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The Most Outrageous Drug War Deaths of 2015 [FEATURE]

An as yet unnamed man killed by police in Rawlins, Wyoming, on December 30, after they were called to a convenience store about a person believed to be selling drugs in the parking lot, and Burlington, Vermont, resident Kenneth Stephens, 56, shot and killed by a state trooper and a DEA agent on December 22 when he met them with a rifle as they raided his apartment, were the last two people to make the Drug War Chronicle's drug war death toll tally, bringing it to 56 for the year.

This is the fifth year the Drug War Chronicle has tallied drug war deaths. There were 54 in 2011, 63 in 2012, 41 in 2013, and 39 in 2014. That's an average of just a hair under one a week during the past five years.

The Chronicle's tally only include deaths directly related to US domestic drug law enforcement operations -- full-fledged, door-busting, pre-dawn SWAT raids, to traffic stops turned drug busts, to police buy-bust operations. Some of the deaths are by misadventure, not gunshot, including several people who died after ingesting drugs in a bid to avoid getting busted and two law enforcement officers who separately dropped dead while searching for marijuana fields.

The dead included three other police officers, two Hattiesburg, Mississippi, cops gunned down in a traffic stop turned drug search in May and a Memphis cop gunned down over a $20 pot deal in August.

But 90% of the drug war dead are civilians. While some of the deaths are accidental and some are clearly justifiable, as when people are actually shooting at police, others are more questionable. Were all those guys in vehicles who got killed because police "feared for their lives" really trying to run down and kill cops over a drug bust, or were they just trying to get away?

And some are just downright outrageous -- one might even say criminal, although local prosecutors generally seem to disagree. In only one of the cases listed below was the police officer arrested, and in that case, she walked. Here are the worst drug war killings of 2015:

1. In February, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, Police Officer Lisa Mearkle shot and killed David Kassick, 59, after he fled a traffic stop. Kassick was a relapsed heroin user who had done time in federal prison for heroin sales, and was carrying a needle and a spoon with residue on him. Video from Mearkle's stun gun shows her repeatedly tazing Kassick as he lay on his belly in the snow and yelling at him to show his hands as they jerk around from the tazing before firing two shots into his back four seconds apart. Mearkle was arrested on murder charges in April, but acquitted of murder charges in November.

 

Zach Hammond. Gunned down over his passenger's pot deal.
2. In March, Volusia County, Florida, Sheriff's Deputy Todd Raible shot and killed Derek Cruice, 26, during a dawn SWAT raid aimed at a small-time marijuana sales operation. Cruice, who was unarmed, was shot in the face. Police claimed they were "met with resistance and a shooting occurred," but Cruice's roommates vehemently disagreed. "He had no weapons on him or in the house," roommate Steven Cochran told the Daytona Beach News Journal. "Nobody was making any kind of resistance or keeping them from doing their job." Cruice wasn't even wearing a shirt, he said. "It's kind of hard to conceal anything or hide anything when this is all you have on. They entered the house and fired." Another roommate bluntly called the deputy's action's "murder." A grand jury directed by State Attorney R.J Larizza disagreed. In Ocober, it failed to indict Raible on any charge. Cruice was a popular figure in the local community, and there were protests over his death. The cops scored half a pound of weed and some cash, but no weapons in the raid.

3. Also in March, also in Florida, Putnam County sheriff's deputies shot and killed Andrew Anthony Williams, 48, as he attempted to flee in his vehicle from a "reverse sting." That's where cops pose as drug dealers, sell unwary customers small amounts of drugs, then arrest them. Deputies had successfully sold drugs to and arrested 10 people, but when they identified themselves and tried to arrest Williams, who was number 11, he declined. News 4 Jax had it this way: "…when they tried to arrest Williams, he took off in a blue SUV and, swerving to avoid deputies, ran into a tree. Williams then backed up and tried to take off again toward deputies causing four of them to open fire on Williams SUV, hitting him an unknown number of times."

Williams' death stinks for two reasons, First, reverse drug stings are a controversial tactic, sometimes arguably justifiable at the higher echelons of the drug trade, where selling sizeable quantities of drugs to a player to see where they go help crack a drug ring, but that logic isn’t at work here, where the only result is to round up some street drug buyers and drag them into the criminal justice system. Is having deputies pretend to be drug dealers to bust small-time users really the county's best use of its law enforcement resources?

And then there's the no-witness "he was going to run me over" defense used by the police to justify the killing. It happens not infrequently. Williams may have decided that getting busted on a minor dope charge was worth trying to murder a group of police officers with his vehicle. But could it have been that he was just trying to get away?

4. In April, 73-year-old Tulsa, Oklahoma, sheriff's Reserve Officer Charles Robert Bates shot and killed meth and gun trafficking suspect Eric Harris when he mistakenly opened fire with his pistol instead of his Taser. The shooting occurred in the midst of a struggle as Harris had attempted to flee on foot and there is no evidence that Bates intended to kill Harris, but the killing led to scandal over Sheriff Stanley Glanz's relationship with Bates and how the retiree volunteer managed to get in the middle of a Violent Crimes Task Force operation. Glanz was forced to resign in October and was indicted on a misdemeanor records tampering charge over his failure to release Bates' personnel records. Those records indicate that even though top sheriff's officials knew Bates wasn’t well-trained enough, they pressured others to ignore it. Bates himself was indicted for second degree manslaughter and goes on trial in April.

 

5. In July, Seneca, South Carolina, Police Officer Mark Tiller shot and killed 19-year-old Zachary Hammond. Hammond was behind the wheel of a car at fast food restaurant parking lot. He had driven there with a female passenger who was going to sell a small amount of marijuana to what turned out to be an undercover cop. Police said Hammond drove toward the officer, forcing him to fire, but that account was challenged by Eric Bland, an attorney representing Hammond's family. Bland said that the autopsy report showed that Hammond had been shot from behind and that the vehicle was not moving. The autopsy showed a first shot entering the teen's left rear shoulder and a second in his side five inches away that went through his heart and lungs before exiting his lower right side.

"It is clearly, clearly from the back," Bland said after viewing pictures of the bullet wounds at the coroner's office. "It is physically impossible for him to be trying to flee or run over the officer that shot him. This is a 19-year-old kid without a weapon in his car, clearly in the Hardee's parking lot on a date, and within five minutes he has two shots that appear to be in his back and his side, from an officer shooting him from the back -- and he's dead and this family needs answers."

The killing was egregious enough to spark a Justice Department investigation, which is still ongoing, but not enough to convince local prosecutors to go after Officer Tiller. In October, Solicitor Chrissy Adams declined to file criminal charges against Tiller. A federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by Hammond's family is pending.

 

 

Troy Goode. Authorities tried to blame his death on "LSD toxicity."
6. In September, a still unnamed member of an Akron, Ohio, SWAT team shot and killed Omar Ali, 27, during a raid on his hookah store. Police were investigating Ali for drug sales and domestic violence when they broke down the door to his business, then encountered him in the main room of his shop. Police said they ordered him to put his hands up, but he allegedly refused those commands and reached toward the back of his waistband. The unnamed SWAT officer then shot him. Police found no weapon in his waistband. What they did find was 2.8 grams of heroin and five doses of Suboxone hidden in his butt-crack.

7. In July, a group of police officers in Southhaven, Mississippi, arrested Troy Goode, 30, after he was behaving erratically under the influence of LSD he had ingested in anticipation of a Widespread Panic concert. His wife attempted to drive him home, but at some point, he got out of the car and began creating a disturbance. Police were called, and they chased and arrested him, hogtieing him face down on a stretcher. He was charged with resisting arrest, then taken in an ambulance to a hospital, where he died two hours later. In December, the State Medical Examiner ruled that Goode had died of "LSD toxicity," but given that there are no known cases of fatal LSD overdoses, that finding is hard to credit. Goode's family isn't buying it; they instead cite an,independent autopsy report that found Goode died after being hogtied and left prone for an extended period. That stress position caused him to have trouble breathing and, as his heart attempted to compensate, it went into cardiac arrhythmia. "He was suffocating. His heart increased into what is called tachycardia," family attorney Tim Edwards said. "There is no scientific basis to attribute his death to LSD. This was lethal force, putting someone in a prolonged hogtied position," Edwards said. "This was not a situation where a 300-pound man attacked a police officer in the dark. This was a science nerd." The family has asked the Justice Department to file a civil rights investigation and says it plans to file a lawsuit over Goode's death this month.

May Drug War Mayhem: Five Civilians, Two Police Officers Dead in Separate Incidents

Police enforcing the drug laws killed five people in separate incidents last month. The victims become the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, and 29th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. Also killed in May drug war mayhem were two Mississippi police officers whose deaths were noted earlier here.

Here's who was killed and the circumstances in which they died:

On May 5, US Marshals shot and killed a drug fugitive in a Honolulu parking garage. The man, who was not identified, was sitting in his car when marshals tracked him to the parking garage. They said he reached for a weapon as they approached, so they tasered him. When that didn't work, they shot and killed him. He died at the scene.

On May 9, a Fort Worth, Texas, police officer shot and killed a man "who tried to back over a plainclothes narcotics officer." Police had gone to a residence that was under surveillance for drug activity when they realized that a wanted drug felon, Kelvin Goldston, was in the house. When Goldston left the home and got into his pickup truck, officers approached from the front and rear of his vehicle. Goldston put the truck into reverse, forcing the officer at the back to jump into the grass, where she sustained minor injuries. The officer in front then opened fire, hitting Goldston multiple times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

On May 10, two Jacksonville, Florida, police officers shot and killed a man they encountered while carrying out an eviction order at an apartment complex. D'Angelo Reyes Stallworth, 28, had nothing to do with the eviction, but was apparently selling marijuana at the complex when he encountered the officers. Police said he stuck a gun in one officer's chest, struggled with both, then broke free and ran down a staircase. He then turned around, and the officers, thinking he was still armed, shot him. But Stallworth had dropped the gun during the struggle and was unarmed when shot.

On May 21, Kentucky State Police officers shot and killed a drug suspect at a Motel 6 in Owensboro. They were in a joint drug investigation with Owensboro police and tracked their as yet unnamed suspect to the motel, but when they attempted to arrest him, he refused to exit the room and said he would not cooperate. Because a woman was in the room with him, police set up a hostage negotiation team, but the man emerged from the room around midnight and fired at officers. Police returned fire, hitting him. He later died at a local hospital.

On May 29, a Northglenn, Colorado, peace officer shot and killed a man during a drug raid. Officers had used a battering ram to open the front door of the residence during their no-knock SWAT raid and were met with gunfire from inside the house. One officer was shot and wounded and a man inside the house, who has not been identified, was shot and killed.

Tulsa Meth and Guns Suspect Killed When Reserve Deputy Grabs Pistol Instead of Taser

A Tulsa man targeted in undercover meth and gun trafficking investigations was shot and killed last Thursday by a 73-year-old reserve deputy who said he mistook his pistol for a Taser. Eric Harris becomes the 16th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Tulsa's News on 6, citing a Tulsa County Sheriff's Office account, Harris was being investigated for "a form of methamphetamine called ICE" by the Violent Crimes Task Force. He sold meth to undercover officers on several occasions, during which he mentioned that he could also obtain a sawed-off shotgun and other weapons.

The task force set up a gun buy in a Dollar Store parking lot, and Harris delivered a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and 300 rounds of ammunition.

When an "arrest team" of deputies tried to arrest him, he "confronted undercover deputies" and fled. Deputies "observed him reaching for his waistband areas near his hip, causing concern for deputies' safety," according to the sheriff's office statement.

When deputies caught up to him, Harris continued to struggle and "refused to pull his left arm out from underneath his body where his hand was near his waistband." Reserve Officer Charles Robert Bates, 73, who was assigned to the task force, opened fire, striking Harris once.

The sheriff's office has not mentioned recovering any weapon from Harris (other than the one he sold them earlier).

According to the sheriff's office, "initial reports have determined that the reserve deputy was attempting to use less lethal force, believing he was utilizing a Taser, when he inadvertently discharged his service weapon."

The sheriff's department report said Harris briefly continued to resist arrest after being shot before officers managed to cuff him. It also claimed he told emergency medical personnel at the scene he had taken PCP. He was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

Bates is a retired long-time Tulsa police officer and "advanced level" reserve deputy, meaning he had hundreds of hours of training and annual weapons exams. He had training in "homicide investigations, meth lab identification and decontamination, and other specialized training."

Two More Drug War Deaths This Week

A Virginia man was shot and killed by police Tuesday after a drug investigation turned into a chase and confrontation, and a Florida man died Wednesday after swallowing drugs in a bid to avoid arrest by a police drug task force. Walter Brown III and Michael Antoine Rodriguez become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, citing police sources, Brown was sitting in a car with another man outside the Southside Garden apartments in Portsmouth when police conducting surveillance for drug activity suspected he might have been selling drugs. The other man got out of the passenger seat, but Brown, in the driver's seat, drove away. Police chased him through Portsmouth until he pulled onto the lawn of a residence and ran up to the front door. (It was Brown's house.)

An officer used a stun gun on Brown without being able to subdue him, police said. Brown and the officer struggled into the house, down a hallway, and into a bedroom before two other officers arrived. Brown was again hit with a stun gun, again to no avail. Police said he then pulled out a handgun. One officer yelled "Gun!" and tried to grab it from Brown's hand, and another officer opened fire, shooting Brown three to five times.

Medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Brown's wife, Octavia, was in the house at the time. She told reporters she had been ordered out of the room where her husband and police were fighting. Then she heard shooting. She said police would not let her see her husband's body. She said he had just gone out to pick up lunch before going to work.

"Why would they take him from us?" she asked. "Why would they take him from his kids?"

She said police treated her husband like an animal.

"He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he was a family person," she said. "He did not have a weapon."

Police said they recovered a handgun from the scene.

"I know my son had emotional problems all his life," said Walter Brown, Sr., who said his daughter-in-law had called him to tell him his son was dead. "He had problems with authority. He didn't like nobody grabbing on him. He would fight back," he said. "No matter if it was drug-related or whatever, it could have been handled a different way."

Meanwhile, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, citing police sources, on Wednesday, the Broward County Drug Task Force was conducting an undercover drug operation in Oakland Park when Rodriguez, 38, showed up shortly before 10:00pm carrying a methamphetamine delivery.

When Rodriguez saw narcs approaching to arrest him, he swallowed the drugs. Detectives tried to stop him, but failed. They then called for medical assistance, and Rodriguez was taken to Holy Cross Hospital nearby. He then went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A suburban Philly cop is under suspicion in a case of missing drug evidence, a former Philly cop who worked with a dealer to rip off other dealers is heading to prison, and so is a former Virginia cop and DEA task force member who used his position to gain sexual favors. Let's get to it:

In Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, an unnamed police is under investigation after drugs and cash went missing from evidence. The Delaware County DA's Office is looking into it.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer pleaded guilty last Friday to conspiring with drug dealers to steal money and drugs from other dealers. Christopher Saravello, 37, admitted working with South Philly drug dealer Robert Nagy in committing between 10 and 20 robberies, as well as three more robberies with two other dealers. The dealers would set up a drug buy, then Saravello would show up in uniform and pretend to bust the deal. He allegedly scored at least $9,800 in cash from the scheme. He resigned from the force in 2012, when the department discovered he was strung out on pain pills. He's now looking at up to 120 years in federal prison.

In Roanoke, Virginia, a former Salem police officer and DEA task force member was sentenced Tuesday to 2 ½ years in federal prison for soliciting and receiving sexual favors from defendants in return for agreeing to recommend leniency for them. Kevin Moore, 42, admitted that while he served as a DEA task force officer, he told a female meth defendant he could get her a lighter sentence if she performed a sex act on him. She did. He also admitted doing the same thing with two other female defendants in federal drug investigations dating back to 2009. In those cases, he admitted lying to the women, saying he had already convinced prosecutors not to charge them with crimes that would carry a heavy prison sentence. He had not.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Confirmed; ME, OH Pot Initiatives Get Going; WY Asset Forfeiture Reform, More (2/10/15)

2016 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are taking first steps in Maine and Ohio, Alaska lawmakers try to deal with implementing legalization there, Wyoming passes a bill ending civil asset forfeiture reform, CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in Virginia, we have a new drug czar, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Lawmakers Continue to Struggle With Implementing Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a new version of its bill to implement marijuana legalization after an earlier version was criticized for only providing a defense in court for marijuana possession instead of legalizing it outright, as voters envisioned when they passed the legalization initiative last fall. The new version simply removes marijuana, hash, and hash oil from the state's controlled substances laws. Use of marijuana would still be illegal in some circumstances, including while driving and on ski lifts. The committee was set to take up the bill today.

Maine Group Submits Legalization Initiative for 2016. One of the groups interested in putting a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot has filed its initiative with the secretary of state's office. Legalize Maine is first off the blocks in the state and claims it will make Maine "the first state with a home grown group leading the charge to have local people and small farmers benefit from legalizing marijuana." Legalize Maine's initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their homes, require that 40% of cultivation licenses go to small-scale farmers, and allow marijuana social clubs, where people could buy and use the drug. It would also tax marijuana sales at 10%, a higher rate than the one that applies to prepared food, lodging and liquor. The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project is also looking at a legalization initiative in the state. Initiatives will need some 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Ohio Legalization Group in First Phase of Initiative Signature-Gathering. Responsible Ohio has released summary petition language for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The group now needs to file 1,000 valid voter signatures with the attorney general's office for this first phase of the initiative process. The group's plan is for 10 sites in the state to be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. The marijuana would then be quality-tested and distributed to state-regulated dispensaries (for patients) and retail marijuana stores. Marijuana would be taxed at 15%. There appears to be no provision for home cultivation. If approved for general circulation, the petition would need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House of Delegates today approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Hemp

Southern Oregon Farmer Gets First Hemp License. Edgar Winter, an Eagle Point farmer, has obtained the state's first license to produce industrial hemp and says he and a nonprofit group intend to plant 25 acres in hemp this spring. That's if they can get the seeds, which requires the approval of the DEA. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming House Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill requiring that an individual be convicted of a drug felony before his property could be seized passed the House yesterday. Senate File 14 passed the Senate earlier in the session. It's the first bill to make it through the state legislature this year. No word yet on if the governor plans to sign or veto it.

Harm Reduction

Lives Saved By Miracle Drug Naloxone Pass 300 in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has received a report of the 300th state drug overdose reversed by the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. In the past year and a half, the coalition has distributed more than 7,300 naloxone kits through a network of staff, consultants, and volunteers. The coalition has also been instrumental in getting law enforcement on board with naloxone. Nine departments in the state currently carry naloxone.

Law Enforcement

Missouri Activists File Lawsuits Against Drug Task Forces. Show Me Cannabis has filed lawsuits against three Missouri drug task forces, accusing them of failing to comply with the state's Sunshine Law. "Missouri's drug task forces, who are trusted to enforce the law, routinely act as though they are themselves above it," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "The citizens of Missouri have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and that is why the Sunshine Law was enacted. Missouri's drug task forces have repeatedly ignored their legal obligations, and today we are taking them to court to force them to follow the law." Read the complaint and related documents here.

Drug Policy

Michael Botticelli Confirmed as Drug Czar. The Senate last night confirmed acting drug czar Michael Botticelli as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He had served as the office's deputy director and before that, he spent nearly two decades overseeing substance abuse programs for the state of Massachusetts. "Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow. What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad."

International

British Parliamentary Conference Will Discuss Drug Policy Alternatives. A conference next month hosted by the parliament's House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will discuss alternatives to Britain's much criticized drug laws and how to influence the looming international debate on drugs. It will feature a leading Liberal Democrat, officials from Mexico's foreign ministry, and harsh critics of the drug war status quo, including Danny Kushlick of Transform, and former Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head Prof. David Nutt.

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim a Step Closer, DC Legalization Battles, Pot and Driving, More (2/9/15)

The fight over legalization continues in DC, Jamaica is now one vote away from decriminalizing ganja, the NHTSA has a study out saying there is no evidence pot use increases the risk of crashes, and more. Let's get to it:

On Bob Marley's birthday, the Jamaican Senate passed decriminalization. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Nominee Says DC Should Be Able to Legalize Marijuana. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli has said that the District of Columbia should be able to determine its own marijuana policy. "As a resident of the District I might not agree about legalization," Botticelli said, "but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that." Federal law requires the drug czar to oppose marijuana legalization, but that didn't stop Botticelli from endorsing home rule for the District even if that meant legalization.

DC Council Cancels Hearing on Taxation and Regulation Bill in Face of Legal Threats. The DC council was supposed to hold hearing on a taxation and regulation bill today, but abandoned those plans after the District attorney general warned lawmakers they and their staffs could face fines or even jail time if they went ahead. Incoming DC Attorney General Karl Racine warned the council in a letter late last week that holding the hearing would violate a congressionally imposed spending restriction prohibiting the city from moving forward on legalization and regulation. Council members and invited witnesses, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to testify, instead held an informal roundtable discussion on the topic to avoid the risk of being found in contempt of Congress.

Idahoans Not Ready to Legalize Marijuana, Poll Finds. An Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that only 33% supported legalization, with 64% opposed -- and they mean it. More than half (53%) of respondents were "strongly opposed," while another 11% were "somewhat opposed." Only 17% said they "strongly supported" legalization, with another 16% "somewhat supporting" it.

Sentencing Policy

Kansas Bill Would Cut Marijuana Sentences. The Kansas Sentencing Commission is pushing a bill through the legislature that would end prison sentences for the first two marijuana possession offenses and allow for increased use of good-time sentence reductions. The bill has been endorsed by the Department of Corrections and many legislators and has passed out of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Passes House. The House last Friday approved House Bill 200, which would require applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for possible drug use. Those deemed to be suspected of drug use after screening would be subjected to drug tests.

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Scheme Yields Few Positives. Six months after the state rolled out its controversial law to drug test some people applying for public benefits, the first results are in, and they're not very impressive. Some 16,017 people applied for the Families First cash assistance program; only 279 were deemed to have provided reasonable suspicion that they were drug users, and only 37 of them tested positive for drugs. Eight people were disqualified for refusing to answer the drug questionnaire; another 81 were denied benefits after dropping out of the application process.

Driving

NHTSA Says No Evidence Marijuana Use Increases Crash Risk. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released last Friday found no evidence marijuana use increases the risk of getting in a traffic accident. While pot smokers are 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than non-users, NHTSA attributed that to factors other than marijuana use itself -- particularly that younger men are more likely to get in crashes. "Other factors, such as age and gender, appear to account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users," the study found. The study is the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use By Drivers.

Law Enforcement

Utah Town Pays Big for 2012 Drug War Killing of Danielle Willard. The city of West Valley City, Utah, will pay $1.425 million to the family of Danielle Willard to settle their wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two police officers. Willard was shot and killed by Det. Shaun Cowley as she sat in her car in an apartment complex parking lot. When detectives approached her vehicle, she began to back up. Two opened fire, but only Cowley was on target, hitting her in the head and killing her. Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill found the shooting unjustified, but a district court judge threw out charges against Cowley. Cowley was later fired for mishandling evidence and dereliction of duty, and the West Valley Vice Narcotics Unit was disbanded. It has just been reconstituted.

Missouri Activists Issue Report on Drug Task Force Misconduct. Show Me Cannabis has released a comprehensive report on misconduct in the state's anti-drug task forces. The report is "Drug Task Forces in Missouri: Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable; A Thorough Exploration of Patterns of Gross Misconduct."

International

Jamaican Senate Approves Ganja Decriminalization. The Senate approved marijuana decriminalization last Friday after five hours of debate. Up to two ounces will be decriminalized, Rastafarians will be able to grow their own, and the country will begin to move toward setting up a legal marijuana industry. The measure must still pass the lower House, but is expected to do so.

Vancouver Looks to Regulate Marijuana Dispensaries. Even though they are illegal under Canadian law, at least 60 dispensaries operate in Vancouver, and the municipal government is now moving to come up with a way to regulate them -- not shut them down. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM: Flurry of Federal Drug Reform Bills, AZ Legalization Demo, Heroin ODs Up Sharply, More (1/13/15)

Marijuana legalization battles start to heat up in the states, a flurry of federal drug reform bills are filed, heroin overdose deaths are up sharply, Mexican cartels seem to be switching from pot to meth and heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Foes Get Organized. Maine isn't going to legalize weed without a fight. Two groups with "grave concerns" about legalization kicked off a year-long campaign to "educate" Mainers about the dangers of the herb. The two groups are Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse. The move comes as Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) said she will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, and as state activists work toward a legalization initiative in 2016.

Arizonans Rally to Protest Pot Prohibition, Call for Legalization. More than a hundred people gathered outside the state capitol in Phoenix Monday to urge marijuana law reforms. They were led by Safer Arizona, which says it will protest on the first day of the legislative session until marijuana is legal. A legalization bill will be before the legislature this year.

Medical Marijuana

Fight Over Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has said he will modify his CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) objected to a provision that would allow production of the crop in the state. That has supporters of the bill unhappy. They say that because federal law prohibits transporting medical marijuana between states, their medicine will remain out of reach if it cannot be grown in-state.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Reintroduced. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D) and Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) have re-filed their bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill, SB 134, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Heroin Overdose Deaths Jumped in 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Monday showing that 8,257 people died of heroin-related deaths in 2013, up 39% from the 5,924 deaths the previous year. The number of overall drug overdose deaths also increased, to 43,982 in 2013 from 41,340 the year before. That's an overall increase of 6%.

LSD

First LSD Study in Decades Shows Promising Results. LSD can alleviate anxiety in terminally ill patients, according to the first clinical study of the drug in 40 years. The research was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The research results were published here.

Criminal Justice

Houston Congresswoman Files Trio of Criminal Justice Reform Bills. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed several criminal justice reform bills: HR 46 would increase the evidentiary standard required to convict someone for a drug offense and require screening of police participating in drug task forces; HR 51 would provide for collection of data on racial profiling in traffic stops; and HR 71 would provide earlier releases for certain nonviolent offenders.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Medical Marijuana Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has filed HR 262, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt from civil forfeiture real property seized because of medical marijuana-related conduct in states where it is legal. The bill currently has no cosponsors.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Group Delivers Urine Specimen Cups to Legislators in Welfare Drug Test Protest. The Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) protested Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to impose drug testing on welfare recipients Monday by delivering urine sample cups -- unused -- to the offices of Republican legislators. The group says the plan won't achieve anything except demonizing the poor and that it may be unconstitutional.

International

Mexican Drug Traffickers Switching to Meth and Heroin. Marijuana legalization and decriminalization north of the border is having an impact south of the border, if US drug seizures are any indication. The amount of marijuana seized by state, local, and federal law enforcement has dropped 37% since 2011, while heroin seizures have increased three-fold and meth seizures have increased five-fold. Farmers in Mexico have reported switching from marijuana to opium in response to market trends.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Sentencing

Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.

International

"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

Georgia Homeowner Killed in Fruitless Drug Raid

A Georgia SWAT team shot and killed an armed homeowner during a September 24 drug raid sparked by the word of a self-confessed meth addict and burglar who had robbed the property the previous day. No drugs were found. David Hooks, 59, becomes the 34th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WMAZ TV 13, Laurens County sheriff's deputies with the drug task force and special response team (SWAT team) conducted a no-knock search on Hooks' home in East Dublin on the evening of the 24th. When the raiders burst through the back door of the residence, they encountered Hooks carrying a shotgun. Multiple deputies opened fire, shooting and killing Hooks.

According to his family, Hooks was not a drug user or seller, but was a successful businessman who ran a construction company that, among other things, did work on US military bases. Hooks had passed background checks and had a security clearance.

The search warrant to raid Hooks' home came about after a local meth addict named Rodney Garrett came onto the property two nights earlier and stole one of Hooks' vehicles. Garrett claimed that before he stole the vehicle, he broke into another vehicle on the property and stole a plastic bag. Garrett claimed he thought the bag contained money, but when he later examined it and discovered it contained 20 grams of meth and a digital scale, he "became scared for his safety" and turned himself in to the sheriff's office.

Hooks' family, however, said that Garrett had been identified as the burglar and a warrant issued for his arrest the day after the burglary. He was arrested the following day; the raid happened that same night.

Garrett's claims were the primary basis for the search warrant. But investigators also claimed they were familiar with the address from a 2009 investigation in which a suspect claimed he had supplied ounces of meth to Hooks, who resold it. Nothing apparently ever came of that investigation, but the five-year-old uncorroborated tip made it into the search warrant application.

And it was enough to get a search warrant from a compliant magistrate. Hooks family attorney Mitchell Shook said that even though the warrant was not a no-knock warrant, the Laurens County SWAT team did not announce its presence, but just broke down the back door of the residence.

Shook said David Hooks' wife, Teresa, looked outside and saw people with hoods on the evening of the raid and woke up her husband. Fearing the burglar or burglars who had struck two nights earlier had returned, Hooks armed himself.

"David and Teresa were under the impression that the burglars were back and that a home invasion was imminent," the family said in a statement. "David armed himself to protect his wife and his home. Despite the fact that the illegal search warrant did not have a 'no knock' clause, the Drug Task Force and SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered firing in excess of 16 shots. These shots were from multiple firearms and from both 40 caliber handguns and assault rifles. Several shots were fired through a blind wall at David with the shooters not knowing who or what was on the other side of the wall. The trajectory of the shots, coupled with the number of shots infers a clear intent on behalf of the shooters to kill David Hooks."

"The task force and the SRT members broke down the back door of the family's home and entered, firing an excessive sixteen shots. There is no evidence that David Hooks ever fired a weapon" said Shook.

Nor was there any evidence he was involved in drugs. As Shook emphasized, after the shooting, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an intensive 44-hour search of the property and came up with not one item of contraband.

Hooks' family is called on the Laurens County district attorney to do its own investigation of the killing after he receives the GBI's report and "take whatever action the law and justice demands." It is also calling on Sheriff W.A. "Bill" Harrell to immediately suspend all the officers involved until the investigations and any prosecutions are settled.

East Dublin, GA
United States

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