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Press Release: Free Premiere of ‘10 Rules for Dealing With Police’ to be held in Washington, D.C. Wednesday

MEDIA ADVISORY                                                                                                                                               

MARCH 23, 2010

Free Premiere of ‘10 Rules for Dealing With Police’ to be held in Washington, D.C. Wednesday

New Film Teaches Viewers How to Make Smart Decisions When Dealing With Police; Speakers To Follow

CONTACT: Mike Meno, MPP assistant director of communications …… 202-905-2030 or [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 24, the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., will host a free premiere of the new film “10 Rules for Dealing with Police.” Produced by the nonprofit group Flex Your Rights and funded in part by the Marijuana Policy Project, the new documentary discusses the constitutional rights of citizens and the proper protocol for dealing with police.

         The screening will be followed by comments from Baltimore trial lawyer William “Billy” Murphy, who narrates the film, and retired police detective Neill Franklin, now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Tim Lynch, the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, will moderate.   

         WHAT: Free premiere screening of documentary film “10 Rules for Dealing with Police.”

         WHERE: Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.

         WHEN: Wednesday, March 24, at noon.

WHO: Flex Your Rights filmmakers, Baltimore trial lawyer William “Billy” Murphy, LEAP representative Neill Franklin, and Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute. 

To watch a 10-minute trailer of “10 Rules,” go to http://flexyourrights.org/

         To register for the event, call 202-789-5229. News media can call Cato at 202-289-5200.

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.mppp.org.

####

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

"10 Rules for Dealing with Police" Film Premiere & Webcast

The Washington, DC premiere and live webcast that was cancelled on Feb. 12 has been rescheduled! Flex Your Rights invites you to attend...10 Rules for Dealing with Police FILM PREMIERE! Please join us! A luncheon will follow, and there will be comments from Attorney and 10 Rules Narrator William "Billy" Murphy, Jr. and Neill Franklin of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The event is moderated by Tim Lynch, Director, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute. To register, see: http://www.cato.org/events/100212screening.html
Date: 
Wed, 03/24/2010 - 12:00pm - 2:00pm
Location: 
1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

10 Rules for Dealing with Police Film Premiere & Webcast

Dear friends:

The Washington, DC premiere and live webcast that was cancelled on Feb. 12 has been rescheduled!

Flex Your Rights invites you to attend...

10 Rules for Dealing with Police

FILM PREMIERE!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Noon

(Luncheon to follow)

Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C.

with comments from

William "Billy" Murphy, Jr.
Attorney and 10 Rules Narrator

and
Neill Franklin
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

moderated by
Tim Lynch
Director, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute

If you can make it, please register now. Seating is limited.

If you can't make it to DC, that's okay. You can visit this page to watch the live event.

If you haven't done so yet, pre-order your 10 Rules DVD today for only $15.00. Orders will ship by March 23. (Check out the sexy 2-minute video preview.)

Sincerely,

Steve

 

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Bad cops, bad cops, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Although the Chronicle took a week off last week, corrupt cops didn't. Here are two weeks' worth of rogues and villains. Let's get to it:

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/evidenceroom2-small.jpg
evidence room of opportunity
In Providence, Rhode Island, three Providence police officers were arrested March 4 on charges they helped in a cocaine-dealing operation. Narcotics Detective Joseph Colanduono, Sergeant Steven Gonsalves, and Patrolman Robert Hamlin have been suspended without pay. The trio went down after a four-month investigation whose primary target was Hamlin's brother, Albert, who is described as a major cocaine dealer. Robert Hamlin, a school resource officer at a Providence high school, is accused of helping his brother avoid arrest by giving him the names of narcotics detectives and descriptions of their cars. Hamlin is charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine, while Gonsalves is charged with soliciting another to commit a crime and Colanduono is charged with conspiracy to deal cocaine and compounding and concealing a felony.

In San Francisco, drug cases are being dismissed after a police department crime lab tech admitted stealing cocaine being tested there. Debbie Madden, 60, who recently retired from the job, is accused of stealing small amounts of cocaine from evidence containers, but she has not been charged yet. San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon announced this week that the crime lab's drug testing was temporarily suspended pending an internal investigation and an outside audit of the lab. Twelve cases involving evidence tested or reviewed by Madden were dismissed Wednesday morning, and many more could follow. Local news reports Thursday night put the number of cases dismissed at "near 100." New drug cases may also be dismissed because the evidence will have to be sent to outside labs and will not be returned within the 48 hours required for the filing of charges.

In Weston, Kansas, a former Weston police officer was charged March 3 with stealing drugs from the police department evidence room. Kyle Zumbrunn, 27, is accused of stealing a controlled substance. He's already behind bars, serving a 16-month sentence for selling drugs to a Kansas Bureau of Investigation undercover agent. The new charge came after an investigation into evidence handling procedures at the Weston police department. After Zumbrunn was originally arrested for selling pills, Weston police did an inventory of their evidence room and discovered 28 morphine tablets, 45 Oxycodone pills, and 37 morphine sulfate pills were missing. Zumbrunn faces up to seven more years in prison if convicted on the latest charges.

In Lubbock,Texas, a former Hockley County Sheriff's deputy was sentenced February 27 to 36 months in federal prison for his role in a massive motorcycle gang methamphetamine operation. Former Officer Jose Quintanilla admitted using his position to supply sensitive law enforcement information to the gang and to deter law enforcement efforts to investigate the ring. Another Hockley County deputy, Gordon Bohannon, pleaded guilty to similar charges in December. He awaits sentencing.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a former Benton Harbor Police narcotics supervisor was sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in federal prison for conspiring to violate the civil rights of the residents of Benton Harbor. Bernard Hall, 33, was accused of a pattern of falsifying police reports, committing perjury, falsifying affidavits in support of search warrants, stealing money and property from citizens, and embezzling funds from the police department. Along with former Officer Andrew Thomas Collins, whom he was supposed to be supervising, Hall embarked on a "pervasive pattern of corruption." Collins is already doing 37-months for his role in the rogue operation.

In Crespatown, Pennsylvania, a dietary officer at the Western Correctional Institute was arrested February 12 after attempting to smuggle heroin in for an inmate. The arrest wasn't announced until late last month. Justin Wayne Smith, 27, went down after a drug-detecting dog alerted on his vehicle. During a subsequent search of his vehicle, officers found a balloon containing heroin and a syringe. Smith admitted to using heroin earlier in the day and said he was attempting to smuggle the rest to an inmate. He faces six charges, including intent to distribute, possession and intent to deliver drugs into an area of confinement. Combined, the charges could bring incarceration of more than 30 years and fines in excess of $65,000.

In Baltimore, Maryland, a Baltimore City Detention Officer guard was arrested February 21 for trying to smuggle an ounce of pot and a cell phone in to the prison for an inmate. Officer Shanika Johnson went down when her bag was searched as she arrived at the prison. She admitted being paid $1000 to make the contraband delivery. She is now out on $35,000 bond, with trial set for later this month.

In Oklahoma City, an Oklahoma County jail guard was arrested March 4 on charges he smuggled contraband, including marijuana, into the jail. Detention Officer Okello Adenya, 25, went down after a confidential informant told the sheriff's office Adenya was providing contraband to inmates over a two-month period in December and January. Prison guards recovered tobacco, marijuana, and a cell phone charger. Adenya admitted to the crimes and said he earned $1,100 in bribes for his efforts. He faces three felony counts of bringing and possessing contraband in a prison.

Feature: Fired Up in Albuquerque -- The 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference

Jazzed by the sense that the tide is finally turning their way, more than a thousand people interested in changing drug policies flooded into Albuquerque, New Mexico, last weekend for the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance. Police officers in suits mingled with aging hippies, politicians met with harm reductionists, research scientists chatted with attorneys, former prisoners huddled with state legislators, and marijuana legalizers mingled with drug treatment professionals -- all united by the belief that drug prohibition is a failed policy.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/vigildpa09.jpg
candlelight vigil outside the Albuquerque Convention Center (courtesy Drug Policy Alliance)
As DPA's Ethan Nadelmann said before and repeated at the conference's opening session: "We are the people who love drugs, we are the people who hate drugs, we are the people that don't care about drugs," but who do care about the Constitution and social justice. "The wind is at our backs," Nadelmann chortled, echoing and amplifying the sense of progress and optimism that pervaded the conference like never before.

For three days, conference-goers attended a veritable plethora of panels and breakout sessions, with topics ranging from the drug war in Mexico and South America to research on psychedelics, from implementing harm reduction policies in rural areas to legalizing marijuana, from how to organize for drug reform to what sort of treatment works, and from medical marijuana to prescription heroin.

It was almost too much. At any given moment, several fascinating panels were going on, ensuring that at least some of them would be missed even by the most interested. The Thursday afternoon time bloc, for example, had six panels: "Medical Marijuana Production and Distribution Systems," "After Vienna: Prospects for UN and International Reform," "Innovative Approaches to Sentencing Reform," "Examining Gender in Drug Policy Reform," "Artistic Interventions for Gang Involved Youth," and "The Message is the Medium: Communications and Outreach Without Borders."

The choices weren't any easier at the Friday morning breakout session, with panels including "Marijuana Messaging that Works," "Fundraising in a Tough Economy," "Congress, President Obama, and the Drug Czar," "Zoned Out" (about "drug-free zones"), "Psychedelic Research: Neuroscience and Ethnobotanical Roots," "Opioid Overdose Prevention Workshop," and "Border Perspectives: Alternatives to the 40-Year-Old War on Drugs."

People came from all over the United States -- predominantly from the East Coast -- as well as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe (Denmark, England, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, and Switzerland), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico), and Asia (Cambodia and Thailand).

Medical marijuana was one of the hot topics, and New Mexico, which has just authorized four dispensaries, was held up as a model by some panelists. "If we had a system as clear as New Mexico's, we'd be in great shape," said Alex Kreit, chair of a San Diego task force charged with developing regulations for dispensaries there.

"Our process has been deliberate, which you can also read as 'slow,'" responded Steve Jenison, medical director of the state Department of Health's Infectious Disease Bureau. "But our process will be a very sustainable one. We build a lot of consensus before we do anything."

Jenison added that the New Mexico, which relies on state-regulated dispensaries, was less likely to result in diversion than more open models, such as California's. "A not-for-profit being regulated by the state would be less likely to be a source of diversion to the illicit market," Jenison said.

For ACLU Drug Policy Law Project attorney Allen Hopper, such tight regulation has an added benefit: it is less likely to excite the ire of the feds. "The greater the degree of state involvement, the more the federal government is going to leave the state alone," Hopper said.

At Friday's plenary session, "Global Drug Prohibition: Costs, Consequences and Alternatives," Australia's Dr. Alex Wodak amused the audience by likening the drug war to "political Viagra" in that it "increases potency in elections." But he also made the more serious point that the US has exported its failed drug policy around the world, with deleterious consequences, especially for producer or transit states like Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

At that same session, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda warned that Latin American countries feel constrained from making drug policy reforms because of the glowering presence of the US. Drug reform is a "radioactive" political issue, he said, in explaining why it is either elder statesmen, such as former Brazilian President Cardoso or people like himself, "with no political future," who raise the issue. At a panel the following day, Castaneda made news by bluntly accusing the Mexican army of executing drug traffickers without trial. (See related story here).

It wasn't all listening to panels. In the basement of the Albuquerque Convention Center, dozens of vendors showed off their wares, made their sales, and distributed their materials as attendees wandered through between sessions. And for many attendees, it was as much a reunion as a conference, with many informal small group huddles taking place at the center and in local bars and restaurants and nearby hotels so activists could swap experiences and strategies and just say hello again.

The conference also saw at least two premieres. On the first day of the conference, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Legalization, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of a near-final version of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" -- which enjoyed a larger budget and consequently higher production level -- played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted." "10 Rules" was one of a range of productions screened during a two-night conference film festival.

The conference ended Saturday evening with a plenary address by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who came out as a legalizer back in 2001, and was welcomed with waves of applause before he ever opened his mouth. "It makes no sense to spend the kind of money we spend as a society locking up people for using drugs and using the criminal justice system to solve the problem," he said, throwing red meat to the crowd.

We'll do it all again two years from now in Los Angeles. See you there!

Feature: 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conferences Opens Amid Optimism in Albuquerque

Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, people poured into the Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the Drug Policy Alliance's 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference got underway yesterday. Set to go on through Saturday, the conference is drawing attendees from around the country and the world to discuss dozens of different drug reform topics. (See the link above for a look at the program.)

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/10rules-albuquerque.jpg
screening of near-final version of the next Flex Your Rights film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police
This is the second time DPA has brought the conference to the distant deserts of the Southwest. In 2001, DPA rewarded libertarian-leaning New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) for becoming the highest ranking elected official in the US to call for ending drug prohibition by bringing the conference to his home state. Since then, the ties between DPA and New Mexico have only deepened.

As DPA New Mexico office head Reena Szczepanski explained at the opening plenary session, the Land of Enchantment is fertile ground for drug reform. "Back in 1997, when drug policy reform was little more than a twinkle in the eye, New Mexico passed a harm reduction act mandating the Department of Health to give out clean syringes for people with HIV/AIDS," she noted. "Then, when Gov. Johnson said it was time to end the war on drugs, DPA very wisely immediately opened an office here. In 2001, we passed the overdose prevention act, allowing for the distribution of naloxone. Then we passed opting out on the federal welfare ban, we passed asset forfeiture reform, we passed the 911 Good Samaritan Act -- saving somebody's life is more important than busting them for small amounts of drugs."

But wait, there's more. "Thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson, we became the 12th state to have legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people," Szczepanski continued. "We're working on treatment instead of incarceration, we're working to end the war on drugs in New Mexico and this country. This is a very special place for drug policy reform."

New Mexico is also right next store to one of the drug war's bloodiest battlegrounds: the mean streets of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, which in turn in borders New Mexico. More than 2,200 people have died in prohibition-related violence in Juarez this year alone.

That violence just across the river inspired El Paso City Councilman Beto O'Rourke to turn a motion expressing sympathy for El Paso's sister city into one that also asked for an open and honest debate on ending drug prohibition. The resolution passed the city council by a unanimous vote, only to be vetoed by the mayor. Then, as the council scheduled an override vote, the pressure came down.

"Each of us on the council got a call from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, our congressman and a very powerful figure," O'Rourke told the crowd Thursday. "He told us if we went forward with this, it will be very hard to get your district the federal funding you need. That's a powerful threat, since we rely on federal funding to deliver basic services. It was enough to get four members to change their votes."

While the resolution was defeated, the debacle opened the door for serious debate on drug policy in El Paso and generated support for ending prohibition as well, O'Rourke said. "Our local Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter came out very strongly and helped organize a global policy forum in El Paso. I received hundreds of calls, letters, and emails of support from around the country and the world," O'Rourke related to sustained applause.

If Councilman O'Rourke was a new face, Ira Glasser is a familiar one. Former executive director of the ACLU and president of the DPA board of directors, Glasser told the crowd he was more optimistic about the prospects for change than ever before.

"Today we stand on the brink of transformative progress," he said. "I have never said that before. We can almost touch the goals we have sought, the unraveling of the so-called war on drugs, which is really a war on fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights, on personal autonomy, on our sovereignty over our minds and bodies, a war against people of darker skin color."

Just as Jim Crow laws were the successor to the system of slavery, said Glasser, so the drug war has been the successor to Jim Crow. "It's no accident that after the civil rights revolution ended with the passage of the last federal civil right law in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on the southern strategy against progress on civil rights," he noted. "Within months of taking office, Nixon declared the modern war on drugs."

Glasser wasn't the only one feeling uplifted. "I am feeling good, better than ever before," said DPA executive director and plenary keynote speaker Ethan Nadelmann. "The wind is at our back. We are making progress like never before. We have to move hard and fast. Historically speaking, there are moments when everything comes together," drawing a pointed comparison with the successful temperance movement that managed to get alcohol banned during Prohibition. But Prohibition generated its own counter-movement, he said, again drawing a pointed parallel.

"Now, we're in another moment," Nadelmann said. "We're hurting with the recession, state budgets are hemorrhaging. More and more people are realizing we can't afford to pay for our prejudices, we can't continue to be the world's largest incarcerator."

But it's not just the economy that is opening the window, he continued. "What's happening in Mexico and Afghanistan, where illicit drugs are ready sources of revenues for criminals and political terrorists, that has people thinking. We have two major national security problems causing people to think afresh."

Nadelmann had a suggestion: "Ending marijuana prohibition is a highly effective way of undermining that violence," he said. "Until we end it, buy American."

Just after the opening plenary session ended, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Regulation, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted."

The conference, of course, continued Thursday afternoon and will go through Saturday, but your reporter was busy getting this week's Drug War Chronicle ready to go. Come back next week for fuller reports on the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.

Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so.

Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities.

Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated.

In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime.

The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause.

While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell -- with a tin ear for irony -- requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law.

"It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable."

"The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials."

The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."

Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds; ACLU Objects

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so. Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities. Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated. In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime. The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell—with a tin ear for irony—requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law. "It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable." "The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials." The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."
Location: 
Tenaha, TX
United States

Law Enforcement: New York Man Wins Settlement in Forced Body Cavity Search Suit

New York's Albany County and Albany Medical Center Hospital will pay $125,000 to a New York man who was first strip-searched and then hospitalized and sedated against his will while hospital employees at police direction inserted a camera in his rectum in search of contraband. That is according to the out of court settlement agreed to over the weekend to end a federal lawsuit brought by the victim.

The victim, Tunde Clement, was arrested at the Albany bus terminal in March 2006 when he stepped off a bus from New York City. Sheriff's investigators suspected the ex-convict was carrying drugs, but found none in his backpack. He was then handcuffed, taken to the police station, and strip-searched. Again, no drugs were found. Then police took him to Albany Med, where doctors forcibly sedated him against his will.

While under sedation, doctors inserted a camera in his rectum and scanned his digestive system with X-rays. They also induced vomiting and took blood and urine samples to test for drugs and alcohol. They found nothing. After 10 hours in custody, Clement was charged with resisting arrest and released on his own recognizance. An Albany judge later threw out that charge.

Sheriff's investigators never obtained a search warrant for the procedure, nor did hospital officials require them to produce one. Normally, people under arrest cannot be forcibly sedated without a court order unless they are in imminent danger. Although hospital records indicate Clement was behaving normally and showed no signs of any medical emergency, hospital officials and police considered their desire to search his body "a medical emergency."

Clement subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against Albany Med and several doctors and nurses and against Albany County, Sheriff James Campbell, Inspector John Burke, who heads the dope squad that arrested Clement, and eight investigators assigned to the unit. He claimed his civil rights were violated and that he was the victim of assault and battery when officials and doctors strapped him down and injected him with sedatives against his will.

Now, the county and the medical center will pay for their misdeeds. Or, more precisely, local taxpayers will. Perhaps that will inspire local taxpayers to demand that law enforcement shape up and that medical personnel not be willing accessories to abusive law enforcement practices.

Feature: Bills to Require Drug Testing for Welfare, Unemployment Pop Up Around the Country

With states across the country feeling the effects of the economic crisis gripping the land, some legislators are engaging in the cheap politics of resentment as a supposed budget-cutting move. In at least six states, bills have been filed that would require people seeking public assistance and/or unemployment benefits to submit to random drug testing, with their benefits at stake.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugtest.jpg
drug tests: don't waste the money
In Arizona, Hawaii, Missouri, and Oklahoma, bills have been filed that would force people seeking public assistance to undergo random drug tests and forgo benefits if they test positive. In Florida, a bill has been filed to do the same to people who receive unemployment compensation. In West Virginia, both groups are targeted. [Update: Kansas passed a bill on March 5.]

In most cases, legislators are pointing to the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act, which authorized -- but did not require -- random drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. But a major problem for the proponents of such schemes is that the only state to try to actually implement a random drug testing program got slapped down by the federal courts.

Michigan passed a welfare drug testing law in 1999 that required all Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) applicants to provide urine samples to be considered eligible for assistance. But that program was shut down almost immediately by a restraining order. Three and a half years later, the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier district court ruling that the blanket, suspicionless testing of recipients violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures and was thus unconstitutional.

"This ruling should send a message to the rest of the nation that drug testing programs like these are neither an appropriate or effective use of a state's limited resources," said the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project head Graham Boyd at the time.

According to the ACLU's now-renamed Drug Law Reform Project, which had intervened in the Michigan case, the other 49 states had rejected drug testing for various reasons. At least 21 states concluded that the program "may be unlawful," 17 states cited cost concerns, 11 gave a variety of practical or operational reasons, and 11 said they had not seriously considered drug testing at all (some states cited more than one reason).

Random drug testing of welfare recipients has also been rejected by a broad cross-section of organizations concerned with public health, welfare rights, and drug reform, including the American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

But that hasn't stopped politicians eager to take a stand on the backs of society's most vulnerable. Using remarkably similar rhetoric, legislators across the land are demanding that those seeking benefits be tested.

In West Virginia, Rep. Craig Blair (R-Berkeley County) has created a web site, Not With My Tax Dollars, to publicize his bill, which would apply to anyone seeking welfare, food stamps, or unemployment insurance. "I think it's time that we get serious about the problem of illegal drug users abusing our public assistance system in West Virginia," he wrote on the site. "We should require random drug testing for every individual receiving welfare, food assistance or unemployment benefits. After all, more and more employers are requiring drug testing. Why not make sure that people who are supposed to be looking for work are already prequalified by being drug free?"

In Florida, Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) has sponsored a bill that would require random drug testing of one out of 10 people seeking unemployment benefits. Those people are supposed to be "ready, able, and willing" to work, he told Tampa Bay Online. "If they can't pass a drug test for unemployment compensation," Bennett said, "then they can't pass a drug test at my construction business."

In Hawaii, Rep. Mele Carroll (D-District 13) introduced her "Welfare Drug Testing" bill last month. "The idea came from knowing a lot of families and members in the community who are on assistance that may or may not use some of our public funds for their drug habit," Carroll told KHON in Honolulu. "If the state is pouring money out there to assist families, this could be a way to look at some of our families who are on substance abuse. Make them accountable," she argued.

But such arguments didn't fly with any of the welfare rights, civil liberties, or poverty and child care organizations the Chronicle spoke with in recent weeks. They were unanimous in denouncing welfare drug testing as ineffective, arguably unconstitutional, and just plain mean-spirited.

"Drug testing welfare recipients is coming back?" asked an incredulous Maureen Taylor, Michigan state chair for the National Welfare Rights Organization. "That's ridiculous. The courts slapped it down when they tried it here, and they should slap it down again. These politicians think the reason people are poor is because they're on drugs, and that's just stupid," she scoffed.

"We are in favor of a drug free America and we believe people who exhibit strange behavior should be tested," said Taylor. "Elected officials who propose such things would be an excellent place to start. The politicians should lead by example."

"This is really bad policy," said Frank Crabtree of the West Virginia ACLU. "These are the most vulnerable people in our society, and their children are even more vulnerable. These are people of whom the legislature has no fear. They have to deal with the problems of daily life to such a degree that they are not as politically active, and that makes this bill just seem like a bullying tactic."

Crabtree also addressed the legality of any such programs. "Constitutionally speaking, I don't think the state can force you to give up your right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures to obtain public benefits," Crabtree said. "This would seem to fit that category."

Crabtree saw the West Virginia bill more as political grandstanding than a serious contribution to public policy. "If part of their rationale is that there is more drug use among recipients of public assistance, that argument fails," said Crabtree. "But this does appeal to a certain kneejerk mentality, which leads me to think this is just a lot of political posturing and pandering to a conservative constituency."

"I oppose such legislation for both philosophical and practical reasons," said Darin Preis, executive director of Central Missouri Community Action, which works with poor families. "The proposal here would have state social workers taking on yet another task for which they are not prepared. This will add cost and more bureaucracy, and with our state budget in the fix it is, I don't think we can pull this off," he said.

"Philosophically, I think we should be holding people accountable for what we want them to do, not for what we don't want them to do," said Preis. "People want to take care of their families, to do the right thing. It just doesn't make sense to me. Taking away benefits from someone struggling with substance abuse issues isn't going to help them; it will only make matters worse."

"These bills are a waste of money at a time when governments don't have money to waste," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "And they're extremely discriminatory in that they focus on someone smoking marijuana, but don't address at all whether someone is blowing his check on alcohol or gambling or vacations. The bottom line is that even if someone is using drugs, that doesn't mean they should be denied public assistance, health care, or anything else to which citizens are entitled. These bills are unnecessarily cruel and they show that some politicians still think it's in their best interest to pick on vulnerable people with substance abuse issues."

The bills seeking to drug test people seeking unemployment benefits are even more pernicious, Piper said. "Unemployment compensation is something that people pay into when they're working, that's not a gift from the state," he said. "If you are unemployed, you earned those benefits and you shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone."

"Drug testing welfare recipients or people getting unemployment is a terribly misguided policy," said Hilary McQuie, western director for the Harm Reduction Coalition. "If you find people and cut them off the rolls, what's the end result? You have to look at the end result."

Legislators proposing random drug testing of welfare or unemployment recipients have a wide array of organizations opposing them, as well as common sense and common decency. But none of that has prevented equally pernicious legislation from passing in the past. These bills bear watching.

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