Breaking News:Statement of ICC Prosecutor on Opening Preliminary Investigations in the Philippines and in Venezuela

State & Local Executive Branches

RSS Feed for this category

Editorial: Things That Happen Over and Over

One of the feature stories in the news this week was the annual ritual of the Thanksgiving "Turkey Pardon." This year "Flyer" and "Fryer," their names chosen in an online reader poll on the White House web site, got to live out the remainder of their natural lives on a farm in rural Virginia. The Turkey Pardon, a quasi-official act of the sitting US President, has happened reliably every Thanksgiving week for nearly 60 years.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
David Borden
Another annual occurrence has been the current President's relative disuse of his power to grant clemencies and pardons. When I first commented on the Turkey Pardons, "Stars" and "Stripes" in 2003, Bush had yet to use the power at all. Now that is no longer completely true, but it is still close to being true. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders, the federal prisoner count rose steeply since 2003 -- from 150,000 to over 190,000 -- while the president has issued a mere two commutations and 97 pardons over his entire term. As a long-time vegetarian, I certainly don't oppose the turkey pardons. But when it comes to another long-time White House holiday tradition, Christmas pardons of people, George Bush has been a veritable Scrooge, if not a Grinch, and that should stop.

Yet another thing that happens over and over -- something no one would dare to call a tradition, yet whose reoccurrence is plainly inevitable -- is the accidental killing in drug raids of innocent or at least nonviolent people by paramilitarized police squadrons. What happens is that SWAT teams, many of which have more or less turned into drug squads, will use incredibly aggressive tactics like battering rams or stun grenades to break into homes of suspected drug offenders. The people inside, not expecting the intrusion and not understanding it to be any different from an attack, react with mere trauma most of the time, but sometimes by dying of heart attacks or by pulling out guns in self-defense and getting shot. Sometimes the people inside get shot whether they pull out guns or not.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/stars.jpg
Pardoning turkeys isn't enough -- because enough is enough.
A report by the Cato Institute this year examines the problem in detail. It has been growing. Atlanta's Kathryn Johnston was the latest victim. The 92-year old opened fire on three police officers after they forced their way into her home without knocking. The officers were wounded, but returned fire on Johnston, who was killed. People are justifiably angry, many regarding Johnston's use of her weapon as justified in the circumstances, albeit tragic in where it led. Police called the incident "tragic" but said they were executing a legal warrant after an undercover officer had bought drugs at her home. Time will tell if that claim is truthful or otherwise. But even if it is, how does it justify what happened?

Drug war killings by SWAT teams of people who are innocent or undeserving of it are only one of the many drug war outrages that happen over and over. In my opinion it is time to say "enough is enough."

As a first step, I ask that those of you reading this, who have other drug war outrages they care about, make posts discussing them to the comment section at the bottom of this web page. (If would be great if you could log in first too, so you won't be "anonymous" and people including us at DRCNet will know how to reach you. We're going to be doing some redesign work to make that easier during the next few weeks.)

Next week we will begin to talk about step two...

Marijuana: San Francisco Supervisors Approve Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Policy

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday for an ordinance making marijuana offenses the police department's lowest priority. The San Francisco district attorney is also directed to make prosecuting marijuana offenses her office's lowest priority. Public marijuana sales, possession by minors, and use by motorists will continue to be prosecuted.

The ordinance also creates an oversight committee through which people who feel they were wrongly targeted can seek a review of their cases. And it requires the Board of Supervisors to annually notify the state and federal governments that "the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has passed an ordinance to deprioritize marijuana offenses by adults, and requests that the federal and California state governments take immediate steps to tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution and to authorize state and local communities to do the same."

The ordinance introduced by Supervisor Tom Ammiano passed 8-3.

"San Francisco should determine its marijuana policy locally, not hand it over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration," the ordinance read. "Law enforcement resources would be better spent fighting serious and violent crimes."

San Francisco now joins Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood on the list of California cities that have embraced lowest priority ordinances. Only West Hollywood and San Francisco have adopted such an ordinance through action by elected officials; in the other cities, action came through voter initiatives. Seattle, Columbia, Missouri, Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, have also passed such initiatives.

A panoply of state and national drug reform organizations supported the move. Among them were Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, California NORML, and a number of local drug reform groups and political clubs.

"By urging our law enforcement community to ignore adult marijuana offenses, our police officers can focus on battling the increase in serious and violent crime, much of which is ironically directly related to our failed prohibitionist approach to drugs," said Camilla Field, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco office. "This vote represents one small, but significant, step toward making our communities safer."

And one more small step toward undoing the marijuana laws.

Racial Profiling: It Never Went Away on the New Jersey Turnpike

Despite seven years of reforms aimed at eradicating racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police, the practice continues unabated and has even gotten worse. That's according to an American Civil Liberties Union study that found 30% of drivers stopped on the southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike were black while African-Americans comprised only 18% of the population.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/njturnpike.jpg
New Jersey Turnpike entrance
The ACLU of New Jersey used a Tuesday hearing of the Advisory Committee on Police Standards to submit its findings as it urged continued monitoring of state troopers to prevent racial profiling. The Tuesday meeting was the last of four set to study the problem. The panel was appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to decide whether court-ordered monitoring of the state police should continue.

The state agreed to a consent decree aimed at reforming State Police practices following the shooting of three unarmed young people of color on the Turnpike in 1998. In recent years, court-appointed monitors have found the agency is complying with the decree, and the federal government has offered to lift it.

But State Police continue to stop black drivers at "greatly disproportionate" rates on the southern part of the turnpike, ACLU legal director Edward Barocas told the committee. "Profiling continues unabated," Barocas testified. "African-Americans now make up a higher percentage of stops than they did before the consent decree began."

State Police spokesmen said they were aware that black drivers were being stopped disproportionately, but claimed it did not result from racial profiling. "We've been assured by the independent monitoring team that they have seen no indication of troopers performing unconstitutional actions or any sign of disparate treatment," said Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert.

While Gilbert played defense, State Troopers Fraternal Association president David Jones went on the attack. The ACLU study, in which an outside consultant measured the number of black, brown, and white drivers on the southern Turnpike and compared it with the number of traffic stops, was "junk science" designed to protect the "cottage industry" of defense lawyers who sue the State Police, he claimed. "Everybody there (at the Moorestown Station) from the very top on down has been changed a multitude of times," Jones said, explaining about transfers. "The anomaly exists because sometimes a violator is a violator."

State Police head Rick Fuentes wants to replace the court-appointed monitors with an academic panel, but racial profiling expert Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha said stronger monitoring was needed. "External, independent oversight -- a different set of eyes and ears -- is extremely important for maintaining professional standards," said Walker. "You've got reforms in place. The real important issue is maintaining them... and it requires continuous attention."

The committee will decide on a recommendation to the governor, but there is no word yet on when that will happen.

Click here to view large portions of the historic 91,000 page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive, released by the state attorney general's office in November 2000 and made available on the Internet by DRCNet.

Election 2006: Initiatives Defeated in Colorado and Nevada, But Hundreds of Thousands Voted to Legalize Marijuana

A Nevada initiative (Question 7) that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and provide for its regulated sale and taxation lost with 44% of the vote, while a Colorado initiative (Measure 44) that would have legalized the possession of up to an ounce lost with 40% of the vote. Both were bitterly opposed by local law enforcement and the federal drug war bureaucracy. In both cases, organizers are vowing to come back and try again.

The Nevada result is a 5% improvement over 2002, when a similar initiative garnered 39% of the popular vote. In Colorado, where legalization had never before been on the statewide ballot, four out of ten voters were prepared to vote for it the first time around.

In both states, anti-drug activists joined forces with law enforcement to turn back the tide. In Nevada, where gambling is legal and so is prostitution in most counties, the ironically named Committee to Keep Nevada Respectable resorted to misrepresentations of the measure to insist it would prevent employers from doing drug testing, as well as arguing that allowing for the regulated sale of marijuana would somehow increase youth marijuana use. The Committee consisted of a number of community anti-drug coalitions, the Reno and Las Vegas Chambers of Commerce, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the Southern Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs, and the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association.

In Colorado, the organized opposition was headed by Gov. Bill Owens and Attorney General John Suthers, who held a late press conference denouncing the measure (and who were rudely surprised by a vigorous counter-demonstration by Measure 44 supporters during that press conference). In both states, representatives of the Office of National Drug Control Policy showed up to interfere with state ballot measures.

While initiative organizers in both states professed disappointment at the results, they have vowed to continue the fight. "Today, a record number of Nevada voters called for an end to marijuana prohibition, the highest vote ever to end prohibition," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the parent group for the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, the Nevada-based entity that led the campaign. "The momentum is with us. Major social change never comes easily, but change in our failed marijuana laws is coming because prohibition does nothing but harm. Prohibition funds criminals and guarantees that teens have easy access to marijuana, and voters have begun to see through the drug czar's lies. We've made huge progress since our 39% to 61% loss on a similar ballot measure in Nevada four years ago. We plan to try again with another marijuana initiative in Nevada in November 2008 or 2010."

"We are not disappointed at all with the results of today's election," said SAFER Colorado campaign director Mason Tvert. "This campaign, following on the heels of our successful legalization initiative in Denver last year, was just one step in a five- to ten-year battle to make marijuana legal in Colorado. Now we see that a number of counties support changing the state law regarding adult marijuana possession so that they have the right to set their own local policies."

Without significant outside funding, SAFER Colorado managed to reach out to hundreds of thousands of Coloradans with an "alcohol vs. marijuana" campaign that clearly resonated with voters. "One low-budget initiative campaign cannot overcome 70 years of government lies and propaganda," Tvert said. "If it were possible to make marijuana legal with a $60,000 campaign in a state with nearly three million voters, it would have been done long ago. But the writing is on the wall in Colorado and we will continue to educate the public while pressuring government officials and community leaders to explain why they think adults should be punished for using a substance less harmful than alcohol."

Although lost elections are never popular, other leading drug reformers looked for the positive. "Even though they lost, hundreds of thousands of people in two states still voted to legalize marijuana," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I think that is very respectable, especially in Nevada, where the measure was so far-reaching."

Question 7 in Nevada would not only have legalized the possession of up to an ounce by adults, it would also have established a state-sanctioned system of regulated marijuana distribution. Colorado's Measure 44, on the other hand, was a simple marijuana possession legalization initiative that would have protected adults holding up to an ounce.

"These outcomes, while disappointing, were not unexpected," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who traveled to Colorado to assist in the campaign's final days. "Despite these results, adults in Colorado and Nevada continue to live under state laws that authorize the medical use of marijuana and allow adults to possess and use small amounts of pot without the threat of incarceration or a criminal record."

That's good, but it's not enough, said SAFER Colorado's Tvert. "There will be a continuing effort in Colorado," he told Drug War Chronicle. "We were up against 70 years of marijuana prohibition, 70 years of lies and distortions about marijuana. This was the first time Colorado voters had to confront marijuana prohibition, and it won more votes than the Republican governor candidate. We got the message out and shocked the hell out of Colorado, even with no money and what some people would call a reckless campaign."

Nearly seven decades after national marijuana prohibition was enacted, no state has yet voted to end it at the state level. But the forces of reform are edging ever closer to victory. Will 2008 be the beginning of the end? Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana: First New Federal Prosecution in Three Years Underway in California

The US Justice Department had not prosecuted a California medical marijuana patient since 2003, but that changed Wednesday as the federal trial of Merced County medical marijuana patient and provider Dustin Costa got under way in Fresno. Costa, a leading medical marijuana activist, was originally arrested on state charges, but Merced County prosecutors handed his case over to the feds when it became apparent that California's Compassionate Use Act would make it impossible to convict him under California law.

The last federal medical marijuana patient and provider trial in California was the Ed Rosenthal debacle. In that case, Rosenthal was convicted on federal marijuana manufacture charges after the jury was not allowed to hear testimony relating to medical marijuana. Rosenthal was convicted, but when jurors learned the rest of the story, many of them publicly denounced the trial and the verdict, and the federal judge trying the case sentenced him to only one day in jail.

In Costa's case, the 60-year-old retired Marine who headed the Merced Patients Group, a nonprofit cultivation collective, was originally arrested by Merced County sheriff's deputies when they raided a greenhouse he was using to cultivate marijuana for patients in March 2004. But local prosecutors turned the case over to the feds, and Costa was re-arrested on federal charges in August 2005. Since then, he has been imprisoned at the Fresno County Jail. If convicted on the charges, he faces a mandatory minimum 20-year federal prison sentence.

Costa now faces federal charges of cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm. As in the Rosenthal case, Costa will not be allowed to even mention medical marijuana or its legality under state law during the trial.

"Dustin Costa is a victim of the federal government's refusal to respect medical science," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana advocacy group. "He and all the others being denied a medical defense at trial are the new targets in our government's war on patients."

Costa may be the first medical marijuana patient to be tried by the feds since the Rosenthal trial, but he probably will not be the last. According to figures compiled by Americans for Safe Access, at least 91 other California patients and providers have been arrested on federal marijuana charges and are awaiting trial.

Feature: Alabama Drug Reformer Loretta Nall Accidentally Becomes the "Cleavage" Candidate

Libertarian Party Alabama gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall couldn't get enough signatures gathered to win a spot on next Tuesday's ballot, but in a bizarre twist, her breasts have garnered her enough attention to make her a water-cooler topic of conversation not only in the Heart of Dixie, but from coast to coast. The 30-something Alabama housewife has taken what could be viewed as a demeaning local newspaper column about her breasts and cleavage and, in an act equal parts political jiu-jitsu and political theater, used it to gain a nationwide soapbox for her platform of drug and sentencing reform, immigrant legalization, and opposition to the war in Iraq and the Patriot and Real ID Acts.

It all began with a photo of Nall alongside a brief, dismissive mention of her campaign in a column by the Montgomery Independent's Bob Ingram back in March. The photo -- obtained by the paper through a Google search and used in lieu of the more conservative image she had provided -- showed the amply-endowed Nall in a low-cut blouse with plunging cleavage. Ingram revisited the topic a few days later, telling readers the Nall photo marked the first time a woman's cleavage was featured in his column.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/nalltshirt.jpg
Nall took it from there. In a letter to Ingram and Independent publisher Bob Martin, she challenged the apparently breast-obsessed pair to discuss her campaign instead of her physical attributes. "Now that you and the rest of Alabama have been introduced to 'the twins' perhaps you'd like to meet the rest of me," she wrote. "I'll don my burka, so y'all won't be distracted, and perhaps we can discuss the other planks in my platform, since Mr. Ingram saw fit to only discuss one."

By the end of March, Nall was reporting wildly increased traffic at her campaign web site and increasing attention across the blogosphere, and by the beginning of May she had taken advantage of the attention to unveil a new "Flash for Cash" appeal for donations, where an animated Nall figure would reveal what's behind the blouse for a $50 campaign contribution.

She took it to the next level when she unveiled a new line of t-shirts and posters featuring the famous cleavage shot above and photos of incumbent Republican Gov. Bob Riley and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley below, with the text reading "More of These Boobs and Less of These Boobs."

Since then, it has been a media frenzy for Nall, with appearances on the national cable news networks Fox and MSNBC and NBC's The Today Show, as well as countless radio interviews -- both national and local -- and unceasing attention in the blogosphere. And in the ouroboros world of the media, the attention Nall received from some media outlets meant she was all the more newsworthy on other media outlets.

The national interest meant that the homeboy media needed to pay attention, and it did. An Alabama-based Associated Press story ran in papers across the country, local TV stations began devoting increasing air time to her breasts (and her campaign), and on Wednesday evening she was slated for a 20-minute appearance on Alabama's only statewide newscast, "On the Record."

"The Alabama press has really had a good time with this," Nall told Drug War Chronicle. "The campaign is full of nasty attack ads, and I'm doing something different and they're eating it up. Yes, there is lots of stuff about me being 'the breast candidate for the job' and 'racking up points,' but then they go on to actually talk about my campaign and my platform. The boobs thing has been fun for me and the media, and I've garnered some good editorials as a result."

But despite the humor of her campaign, Nall is a serious candidate. "Everybody was all excited about the boob stuff," she told the Chronicle, "but I just use that as a way of getting a platform to get at my real issues, especially the Patriot and Real ID Acts, No Child Left Behind, and drug policy and prison reform," the Alabama housewife explained. "Hammering away at the number of people in our overcrowded prisons has been one of my main planks."

And she wasn't afraid to go behind enemy lines, making an appearance on Fox News' Fox & Friends program, where she simply steamrollered a seemingly stunned pair of Fox anchors. "It's hard to outfox Fox, but I didn't really pay any attention to their questions, I didn't let them hem me in," Nall explained. "I figured if I pulled a Marc Emery and talked non-stop, they wouldn't have a chance, and they didn't."

Nall is not being included in polling on the governor's race, but said she believed she would poll well above the 1% needed to win a ballot line for the Libertarian Party in 2008. "If the feedback I've been getting is any indication, I could go as high as 5% or 6%," she predicted. "I am hearing from a lot of Republicans who say I am a true conservative, but I'm also getting support from a lot of lefty Democrats. There is a large segment of the population that feels like it doesn't have a political voice when the major party candidates here are trying to out-Jesus each other."

[South Dakota] Bill Pits Attorney General Against Medical Marijuana Proponents

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Rapid City Journal
URL: 
http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2006/11/01/news/top/news01.txt

Pot Proponents Shout Down Governor

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States
Publication/Source: 
ABC-TV7 Denver
URL: 
http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/10174806/detail.html

Feature: Nail-Biting Time for South Dakota's Medical Marijuana Initiative

With election day little more than a week away, proponents of South Dakota's medical marijuana initiative are increasingly nervous about the measure's prospects in the face of a coordinated onslaught by the state's Republican political establishment, state and local law enforcement, and even the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Given South Dakota's social conservatism and a number of hot-button other issues on the ballot, including abortion and gay marriage, the assault by law enforcement only makes voter approval of the measure more difficult. But with no polling on the issue in the state since 2002 (when it got 64% approval), it is hard to gauge exactly where the vote is likely to go.

Known on the ballot as Initiated Measure 4, the medical marijuana measure would allow patients who suffer from specified medical conditions, have the okay of their doctor, and register with the state to use marijuana to alleviate their conditions. The measure also allows registered patients or their caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants. If the measure passes, South Dakota would become the 12th state to legalize marijuana. If the measure fails, South Dakota would become the first state where voters explicitly rejected medical marijuana.

Beginning late last week, the organized opposition began fighting in earnest with a series of press conferences featuring Attorney General Larry Long (whom organizers were forced to successfully sue over biased ballot language), local law enforcement officials, and deputy drug czar Scott Burns. Burns called medical marijuana "a con" and accused initiative supporters of playing on the sympathies of voters to advance a dangerous agenda.

"It's a step backwards in South Dakota and a step backwards nationally," said Burns at a Sioux Falls press conference last Friday. "Do not fall for the con."

"The risk far outweighs the benefits," said Minnehaha County (Sioux Falls) Sheriff Mike Milstead at the same widely televised and reported press conference. "There's great concern about how easily this marijuana could fall into the wrong hands."

Some South Dakota law enforcement officials have gone further in their arguments against the measure. In a conversation with Drug War Chronicle Thursday, Hughes County (Pierre) Sheriff Mike Leidholt complained that initiative language barring registered patients from being prosecuted as drugged drivers because of residual metabolites in their systems would result in them being able to get away with driving while intoxicated. "If we can't test for the metabolite, how are we to enforce the law, or is that a free pass?" he asked.

Leidholt also expressed concern that marijuana grown for registered patients would escape into the larger market. "This measure allows any patient or caregiver to have up to six marijuana plants," he said. "One marijuana plant can produce up to 13,000 joints. If you have that much, what happens to the rest of it?"

[Editor's Note: We report, you decide. Assuming a joint weighs between one-half gram and one gram, that comes to somewhere between 15 and 30 pounds of smokeable bud. By our calculations, it would take a marijuana plant the size of a full-grown oak tree to produce that many joints.]

Leidholt conceded that marijuana may help a small number of seriously ill people in the state, but argued that that does not outweigh the need to keep marijuana off the streets. "I feel bad for those people, but the dangers are too great," he said.

That argument wasn't flying with Valerie Hannah of Deerfield, a combat medic in the Gulf War who know suffers chronic pain from nerve damage and who is serving as the primary spokesperson for South Dakotans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative. "We really need this for patients who are truly ill so they can have another means of release," she told the Chronicle.

Hannah and former Denver police officer Tony Ryan, who now lives in Sioux Falls, are the group's public face. Both are appearing in TV commercials airing around the state -- when they can squeeze in among all the abortion, gay marriage, tobacco tax, elected office, and other campaign commercials that are cluttering the airwaves.

"What law enforcement is doing is a real disappointment, but my biggest disappointment is Larry Long bringing in the national deputy drug czar to propagandize at press conferences," she said. "They're really starting to pull out the drug war money and going to town with it."

Hannah is in a lonely fight. No other medical marijuana patient in the state has yet stood up to be counted alongside her. But that is not surprising in a state where anyone who admits to marijuana use could be served with a search warrant and ordered to submit to a drug test, then prosecuted for "unlawful ingestion" of marijuana.

"People are scared here," Hannah said. "Not only are they scared to come out, some people who use medical marijuana have even told me they voted against it because they were afraid law enforcement would look at their ballots and somehow persecute them. It is past time for people to get over their fears and realize this is really all about sick and dying people."

While Hannah other initiative supporters are working frantically to secure victory on November 7, the outcome is "kind of iffy," she said. "Faced with all these false claims from law enforcement and the fear in the air in this state, I don't know how this will come out."

Hannah held out some hope though, citing surprising support among farmers and ranchers in the sparsely-populated, libertarian-leaning northwest part of the state. "That is good, but most of the votes are in the East, especially in Sioux Falls," she noted. With some 177,000 residents in the metro area, Sioux Falls accounts for about one-quarter of the state's population.

"Western South Dakota is a place where outlaws went to hide from the law -- and they stayed -- so it may be fertile ground for medical marijuana even if just for the tax money. But if they lose in Sioux Falls, they lose the entire state," said University of South Dakota political science Professor David Vick. "The city has been growing rapidly, and the small towns around there have become suburbs, and they vote like suburbs," he told the Chronicle.

Vick had a hard time imagining that the measure would succeed. "My opinion is that it will probably not pass," he said. "On the East side of the state, you tend to have values voters who vote along religious lines and conservative political lines. The only way I see this passing is if people vote for it in a backlash against government intrusion or fiscal conservatism. Of course, there are people who have found assistance from medical marijuana or know someone who has, and they could vote for it."

It now looks like an uphill battle in South Dakota, but we will not really know until the votes are counted.

Law Enforcement: Lawsuit Shines Light on Florida Police Department's Shady Forfeiture Practice

A lawsuit filed by a young Bradenton, Florida, man to win the return of $10,000 in cash seized from him by the Bradenton Police Department has shined a light on a longstanding -- and possibly illegal -- asset forfeiture policy by the department. Under the Florida Contraband Act, persons whose money and property were seized by police have the right to have a judge rule on the legality of the seizure. But the Bradenton police have for years been using their own "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement," which people arrested are told to sign to agree to give up their property and waive any legal recourse.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bradentonbadge.gif
Florida's finest...
The practice came to light last week, when the Sarasota Herald Tribune began reporting on the case of Delane Johnson, 20, who was stopped outside an apartment house in July. When police spotted a wad of cash in his pants pocket, he told them he was using the money for a party. They arrested him on the rarely-used charge of failing to report a business transaction in excess of $10,000 (he had $10,020). Police claim Johnson signed the "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement" -- a claim he disputes -- and they deposited the money in a police bank account.

County prosecutors dropped the charges, saying it was not a crime to carry cash, but police refused to return the money. Now Johnson is in court fighting to get his money back.

"The whole arrest was bogus. It's awful," attorney Varinia Van Ness, who represented Johnson, told the Herald Tribune. She wants the courts to order the department to follow state law instead of continuing its end run around the law.

"Hopefully, we'll put a stop to it when we get in front of a judge," said attorney Louis Daniel Lazaro, who also represents Johnson. "There are possible corruption charges on a criminal level."

This wouldn't be the first time people have gone to court to get their money back. Last year, a Manatee county judge ordered Bradenton police to return $7,000 seized from a woman who was arrested for a driver's license violation after a traffic stop. Judge Douglas Henderson ruled that the woman did not knowingly and willingly agree to have her money confiscated even though her named appeared on the forfeiture agreement.

The Bradenton Police Department's unusual practice was viewed with concern by attorneys and constitutional scholars contacted by the Herald Tribune. They said police may be pressuring people to sign away their rights, a charge some local residents said was true.

"Who knows what they are telling people to get them to sign it," said Sarasota-based defense attorney Henry E. Lee, who represented a woman last year in a police forfeiture case in Bradenton. "This is a source of revenue for the police, and it's just rife for abuse."

"It sounds like robbery to me," said Joseph Little, a law school professor at the University of Florida.

Bradenton police have seized more than $12,000 from 15 people arrested since August. Janie Brooks, 56, was one of them. She was in her front yard in a poor neighborhood when police swooped in, said they found drugs, and seized her car and $1,200 cash. As she sat in the back of a patrol car, police pressured her into signing the forfeiture form, she said. "He kept rushing me, like, 'Go ahead, things will be better if you did,'" Brooks said. "It was like, there's gonna be some big time stuff that happens to me if I don't sign it."

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski was unrepentant. "If you're selling drugs, I'm going to take your money, your car, your house -- if I can get it," he said. "That's my goal here. Eventually we're going to seize someone's house." He also accused Delane Johnson of being a drug dealer, though he was never charged with a drug-related offense. "Does he really think a judge will give him back his drug money? God bless him if a judge goes along with that."

It's little wonder Radzilowski defends the practice. The county's asset forfeiture fund, which the department uses to buy new equipment and pay for drug education and other programs, has gone as high as $150,000.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School