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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We have a Deep South trio of dirty officers this week. Let's get to it:

In Brandon, Mississippi, a veteran drug enforcement officer with the Rankin County Sheriff's Office was arrested August 20. Deputy Scott Walters, head of drug enforcement and the department's drug dog officer, is charged with falsifying his time sheet. That charge is a felony. More charges could follow.

In Cochran, Georgia, a Cochran police officer was arrested August 20 on drug and other charges. Officer Elijah Mills, 30, faces charges of conspiracy to sell a controlled substance and violating his oath of office. His arrest comes as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating allegations of misconduct in the department.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a former East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in prison on drug charges. Former deputy Larry Wright, 28, was convicted of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. He will also do three years of supervised release after serving his time.

Read last issue's corrupt cops stories here.

Marijuana: Denver to Move to $1 Fine for Pot Possession?

Denver could soon see a maximum $1 fine -- the lowest in the country -- for simple marijuana possession. The city's Marijuana Policy Review Panel voted 6-2 Wednesday to recommend that the city do just that.

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Denver skyline (from denvergov.org)
The panel was created by Mayor John Hickenlooper in December 2007 to comply with the will of voters who had just passed an ordinance making adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. That vote came after a 2005 vote to legalize marijuana in the city, a vote that was ignored by local law enforcement and prosecutors, who instead charged offenders under state law.

In May 2008, the city attorney's office set the fine for possession at $50 and arranged for payment to be made by mail instead of at a court appearance. Now it will be up to the city's presiding judge to decide whether to go even further and set the fine at $1.

"By setting the fine at just $1, we are sending a message to Denver officials that the era of citing adults for using a less harmful drug than alcohol is over. It's simply not worth the city's time or resources," said panel member and SAFER executive director Mason Tvert, who coordinated the successful Denver marijuana initiatives.

A Denver Police Department representative on the panel unsurprisingly voted against the proposal. "There's no indication that there's a problem with the fine schedule," said Lt. Ernesto Martinez. "The panel is going outside the bounds of the language of the ordinance."

But, in a sign of the times, Martinez appears to be the one out of step with the panel and public opinion in the Mile High City.

Canada: In Marijuana Grow Case, Alberta's Top Court Rules Police Use of Power Recording Device Violates Privacy Rights

In a 2-1 decision last Friday, the Alberta Court of Appeals ruled that Calgary police violated Canadian privacy protections when they persuaded a utility company to attach a device to create a record of electricity usage in a home where they suspected marijuana was being grown. The case is Crown vs. Gomboc. Daniel James Gomboc was arrested and convicted of marijuana cultivation after Calgary police on another call noticed his home showed signs that a marijuana grow was taking place. After spotting suggestive evidence, Calgary police then went to the utility provider Enmax without a warrant and persuaded it to attach a digital recording amp-meter (DRA) to Gomboc's home. The meter monitored Gomboc's power usage for five days, and police used the results to obtain the search warrant that resulted in his arrest and subsequent conviction. Gomboc appealed his conviction, arguing that the warrantless use of the DRA violated his privacy rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Alberta appeals court agreed, overturning his conviction and ordering a new trial. That new trial will take place without any of the evidence seized under the search warrant based on the DRA information. "It has been famously said that 'the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,'" wrote Justice Peter Martin. "The actual prohibition is much broader: in our society, absent exigent circumstances, the state has no business in the homes of the nation without invitation or judicial authorization." Martin added that the expectation of privacy extends beyond the simple information-gathering on the timing and amount of electricity used to the behavior of utility companies. "It is also objectively reasonable to expect that the utility would not be co-opted by the police to gather additional information of interest only to police," wrote Martin. "Indeed, I expect that the reasonable, informed citizen would be gravely concerned, and would object to the state being allowed to use a utility to spy on a homeowner in this way." The decision could be a precedent that will lead to more reversals, Gomboc's attorney, Charlie Stewart, told the Calgary Herald. "It's interesting to think of all the people who have pleaded guilty or been convicted under these circumstances," said Stewart. "It's a question of the legitimacy of the search."
Location: 
Calgary, AB
Canada

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 4,000 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, August 21 - The mother and brother of the reputed head of the La Familia drug cartel were arrested by Mexican authorities. This came despite explicit threats on television last month by Servando Gomez, the cartel boss, that any action against his family would bring retaliation. Gomez’s mother, Maria Teresa Martinez, was released two days after her arrest because of a lack of evidence. The brother, Luis Felipe Gomez Martinez, is still being held. -43 Mexicans were indicted by federal courts in Chicago and Brooklyn. The indictments, unsealed Thursday , charge the 43 Mexicans with operating a coast-to-coast distribution network through which drugs and money have flowed for the last 20 years. The three most high profile suspects--Joaquín Guzmán Loera, Ismael Zambada García and Arturo Beltrán Leyva-- are the current and former leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, although Beltran Leyva now operates his own, independent organization. 35 of the 43 suspects remain at large, while the other eight were arrested during the last week in Chicago and Atlanta. Saturday, August 22 -The Mexican government decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth. Under the new laws, people are now allowed to have 5 grams of marijuana, 50 mg of heroin, half a gram of cocaine, and 40 mg of meth. Mexican prosecutors believe that the new law will help in the war against drug cartels by allowing federal prosecutors to focus on combating large-scale traffickers and distributors rather than small-time users. This change in policy comes at a time when drug cartels are selling an increasingly large number of drugs domestically. A 2008 government study found that the number of drug addicts in Mexico had almost tripled in the past six years. -In Ciudad Juarez gunmen killed a Mexican army officer and another man in a bowling alley. Gunmen entered the Bol-Bol bowling alley and gunned down Captain Alejandro Aranda and an unidentified companion late on Friday night. Aranda was an administrator of a dining hall in a Ciudad Juarez military facility. Also, in Tijuana, three police officers were wounded when their patrol cars came under fire from suspected cartel gunmen. Monday, August 24 -The Mexican Army announced on Monday that it captured a leading member of the La Familia drug cartel in the Pacific coast city of Manzanillo. Luis Ricardo Magana, also known by the alias “19 1/2” (traffickers frequently use numerical codenames), is alleged to be responsible for the cartels shipments of methamphetamine to the United States. He is one of Mexico’s most wanted fugitives and is also thought to be involved in the planning of retaliatory attacks on federal police agents. Also on Monday, in the state of Sinaloa, a cooler containing four severed heads was found by the side of rural road. The headless bodies were found some 3 miles away. -16 people were killed during a 24-hour period in Ciudad Juarez. Among the victims was a police officer who wanted to resign after having previously received unspecified threats. In a separate incident, a group of heavily armed gunmen shot and killed a 15-year-old boy outside his home. The 16 killed now bring the death toll in Ciudad Juarez for the year over 1,100 killed. Tuesday, August 25 -Another 29 people were killed in drug-related violence across Mexico during a 24-hour period. Among the victims were a police commander and two of his officers in Nayarit who were killed when the car in which they were traveling was attacked by gunmen wielding automatic weapons. In Gomez Palacio, Durango two prison guards were found dead, while, in a separate incident, gunmen attacked a couple. The man died while the woman was left in serious condition. In Nogales, a cooler containing a dismembered human body was left at the entrance to a technical university. Additionally, six individuals were killed in Ciudad Juarez, three bodies were found at a ranch in Sonora, four people were murdered in Guerrero, and parts of nine human bodies were found across Sinaloa. -Recent court documents examined by the Houston Chronicle detail an ultra high-tech communications network employed by a Mexican drug trafficking organization. The federal court documents detail the testimony of Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, 38, who is alleged to be a cartel communications expert. According to his testimony, his organization uses a string of hand-held radios on a network which stretches from Guatemala to the Mexico-Texas border. His team included an expert who specialized in installing radio towers and antennas, and another who researched new technology. Total reported body count for the last week: 155 Total reported body count for the year: 4,587

Europe: Britain to Ban Spice, GBL, BZP

The British Home Office announced Tuesday that it is planning to ban several "legal highs," including "Spice," the club drug GBL, and the stimulant drug BZP. The substances will be added to the British list of controlled substances by year's end, said Home Secretary Alan Johnson. "There is a perception that many of the so called 'legal highs' are harmless, however in some cases people can be ingesting dangerous industrial fluids or smoking chemicals that can be even more harmful than cannabis," said Johnson. "Legal highs are an emerging threat, particularly to young people, and we have a duty to educate them about the dangers." "Spice" is a sort of synthetic cannabinoid which is currently sold legally as a spray to apply to herbal cigarettes. It has already been banned in France and Germany. It will become a Class B drug--in the middle tier of the British classification scheme--like amphetamines or marijuana. GBL (Gamma-butyrolactone) and a similar chemical, which are converted in to the Class C drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) in the body and often used as weekend party drugs, will become Class C drugs, the least serious drug classification. So will BZP (Benzylpiperazine) and related piperazines, which are stimulants taken as an alternative to amphetamine. Under Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, possession of Class C drugs can earn up to two years in prison, while possession of Class B drugs can earn up to five years. Dealing in either Class B or Class C drugs is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. The Home Office has announced an education campaign around these newly classified substances. It is set to start at the beginning of the school year next month.

Medical Marijuana: Iowa Public Hearings Get Underway

Medical marijuana advocates were out in force Wednesday in Des Moines as the Iowa Pharmacy Board held the first in a series of public hearings on whether the state should reschedule marijuana from Schedule I (no medical use, high abuse potential) to Schedule II (medical use, high abuse potential). The board will make recommendations to the state legislature later this year.

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Carl Olsen
The hearings are part of the board's review of the scientific evidence around the medicinal use of marijuana, a review that will also examine state and federal laws. The review comes after the board last month again rejected a petition from Carl Olsen of Iowans for Medical Marijuana to remove marijuana from Schedule I. The board had earlier rejected a similar petition, but a Polk County (Des Moines) judge in April ordered the board to reconsider.

Olsen argued that because medical marijuana is legal in 14 states it no longer meets the definition of a Schedule I drug. The board disagreed, saying that marijuana would have to be legal in all 50 states and under federal law for it to be rescheduled. But it did agree to review the evidence. The public hearings are part of that process.

Wednesday's hearing in Des Moines featured poignant testimony from patients as they pleaded with the board to stop treating them like criminals for using marijuana to treat pain and other conditions. "People are suffering who need not suffer. People are rotting in jail who should not be there," said Kevin Feeley of Ames in remarks reported by the Des Moines Register. Feeley said he used marijuana to ease his suffering from spinal cancer.

Feeley joined other speakers in telling the board that marijuana is safer and less addictive than many prescription medications. They urged the board to help Iowa join the ranks of states where patients are allowed to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

Robert Manke of Des Moines said he used marijuana for pain relief from injuries caused by traffic accidents and to reduce nausea from prescription medications. "I know what it's like to crawl around on the bathroom floor like an animal in the morning, vomiting with my head in the stool," he said. "I need your help. I'm not here because I want to get high. I'm here because I want to stop being sick. And I want to stop being persecuted."

It wasn't just patients. Several doctors testified in support of medical marijuana Wednesday, including Dr. Edward Hertko, a retired physician, who echoed that marijuana is less dangerous and addictive than many common prescription drugs. It wasn't about getting high, he said. "The people who want recreational marijuana already know how to get it," Hertko noted.

Not everyone was on board. Representing the Iowa Elks Association, Gary Young warned that allowing for medical marijuana could make it easier for people, including young people, to get ahold of it. He also challenged the plant's medical efficacy and argued that prescription drugs are more pure and easier to control than smoked marijuana. "I urge the board to make its decision on scientific evidence and not on anecdotal evidence," he said.

The Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy did not testify at the hearing, but offered a written statement in opposition. The office position is that the science so far does not support using marijuana as a medicine. As its web site notes: "Unless, or until, the consensus of medical evidence changes, ODCP opposes any proposal to legalize marijuana smoking for medical purposes."

The three remaining public hearings are September 2 in Mason City, October 7 in Iowa City, and November 4 in Council Bluffs.

Federal Budget: Safe and Drug-Free Schools Funds Still Targeted for Zeroing Out

House and Senate appropriators have agreed to ax only 11 of 48 non-military discretionary spending programs targeted for elimination by the Obama administration, but funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools community grants program is one of them. That's what Congress Daily determined following an analysis of fiscal year 2010 budget documents and appropriations bills.

In May, the Obama administration compiled a budgetary hit list of 121 programs, military and non-military, that it recommended be cut or eliminated completely. The $295 million for Safe and Drug-Free Schools community grants was among those programs recommended for total elimination. The administration will continue funding the Safe and Drug-Free Schools National Program.

In recommending termination of the community grants program, the Obama administration argued that "while reducing violence and drug use in and around schools is a compelling goal, reviews by an independent evaluator and by a statutory advisory committee have demonstrated that this program is poorly matched to achieving that goal." It cited a 2001 RAND Drug Policy Research Center study that described the program as "profoundly flawed" and a 2007 Safe and Drug-Free Schools advisory committee study that affirmed the RAND findings.

"The program does not focus on the schools most in need and the thin distribution of funding prevents many local administrators from designing and implementing meaningful interventions," the White House said in its budget.

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees agreed with the White House and zeroed out the program. The House education appropriations bill has already passed, but the Senate bill is still in process. Proponents of the program may still try to reinstate it in the Senate or during the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate appropriations bills.

Southeast Asia: Malaysia Court Sentences Woman to Death for Two Pounds of Marijuana

A Malaysian court has sentenced a Thai woman to death for trafficking 1.04 kilograms of marijuana. Under the country's draconian Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952, any drug trafficking offense garners a mandatory death sentence.

The ruling came Wednesday at the High Court in Kota Baru. Judge Datuk Muhamad Ideres Muhamad Rapee ordered the sentence after the prosecution managed to prove a prima facie against Roseedah Cheubong, 41, who was crying as the sentence was issued.

The court ignored the pleas of Roseedah's attorney, Zamri Mat Nawang, who told it she was a single mother trying to fend for herself and her teenage child and that she was sorry for what she had done. Instead, it listened to deputy prosecutors Wan Abad Razak Wan Hussin, who called for the mandated penalty because of the "gravity" of the offense.

Roseedah has been jailed since she was arrested in February 2004 for selling a kilogram of weed outside a gas station. No word yet on possible appeals.

The provincial High Court sentence came little more than a week after the Malaysian Federal Court upheld the death sentence of a taxi driver for trafficking less than two kilos of marijuana. According to the anti-death penalty organization Hands Off Cain, so far this year, Malaysian courts have imposed the death sentence 12 times. Only two death sentences were for murder. The other 10 were for drug trafficking, and eight of those were for trafficking marijuana.

Human rights and harm reduction groups have organized an international campaign to end the death penalty for drug offenses. Read about it here. Since Malaysia does not make a habit of publicly announcing executions, it is unclear how many of the marijuana traffickers sentenced to death have actually been executed.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A quiet week on the corrupt cops front, but the two stories we do have share a common theme: problems with snitches. Let's get to it:

In Gaffney, South Carolina, a Cherokee County sheriff's officer was arrested Tuesday and fired Wednesday for exchanging drugs for sex with a female confidential informant. Now former Officer Troy Cooper, 56, is accused of providing marijuana, money, and other contraband to the informant in return for sexual favors between March 2008 and last week. Investigators from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were called in by Sheriff Bill Blanton. A search warrant in the case indicates that SLED has recorded telephone conversations between Blanton and the informant.

In St. Louis, police commanders are at odds with the police union over departmental demands that up to 20 officers reveal details about their confidential informants. The department has acknowledged in court filings that "one or more" officers "have included false information in affidavits" for warrants, and says the investigation is aimed at stopping "the concerns of police abuse and violation of civil rights." At least two officers, Shell Sharp and William Noonan, have already resigned, and prosecutors have dropped 39 cases in which one or the other officer was involved. But the police union has won a temporary restraining order to block the revealing of informant information, saying it would endanger snitches and officers. Whether they can win a permanent injunction will be decided next week.

East Asia: Japanese Marijuana Arrests at Record Levels

Japan's National Police Agency reported Thursday that marijuana arrests were at an all-time high during the first six months of this year. Police said 1,446 were arrested for possessing, using or trafficking in marijuana, up 21.3% from a year earlier. Of those arrested for pot offenses, 63.2% were under the age of 30, suggesting that marijuana use is spreading among young people.

One hundred four people were arrested for marijuana cultivation, up 40.5% over the same period last year. Home cultivation of marijuana is assisted by the availability of seeds and grow supplies over the Internet and by consumers' fears of venturing into illicit drug markets.

The 40.5% increase in grow busts in the first half of this year comes after a 50% increase in grow busts during the first half of last year.

The record arrest figures come as Japan comes to grip with a growing marijuana culture. In the past couple of years, the country has seen repeated "scandals" around marijuana use, including the expulsion of three Russian wrestlers from sumo competition for smoking pot, the arrests of various celebrities, and a national freak-out over students at prestigious universities smoking pot.

The apparent increase in marijuana use in Japan comes despite mass media denunciations of it and despite harsh drug laws. Under the 1948 marijuana control law, any pot offense can earn a prison term of up to 10 years.

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