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Latin America: Mexican Drug War Update--October 22

by Bernd Debussman Jr. Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed over 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 5,800 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 , October 16 In Michoacan, three bodies were found , all with messages attached. The messages were directed at the Zetas organization, and appear to have been from La Familia. La Familia was once part of the Zetas organization, but the two groups have been fierce rivals since the group split from the Gulf Cartel (and the Zetas) in 2006. In other parts of Mexico, two men were assassinated in Tijuana, and a boy who was jogging was killed after being caught in a firefight between gunmen and the army in Tamaulipas. Five people were murdered in Culiacan, Sinaloa, three in Hermosillo, Sonora, one in Durango, and six in the Ciudad Juarez area. Saturday , October 17 In Tijuana, the nude, mutilated body of a man was found hanging from an expressway overpass. It is the second such discovery found in the last two weeks. Local news outlets reported that the man’s tongue had been cut out, which suggests that drug traffickers suspected he was an informant. Additionally, a gun battle between police and drug traffickers left one police officer dead and two wounded. A suspected cartel member was also killed in the incident. Police recovered five assault rifles and vests with federal insignia from several vehicles used by the gunmen. The day before, the the decapitated body of a woman whose hands and feet had been bound were found in a different part of the city. Monday , October 19 Two people were killed after being ambushed by a group of heavily armed gunmen in Guerrero. One of the dead was a policeman, and the other was a civilian who was riding a bus that was caught in the crossfire. Additionally, five bodies showing signs of torture were recovered from various parts of Acapulco. Attached to each of them were notes threatening “kidnappers, thieves and traitors” and signed by Arturo Beltran-Leyva, the boss of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. 18 people were killed in drug-related killings in Ciudad Juarez. At least 21 other drug-related homicides were reported in Mexico, including nine beheaded bodies found in Tierra Caliente. Tuesday , October 20 In Guerrero, at least three banners were found which threatened police and Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Safety. The signs were signed by what appears to be a new, Guerrero branch of the “La Familia” cartel which is based in Michoacan. The signs also accused Garcia Luna of protecting the Beltran-Leyva cartel and the allied Zetas organization. In another part of Guerrero, the body of a bus driver was found by the side of the road, and showed signs of torture. A second body was found near Acapulco. Near the city of Ciudad Mante, police arrested a man who had 107 kilos of marijuana in a hidden compartment of his pick-up truck. Wednesday , October 21 A suspected member of the Juarez Cartel was added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, 41, is allegedly a high-ranking member of the Barrio Azteca gang. In exchange for a steady supply of narcotics, Barrio Azteca performs enforcement tasks for the cartel on both sides of the border, and can effectively be considered part of the Juarez cartel which operates on American soil. Ravelo is suspected of ordering the killing of another high-ranking gang member, David "Chicho" Meraz, during an internal power struggle. Meraz was killed in Ciudad Juarez last year. Ravelo is reportedly hiding in Juarez under the protection of the cartel. Earlier in the week, another man with suspected cartel connections was also added to the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Jose Luis Saenz, of Los Angeles, is suspected of killing at least four people (including his girlfriend) and is allegedly an enforcer for an unnamed Mexican drug trafficking organization. In October 2008 he shot and killed another gang member in LA County who apparently owed $620,000 to the cartel. Across Mexico, 40 drug-related homicides were reported in a 24-hour period, bringing the 2009 total to over 6,000. Thirteen of these were in Chihuahua, and of these, nine were in Ciudad Juarez. According to a running tally by El Universal, 1,000 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the last 40 days. The previous 1,000 had been killed over 41 days, and the 1,000 before that in 44 days. Since August 1st, an average of 24 homicides were reported daily, approximately one every hour. One out of every three drug-related homicides was in Ciudad Juarez. Much of the violence is due to the conflict being fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juarez cartel over control of the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso drug trafficking corridor. Total body count for the week: 113 Total body count for the year: 5,928 Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review Essay: "Righteous Dopefiend" and "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang"

Drug War Chronicle Review Essay: "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang," by Samuel Logan (2009, Hyperion Press, 245 pp., $24.99 HB) and "Righteous Dopefiend," by Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg (2009, University of California Press, 392 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

These two books have little in common except that they focus on two deviant subcultures of interest to people curious about various facets of drug policy: Central American immigrant gang-bangers in the former and, less obviously, middle-aged, homeless San Francisco heroin addicts in the latter. Neither group has much to do with the other, except that perhaps some of the gang members could have peddled some of the heroin that went into those addicts' arms. What makes both groups -- and both books -- of interest to the Chronicle is that neither group would exist as presently constituted absent the regime of drug prohibition.
"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha" is described as journalist Samuel Logan's effort to peek behind the curtain of one of America's largest street gangs, but with the exception of a few passages scattered through its pages, the book concentrates almost exclusively on the fate of Brenda Paz, a Honduran teenager who got caught up in the gang in Dallas and was quickly brought into local inner circles because she was the girlfriend of a local leader. When Paz's gang-leader boyfriend killed another Dallas area teenager in Paz's presence to steal his car, Paz fled to northern Virginia to avoid prosecution. There, she hooked up with another murderous local Mara leader, got arrested, and turned informant.

Thanks to Paz's extensive interviews with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, police got their best insights yet into the group's murky inner workings, its origins, and its breadth. Unfortunately, Logan devotes little attention to such things, preferring instead to craft a police procedural, which, while a page-turner in its own right, leaves this reader at least hungry for more solid information.

While Logan asserts that the Mara Salvatrucha is into extortion, dope dealing, and human smuggling, he doesn't really demonstrate it, nor does he demonstrate that the Mara is indeed "America's most violent gang." Logan shows us localized incidents of thuggery, some of them truly mindless and savage, but doesn't describe how the gang actually works, nor compare it in size and scope to other criminal gangs. Nor is there much material about Mara's presence in Central America -- it is particularly strong in El Salvador and Honduras -- a strange omission given Logan's acknowledgement of the gang's origin among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha" is an entrancing read in its own right, it does open some windows on the much feared organization -- although not nearly enough -- and it makes the reader develop an interest in Brenda Paz and her trip from innocent if troubled teenager to hardened gang-banger to the federal witness protection program. And that's sort of a shame, given how she ends up. I'll say no more; I don't want to spoil it for you.

Logan left me wishing that anthropologists Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg had written "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha," but that is a bit unfair. The urban ethnographers were able to spend a decade with the subjects of "Righteous Dopefiend," and those subjects, while constantly engaged in petty criminality, were not hardened, violent tough guys. Instead, they were middle-aged long-term heroin addicts, most definitely nowhere near as scary as a face-tattooed Mara killer. Still, whether it was differences in approach -- journalistic vs. anthropological -- or access to subjects -- limited and fraught with danger vs. long-term and fraught with being asked for spare change -- "Righteous Dopefiend" left me much more fulfilled.
Bourgois and Schonberg came to be on intimate terms with a group of homeless heroin addicts camped in obscure spaces under freeway exchanges in San Francisco. Some were black, some white, a few Hispanic, a few were women. Good anthropologists that they are, there is plenty of theory mainly of interest to grad students, but it is nicely mixed in with real world observation, field notes, striking photographs (and the theory of the photographic gaze), and numerous transcripts of interviews with the aging junkies. (Before some reader jumps up to object to the term, let me just say I prefer the self-selecting "junkie" to the therapeutically-imposed and disempowering "addict.")

The junkie/addict distinction has a parallel in one of the distinctions Bourgois and Schonberg discovered among their homeless chronic heroin users. The white guys were much more likely to be alienated from their families than the black ones. The white guys sometimes didn't even know where their parents lived anymore, but the black guys would go home for birthdays, weddings, funerals, and other important occasions. They were more likely to be accepted as errant but still loved family members, while their white counterparts were more likely to be shunned. The junkies' own self-images reflected these contrasting familial responses, with the white ones adopting a hang-dog "outcast" persona compared to the black guys' graying Superfly "outlaw" persona.

The world of the "Righteous Dopefiend" isn't pretty. There are ugly abcesses and necrotizing fasciitis, there is the violence among the users and directed at them, they live in filth and squalor (although some try harder than others to rise above it), they are constantly driven by the need for the next fix and the fear of getting dopesick if they can't come up with the money to buy it.

But, like any of the rest of us, they are capable of acts of kindness and generosity. In the group Bourgois and Schonberg hung with, there was always at least a heroin-soaked bit of cotton for the person going without. There was romance, too, and a friendship and intimacy among "running partners" probably as genuine as any best friendship among non-homeless non-junkies.

By the way, that kindness and generosity often means sharing needles and cooking equipment. If three of you are going in on a $20 bag of Mexican tar, there is going to be some bodily fluid-swapping going on. Bourgois and Schonberg devote some attention to harm reduction practices, and amid all the talk about knowledge/power relations, one gets the general message that some harm reductionists need to do a better job of listening to their clients. Encouraging them moralistically to not share needles or cooking equipment when their circumstances make it inevitable that they will may not be the best approach, they suggest. Still, despite the critique, it is clear the author and the junkies appreciate the efforts at public health and harm reduction interventions. They are certainly preferable to interventions by police or Caltrans, which result in arrest or the trashing of the homeless camps and the loss of all possessions, and certainly more well-intentioned than the city's public hospitals, which insist that the junkies be literally on death's door before they admit them or the doctors who operate on abscesses without anesthetics and needlessly remove large chunks of flesh, leaving gaping wounds before pushing them back out onto the streets.

"Righteous Dopefiend" is most excellent. Even the theorizing is intelligible to the interested layperson (and will doubtless be grist for many a graduate seminar), and the theorizing is the basis for a well-informed critique of the social forces that create and impact the lives of their subjects. I feel like I got to know these people and gained some insight to how they live and think, and I deepened my understanding of why they live the way they do. What more can you ask of anthropology?

Latin America: Mexican Drug War Week in Review

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 nearly 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:
cash carefully stacked for camera following bust last March by DEA and Mexican authorities
Thursday, July 23:

In Tijuana, 17 teenagers -- most of them accused of being cartel hit men -- escaped from a juvenile detention center near the US border in Baja California after digging a hole through an outer wall and striking a correctional officer with a metal rod.

There have been more than 20 jail breaks in Mexico this year alone. Notably, in May, gunmen dressed as police officers arrived in a convoy and rescued 53 cartel members held in a prison in Zacatecas.

On the American side of the Baja California/California border, Robert Rosas, a US Border Patrol agent, was shot and killed. Five men have been detained by Mexican authorities in relation to the killing, all thought to be people-smugglers or members of drug gangs.

Saturday, July 26/Sunday, July 27:

At least 20 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez and its environs over the weekend in separate incidents. The wave of killings began late Friday night when a man was shot dead by unidentified assailants. Two other men were killed Friday night in separate incidents.

Six men were killed Saturday, while a seventh died from wounds inflicted after an incident in which men dressed as members of the army tried capture him after he attempted to rob a service station. Another five men were shot dead on Sunday. Among the dead from the weekend violence was a woman who had apparently been stoned to death.

In Chihuahua, the capital of the state of Chihuahua, which includes Ciudad Juarez, three adults were killed and a seven-year old girl was wounded when gunmen opened fire on their car.

Ciudad Juarez is the most violent city in Mexico. Unofficial reports indicate that at least 200 people have been killed so far in the month of July, and over 1,000 have been killed since the beginning of 2009, even with the presence of 8,500 military and police personnel.

Also on July 26, the office of Mexico's attorney general released a statement that an alleged cartel assassin, Alfredo Araujo Avila -- known as "El Popeye" -- has been sentenced to 11 years in prison on weapons-related charges. This prosecution is notable because Arujo has been implicated in the high-profile 1993 killing of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, which caused widespread outrage in Mexico. Ocampo was killed on May 24, 1993, under unclear circumstances. Some claim he was caught in the crossfire between rival drug gangs, while others claim he was killed in a case of mistaken identity. Araujo is the only person implicated in the murder -- which also claimed the lives of the cardinal's driver and five gunmen -- who has been prosecuted.

Monday, July 27

The Associated Press (AP) has reported that Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a Mexican national and Juarez Cartel lieutenant who was shot dead outside his home in El Paso, was working for US officials as a confidential informant. The AP cites information from two federal and one local official who said that Gonzalez was handing over information on cartel operations to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While police have no official motive, law enforcement is working on the assumption that he was murdered because the cartel discovered his activities. Gonzalez was shot eight times at close range outside his home on May 15th.

Mexico announced a pilot program to have special drug courts handle cases in which drug addicts committed crimes while under the influence of drugs. The focus of these courts is to be on rehabilitation, rather than punitive prison terms. One third of funds seized from drug traffickers are to go towards the establishment of new rehabilitation centers. The program was immediately praised by US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Mexico's attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, criticized US measures to stamp out the marijuana trade. "We frequently see insufficient resources and infrastructure to prosecute those who carry out small-scale or fragmented marijuana trafficking in the United States," he said at a joint news conference with US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske in Mexico City. Medina Mora added that the issue would be further discussed next month when Mexican President Felipe Calderon meets with US president Barack Obama.

Tuesday, July 28

Off the coast of San Diego, three teenagers aboard a 22-foot boat were arrested by US Customs and Border Enforcement officers. Hidden underneath the deck was 1,060 pounds of marijuana. The three teenagers, one aged 18 and two aged 19, claimed that they were returning from a fishing trip in Ensenada, Mexico.

Total reported body count for the week: 20

Total reported body count for the year: 3,947

Snitch Exposed in Charlie Lynch Case

As if the persecution prosecution of medical marijuana provider Charlie Lynch wasn't sufficiently sickening already, The New Times in San Luis Obispo has some stunning revelations about the involvement of a confidential informant who assisted police in the case.

Apparently, police employed a professional informant who obtained a doctor's recommendation and purchased marijuana at Lynch's dispensary. The guy is a world-class scumbag with a history of impersonating police officers and committing various crimes. His work in San Luis Obispo began when he personally approached police and offered to help generate drug arrests. Lynch's case was one of many, including another marijuana case in which one of the defendants ended up committing suicide.

While this guy probably wasn't a critical factor in making the Lynch case possible, his involvement adds another layer of moral depravity to the Lynch saga. Given that Charlie Lynch scrupulously followed state law, the only actual criminal involved in the case was the police informant!

As alarming and frequent as gratuitous drug war injustices are, they still somehow turn out to be even worse than we thought.

What has happened to our country

Today I am ashamed to call myself an American. As much as I LOVE MY PEOPLE I can not stomach the wretches in our governing body any longer; they have stepped too far in the last year or so with their war on Americans trying to survive. We who can not afford the billion dollar a year medical expenses and the "cut backs" sit in anticipation of our next meal (while gov. officials are making a staggering 100,000.00 a year) and we watch as these people eat out at expensive high class restaurants during "business meetings". Why do we have to sit around eating Ramen noodles while we watch Filet Mignon devoured by people hired to help the American citizens? Why are we watching these people who claim they are helping us; helping us do what... starve? I'm tired of watching, when the only thing being helped are the truly fortunate few who make money for lieing. Our leaders are sucking the life from us and we tell them we want change and they turn their perfectly styled heads the other way so as not to tarnish the three thousand dollar suit....WTF America wake the hell up! Marijuana is our biggest cash crop as well as medical miracle and yet the dum dum in charge is still giggling in the corner waiting to be told what to do next....G.W.B. 2?

DEA Agent Indicted for Framing 17 Innocent People

Over and over, the very foundations of the war on drugs are revealed to be utterly fraudulent and corrupt. These laws are harmful enough when they're enforced honestly, but moments like this really illustrate what a colossal fraud this whole thing truly is:

CLEVELAND — An agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was indicted today on charges that he lied repeatedly in a botched 2005 drug case that caused 17 people to be wrongly charged.

Lee Lucas, a 19-year veteran, was charged in U.S. District Court in Cleveland with perjury, making false statements, obstruction of justice and violating a person's civil rights involving a case that resulted in 26 arrests in Mansfield. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

As one might expect, all of this revolves around a lying informant who played everyone in a desperate attempt to save his own hide. Officer Lucas is accused of failing to provide proper supervision and repeatedly lying to cover up the mess.

Of course, Lucas's fellow officers have eagerly come to his defense, because there scarcely exists any form of police misconduct so shocking to the conscience as to disqualify from being treated as a martyr by their colleagues. This comment, posted on the Plain Dealer story, perfectly reveals the mentality that police aren't responsible for mistakes in the war on drugs

Lee Lucas is being a scapegoat for a convicted drug criminal named Jarrell Bray. Jerrel Bray turned on Lee because Lee would not engage in getting Jerrel off the hook for a shooting Jerrel committed.

Jerrel is afraid to return to prison as a snitch. Can you blame him? He is a weasel who is trying to save his skin on the inside.

How do you think a snitch like Jerrel would function in the big House?

Is Jerrell Bray the person you want to trust?

No, he's not, and that's exactly the problem. This shady informant's dubious allegations should never have formed the basis for criminal charges against anyone. It was Lucas and the DEA who trusted this guy and used him to serve their agenda, not anyone else. Everything these informants say is treated as gospel when it comes to getting search warrants and scoring convictions, but the second the informant turns on the cops, all you hear is that informants can never be trusted. No kidding.

If you rely on untrustworthy people to help you make drug arrests, then your drug arrests can't be trusted. It's just that simple. And if you can't (as drug cops often claim) do basic drug enforcement without relying on these people, then it follows that solid and reliable drug enforcement is truly impossible.

It's amazing to watch a disgraced drug cop comes forward and try to defend himself with no better argument than the fact that his whole job revolves around working with notorious liars to put people in jail who may or may not have done anything wrong. It sounds like Lucas stepped way out of line here, but the real fault lies with the way our drug laws are enforced in general. Can you even imagine how often this process produces gratuitous injustices without anyone but the innocent defendant paying the price?

Law Enforcement: Florida House Passes Watered Down "Rachel's Law" in Bid to Protect Informants from Dangerous Assignments

Inspired by the murder of Florida State University graduate Rachel Hoffman, 23, after Tallahassee police sent the small-time pot dealer out with $13,000 to buy cocaine and guns from people she didn't know, the Florida House of Representatives Monday passed a bill that would require police departments to protect confidential informants. But the measure was considerably weakened after law enforcement lobbyists protested it could weaken their ability to wage the drug war.
Rachel Hoffman
Hoffman had been busted on small-time marijuana dealing charges and was on probation when she was busted again in 2007. Rather than face the threat of probation violation and prison time, the young woman agreed to work as a confidential informant for the Tallahassee Police Department. Her body was found in May 2007, 36 hours after she went to meet the drug dealers and lost contact with her police supervisors.

In its current form, the bill, HB 271, would require departments to have written policies on confidential informants and to train officers on those policies. It would also require departments to "consider" factors such as an informant's age and maturity, whether the informant is in drug treatment, and the risk of physical harm.

Hoffman's parents and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter Nehr (R-Tarpon Springs), wanted to bar police from using people in drug treatment as informants and from using nonviolent informants to try to entrap people with violent criminal histories. The original version of the bill would also have required police to tell potential snitches they had the right to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to work with police.

But law enforcement lobbyists, including the Florida Sheriffs Association, prevailed in watering down the bill. They told legislators any restrictions would discourage recruitment of snitches and deny them a valuable crime-fighting tool.

"Any one of these things would have saved Rachel's life," Margie Weiss, Rachel's mother, told the Pensacola News Journal after a committee meeting earlier this month where the bill was gutted.

"Rachel Hoffman's death was unnecessary and unneeded," said Nehr after the measure passed the House.

The measure as passed won't provide as much protection to informants as the original bill, but it at least serves notice to law enforcement that it needs to consider more than just making the next drug bust. It now goes to the state Senate.

Law Enforcement: Belated Justice for Kathryn Johnston as Judge Sentences Atlanta Narcs Who Killed Her to Prison

A federal judge in Atlanta Tuesday sent three former Atlanta narcotics officers to prison for their roles in a misbegotten drug raid that ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman and shone a disturbing light on police practices in the Atlanta police drug squad. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was killed when the three officers fired 39 rounds at her after she fired one shot at them as they were breaking down her door on a bogus drug raid.
Kathryn Johnston
US District Court Judge Julie Carnes sentenced former officer Arthur Tesler to five years in prison, Gregg Junnier to six years, and Jason Smith to 10 years. All three sentences were less than those called for by federal sentencing guidelines.

Johnston was killed about 7 p.m. on November 21, 2006. Three hours earlier, Tesler arrested and roughed-up a small-time drug dealer named Fabian Sheats and threatened to send him to prison unless he gave up another drug dealer. Sheats eventually pointed out Johnston's home, apparently at random, telling Tesler and his partners he saw a dealer named "Sam" with a kilo of cocaine there.

The three officers wanted to make a buy, but didn't consider Sheats reliable, so they called an informant named Alex White to come make the buy. But White was unavailable, so the trio simply wrote a false affidavit saying they had watched White make a cocaine buy at Johnston's home. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., they had their no-knock search warrant. An hour later, Johnston was dead after firing upon the intruders she apparently thought were robbers.

Then the cover-up kicked in, with the trio creating more false documents to hide the truth. But their cover-up fell apart when their informant, Alex White, grew frightened and went to the FBI.

In her sentencing statement, Judge Carnes criticized the Atlanta Police Department for its performance quotas for search warrants and arrests, saying the "pressures brought to bear did have an impact on these and other officers on the force." If anything good came from Johnston's death, it will be "a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Carnes said. "It is my fervent hope the APD will take to heart what has happened here," the judge said.

Drug Raids: Virginia Man Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Shooting of Police Officer Battering His Door Down

A Virginia jury on Wednesday convicted Ryan Frederick (see his MySpace page here)
of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a police officer during a no-knock drug raid. Prosecutors asked for and the jury recommended a 10-year prison sentence for the 28-year-old resident of Chesapeake. The trial judge will make a final determination in a May hearing.

The jury did not convict Frederick of capital murder as prosecutors had sought. Nor was he found guilty of marijuana production -- the police raid was in search of an alleged grow -- but only of possession of a small amount of pot.

On January 17, 2008, local police executing a search warrant based on the word of questionable snitch -- who admitted burglarizing Frederick's home days earlier -- began breaking down Frederick's door. Saying he thought he was under assault from violent unknown intruders, he picked up his rifle and fired a shot through the door, killing Officer Jarrod Shivers, whose job it was to break down doors during raids. As Frederick put it himself in a jailhouse interview shortly after the incident:

Frederick said he was sleeping in a back bedroom because his job as a soft drink merchandiser required him to get up early. His dogs, Dora and Bud, were in the house. He woke up because his dogs "were barking like crazy. They're going like really crazy, so I grab my gun. As I'm walking through the hall, someone comes busting through my door."

Intruders were pushing through the bottom panels of the four-panel door, he said. The lighting in the house was dim. Frederick said he didn't hear anyone say "police" or see identification.

"I was like, 'Oh, God, if I don't shoot, then he's going to kill me'... I think I shot twice. I can't remember. It happened so fast. All I know is the gun jammed."

Frederick said he then went back to the bedroom to get a telephone. When he realized police were outside, he walked out of the house and surrendered.

In tears at times, Frederick said he doesn't grow or sell marijuana. He had a smoking bong and a small bag of marijuana, he said.

The raid and its unfortunate outcome for all involved added to rising concerns among civil libertarians and drug reform advocates about the apparently routine resort to SWAT-style tactics employed against small-scale drug offenders and, all too often, completely innocent parties.

The particulars in this case also raise serious questions about the quality of justice in that particular part of Virginia. For a closer look, try Radley Balko's detailed coverage for Reason magazine's Hit & Run blog here.

The case isn't over yet. Frederick's attorney said an appeal was definite.

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