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Law Enforcement: Cops Used Hidden High-Tech Surveillance on Kansas Rock Festival-Goers

Drug War Chronicle reported in June on the "traffic enforcement and sobriety checkpoints" set up to snare attendees at the Wakarusa Music Festival outside Lawrence, Kansas. Little did we or anybody know that was the least of what law enforcement was up to. Now it turns out that state and local law enforcement officials teamed up with a California-based high-tech security and surveillance company to put the festival and its 50,000 attendees under constant, high-resolution video surveillance.

In what was in essence a state-sponsored marketing ploy by NS Microwave, Inc., the manufacturer of the technology, members of the FBI, the DEA, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office all showed up at the festival to watch the $250,000 system zoom in on drug purchases, people rolling joints, and similarly intimate activities. (NS Microwave, a subsidiary of the defense contractor Allied Defense Group, bragged about this coup in an aggressively unhip press release that undoubtedly spilled the beans.)

The set-up included hidden wireless cameras, night vision equipment, and a 21-foot command trailer set up in the middle of the festival and disguised as a radio station trailer. According to a laudatory article in the trade publication Government Security News, "When law enforcement officials viewed the surveillance monitors in the command trailer, they were surprised to discover that the NS Microwave system was showing details never expected. On viewing screens, the equipment displayed a dramatic array of illegal activities, including extensive drug dealing, use of vehicles to store dealers' narcotics and dealer-to-mule transactions."

"It was a big surprise," Lt. Doug Woods, patrol commander for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, told the News. "We got very good results."

According to police and press reports, some 140 drug-related arrests were made. But it is unclear how many came as a result of the hidden surveillance. According to Woods, 15 officers patrolled during the day shift and 20 at night, with 50 on hand for the festival's Saturday night climax.

Kansas law enforcement never told anyone about the secret high-tech surveillance, and the spying would have gone unnoticed without the publication of the NS press release and the Government Surveillance News puff piece, but after that came out, the Lawrence Journal-World broke the story locally, and adverse reaction began rolling in. The Journal-World quoted festival-goers as saying the hidden cameras were "a shame and kind of embarrassing." Attendee Ali Mangan told the local paper, "I feel like it was really a big mistake because people at a festival are trying to have a good time and let loose. I would be willing to bet that most people wouldn't be okay with that had they known."

By this week, the University of Kansas newspaper the Daily Kansan was denouncing the spying on its editorial page. In an editorial bluntly titled "Secret Cameras Violated Privacy," the newspaper lambasted local and state law enforcement: "Economic gain trumped privacy at the festival. If law enforcement had posted signs stating the presence of video surveillance, drug dealing might have decreased from the outset," the paper noted. "Instead, the suspected drug money seized and the fines collected will be added to the coffers of the city, which still hasn't said what it will do with the money.

"What's most disturbing," the editorial continued, "is that law enforcement probably never would have revealed its secretive moneymaking scheme had the GSN article not surfaced. Has local law enforcement secretly installed cameras in other public places? Maybe we won't know until another article is published in an obscure trade journal."

On Tuesday, Wakarusa festival organizer Brent Mosiman weighed in on the Wakarusa web site with an apology to attendees and critique of law enforcement. "We cannot tell you how truly sorry we are that these [spying] issues occurred at Wakarusa this year and we sincerely apologize to everyone for any violations of your rights and privacy. To give you some background, we were informed that there would be an increased law enforcement presence at this year's event. Initially, we were supportive of this when it was presented as an effort to increase the safety of everyone in attendance. It became apparent however that enforcement, not safety and security, was the true mission of the increased law enforcement. We must make it perfectly clear that we did not know of any of the specific measures, tactics or instruments the various law enforcement agencies used at the event. More importantly, Wakarusa does not believe such tactics and equipment were necessary and does not support their use. If there are not significant assurances that similar procedures won't materialize in the future, we will not host another Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival," Mosiman wrote.

San Deigo Leading Backlash Against California Medical Marijuana Law

Location: 
San Diego, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/breaking_news/15536204.htm

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

There is something rotten in the state of Tennessee, with the stench of police corruption stretching from the banks of the Mississippi to the hazy ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains, and this stuff is pretty rotten. Meanwhile, there's an apparent case of, er, overly aggressive policing in Florida and the mandatory prison or jail guard in trouble. Let's get to it:

In Cocke County, Tennessee, former Cocke County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Patrick Allen Taylor's guilty plea to conspiring to sell thousands of dollars of stolen NASCAR goods is only the tip of the iceberg of corrupt, criminal activities in the Cocke County Sheriff's Department, federal prosecutors alleged in a motion seeking a prison sentence far higher than federal sentencing guidelines call for, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Monday. According to prosecutors, Taylor was involved in robbery schemes, extortion, protection rackets, cockfighting, ripping off drug dealers, and tolerating drug use among department insiders. Taylor is the nephew of former Sheriff DC Ramsey, who resigned under pressure in the same federal corruption probe that has now brought down his nephew. Known as "Rose Thorn," the federal operation has led to the arrests of eight Cocke County lawmen and 170 other people, and has led to the closure of brothels, cockfighting pits, and a video amusement company. For more on the whole sordid affair, check out the News-Sentinel's special report, "Cocke County Confidential."

In Memphis, former Reserve Memphis Police Officer Andrew Hunt pleaded guilty last Friday to robbing drug dealers of cash, cocaine, and personal belongings. He could face up to life in prison, but that's unlikely since he has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. Three other Memphis police officers have already been indicted in the case, and more indictments could be coming, prosecutors warned. Hunt was part of "a gang of corrupt uniformed officers" who ripped off at least 20 drug dealers, prosecutors said. And these guys were really sleazy: In one case, Hunt stole drugs, cash, and a $15,000 watch from one dealer, then told him he could buy his drugs back. When the dealer came up with $9500 in cash, Hunt took the money and kept the drugs.

In Surfside, Florida, police are investigating charges two Surfside police officers conspired to plant drugs in the vehicle of a local civic activist, Miami TV station Local 10 News reported September 7. Two officers, Sgt. John Davis and Officer Woody Brooks, have been suspended after allegedly plotting to plant cocaine in the car of Jay Senter, who had previously tangled with Sgt. Davis over the case of a French couple cited for numerous code violations and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for renting homes in Surfside to vacationers. According to the allegations, Davis and Brooks were overheard plotting to plant the drugs in retaliation for Senter's reporting another officer to the FBI in the code violations case. Interestingly, Surfside Vice Mayor Howard Weinberg told Local 10 the same officers had conspired to arrest him for drunk driving near a local bar and release the dashboard camera video in a bid to embarrass him, but the plot was foiled because he only drinks iced tea when he goes out. Another, anonymous local official told Local 10 Davis was behaving "like a Nazi" toward political opponents.

In Westchester, New York, a Westchester County prison guard was sentenced to probation last week for interfering in a drug investigation, the North Country Gazette reported. Timothy Connolly, 39, pleaded guilty to one count of second degree hindering prosecution and one count of drug possession. He will be under supervision for the next five years. Connolly was arrested during a combined investigation by the Westchester District Attorney Narcotics Initiative (W-DANI), Yonkers Police, New York State Police and Westchester County Department of Correction Special Investigations Unit, and was told to keep his mouth shut about the bust. But he later warned one of the main targets of the investigation he was being watched, told him to "shut down" his cocaine sales operation, and advised him not to use his phone because it was being monitored. Connolly was fired from the Westchester County Department of Correction on September 7, the same day he pleaded guilty.

Pot Crimes May Get Less Attention

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/12/POT.TMP

California "Campaign Against Marijuana Planting" Claims Record Number of Plants Eradicated

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
California Attorney General's Office
URL: 
http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/m-news+article+storyid-15937.html

Harm Reduction: Pittsburgh Needle Exchange Wins Health Board Approval for Continued Operation

Prevention Point Pittsburgh, the sole needle exchange provider in the Pittsburgh area, is one step closer to being allowed to continue to operate after the Allegheny County Board of Health Wednesday approved regulations formalizing its operation. The exchange program had come under attack in April, when county council members questioned its legality in what was in large part a bureaucratic spat between the council and the health board.

"We're incredibly pleased," Renee Cox, executive director of Prevention Point Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday. "All in all, it's worked out well. It does grant us a little more permanency now that we have formal regulations."

It was a bumpy ride, though. After county council members complained in April, the health board in May drafted regulations that would have required people exchanging needles to give their names and other identifying information and would have banned "secondary exchanges," where people pick up needles and then distribute them to others not in the program. The board heard those complaints.

"They restored anonymity of exchangers, which is absolutely fundamental to the operation of the needle exchange," Cox said. "They also allowed for secondary exchange, which will expand the reach of this small program."

The new regulations must still be approved by the county council.

Health Board Okays Needle Exchange

Location: 
Pittsburgh, PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
URL: 
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06250/719683-114.stm

Not Asking the Basic Questions

The North Hunterdon district in Clinton Township in southern New Jersey is debating their substance abuse policy, according to the Courier News. The discussion comes amidst recognition that the school has drug use. Senior Jad Walther think it's on the rise; he told the News that "he sees drugs being sold near lockers or in hallways when teachers aren't around." As is the usual, basic questions are not being asked:
  1. Given that there is not a single drug free high school in the country (an exaggeration, perhaps, but not much of one), will North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School succeed where all others have failed?
  2. Why is it that this one vice among all the others in which humans (including young people) are wont to indulge takes the form of a criminal underground trade literally running out of the school, from the lockers?
  3. If it's so easy for kids to get away with not only using but also selling drugs -- merely waiting until a teacher is not around -- is it realistic to think that further crackdowns will do the trick -- if it's that easy?
  4. Won't the drug selling just move somewhere else if they do crack down inside the schools? Perhaps getting taken over by especially dangerous people in especially dangerous places?
The obvious point that drugs are being sold out of school lockers, by kids to other kids, because they are illegal and only because they are illegal. There is not a major, school-locker-based, criminal trade in alcohol, even though it is illegal for minors (and even though many of the under-age manage to get it). Alcohol abuse is an issue, but it is not a cause of black market violence, of criminal economic conduct inside school buildings, or of temptation through the profit motive to get involved in crime. My recommendation to North Hunterdon is, whatever else they attempt with regards to drug policy, they also enact a resolution calling on Congress and the state of New Jersey to legalize drugs. At a minimum they should start asking the basic questions. Letters to the editor go to: [email protected]
Location: 
Clinton Township, NJ
United States

Rainbow Farm Deaths Remembered: Supporters Mark Fifth Anniversary of Campground Standoff

Location: 
Cassopolis, MI
United States
Publication/Source: 
South Bend Tribune
URL: 
http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060905/News01/609050379

Looking at Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

During the research I did for Friday's feature article on the prisoners doing "Katrina time", two of the of the people I talked to implored to look into the plight of another set of victims of the Louisiana criminal justice system: the "heroin lifers." The "heroin lifers" are a group of prisoners, many now aged, who were arrested under a draconian state law enacted in 1973 that mandated life in prison without parole for the sale of any amount of heroin or possession with intent to sell. Some were released on appeal beginning in the 1980s, but others linger in prison. At this point, I'm a little unclear on the numbers and the exact situation. The tough heroin law may have changed in the 1980s--I'm not sure yet--and the state dramatically reformed its sentencing practices in 2001. So why are the good citizens of Louisiana paying to keep a bunch of non-violent old men on the geriatric ward? I just did an initial Google search, and it revealed very little: Two links to a Louisiana blog that linked to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story that can no longer be found, and a five year old plea on a prison justice mailing list for help in the case of one of the lifers, then 53-year-old Earnest Perique, who was trying to get out after serving 26 years. I'll be looking into this for another feature story next week.
Location: 
United States

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