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Oakland Pays Out $1.2 Million to SWAT Raid Victim

The city of Oakland will pay out $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who suffered serious burns from a flash-bang grenade thrown by a SWAT team officer during a 2008 drug raid. The city council voted to approve the settlement in closed session October 5 without admitting any wrongdoing.

SWAT raid
Nicole White, 31, was visiting a home in East Oakland and sleeping on a couch in the living room when an Oakland Police SWAT team serving a drug search warrant broke through the door after home resident Patricia Wilson slammed it in their face. One team member, Officer Chris Saunders, threw a flash-bang grenade toward a hallway, but it ricocheted into the living room, burning White on her chest and leg. Wilson was also injured, and has received a $45,000 pay-out from the city.

White suffered burns on 11% of her body and was permanently disfigured. She spent nearly a month being treated in the hospital. Her medical expenses ran to $400,000.

"This was a real tragedy," White's attorney, John Burris, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The conduct of the police was reprehensible."

White's lawsuit accused police of using an "extreme level of force" in throwing the grenade in the house.  Police should have known that flash bangs, which emit a loud noise and blinding flash upon detonation, could burn or injure innocent bystanders, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also accused police of conducting the raid to retaliate against a man connected to the home who had just three days earlier filed a class-action lawsuit accusing officers of lying on search warrants. The city denied any link, saying police believed people at the residence were armed gang members. Police found two shotguns in a garage, as well as unspecified quantities of heroin and cocaine. Neither White nor Wilson were charged.

The man who filed the class action suit, Roland Oliver, had been arrested at the house in March 2008. But prosecutors dismissed the case after finding that Officer Karla rush falsely stated on a search warrant affidavit that suspected drugs seized during his arrest had been tested and confirmed as actual drugs. That case was one of a series of similar cases in which officers lied about having confirmed drug samples. Four officers, including Rush, were fired, although one got his job back through arbitration.

Oakland, CA
United States

LULAC of California Endorses Prop 19 Marijuana Inititiative

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of California has endorsed Proposition 19, California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative. LULAC is one of the most prominent organizations representing Latino voters. The group announced Friday it is supporting the initiative.

"The current prohibition laws are not working for Latinos, nor for society as a whole," said Argentina Dávila-Luévano, California LULAC State Director. "Far too many of our brothers and sisters are getting caught in the cross-fire of gang wars here in California and the cartel wars south of our border.  It's time to end prohibition, put violent, organized criminals out of business and bring marijuana under the control of the law."

Proposition 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21 and allow them to grow their own in a space of up to 25 square feet and possess the harvest. It would also allow counties and municipalities to permit, regulate, and tax commercial marijuana sales and cultivation.

In a June report, the Drug Policy Alliance found that while blacks and Latinos made up 44% of the state's population, they accounted for 56% of pot possession arrests. The report concentrated on African-Americans because the FBI's Uniform Crime Report data on which it was based does not recognize Latino as a racial category, instead lumping Latinos in with whites. Still the language of the report applies to Latinos as well.

Calling racially disproportionate marijuana arrests "a system-wide phenomenon," the report explained why: "Police departments deploy most patrol and narcotics police to certain neighborhoods, usually designated 'high crime,'" the authors wrote. "These are disproportionately low-income, and disproportionately African-American and Latino neighborhoods. It is in these neighborhoods where the police make most patrols, and where they stop and search the most vehicles and individuals, looking for 'contraband' of any type in order to make an arrest. The item that young people in any neighborhood are most likely to possess, which can get them arrested, is a small amount of marijuana. In short, the arrests are racially-biased mainly because the police are systematically 'fishing' for arrests in only some neighborhoods, and methodically searching only some 'fish.' This produces what has been termed "racism without racists.'"

It's not just the arrests, said LULAC board member Angel Luévano. "In these tough economic times we must find ways to provide new jobs for our people and prosperity in our communities. Supporting Prop 19 will put more Latinos to work and generate cash for our state's budget," she said. "It's our neighborhoods and our families that suffer the most from widespread and ever-increasing unemployment and budget cutbacks for schools and public safety programs."

LULAC of California is just the latest in an ever-growing list of Prop 19 endorsers, including the National Black Police Association, the NAACP of California, and the Latino Voters League. To see them all, click here.

United States

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported in August. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war.

Ciudad Juarez
Thursday, September 30

On Texas's Falcon Lake, which straddles the US-Mexico border, an American couple was attacked as they rode a jet ski on the American side of the lake. Tiffany Hartley, 29, said that her and her husband David were chased and shot at by armed men coming from the Mexican side of the lake. David was shot in the head and left in the water, and is presumed dead. There have been several previous incidents of armed men on the lake, in some instances wearing Mexican police uniforms and shaking down fishermen.

In Ciudad Juarez, eleven people were murdered. This brings the total number of homicides during the month of September to 288, 44 of them women. As of September 30,  approximately 2,324 murders have been committed in Ciudad Juarez.

In Acapulco, 22 Mexican tourists from Michoacan were kidnapped and remain missing.  The motives remain unclear, although it should be noted that none of the kidnapped men was a known drug trafficker and it appears they were mostly mechanics and carpenters.

Saturday, October 2

Across Mexico, at least 34 people were killed during a 48-hour period. In the isolated Durango town of San Jose de La Cruz, a firefight between rival drug traffickers left fourteen dead. Much of Durango has traditionally been under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Sunday, October 3

In Guadalupe, near Monterrey, 15 people were killed after a suspected grenade attack on the town’s main plaza.  Six children, including a three-year old, were among the wounded. It was the fourth attack with an explosive device in the Monterrey area in two days. On Friday, grenade attacks were reported outside a prison, the US consulate, and a federal court.

Tuesday, October 5

In Ciudad Juarez, 14 people were killed across the city. In one incident, a wounded man attempted to hide inside a restaurant, only to be discovered by the gunmen who were chasing him and shot dead in front of many patrons. Some were seen to have bloodstains on their clothing from the incident. 23 killings were reported in Juarez in the first 3 days of October.

Total Body Count for the Week: 153

Total Body Count for the Year: 8,305

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.


California Governor Vetoes Needle Access Bill

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) last Thursday vetoed a bill that would have allowed pharmacies all over California sell syringes to adults without a prescription. The bill was touted by health experts as a key step in reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases.

mobile needle exchange/clinic site, Fresno
The state Department of Public Health estimates that approximately 3,000 California residents contract hepatitis C through syringe sharing every year and another 750 cases of HIV are caused by syringe sharing. Sharing dirty needles is the leading cause of new hepatitis C infections in the state and the second leading cause of new HIV infections.

"When I signed legislation my first year in office allowing for a pilot program to allow the sale of syringes through participating counties and registered pharmacies, I was seeking to balance the competing public health, law enforcement and local control issues that this issue requires," the governor wrote in his veto message. "I believe this balance was achieved and SB 1029 would remove the ability of local officials to best determine policies in their jurisdiction. Some counties have not sought to implement this pilot program, citing competing priorities, lack of pharmacy interest and law enforcement opposition. I respect these local decisions and while I appreciate the author’s hard work and dedication to this issue, I cannot sign this bill," Schwarzenegger wrote.

Instead, Schwarzenegger signed AB 1701, which extends the existing Disease Prevention Demonstration Project for another eight years. That gives cities and counties the option of opting out of the program and not allowing syringe sales without a prescription.

The veto angered SB 1029 author Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who in a statement last Friday said Schwarzenegger apparently "was not interested in an effective public health measure that would reduce health care costs to taxpayers. Not only did he ignore the recommendation of doctors and other health experts, but he ignored the fact that HIV-AIDS and hepatitis do not recognize county borders. Such epidemics are certain to continue without implementing these comprehensive strategies."

SB 1029's approach "has been evaluated extensively throughout the world and has been found to significantly reduce rates of HIV and hepatitis without contributing to any increase in drug use, drug injection, crime or unsafe discard of syringes," Yee continued. "In fact, there is not one credible study that refutes these findings. The governor’s veto is a moral and fiscal dilemma."

The veto was "tragic and infuriating," said Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported Yee's bill. "It is an irrational attachment to drug war hysteria, at the expense of human life and fiscal responsibility to the California taxpayer," she said. "Nothing would have worked better and cost less in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C than SB 1029."

Sacramento, CA
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Whew! Sex, drugs, strippers, and a federal judge, oh, my! Plus a murder-plotting meth-head trooper, another crooked border inspector, more Philly cops trying to rip off drug dealers, and an Oklahoma narc helping send guns down Mexico way.

We don't typically mention cases of drug use (or paying for sex) in this feature, but when it's a federal judge cavorting like a degenerate rock star, we think it's worth noting. In between coke-fueled trysts, this guy was hearing drug cases. That said, let's get to it:

In Atlanta, a federal judge was arrested last Friday on charges he bought and used drugs with an Atlanta stripper with whom he was having a sexual relationship. Senior US District Judge Jack Camp Jr., 67, is accused of buying and using cocaine, marijuana, hydrocodone, and roxydocone as he partied with the exotic dancer. When FBI agents arrested him, they found two illegal firearms and a bag containing blue pills and a white powder in his car. He has been released on a $50,000 unsecured bond. Camp went down because the stripper was also an FBI snitch who became cooperative with the feds after a drug conviction. The pair met on multiple occasions to get high and get down, with Camp typically (although not always) providing the money and the stripper providing the sex and drugs. She recorded Camp talking about the drug deals.

In San Diego, a border inspector was arrested last Thursday for allegedly taking bribes to allow illegal immigrants and nearly five tons of pot to make it through the San Ysidro and Otay Mesas border crossings. US Customs and Border Patrol Officer Lorne Leslie Jones is charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, bribery, and immigrant smuggling. He faces 10 years on the first count and five years each on the latter two.

In Philadelphia, two Philadelphia police officers were arrested Monday for robbing a drug dealer, except, unfortunately for them, the drug dealer was actually an undercover officer working a sting. Officers Sean Alivera, 31, and Christopher Luciano, 23, are charged with robbery, false imprisonment, and related charges. At least five Philadelphia officers have been charged or convicted of trying to rip off drug dealers in the past year.

In Auburn, California, a former California Highway Patrol officer pleaded no contest Monday to methamphetamine and attempted murder charges. Ruben Salgado, a 12-year CHP veteran, had been arrested in May after buying meth from an informant and was arrested again in June after trying to hire someone to kill the snitch. In a plea deal, he copped to attempted murder, driving under the influence of meth, and meth possession while carrying a gun. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

In Oklahoma City, a former state narcotics officer pleaded guilty September 29 to federal charges in a gun-running ring where some of the weapons ended up in Mexico. Former Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Agent Francisco Javier Reyes admitted taking money to buy "military-type" rifles in Oklahoma for a Mexican national and paying two friends to purchase rifles for him. He pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and transferring firearms to an out-of-state resident. Each crime carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He's out on bail awaiting sentencing.

Peruvian President Equates Drug Legalization with Barbarism and Euthanasia

Peruvian President Alan García said Monday he is absolutely opposed to drug legalization and warned that legalizing marijuana will take society down the path toward euthanizing the elderly.  He vowed a constant fight "on all fronts" against drug use and the drug trade.
Alan García
Peru is now the world's leading producer of coca, from which cocaine is made. In recent weeks, García has angled for a larger share of US drug-fighting dollars.  The stimulating herb has been used as an energy booster and hunger suppressor since time immemorial in the Andean region.

García said Monday that his anti-drug efforts will focus on eradication and alternative crops, as well as interdiction and money-laundering.  A reinvigorated eradication campaign has already led to renewed strife in the countryside, where tens of thousands of peasant families make a living from coca. Two weeks ago, hundreds of coca growers seized a hydroelectric plant in Ucayali province and blocked highways in the region to protest eradication efforts. Police later regained control of the plant, but the region remains restive.

"The Peruvian government has a firm position: I am absolutely against the drug legalization," García said after opening the 20th meeting of the Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) of Latin America and the Caribbean. Human beings "cannot kneel before their own powerlessness," he said.

"I think this (drug legalization) is like opening the way for the degradation of human beings, because if we legalize marijuana as a soft drug then we will legalize cocaine as hard drugs, and finally we will also legalize the elimination of the elderly, as in the old societies, because they can no longer contribute to the production," he said.

García added that his government's position is firm and will not change before he leaves office next July "even though those who raise the flag of the drug legalization are very intelligent and well-known and noisy." He said he will always oppose advocates of ending drug prohibition because "they represent, without knowing it, the backward step of the human being in his path to freedom, which is basically the way of his conscience, i.e. to use his skills without escapes through drugs."

Not only will drug legalization lead to killing grandma, García said, it will lead mankind down a death spiral to "fascist barbarism" and genocide.

García's sentiments put him out of step with a region that is increasingly amenable to ending the decades long war on drugs. Former heads of state from Columbia, Brazil, and Mexico have called for an end to the drug war, while Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have depenalized simple drug possession.


Poland Shutters Synthetic Drug Shops

The Polish government announced Monday that it has shut down around a thousand stores that sold newly-emerging synthetic drugs, such as mephedrone and preparations containing synthetic cannabinoids (marketed under names like Spice and K2 in the US). It is also moving to amend its drug laws to cover such substances.

Royal Castle Square, Warsaw
"The state will not flinch when it comes to using all legal means available in the struggle against these substances," Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski told reporters Monday. "This is going to be a long and difficult fight because our opponent is extremely well-prepared, rich and determined," said Kwiatkowski.

The synthetic drugs have made headlines in Poland in recent weeks, with several users being hospitalized. There have also been a handful of deaths that have been attributed to the synthetics, though the actual connection between use of the substances and the deaths remains unclear.

In an operation beginning last week, police and health inspectors sealed the doors of stores selling the drugs. But that was just the beginning, Kwiatkowski said. He said the government would enact legislation to plug loopholes in the existing drug law, including adding a three-year prison sentence for anyone who supplies minors with a substance posing a risk to their health or life. Another proposed amendment would allow health inspectors to pull from the shelves for up to 18 months any substance suspected of being harmful.

It won't be without a fight. The owner of a chain of shops selling the new synthetics told the newspaper Polska he planned to sue over the state's closure of his shops.

More than a dozen US states and numerous municipalities have banned K2 and Spice, but it remains legal under federal drug laws.


"Stoners Against Prop 19" Disrupt Debate at Hemp Expo

Tensions within California's marijuana community over Proposition 19, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative, boiled over at last weekend's debates between supporters and opponents at the Cow Palace in San Francisco during the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, a pot industry trade show.

The measure has garnered some loud opposition in the marijuana community, though the true extent of the opposition is unclear. Some medical marijuana providers are opposing it, arguing that it endangers the rights of patients, but raising the question of whether what is really being endangered is those providers' profits. [Ed: The proposition contains language which unambiguously protects patients.] Some growers are opposing it, for largely self-interested reasons. And some consumers are opposing it, arguing that it isn't good enough, they might have to pay taxes, and it would lead to the corporatization of cannabis.

That has excited a harsh response, not just from the Prop 19 campaign, but also from national marijuana reform organizations. NORML deputy director Paul Armentano likened self-styled Stoners Against Prop 19 to a fringe element and compared their refusal to acknowledge facts with that of the Obama birthers, while NORML outreach director Russ Bellville drafted a line-by-line analysis of the initiative to refute the critics. Cannabis expert and campaign spokesman Chris Conrad has published a Prop 19 Fact Check, and an addendum addressing what he calls Prop 19 conspiracy theories and their authors.

[Editor's Note: Look for a feature article in the next few days examining the claims and the forces aligned for and against Prop 19.]

Medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, the primary motivating force behind Prop 19, was subjected to loud heckling and shouting as he attempted to explain why pot people should vote for the initiative, which is holding onto a not-so-comfortable lead in polls heading up to the election now a month away. A disgusted Lee then rolled away in his wheelchair, leaving campaign spokesman and cannabis expert Chris Conrad to carry on.

San Francisco
United States

Afghan Opium Supply Halved, But Not for Long, UN Warns

opium poppies (incised papaver specimens)
Although the extent of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan remained unchanged from last year, opium production declined by nearly half, thanks largely to a plant disease that affected poppy fields, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Thursday. But that means rising prices could provoke an increase in cultivation, UNODC warned in the executive summary of its 2010 Afghanistan Opium Survey. The full report will be released later this year.

"This is good news but there is no room for false optimism; the market may again become lucrative for poppy-crop growers so we have to monitor the situation closely," said Yuri Fedotov, new executive director of UNODC.

Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin. Production of the illicit crop is centered in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, home base of the Taliban insurgents. Profits from the opium trade fund the Taliban to the tune of an estimated hundred millions of dollars each year.

UNODC said slightly more than 300,000 acres were planted with poppy this year, about the same as last year after declines the two previous years. But because of the plant disease, opium production was estimated at 3,600 metric tons, down 48% from 2009.

The disease is likely spurring opium price increases, UNODC said. Prices declined from 2005 to 2009 as production boomed and stockpiles soared, but now the price is shooting up. Last year, farmers could expect to get $64 per kilogram of opium; this year, the price has nearly tripled, to $169 per kilo.

The stability in poppy cultivation comes despite years of efforts and billions of dollars invested in suppressing the trade. The US spent $250 million on anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan this year alone, according to the State Department's Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (or "drugs and thugs," as Foggy Bottom wits like to call it).

Fedetov, a veteran Russian diplomat who took over the reins of UNODC earlier this year and whose home country is confronting high levels of heroin addiction, said a broader strategy was needed to end Afghan poppy planting. "As long as demand drives this market, there will always be another farmer to replace one we convince to stop cultivating, and another trafficker to replace one we catch," he said.


Big Brother to Watch Over Medical Marijuana in Colorado?

Colorado is proposing to enact a medical marijuana tracking system in which everything from marijuana grows to patient purchases to the manufacture of pot brownies would be under constant remote video surveillance where agents could monitor it all. The proposal is giving medical marijuana advocates the creeps.
The proposal comes in the form of draft regulations promulgated by the Department of Revenue's new Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. The division was created by legislation passed this year and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) on June 7. Its purpose is to strengthen oversight over Colorado's growing medical marijuana industry.

The system would be the first in the country to track medical marijuana "from seed to sell," Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman for the division told the Denver Channel. The goal would be to prevent people using forged medical marijuana cards and to quickly track down pot contaminated with mold or marijuana food protects that are tainted. "We want to protect the patient. This is medicine," Postlethwait said.

"This in the long run legitimizes and helps the industry," she added. "They're caregivers. They want to provide the best quality medicine out there."

But medical marijuana advocates criticized the proposal as costly and overly intrusive.

"There is no conceivable justification for this system," said Robert Chase, a leader of the Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers. "It goes beyond the systems that we use to control opiate narcotic drugs, which are demonstrably much, much more dangerous. There are valid concerns about the Big Brother issue," Chase said.

Chase pointed to other provisions in the draft proposal requiring medical marijuana to be transported in tamper-proof containers and to make growers and dispensary employees provide fingerprints at each step in the supply chain.

"It's a highly intrusive process of having to give fingerprints and being under constant video surveillance. It invokes George Orwell's '1984,'" Chase said. "The whole thing is preposterous," he said.

The draft regulations are not a done deal; indeed, they are very much a work in progress. The division has formed a working group of medical marijuana growers, providers, caregivers, patients, doctors, and law enforcement to continue to work on the draft rules.

The Medical Marijuana Work Group will hold hearings on October 4 and 21 in Lakewood. The public can attend, but not address, those hearings.

United States

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