2015 Drug War Killings

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Maraschino Cherry Mogul Kills Self As Cops Discover Huge Marijuana Grow

The owner of a historic maraschino cherry company in Brooklyn, New York, committed suicide at his plant Thursday morning moments after officers discovered a massive marijuana grow-up behind a false wall in the factory basement. Arthur Mondella, 48, becomes the 9th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Dell's Maraschino Cherries factory in Red Hook has been around since 1948 and was founded by Mondella's grandfather. It is a major player in the industry, supplying cocktail cherries to clients including TGIF Fridays, Chick Filet, and Caesars. The plant has the capacity to process 400,000 pounds of cherries a week.

It also had the capacity to crank out large quantities of indoor marijuana. Once investigators discovered a hidden room behind a flimsy wall in a basement storage room, they uncovered a grow-op that could hold 1,200 plants.

According to the New York Post, police had received a tip that the factory was a front for a marijuana grow, but, unable to develop evidence to obtain a search warrant, they resorted to sending in the Department of Environmental Protection to do a "routine Inspection" -- and see if they could find any signs of pot operation.

When investigators unearthed a basement full of luxury cars, suspicions were aroused, and they then found some "suspicious shelving," which turned out to be a fake wall held fast by magnets. They opened the door and the rich, rank odor of marijuana burst from it.

That's when Mondella, who had been cooperating in the hours-long "inspection," ran into a nearby bathroom, locked the door, told his sister "Take care of my kids," and shot himself in the head.

Cops said they thought they had just missed a harvest in the operation that used 125 grow lights in a 2,500-foot hidden space divided into several rooms. They found 100 pounds of pot, $125,000 in cash, and 60 different varieties of marijuana seeds.

Brooklyn
United States

Alabama Man Killed in Pre-Dawn SWAT Drug Raid

A Birmingham, Alabama, man was shot and killed by a member of the Homewood, Alabama, tactical squad (SWAT team) as the team executed a pre-dawn search warrant on his residence Friday morning. The as yet unidentified man becomes the 8th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Birmingham News, citing police sources, although the apartment building raided is in Birmingham, it was the Homewood SWAT team that carried out the raid. It is not clear why.

A police spokesman said the shooting happened at 6:15 a.m. Officers entered the apartment and a man immediately fired at them with a handgun. Officers returned fire, hitting him. He was pronounced dead at UAB Hospital at 6:54 a.m.

Police did not say whether they had knocked on the door or announced their presence or whether it was a "no knock" raid with immediate forced entry.

A second man in the apartment was detained. There was no mention of any drugs being found.

A commenter responding to harsh remarks on the newspaper's web site claimed to be a child of the man killed by police and also claimed that his father did not shoot at them, but that his brother (presumably the second man in the apartment) did. Here is the entire comment from "Luh Brian":

"My Daddy Is Not In Hell I Know He Is With The Lord Because Even Though He Dealt Drugs He Was Kindhearted He May Not Have Been The Best Father In The World But He Was Made Sure all of his children where always taken care of.... So You Should Not Talk About Him In That Manner. It's Already Hard To Deal With His Death But On Top Of That All You People Act As Though He Was Some Type Of God Damn Super Villain , Saying Such Hurtful Things.....It Just Breaks My Heart To See Y'all Say Such Awful Things About Daddy A Man Which NoNE of you knew . This Story Is Not Accurate My Father Did Not Shoot At Police Although My Older Brother Did.....But That's Something He Taught Us Long Ago 'Protect This House,' And That's All They Did . But I Will File A Lawsuit On Homewood P.D Best Believe That.

"R.I.P Daddy

"6/9/76- 2/20/15"

Five Drug War Killings in Four Days

Five people have been killed by police doing drug related enforcement operations in four days. They become the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In South Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, police shot and killed heroin user David Kassick, 59, Monday after a traffic stop turned into a chase and "altercation." According to PennLive, citing police sources, Hummelstown Police Officer Lisa Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick's vehicle for an expired inspection sticker, but Kassick first drove away, then got out of his car and fled.

"An altercation ensued between (Mearkle) and (Kassick), shots were fired at the scene and (Kassick) succumbed to those injuries," according to a search warrant police obtained to search his car for drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The warrant does not provide details of the "altercation," nor does it say whether Kassick was armed.

A hypodermic needle was found beside Kassick's body, and a spoon with residue "known to be drug paraphernalia" and some Suboxone strips were found on his body. His brother told police that Kassick "had a known heroin addiction and related that he had relapsed approximately two weeks ago," the search warrant stated.

Kassick had a history of drug-related criminal convictions and had spent time in federal prison for heroin dealing a decade ago.

State police are conducting an investigation into the shooting, and Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico will then decide whether the use of deadly force was justified.

In Tempe, Arizona, police shot and killed two men Wednesday, one of whom was wanted for a probation violation on drug charges. The other was a man traveling with him.

According to ABC 15 News, citing police sources, a US Marshals task force was attempting to take Salvador Muna into custody when he hopped into a vehicle driven by his friend, Joaquin Hernandez, and fled. Police executed a maneuver to pin the vehicle and said Muna then pulled out a weapon and pointed it at officers.

Four officers, one from Chandler, one from Tempe, and two from Mesa then opened fire. Witnesses reported hearing at least six shots.

Muna was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, Hernandez, was also wounded. Police said he was "hurt in the crossfire," but it is unclear if Muna ever actually fired his weapon. Hernandez died a short time later at a local hospital.

In Orlando, Florida, undercover narcotics officers shot and killed one man at an apartment complex and took another into custody Wednesday night.

According to WKMG Local 6 News, undercover narcs Yong Hall and Amanda White approached two men at the complex as they were following up on an unrelated case. "There was a confrontation" that led to the officers shooting and killing one man, identified as Izzy Colon, and taking a second man, Ricardo Caban, into custody on charges of reckless display of a firearm and possession of a firearm charges.

The Orlando Sentinel had a bit more detail. It quoted police as saying the two officers were in plainclothes working the drug detail when they heard gunfire at the apartment complex. They took cover behind cars in the parking lot and shortly saw Colon, 37, and Caban, 34, coming toward them.

When Officers White and Hall confronted the two men, Caban immediately dropped his gun, laid on the ground, and surrendered. But Colon "refused to surrender and his actions caused Detective Hall to fire his weapon," Caban's arrest report said.

Police did not specify exactly what action caused Hall to shoot Colon. They did say that both Caban and Colon were armed.

Colon's family told WKMG Local 6 that he was not armed. "My brother was not playing with guns -- that's not true," one family member said.

In Calimesa, California, a Riverside County Sheriff's deputy shot and killed a man engaged in "illegal narcotics activity" Thursday evening.

According to NBC Los Angeles, citing police sources, believing they were seeing a drug deal in progress, deputies approached two men standing next to a vehicle. One of the men immediately followed deputies' demands and was detained.

The other man then allegedly removed a hand gun from his pocket and was then shot and killed. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Yucaipa/Calimesa News Mirror identified the dead man as John Sawyer, 36, of Yucaipa.

The newspaper also reported that the hand gun police saw was actually a replica hand gun and that there was an SKS-style assault rifle in the vehicle. There was no mention of whether any drugs were found.

Ohio Drug Fugitive Killed in Columbus Gunfight

An Ohio man who had been a fugitive from drug charges for more than a year was shot and killed by state troopers in Columbus Tuesday. Jermonte Fletcher becomes the second person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Associated Press, relying on police sources, members of a US Marshals fugitive task force got a tip that Fletcher was at a Columbus apartment building, and when they tried to arrest him, he opened fire. Two state troopers returned fire, killing him.

No officers were injured in the shootout, but one injured his leg carrying an 8-year-old boy from the building.

Fletcher was the last member of the North Short Posse at large. The gang had moved large amounts of drugs through Central Ohio since the 1990s. Twenty-two members of the gang were indicted on federal drug trafficking, weapons, and money laundering charges in 2013. Nineteen of them have already pleaded guilty or been convicted.

Fletcher was facing up to 115 years in federal prison if convicted on all 46 counts against him. The US Marshals office said that he had vowed not to be taken alive.

Utah Man Killed in Drug Bust Scuffle

A man was shot and killed by a West Valley City, Utah, police officer who was attempting to arrest him on drug charges Wednesday. Jeffrey Nielson, 34, becomes the first person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this 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.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, citing police sources, a West Valley City police officer on his way to work Wednesday morning noticed a "suspicious" black SUV with a man slumped over the wheel. The officer called Draper police for backup, and two more officers arrived minutes later.

The officers were about to arrest Nielson on suspicion of a narcotics violation when he broke free and produced a butcher knife while still inside in the SUV.

"When the struggle ensues inside the cab of the [SUV], there's [four] officers on the driver's side attempting to take the gentleman back out of the car," Draper Deputy Police Chief John Eining said. "And that's when the knife is produced."

One of the officers then fired multiple shots, killing Nielson.

Eining said that while an investigation is ongoing, the officers "did everything they could do in this situation" and acted appropriately.

"We have an officer that recognized a threat and within seconds, he had to identify the threat, and the danger that that person posed to the other officers involved, and had to act on that threat," Eining said. "And again, this is an incident that involved deadly force by a suspect, and was met by deadly force by an officer."

Eining said drugs were found, but he did not say what kind or in what quantity.

Nielson had a lengthy criminal record, including previous drug convictions.

Draper, UT
United States

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