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Police Killing of Suspect Tests Newark's Novice Mayor

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/01/nyregion/01newark.html

Search and Seizure: Five-Day Shackling in Colorado Prison to Find Swallowed Drugs Approaches Torture Level

Authorities at the Colorado state prison in Buena Vista kept an inmate shackled to a chair for five and ½ days without sleep or exercise, never turned off the lights, and strip-searched and cavity-searched him 17 times even though he was under the constant watch of a guard. Prison officials suspected inmate Brian Willert, 29, of swallowing bags of heroin and wanted to collect the evidence.

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They eventually did, but the judge hearing the case, Chaffee County District Court Judge Charles Barton, threw out the evidence, saying that prison authorities could have achieved the same goal in a few hours by obtaining a court order to administer a laxative. What prison officials did to Willert was an unreasonable search, Barton held.

"Forcing a shackled inmate to sit in a chair for over five days posed, in the court's opinion, an unreasonable risk to the life and health of the inmate," Barton said in his July 14 ruling. "It is difficult for the court to imagine a more intrusive procedure. Defendant was watched every minute for over five days. He was not permitted to meet the basic human need to lie down and sleep."

Barton also questioned what the repeated strip searches had to do with security and criticized prison officials for failing to check on Willert's health after he tested positive for methamphetamine on day four, suggesting a balloon had broken. But Barton rejected Public Defender Patrick Murphy's contention that what was done to Willert constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Willert was placed in a "dry cell" without a sink or toilet after his girlfriend told prison authorities she had passed balloons of what she thought was heroin to him during a visit. That is standard procedure for the Colorado Department of Corrections, director of prisons Gary Golder told the Rocky Mountain News. But "dry cell" stays rarely last more than a day, he said. Still, Golden said, the department's inspector general will investigate. "Did the staff violate the policies or do something inappropriate?" he asked.

Medical Marijuana: South Dakota Ballot Description Erroneous and Apparently Illegal

Organizers of South Dakota's medical marijuana initiative are in for a tough fight in the socially conservative Upper Midwest state. All they ask is that it be a fair fight, but South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long (R) apparently isn’t ready to provide them with an even playing field. Long's office this week issued the summary of the initiative that will appear on the ballot, and that summary contains biased and factually incorrect statements -- an apparent violation of South Dakota law.

The summary language provided by Attorney General Long and appearing on the South Dakota Secretary of State's election web page is as follows:

"Currently, marijuana possession, use, distribution, or cultivation is a crime under both state and federal law. The proposed law would legalize marijuana use or possession for any adult or child who has one of several listed medical conditions and who is registered with the Department of Health. The proposed law would also provide a defense to persons who cultivate, transport or distribute marijuana solely to registered persons. Even if this initiative passes, possession, use, or distribution of marijuana is still a federal crime. Persons covered by the proposed law would still be subject to federal prosecution for violation of federal drug control laws. Physicians who provide written certifications may be subject to losing their federal license to dispense prescription drugs."

While initiative supporters point out several examples of biased or irrelevant description -- referring to "any adult or child" instead of "anyone" in an attempt to raise the specter of youth drug use, referring repeatedly to federal laws against marijuana possession -- it is the final sentence of Long's summary that really leaps out.

Long writes that doctors "may be subject to losing their federal license to dispense prescription drugs in they write recommendations for medical marijuana use," and that's just wrong. The only federal court precedent in such matters, Conant v. Ashcroft, clearly states that physicians may not be punished by the DEA for exercising their First Amendment right to recommend a patient use marijuana. In Conant, the Supreme Court refused to hear the Justice Department's appeal of that US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion.

According to the South Dakota criminal code, "Publication of false or erroneous information on constitutional amendments or submitted questions is a misdemeanor. Any person knowingly printing, publishing, or delivering to any voter of this state a document containing any purported constitutional amendment, question, law, or measure to be submitted to voters at any election, in which such constitutional amendment, question, law, or measure is misstated, erroneously printed, or by which false or misleading information is given to the voters, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor."

Initiative supporters told DRCNet this week they are examining their options. Expect more news on this front next week.

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