2015 Drug War Killings

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Florida Man Dies After Eating Drugs to Avoid Bust

A Marathon, Florida, man died last week after apparently swallowing a bag or bags of drugs following a traffic stop turned drug bust. Clifford Green, 39, becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Florida Keys Keynoter, citing a Monroe County Sheriff's Office report, Green was pulled over by Detective Iscandel Perez last Wednesday for having windows too darkly tinted. Perez wrote that Green was "fidgeting about inside the vehicle" before pulling over. [Editor's Note: Apparently, the tinting wasn't so dark.]

Perez ran a computer check that showed Green was on probation for a drug conviction and that his drivers' license had been suspended for failure to pay child support. Green was placed under arrest.

Detective Perez then deployed a drug dog on the exterior of the vehicle and the dog "alerted to the presence of narcotics on the passenger's front side door." Perez and other officers at the scene then searched the car, finding "a beaker and large quantity of blue clear plastic Baggies commonly used to package narcotics inside a paper bag in the back seat of the vehicle. No narcotics were found inside the vehicle at this time."

Deputy Thomas Hill then began transporting Green to the jail in Plantation Key, but within a few miles, Perez wrote, he saw Hill's cruiser stopped with Green "face down on the asphalt" and Hill trying to turn him on his side.

Green was "vomiting, having tremors and irregular breathing," according to Perez's report. The detective added that he saw "what appeared to be a cellophane bag with suspected cocaine inside" Green's mouth.

EMS arrived and took Green to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead within the hour.

The Florida Division of Law Enforcement is investigating the death.

Plantation Key, FL
United States

Another Week, Another Pair of Drug War Deaths

A black New Orleans man was killed Monday after a traffic stop escalated into a chase and shootout, and a white South Carolina man was killed in a drug raid on his home Thursday, in the two latest deaths in the US drug war. Desmond Willis, 25, and Phillip Michael Burgess, 28, become the 18th and 19th persons die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, citing the account provided by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Norman at a Wednesday press conference, deputies initially pulled Willis over for a traffic violation, but smelled marijuana from his open window. (This contradicts an earlier law enforcement statement that he was targeted as part of a drug investigation.) Deputies ordered him to put his hands up and turn off the SUV, but when one deputy reached into the vehicle to grab his arm, Willis sped off.

He then crashed his SUV and took off on foot. Norman said Willis fired at deputies and that witnesses inside an office building and a restaurant saw him firing. Deputies returned fire, killing him in the parking lot of New Orleans Seafood and Hamburger.

Detectives recovered a 9 mm pistol near his body, and a .38 caliber pistol and $800 in cash in his pockets. In the SUV, investigators found a half-pound of pot packaged for sale, as well as ammunition, sandwich bags, and a vacuum sealer.

According to Fox Carolina News, citing Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office sources, narcotics officers were serving a drug search warrant Thursday morning in Boiling Springs when Burgess became "belligerent."

The narcs called for backup, and two deputies showed up to assist. The official account said Burgess continued to be belligerent and grabbed a gun from atop the refrigerator, pointing it at deputies. The two deputies then opened fire, killing him.

Because his death was at the hands of law enforcement, it will be investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

No word on if any drugs were found.

Bronx Teen Fleeing Cops Over Marijuana Falls to His Death

A Bronx teenager has died two days after falling from the roof of a six-story apartment building as he fled police who were chasing a group of young marijuana smokers. Hakeem Kuta, 17, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Hakeem Kuta (family photo)
According to The New York Times, citing NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis, four probationary NYPD officers were approached Thursday evening by a man who told them about "kids in the lobby of the building smoking pot," and the officers went to investigate.

Davis said one of the teens "impeded" the cops by sticking his arms out as they came to the door and that six or seven more fled up a staircase headed to the roof.

Two of the officers, Edmundo Rivera and Eduard Solano, chased them onto the roof, where the kids split up, with four going in one direction, hopping to the roof of the neighboring building, and getting away. But two others, including Kuta, ran in the other direction and ended up penned in at roof's edge by a wall on the neighboring building.

"Please don't move, please don't move," Davis quoted the officers as telling the two teens. But Kuta tried to step over a short wall on the edge of the roof he was on, but instead began to fall. His friend grabbed his vest, but could not hold him.

"He was gone, you're talking seconds," Davis said.

Kuta landed in the alley six floors below, critically injured. He died Saturday at St. Barnabas Hospital.

Police said they recovered marijuana in the building, but made no arrests in connection with the incident.

Kuta had no criminal record. He was born in Ghana and came to the US with his parents and a younger sister three or four years ago, a relative said.

New York, NY
United States

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.

Fleeing California Meth Suspect Crashes Cycle, Has Gun, Is Killed

A man attempting to elude police on a motorcycle crashed his bike, then allegedly pulled a gun and was shot and killed. James Richard Jimenez, 41, becomes the 13th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to a statement released by the Napa Police Department, officers with the department's Special Enforcement Unit were preparing to serve a search warrant for drugs and firearms at a residence in the city's Alta Heights section when Jimenez, the man they were looking for, drove by on a motorcycle.

Police had arrested him a month earlier on charges of possessing meth and ammunition. He recognized police and sped away, the statement said. Police took off after Jimenez in a short pursuit that ended when he crashed his bike.

Officers repeatedly shouted "Police, show us your hands, show us your hands" as they approached, but said Jimenez reached for his waistband for what they "recognized as a handgun." One officer then fired three shots, with at least one striking Jimenez in the torso.

"Following standard protocol, officers immediately secured the suspect in handcuffs and began CPR and other life saving measures," the statement said. But Jimenez was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at a local hospital.

Police said they recovered a "substantial" amount of cash, methamphetamine, and a gun at the scene.

The officer who fired the shots was later identified as Officer Thomas Keener.

The next day, several dozen of Jimenez's friends and relatives marched through Alta Heights demanding justice after the shooting.

"We want justice for Hyme! He didn't have to die this way!" one relative shouted.

They said he was a family man, not a gang member or violent, and they didn't know why he fled police.

"I'm numb, just numb," said his mother, Janet Jimenez.

His fiancée, Holli Nelson, 26, said Jimenez had made mistakes in the past, but he had paid his dues.

"They're making him out to be a monster, and he's not," she said. "They gunned him down like a dog."

Napa, CA
United States

Black Maryland Man Killed Fleeing Bust, Cop Claims Suspect Tried to Run Him Down

A 37-year-old black Maryland man was shot and killed Wednesday by a Cecil County sheriff's deputy after being pulled over with a load of heroin. According to police, Terry Garnett, Jr. was attempting to flee the traffic stop when his vehicle approached the deputy, and "fearing for his life," the deputy opened fire.

By The Chronicle's running count, Garnett becomes the 12th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Citing law enforcement sources, The Cecil Daily News reported that the unidentified deputy attempted to pull over Garnett's SUV early Wednesday afternoon, but Garnett refused to stop and turned onto a street that turned out to be a dead end.

"At some point during the incident, the vehicle turned around and accelerated toward the sheriff's deputy," Maryland State Police Sgt. Marc Black said. "Fearing for his life, the deputy pulled his department-issued .40-caliber Glock pistol and shot multiple times at the vehicle."

The SUV continued down the road after the deputy opened fire before running through the backyard of a residence and stopping after striking a tree. Cecil County EMS personnel pronounced Garnett dead at the scene.

Police did not say why the deputy tried to pull Garnett over, but when they searched his car afterwards, they found "a large amount of heroin," according to The Wilmington News-Journal.

Garnett had already served five years in prison for drug distribution and he was wanted for failure to appear on two other drug charges. He also had a history of attempting to flee from police.

This is another one of those cases with no known living witnesses other than law enforcement. Whether Garnett was indeed trying to run down the officer or whether he was merely trying once again to out-run a drug bust will probably never be known.

That's not good enough for Garnett's father, Terry Garnett, Sr. Upon arriving at the scene the same day, he told Baltimore's WMAR TV 2 that his son didn't carry a weapon and that police told him initially only that his son had died after his vehicle hit a tree.

"I hope something can come out of this to prove, no matter what he was doing, or if he was running from them or whatever, he doesn't deserve to be shot like that," he said. "Things happen in life but I don't think he deserved to be shot the way he did no matter what happened."

The State Police Homicide Unit will investigate the killing and turn its findings over to the Cecil County State's Attorney, who will make the final determination whether the shooting was justified. Meanwhile, the deputy who fired the deadly shots is on paid administrative leave.

Garnett, Sr. wasn't holding his breath waiting for justice.

"It's going to be like every other place they've done, they cover up how they did it and it's going to be the same thing," he said.  "Because you don't have to shoot somebody to stop them if they're not shooting at you. That's the way I see it."

Elkton, MD
United States

Florida Cops Sell Man Drugs in Sting, Then Gun Him Down

Police conducting an undercover, street-level, reverse drug sting in Putnam County, Florida, shot and killed one of their targets Friday night as he attempted to drive away from the scene. Andrew Anthony Williams, a 48-year-old black man, becomes the 11th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to local press accounts, all relying on law enforcement sources, deputies and detectives from the Putnam County Sheriff's Office were conducting a "reverse sting" where they posed as drug dealers, sold unwary customers small amounts of drugs, and then arrested 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. "[H]e drove away quickly and hit a tree," the St. Augustine Record reported.  "The man next backed up toward the deputies, then put the vehicle into drive and turned toward some of them, the Sheriff’s Office said. Four deputies fired at the oncoming vehicle almost simultaneously, the Sheriff's Office said."

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 was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. One deputy was wounded in the gunfire, but that bullet came from another deputy's gun, according to the Sheriff's Office. (In the headline for its story about the incident, News 4 Jax neglected to mention that anyone had been killed, going with "Putnam County deputy hit by bullet fired at suspect.")

The Sheriff's Office did not identify the four deputies involved in the shooting, but was quick to make available Williams' criminal history, which including charges for drugs, fleeing, eluding, resisting arrest, and battery on a law enforcement officer.

The four deputies are on paid administrative leave.

This killing should raise a few questions, both about the nature of the operation itself and about what actually occurred.

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?

It'll be up to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigates officer-involved killings, to get to the bottom of it. 

Keystone Heights, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, Fallout from Florida SWAT Killing, Bolivia Top Narc Busted, More (3/6/15)

Decrim is moving in New Hampshire, Georgia families rally for medical marijuana, Louisianans will rally for Bernard Noble (13 years for two joints), roommates of a Florida man killed in a SWAT pot raid cry "murder," and more. 

Roommates of unarmed Florida man shot in a SWAT pot raid call it "murder." (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Northern California Counties Seek Unified Position on Pot Policy. As the state legislature again grapples with regulating medical marijuana, and with an almost certain legalization initiative in 2016 looming on the horizon, policymakers from Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Sonoma, and Trinity counties gathered in Santa Rosa (Sonoma County) Thursday to begin trying to reach a unified position on possible reforms. Click on the link for more detail.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Moves. The legislature's Committee on Criminal Justice voted overwhelmingly yesterday to approve a bill that would decriminalize the possession of a half-ounce of pot or less. The measure is House Bill 0618. Although recent polling shows 71% of Granite Staters want either decriminalization or full legalization, the bill still faces opposition as it heads for House and Senate floor votes.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Families Swarm State Capitol in Support of Strong Medical Marijuana Bill. Dozens of Georgia families streamed into the state capitol in Atlanta yesterday to crank up the pressure on the Senate to pass a medical marijuana bill. House Bill 1has already passed the House, but the Senate is now considering an alternate bill, Senate Bill 185, which would only set up a limited trial program for children with epilepsy. The families want House Bill 1.

Sentencing

Rally Saturday in New Orleans for Bernard Noble, Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Supporters of Bernard Noble, who is serving 13 years without parole in state prison, are holding a rally in New Orleans Saturday to call for clemency for the non-violent offender and family man. Click on the link for event details and more information.

Law Enforcement

Roommates of Unarmed Florida Man Killed By SWAT Team in Pot Raid Call it Murder. Roommates of Derek Cruice, the 26-year-old Deltona man shot in the face and killed by a Volusia County deputy during a drug raid, described his killing as "murder" and strongly challenged the police version of events. See them describe what happened here. Supporters of Cruice held a rally this morning to decry his killing. A memorial event for Cruice is set for tomorrow morning at a local park. Click the title link for event details.  

International

Bolivia's Former Top Narc Arrested for Drug Links. General Oscar Nina, head of the national police in 2010 and 2011, has been arrested by Bolivian authorities on suspicion of illegal enrichment and links to drug trafficking. His wife, daughter, and son were also arrested on similar charges. Another former Bolivian top narc, General Rene Sanabria, is doing a 15-year sentence in the US for drug trafficking. President Evo Morales has vowed to wipe out "the cancer of corruption," but it seems to be a perpetual problem. 

Florida SWAT Cop Guns Down Unarmed Man in Marijuana Raid

A Volusia County sheriff's deputy on a dawn SWAT team pot raid shot and killed an unarmed resident of the home Tuesday. Derek Cruice, 26, becomes the 10th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cruice was unarmed and no weapons were found in the house. Police did find about nine ounces of marijuana, as well as a scale, a drug ledger, marijuana smoking pipes, plastic bags and about $3,000 in cash.

Sheriff Ben Johnson said that Deputy Todd Raible, a member of the Sheriff's Office SWAT Team, shot Cruice in the face as the SWAT team came through the door of the residence at 6:30am.

"They (deputies) were met with resistance and a shooting occurred," Johnson said without offering further detail. He said he could not elaborate because his office had not yet interviewed Deputy Raible.

But sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson added that Raible fired his weapon after perceiving Cruice's actions as a threat.

Cruice was pronounced dead at Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City.

"The deputy, he's all right, actually he is very shaken," Johnson offered.

Sheriff Johnson said Cruice was listed in the search warrant as the subject of an ongoing "narcotics" investigation. He was one of six adults -- four men and two women -- in the house when deputies arrived.

Matt Grady, 24, was another one of them. He said he was awakened by banging on the door and opened it.

"A bunch of guys came around the corner and they are pushing me down," Grady said. "And as I was going down on my knee I heard gunfire," he told The News-Journal.

Steven Cochran, 24, was another resident. He said Cruice was not resisting anything.

"He had no weapons on him or in the house," Cochran said. "Nobody was making any kind of resistance or keeping them from doing their job." Cruice had been working as a delivery driver at Monster Pizza in Deltona. His coworker, Thomas Figueroa, who had known him for nine years, stopped by the scene and broke down crying behind the yellow crime scene tape.

"He is not the kind of person that would do that (attack a deputy)," he said, adding that the pizza shop had closed for the day to mark Cruice's death.

Deputy Raible, 36, is now on administrative leave, as is standard for deputy-involved shootings. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate the death because a police officer was involved.

Deltona, FL
United States

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