigation and that they are taking the case very seriously,” King said. “I think it’s only fair to allow the DA to conduct an investigation.” You don't need a crystal ball to see the lawsuit waiting to be filed here. But that won't come until after the Essex County District Attorney's Office investigates and exonerates the officers involved.
Andover, MA
United States

Middle East: In Israel, Medical Marijuana Advances in the Knesset and at Sheba Hospital

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has become the first hospital in Israel to administer medical marijuana to patients, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday. Some 20 patients have been treated with medical marijuana in a pilot program over the last six months, the newspaper reported.
Sheba Medical Center (courtesy Wikimedia)
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee had instructed the Health Ministry to finish its proposals for regulating medical marijuana use within four months. Such regulations should address the production, quality, and marketing of medical marijuana, as well as prevent diversion into non-medical markets, the committee instructed the ministry.

In Israel, people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana. It is provided by a charitable organization, Tikkun Olam, which supplies it to some 700 patients.

At Sheba Hospital, Ora Shamai, head nurse in the pain management program, has recently finished drafting a formal protocol for providing medical marijuana, another first for an Israel hospital. That draft has already been approved by the Health Ministry official in charge of approving medical marijuana treatments, Dr. Yehuda Baruch. The hospital is expected to soon approve the protocol.

Under the protocol, if doctors determine a patient needs marijuana, the doctor in charge of that patient's treatment will apply for the necessary permit from the ministry. Patients who can walk will be limited to smoking in the hospital's smoking room, while bedridden patients will only be allowed to smoke in private rooms with an open window.

"We make it clear to the staff that smoking medical marijuana doesn't endanger the medical staff on the wards," Shamai said. "It does not harm those in the area via passive smoking."

Doctors at Sheba downplayed any possible harm to patients from smoking marijuana on a limited basis. "It's certainly a dilemma, but it's the lesser of two evils," said Dr. Itay Gur-Arie, the head of Sheba's pain management unit. "When you're talking about smoking a joint or two a day, we don't think this causes short-term harm to the patients."

Sheba is also making use of vaporizers, machines that heat marijuana but don't ignite it, allowing patients to inhale vapors instead of smoke. The Israel Association for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis, which has been involved in the pilot program from the onset, is now raising money to buy more. The hospital currently operates five.

Along with Canada, Germany, Holland, and some American states, Israel has been a pioneer in accepting medical marijuana. With the Knesset action this week, Israel moves closer to setting up a regulated and expanded system. The Sheba hospital protocol is likewise on the cutting edge of medical marijuana acceptance by hospitals.

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:
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Thursday, November 19

In Ciudad Juárez, four policemen were killed and two were wounded in two separate incidents. According to a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, unknown gunmen killed two undercover officers after opening fire on their care. Several hours later, gunmen attacked a police patrol, killing two and wounding two. A gas station attendant caught in the crossfire was also killed.

Friday, November 20

In Chicago, 15 alleged members of a "command and control" groupof La Familia were indicted by federal authorities. These arrests come a month after 300 alleged members of the cartel's US distribution network in the US were arrested in a nationwide sweep. The group in Chicago had, since at least 2007, been taking orders from unidentified cartel bosses in Mexico collected approximately $20 million. 550 pounds of cocaine and $8 million in cash were seized when the arrests were made.

Monday, November 23

The mayor of a wealthy suburb of Monterrey has sent his family out of the country for their protection as he campaigns against organized crime. Mayor Mauricio Fernandez of San Pedro Garza Garcia made headlines last week when he publicly announced the death of a kidnapper hours before his body was found by police. He has also suggested using groups that operate outside of the law to combat crime, and is planning to form his own intelligence network of civilians and police.

In Tijuana, five men were killed in different incidents. One of the men was found inside a residence with a gunshot wound to the head. In another incident, a man with his hands and feet tied with extension cords was found inside a burning truck. No arrests were made in any of the murders.

In Guerrero, at least six people were killed in drug related violence throughout the state. During the same 24 hour period, at least 12 people were killed in Sinaloa, 8 in Ciudad Juárez, and 2 in Chihuahua city.

Tuesday, November 24

In the state of Sinaloa, five bodies were found by the side of the Culiacan-Mazatlan highway. Among them was a relative of Jose Carillo Fuentes, who was head of the Juárez Cartel until dying in a botched plastic surgery in 1997. Eleven people were killed in Chihuahua, of whom 9 were killed in Ciudad Juárez. At least six people were killed in other incidents throughout Mexico.

In Matamoros, an American citizen, Lizbeth Marin, died after being wounded by gunfire. Initial reports indicate that she may have been shot when the weapon of a Mexican soldier was accidently discharged as he climbed into a vehicle. Another unidentified American woman of 54 years of age was found dead in a home in Tijuana Monday, bearing signs of blunt injuries and contusions to her neck, head and face.

In Colombia, an alleged member of the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested by Colombian intelligence agents in the city of Cali. Carlos Adolfo Garcia Yepes, aka El Chino, was apparently in charge of logistics and coordinating the seaborne traffic of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, from which it was then smuggled into the United States.

Body Count for the Week: 158

Body Count for the Year: 6,738

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Canada: Montreal Heroin Maintenance Study in Doubt after Quebec Refuses to Pay

Fresh on the success of NAOMI, the North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative, in which hardcore heroin addicts in Vancouver were given either methadone, heroin, or Dilaudid in maintenance doses, Canadian researchers announced earlier this year plans to broaden and deeper their research with SALOME, the Study to Assess Long-term Opiate Maintenance Effectiveness. SALOME was supposed to begin this fall in Vancouver and Montreal, but Quebec provincial authorities have thrown a wrench in the works.
Hastings Street, on Vancouver's East Side (
The Toronto Star reported this week that Quebec has balked on paying its share of the project, stopping the Montreal portion of SALOME in its tracks. The Vancouver portion, supported by the British Columbia provincial government, is set to move forth.

Quebec's refusal to pay its share -- the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are kicking in $1 million for the three-year project -- led Montreal's SALOME head researcher to charge the government with discrimination. The decision will have "disastrous consequences for people addicted to heroin and (who) don't respond to standard treatment," said Dr. Suzanne Brissette, chief of addiction medicine at Saint-Luc hospital. "There is no other treatment for these people."

NAOMI showed that heroin maintenance worked for people for whom methadone and other forms of treatment had not, she said. Had researchers found a treatment for cancer or diabetes, Quebec would not hesitate to help fund it, she added. "It's a clear case of discrimination," she said. "We have a treatment that works and they're saying, 'Sorry folks, you won't get it.'"

NAOMI researchers estimate that Canada has between 60,000 and 90,000 heroin addicts. The NAOMI trials found that addicts on maintenance heroin used less illicit heroin, committed fewer crimes, and adapted healthier lifestyles.

Europe: Scotland Ponders Move to Fines for Small-Time Marijuana Possession

In a report released Wednesday, the Scottish government is recommending that small-time marijuana offenders simply be handed on-the-spot fines of $67. The fines, or "fixed penalty notices," are already in effect for a number of public nuisance offenses, such as public drunkenness, vandalism, and urinating in public.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland (photo from Sam Fentress via Wikimedia)
Adding small-time marijuana offenses to the list won the support of 83% of police officers surveyed for the report. If adopted, the ticketing scheme would move Scottish practices closer to those in England or in limited parts of Scotland, where police officers have the option of issuing a warning to people caught smoking or in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"This was felt to be a proportionate means of dealing with a minor offence which would also save a lot of police time," the report said.

Handing out tickets instead of arrests for public order offenses freed up nearly 22,000 hours of police officers' time, said Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing. "It is right that anyone committing a serious crime should continue to be brought before a sheriff to face the full range of penalties available to the court," he said. "However for less serious offences, such as consuming alcohol in the street, these figures show that our police officers are punishing low-level antisocial behavior swiftly and effectively, hitting perpetrators in their pockets. This is swift and visible justice for those who commit acts of anti-social behavior in our communities and hits them in their pockets."

Under current United Kingdom drug law, marijuana is a Class B drug, with simple possession punishable by up to two years in prison. In practice, such harsh sentences are rarely imposed.

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