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Labor, Black Police Groups Endorse Prop 19, Prison Guards Stay Neutral

Proposition 19, the California marijuana legalization initiative, picked up endorsements from organized labor and a national group representing black police officers last week, while the deep-pocketed California prison guards' union has indicated it may sit out this campaign.

On Wednesday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU 00 the Longshoremen) 25,000-member Northern California District Council (NCDC) jumped on the legalization bandwagon, joining the Western States Council of the Commercial Food Workers Union (CFWU) in giving labor support to the initiative.

"The ILWU NCDC supports Prop 19 for good reason," said the union's statement. "The continued prohibition of marijuana costs society too much. Billions of our tax dollars are wasted annually on the prosecution and incarceration of many, whose only crime is using, growing and selling marijuana," the stevedores said.

"Peoples' lives are ruined for a lifetime because of criminal records incurred from using a drug that is used recreationally by people from all walks of life. Those criminal records fall disproportionately on the backs of workers, poor people, and people of color," said the ILWU NCDC.

On Thursday, the 15,000-member National Black Police Association (NBPA) climbed on board. While most law enforcement interest groups not unsurprisingly oppose Prop 19, the NCBA is by no means alone. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and its 30,000 members also support it.

"When I was a cop in Baltimore, and even before that when I was growing up there, I saw with my own eyes the devastating impact these misguided marijuana laws have on our communities and neighborhoods. But it's not just in Baltimore, or in Los Angeles; prohibition takes a toll on people of color across the country," said Neill Franklin, a black 33-year veteran police officer who is LEAP's executive director. "This November, with the National Black Police Association's help, Californians finally have an opportunity to do something about it by approving the initiative to control and tax marijuana."

Meanwhile, in what could be a very large piece of good news for the Prop 19 campaign, Rolling Stone reported this week that the wealthy and powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association is so far staying neutral on Prop 19. Two years ago, the prison guards' union helped kill a well-funded sentencing reform initiative when it ponied up $1 million for an ad campaign featuring Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) calling the measure a "drug dealer's bill of rights."

Legalizing pot would not have as much of an impact on prison guard jobs as the 2010 sentencing reform would have had, at least in the short term given federal prohibition, and the prison guards are staying quiet. "At this time, we haven't taken a position on Proposition 19, and it's not certain we will," union spokesman JeVaughn Baker said.

CA
United States

Raid Victim Family May Hit Vegas Police with RICO Suit

(This article includes minor updates from the original version published 8/19/10.)

Andre Lagomarsino, the attorney representing the estate of Trevon Cole and his fiancé, Sequoia Pearce, said last Thursday he is considering a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit against the Las Vegas Police Metropolitan Department in the shooting death of Cole in a June drug raid at the apartment shared by Cole and Pearce. In addition to a possible RICO claim, the lawsuit would assert wrongful death, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It would also assert civil rights violations.

Trevon Cole
"We are considering a RICO claim," Lagomarsino told the Chronicle. "The claim would say there is a pattern of criminal conduct by this organization. A similar claim was brought against the LAPD. It only takes two events to constitute a pattern under RICO," he said.

There is already one other questionable police shooting that could be the second event. Last month, Las Vegas police shot and killed Erik Scott, 39, outside a Costco store in Summerlin. There have been five officer-involved shootings in the city so far this summer and 17 this year, though Cole and Scott were the only fatalities among them.

Though best known for its criminal provisions targeting certain criminal enterprises with asset forfeiture and up to 20-year sentences per racketeering count, the RICO statute also has a provision allowing for civil lawsuits by plaintiffs claiming to have been harmed by those enterprises. Successful plaintiffs can collect treble damages.

Cole was fatally wounded by Detective Brian Yant as he and other officers executed a search warrant alleging that Cole had sold 1.8 ounces of marijuana to undercover officers in three buys over a series of week. Cole was unarmed. Yant said he shot after Cole made "a furtive movement," but Pearce, who was present during the raid, said Cole was on his knees with his hands raised and complying with commands when he was shot.

Yant has been involved in two other questionable shootings, one of them fatal. In that incident, Yant said the victim was threatening him with a gun, but the gun was found 35 feet away from the victim's body.

Yant also misidentified Cole as another Trevon Cole from Houston, Texas, despite the two men having different dates of birth, middle initials, ages, and appearances. He also mischaracterized the record of the Houston Trevon Cole, portraying him in the search warrant affidavit as a major drug dealer when his only arrests were marijuana possession misdemeanors. (See more detailed coverage of the raid and its aftermath here.)

When there is a police-involved fatal shooting in Las Vegas, it goes before a coroner's inquest to determine whether the officer involved was criminally negligent. That happened on Friday and Saturday, with the coroner's jury coming back with a verdict of "justifiable" on the shooting. The finding was not unanticipated, especially given the history of coroner's inquests there (only one police officer has been found criminally negligent in about 200 inquests since 1976, and that verdict was later overturned) and the one-sided nature of the inquest process (only the district attorney can present evidence and ask questions), it is considered unlikely that Yant will be found criminally negligent.

"I would guess they will find it justified, but I'm hopeful they will look at the fact that [Cole] had nothing in his hands," Lagomarsino said the day before the inquest began.

While Lagomarsino also cited Yant's history of shootings "under suspicious circumstances," he pointed a finger at the police department too. "This is cleared at higher levels," he said. "It is the policy and procedure of the Metro police to conduct these raids the way they do."

The Las Vegas attorney told the Chronicle last week that once the inquest was over he would file a lawsuit "within two or three weeks." He told local media Monday the lawsuit will now move forward, although he did not outline its precise shape.

Las Vegas, NV
United States

California Appeals Court in Split Decision on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

In a long-anticipated but now somewhat anticlimactic ruling, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana on Wednesday decided not to decide whether localities can ban medical marijuana dispensaries, sending the case back to Orange County Superior Court for further hearings. The court did, however, reverse a lower court's ruling that federal law preempts state law.

The case, Qualified Patients Association (QPA) v. City of Anaheim, deals with an Anaheim ordinance that makes operating or working at a dispensary a misdemeanor criminal offense, but could also affect numerous other localities that have banned dispensaries. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which filed an amicus brief in the case, has identified 133 California localities with bans in place.

QPA had opened five months before Anaheim enacted its ban and sued shortly thereafter, arguing that the state's Compassionate Use Act (CUA) and Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) blocked localities from banning dispensaries. They lost in Orange County Superior Court in 2008, with the judge holding that federal drug law preempted the state's medical marijuana laws.

No, it doesn't, the appeals court held in a unanimous decision. "We agree with plaintiffs the trial court erred as a matter of law in concluding federal regulation of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act preempted California's decision in the CUA and the MMPA to decriminalize specific medical marijuana activities under state law. We therefore reverse the judgment of dismissal and remand the matter to allow plaintiffs to pursue their declaratory judgment cause of action," said the opinion authored by Judge Richard Aronson. The court also wondered how "a city may criminalize as a misdemeanor a particular use of property the state expressly has exempted from 'criminal liability,'" as it does in the MMPA.

Still, ASA chief counsel Joe Elford, author of the brief mentioned above and who argued the case before the appeals court last September, wasn't exactly jumping for joy. He wanted the issue settled once and for all.

"While we understand the difficult nature of deciding this issue, the court's ruling delays a decision that will affect thousands of patients who remain without access to their medication because of hostile jurisdictions," he said. "The silver lining to this decision is that the court has reinstated the lawsuit and is providing the plaintiffs the opportunity to prove that dispensary bans are illegal under state law."

In addition to the plaintiffs and defendants, the case pitted medical marijuana advocates against law enforcement associations and the governments of 33 cities. Those associations and city governments all filed briefs opposing the appeal.

"We will continue to fight for the right of patients to access medical marijuana through medical marijuana dispensaries, which is provided for by the Medical Marijuana Program Act, previous case law and guidelines issued by the California Attorney General," continued Elford. "Whether or not the Anaheim case is brought before this court again, this issue will eventually be reheard and we are confident of the eventual outcome."

Santa Ana, CA
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 this month. 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:

Santiago Papasquiaro, site of Saturday's firefight
Friday, August 13

In Ciudad Juarez, 17 people were murdered across the city. Among the dead were two members of CIPOL, the police intelligence service, as well as a young couple. Several people were shot outside a nightclub, and three men between the ages of 20 and 25 were killed after their car was ambushed by a group of gunmen.

Saturday, August 14

In Durango, at least 11 gunmen were killed after a two-hour firefight with the army near the town of Santiago Papasquiaro. Three troops were wounded during the gun battle. Many believe that Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is hiding in Durango.

In Monterrey, at least eight gunmen kidnapped a plastic surgeon while he was performing surgery. It was later reported that one of his patients was the target of the raid. Police and army personnel launched an operation to find the abducted surgeon, with no success.

Sunday, August 15

In Morelos, at least six people were killed. In one incident, three young men were gunned down after a botched kidnapping attempt by gunmen outside their home. In another incident, the body of an unidentified man was found bound with tape and plastic. A note threatening the lives of local police officers was left alongside the body.

Monday, August 16

In Ciudad Juarez, 20 people were killed in several incidents in the city. The incidents included two separate triple homicides. Several of the bodies discovered in the city were bound with tape and showed signs of torture. Over the weekend, 51 people were killed. Monday’s killings bring the 2010 death toll in Ciudad Juarez to approximately 1,884.

In Oaxaca, gunmen killed eight members of a hunting party near Mexico's Gulf Coast. The exact motive for the killings is unclear. In Monterrey and in Reynosa, armed men threw hand grenades at the local offices of Televisa.

Tuesday, August 17

In a video made public on Tuesday, an alleged member of the Juarez Cartel claimed that the cartel is hiring attractive young women to serve as assassins. The suspect, Rogelio Amaya, claims that around roughly 30 women between the ages of 18 and 30 have been recruited and trained to carry out hits, which many of them have. Rogelio Amaya is thought to be a member of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel.

In Culiacan, four prison inmates were murdered and were discovered in a dumpster. All four had their throats slit. Three of the four men had been arrested earlier this month following a firefight with police. Violence between rival drug trafficking gangs is common in Mexican prisons.

Wednesday, August 18

In Nuevo Leon, the body of a kidnapped mayor was discovered three days after his abduction. Edelmiro Cavazos of was the mayor of Santiago, Nuevo Leon. He was discovered near a waterfall near the town after having been kidnapped by a group of at least 15 armed men wearing uniforms of the federal police force, which was disbanded nine years ago.

Total Body Count for the Week: 112

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,030

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Hey, cops: Don't give crack to hookers' boyfriends, don't rip people off and traffic dope, don't seize dope without turning it in, and don't get wasted on meth you stole and crash your cruiser. If only this week's crew had followed those simple instructions, they wouldn't be in trouble now. But they are. Let's get to it:

In Austin, Texas, a former Austin police officer was convicted Tuesday of giving crack cocaine to a man who was the boyfriend of a prostitute he knew. Scott Lando, 48, was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance. He also faces charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and prostitution. The crack incident took place in 2006. He was fired in 2008. He is out on bail.

In Jackson, Mississippi, two Jackson police officers were arrested last Friday on a variety of charges for stealing money from the home of a man who had been robbed. Officers Marvent Brooks, 35, and David Dreblow, 25, are charged with theft over $1,000, two counts of official misconduct, tampering with evidence and witness coercion. But there will be more to come. In a search of Brooks' home after the arrests, authorities found marijuana, crack pipes, a digital scale, gas grenades, homemade silencers and guns, according to a search warrant. The search warrant specified that authorities were looking for "photographs or electronic recordings regarding narcotics possession or trafficking." Both officers are out on $5,000 bail. Authorities said any additional charges against Brooks resulting from the search warrant will be presented to a grand jury.

In Felicity, Ohio, a Clermont County police officer pleaded not guilty August 12 to a charge of tampering with evidence. Felicity Police Capt. Delmas Pack was arrested last month and is accused of taking drugs off someone he stopped. The drugs were allegedly "not handled properly." Prosecutors have said little more about the case.

In Des Moines, Iowa, a former Pleasant Hill police officer pleaded guilty August 12 to drug and burglary charges for stealing methamphetamine from an evidence room. Former Sgt. Daniel Edwards, 42, pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, operating while intoxicated, and third-degree burglary. Edwards went down after he crashed his cruiser on April 1. He was fired after a drug test showed he had meth in his system when he crashed.

Top British Doctor and Lawyer Join Drug Decrim Chorus

The former head of Britain's Royal College of Physicians has joined the growing chorus calling for radical reforms of the country's drug laws. Sir Ian Gilmore, who left his post just weeks ago, told the Guardian Monday the government should consider decriminalizing drugs because prohibition neither reduced crime nor improved health.

Prof. Ian Gilmore
"I'm not saying we should make heroin available to everyone, but we should be treating it as a health issue rather than criminalizing people," said Gilmore. "This could drastically reduce crime and improve health."

Just over three weeks ago, Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council (the British equivalent of the ABA), called for decriminalization, saying it was "rational" to consider "decriminalizing personal drug use." "Crime was costing Britain $20 billion a year, he pointed out.

"[Decriminalization] can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage," Green said. "If this is so, then it would be rational to follow suit."

Gilmore, for his part, went out of his way to draw attention to yet another recent call for radical reform. He praised a recently published article in the British Medical Journal by Stephen Rolles, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which, he said, clearly made the argument for decriminalization.

In that article, Rolles noted that not only had prohibition worsened health problems such as HIV, it had also created numerous secondary harms, including "vast networks of organized crime, endemic violence related to the drug market, corruption of law enforcement and governments, militarized crop eradication programs (environmental damage, food insecurity, and human displacement), and funding of terrorism and insurgency."

Rolles' call for decriminalization also won the support of Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal. "He says, and I agree, that we must regulate drug use, not criminalize it," she wrote in the journal.

"Sir Ian's statement is yet another nail in prohibition's coffin," Transform's Danny Kushlick told the Guardian. "The Hippocratic oath says: 'First, do no harm.' Physicians are duty bound to speak out if the outcomes show that prohibition causes more harm than it reduces."

Kushlick also prodded the government to act. "With a prime minister and deputy prime minister both longstanding supporters of alternatives to the war on drugs, at the very least the government must initiate an impact assessment comparing prohibition with decriminalization and strict legal regulation."

Drip, drip, drip. And so the prohibitionist consensus erodes even further.

United Kingdom

Atlanta Pays $4.9 Million for Kathryn Johnston Botched Drug Raid Killing

The city of Atlanta will pay $4.9 million to the estate of Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old African American woman killed by Atlanta narcotics officers in a drug raid nearly four years ago. Mayor Kasim Reed announced the settlement Monday morning. The city council approved it that same afternoon.

never forget
On November 21, 2006, Johnston was alone in her home when three Atlanta undercover narcs with a no-knock search warrant based on false information attempted a dynamic entry raid. The elderly woman fired one shot from an old pistol as the intruders tried to break down her door. They responded by firing at least 39 shots at the woman, who died at the scene -- in handcuffs.

No drugs were found. The officers involved attempted to cover their tracks by planting marijuana they had seized in a separate raid. They also tried to get an informer to say that he had provided them with the information in the warrant when he hadn't. The narcs' cover-up unraveled when the informant went to the FBI.

After an investigation by the FBI, five officers pleaded guilty for their roles in the shooting and cover-up. The three officers directly involved in the botched raid are serving sentences of five, six and ten years. Another six were reprimanded for not following departmental policy.

Reed said the settlement was an important step for the city and the police department, which came under intense, withering criticism in the raid's aftermath. "As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions," said Reed, adding that the narcotics unit has been totally reorganized.

There is more the department needs to do, said Christina Beamud, executive director of the Atlanta Citizens Review Board. "This goes a long way to encourage the community to begin to heal and to address whatever issues they have with the police department," she told WABE FM Monday afternoon. But, she added, reforms in the department are still needed. One group of rogue officers may be gone, she said, "But where you have a group of officers continuing to do the same kind of improper procedures, then you have to look at your systems." She said the department should scrap quotas for drug arrests and end the policy of allowing officers to moonlight when not on duty.

Johnston's heirs will receive $2.9 million this year and $2 million in 2012 under the terms of the settlement.

Atlanta, GA
United States

Swiss Pol Who Probed Secret CIA Prison System Says Legalize Drugs

In an interview Friday with the Austrian newspaper Kurier and reported in the Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger, prominent Swiss politician Dick Marty called drug prohibition a failure. Drugs should instead be legalized, taxed and regulated, he said.

Dick Marty
Marty was the state prosecutor in Ticino for 15 years and in 1987 won an award from the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association. He was elected to the Swiss Council of State in 1995 and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1998. He has hold both positions ever since. Marty gained international prominence when he was appointed by the Council to investigate the collaboration of various European governments in the CIA's secret prison program and issued a damning report in 2006.

Drug prohibition has been "a total bust," Marty said Friday. "It only leads to high prices and corresponding profits for the drug mafia, without diminishing the access to drugs."

Recalling his years as a prosecutor, Marty added that it was only the small-time dealers who got paraded through the courts, while the drug lords were "little bothered" and stayed in luxury hotels. And despite the endless low-level prosecutions, it has never been so easy to get drugs, he added.

Money wasted on enforcing drug prohibition could instead be spent on prevention, and after legalization, governments could control the drug sector through regulation and taxation, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco, Marty said.

Although he conceded that "drug prices will fall" and consumption would rise -- perhaps only temporarily -- if prohibition is ended, Marty said societies must confront the problem of consumption, much as the US did after the end of Alcohol Prohibition. He pointed to a Swiss example, as well: the use of heroin maintenance programs to reintegrate hard-core addicts into the social fabric. "These people are supported medically and they can work again," he said.

Ending prohibition must be a global affair, he said, pointing to the emerging discussion of the theme in Mexico as it is buffeted by prohibition-related violence that has left 28,000 dead in the past 3 ½ years. Still, Marty isn't holding his breath. "Worldwide drug legalization isn't going to happen" in my lifetime, he predicted.

Dick Marty is only 65. Let's see if we can't prove him wrong.

Switzerland

Nevada Marijuana Initiative Probably Dead in the Water

A Nevada marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2012 ballot is on life-support after its primary funder, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), pulled its financial backing from the effort, both MPP and David Schwartz, head of its state affiliate, Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, told the Chronicle this week.

Nevada clergy press conference supporting the
2006 Nevada marijuana legalization initiative
Under the proposed initiative, people 21 and over could possess up to an ounce of marijuana, as well as pot paraphernalia, but they could not grow their own. Instead, consumers would purchase it from one of 120 authorized retail outlets, who would in turn purchase their supplies from one of 50 authorized wholesale growers. The proposal includes a $50 an ounce excise tax at the wholesale level, and sales tax would apply on retail transactions.

"It's no secret that ballot initiatives are an expensive proposition," said MPP spokesman Mike Meno. "We've had to cut back in a few places, and Nevada is one of them."

"The initiative is definitely in jeopardy," said Schwartz, "It wasn't about whether we could win, but it came down to a lack of funding."

Legalization initiatives in 2002 and 2006 lost with 39% and 44% of the vote, respectively, and just two weeks ago, the current initiative was polled at 42%. Should the initiative find a way to move forward, proponents will have their work cut out trying to shift that percentage between now and November 2012.

MPP had backed the two previous legalization initiatives and signature-gathering campaigns with millions of dollars in support, largely to pay petitioners. Without paid signature-gatherers, proponents of the ongoing effort will have a very difficult time getting the 97,000 valid signatures they need to make the November 2012 ballot.

Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws is closing up shop, but the fight will continue, said Schwartz. "I'm in the process of starting up a new organization, Sensible Nevada, and we will see where to go from here."

NV
United States

Detroit Marijuana Legalization Backers Appeal Ballot Rejection

The Coalition for a Safer Detroit, sponsors of a municipal initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot for adults 21 or over in the Motor City, has appealed a surprise decision Monday by the city's Election Commission that knocked the initiative off the ballot.

Detroit skyline
"If you're on the cutting edge of social change, litigation is just a cost of doing business," coalition leader Tim Beck told the Detroit Free Press yesterday after the group filed an appeal with Wayne County Circuit Court.

The court Friday agreed to hold an expedited hearing on the case. That will occur on August 26.

The coalition handed in more than 6,000 voter signatures earlier this year, and the initiative was approved by the same Detroit Election Commission that killed it Monday. After it was approved, in accordance with city law, the initiative went before the Detroit City Council, which could have voted to make the initiative law. By failing to vote on the initiative, the Council cleared the way for the voters to make their preferences known in November -- or so everyone thought.

But on Monday, the Election Commission voted 3-0 to remove the measure from the ballot. The surprise move came after Detroit Corporation Counsel and commission member Krystal Crittenden told the commission that in the opinion of the city's law department, which she oversees, state law forbidding marijuana possession preempted the measure.

Now, it will be up to the courts to determine whether Detroiters will have the right to vote on the initiative. Stay tuned.

Detroit, MI
United States

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