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Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Slaps Down Asset Forfeiture, No More No-Knocks in Houston, More... (2/20/19)

The Supreme Court reins in civil asset forfeiture, Denver joins cities participating in LEAD, Houston ends undercover no-knock raids in the wake of a fatal encounter, and more.

The US Supreme Court (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland General Assembly Creates Legalization Working Group. In a sign that marijuana legalization isn’t going to happen this year, the General Assembly has created a working group to study the issue. The bipartisan group will make recommendations in December that could be used to help guide bills during the 2020 legislative session.

South Carolina Poll Has Half Supporting Medical Marijuana, Nearly a Quarter for Legalization. A new poll from political strategist Robert Cahaly has support for marijuana legalization at 22.8%, with another 49.7% saying they supported legalizing marijuana "for people suffering illness and with a doctor’s approval."

Hemp

Ohio Hemp Bill Filed. Lawmakers have filed a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, SB 77. The bill would align state law with the framework of the 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp nationwide.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools. A bill that allows medical marijuana to be given to students at public schools passed the Senate on Monday. SB 204 now heads to the House Human Services Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a victory for proponents of civil asset forfeiture reform, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. 

Law Enforcement

Denver Signs on to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. City officials unveiled a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program on Tuesday. The program is designed to connect people accused of low-level drug crimes with support services rather than arresting them. LEAD programs operate in a number of other cities, including Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle. The pilot program is funded through 2020 by a $561,000 grant paid for out of the state's marijuana tax cash fund.

Houston Ends No-Knock Raids in Wake of Fatal Encounter. With few exceptions, Houston undercover officers will no longer conduct no-knock raids. The move comes after four police officers were wounded and a Houston couple killed in a raid that was based on a police officer's lies. "The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Chief Art Acevedo announced during a town hall meeting Monday. 

Watch: Undercover Detroit Narc Squads Brawl As They Try to Arrest Each Other

In a caper right out of the Keystone Cops, two different squads of armed undercover Detroit narcotics officers clashed earlier this month in a buy-bust operation gone badly awry. No one was hurt or seriously injured, so the primary damage is that done to the already tattered reputation of the Detroit police.

Just since the turn of the century, the department labored under a Justice Department consent decree from 2003 to 2016 because of its reputation for excessive force and brutality, thousands of untested rape kits were found in a police warehouse in 2009, two consecutive police chiefs were forced to resign over sex scandals in 2011 and 2012, and six Detroit cops including an assistant police chief were charged last year with extortion and bribery in a scandal around steering towed car business to repair shops.

Still, even Detroit Police Chief James Craig was shaking his head over this latest incident. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Craig said at a news conference called after the clash.

Things went south on the night of November 9, when two officers from the 12th Precinct were posing as drug dealers in order to arrest would-be buyers. Two potential customers showed up, but they turned out to be undercover officers from the 11th Precinct out to bust drug dealers.

And those 11th Precinct narcs had backup and a search warrant waiting for once the buy went down. That's "when it started to go horribly wrong," Craig said.

Body camera video shows the two groups of cops shouting, shoving, and throwing punches at each other.

"They appeared to be like Keystone cops," Craig said of his narc squads.

The department is undertaking an internal investigation into what went wrong. Two officers accused of punching each other have been placed on restrictive duty and a supervisor has been reassigned out of special operations pending the outcome of the departmental investigation. Wayne County prosecutors are also taking a look to see if criminal charges will be filed.

There is good reason to take this police screw-up seriously. It should call into question Detroit police tactics, especially aggressive drug law enforcement, as well as police procedures that allowed the mishap to occur in the first place.

But there's another reason, too: These kinds of screw-ups get cops killed. In 1986, Detroit Police Officers Giacomo Buffa and Mark Radden were killed when Buffa and his partner, both in plainclothes, were doing a drug raid at a home and Radden and his partner, also in plainclothes, responded to a report of shots fired at the home. Both officers died in a hail of friendly fire.

Here you can see Detroit's finest at less than their finest:

Four White Louisiana Narcs Choked This Young Black Man to Death in a Low-Level Drug Bust

New Orleans resident Keeven Robinson, 22, died after being arrested by Jefferson Parish narcotics officers last week. Police originally tried to blame his death on asthma, but now the Jefferson Parish coroner is telling a very different tale.

Keeven Robinson (Demone Robinson)
At a press conference Monday, Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich laid out what initial autopsy results uncovered: "Our initial autopsy findings reveal significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck," he said. "These findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia. We are confident that at the end of our process, this is going to be the cause of death. Regarding manner of death, at this point, manner of death is homicide."

Cvitanovich was quick to point out that when he said "homicide," he did not mean in the legal sense, but in the sense that Robinson died as a result of the actions of others.

According to the sheriff's office, four undercover narcotics deputies, who Sheriff Joe Lopinto did not name but identified as white, were surveilling Robinson, a black man, as part of a drug dealing investigation and followed him to a gas station on Jefferson Highway late last Thursday morning.

When Robinson noticed the agents, who wore badges, approaching him, he attempted to drive off, but jumped from his car about a block away after running into two sheriff's vehicles. The narcs pursued Robinson in a foot chase as he leaped over fences before catching him in the back yard of a residence.

Again, according to the sheriff's office, the deputies then struggled with Robinson, who was carrying what they suspected to be heroin, before they managed to handcuff him. At that point, he stopped breathing. He was rushed to Oshsner Medical Center nearby, but died there.

Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies do not wear body cams.

Robinson was not armed, though Sheriff Lopinto said a gun was found in his car.

Lopinto originally said investigators were looking into whether Robinson's history of asthma contributed to his death, but his family immediately expressed skepticism about that possibility. They said they feared the narcs had either beaten or strangled him to death.

And the coroner's report is proving them correct. Jefferson Parish NAACP President Gaylor Spiller said she was pleased the coroner's office issued a ruling on Robinson's death so quickly and that "there was no cover up."

But Spiller was speaking prematurely. The investigation into the killing of Keeven Robinson is just getting started, and the inevitable finding that no one is criminally responsible is still months away. Call me cynical , or call me a student of what happens when police kill people.

In this case, an unarmed black drug suspect was choked to death by four white narcs. Who wants to bet on any of them being charged with a crime?

2016: People Still Killed in US Drug War at the Rate of One a Week [FEATURE]

With 2016 now behind us, it's time for some year-end accounting, and when it comes to fatalities related to drug law enforcement, that accounting means tallying up the bodies. The good news is that drug war deaths are down slightly from last year; the bad news is that people are still being killed at the rate of about once a week, as has been the norm in recent years. There were 49 people killed in the drug war last year.

This is the sixth year that Drug War Chronicle has tallied drug war deaths. There were 54 in 2011, 63 in 2012, 41 in 2013, 39 in 2014, and 56 in 2015, That's an average of just a hair under one a week during the past six years.

The Chronicle's tally only include deaths directly related to US domestic drug law enforcement operations -- full-fledged, door-busting, pre-dawn SWAT raids, to traffic stops turned drug busts, to police buy-bust operations. Some of the deaths are by misadventure, not gunshot, including several people who died after ingesting drugs in a bid to avoid getting busted and two law enforcement officers who separately dropped dead while.

Many of those killed either brandished a weapon or actually shot at police officers, demonstrating once again that attempting to enforce drug prohibition in a society rife with weapons is a recipe for trouble. Some of those were homeowners wielding weapons against middle-of-the-night intruders who they may or may not have known were police.

But numerous others were killed in their vehicles by police who claimed suspects were trying to run them down and feared for their lives when they opened fire. Could those people have been merely trying to flee from the cops? Or were they really ready to kill police to go to avoid going to jail on a drug charge?

Which is not to understate the dangers to police enforcing the drug laws. The drug war took the lives of four police officers last year, one in a shootout with a suspect, one in an undercover drug buy gone bad, one while doing a drug interdiction training exercise at a bus station, and one while engaged in a nighttime drug raid over a single syringe. That's about par for the course; over the six years the Chronicle has been keeping count about one cop gets killed for every 10 dead civilians.

Here are December's drug war deaths:

On December 7, in Dallas, Texas, Keelan Charles Murray, 37, shot and killed himself as local police operating as part of a DEA drug task force attempted to arrest him for receiving a package of synthetic opioids. Police said they were clearing the apartment when they heard a gunshot from upstairs. A Duncanville police officer then shot Murray in the shoulder, and Murray then turned his own gun on himself. Murray was locally notorious for having sold heroin to former Dallas Cowboy football player Matt Tuinei, who overdosed on it and died in 199. Dallas Police are investigating.

On December 11, in White Hall, West Virginia, Marion County police attempting to serve a drug arrest warrant shot and killed Randy Lee Cumberledge, 39, in the parking lot of the local Walmart. Police said they spotted Cumberledge's vehicle, but when they approached and ordered him to show his hands, he put his vehicle into gear and "drove aggressively" toward a deputy. Both the deputy and a White Hall police officer opened fire, killing Cumberland. There was no mention of any firearms recovered. The West Virginia State Police are investigating.

On December 12, in Byron, Georgia, member of a Peach County Drug Task Force SWAT team shot and killed Rainer Smith, 31, when he allegedly opened fire on them with a shotgun as they forced their way into his home to arrest him. Smith wounded two Byron police officers before return fire from police killed him. Police said no one answered the door when they arrived, so they forced their way in, and were immediately met by gunfire. Smith's live-in girlfriend and infant daughter were in the home with him. They were uninjured. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating.

On December 21, in Knox, Indiana, Knox Police shot and killed William Newman, 46, as they attempted to arrest him for possession of methamphetamine, failure to appear for dealing meth, and violating parole. Police said Knox attempted to flee, almost running down an officer, and they opened fire. He died in a local hospital hours later. The Indiana State Police are investigating.

Seven More Drug War Deaths

When police in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in September in an incident that began when they spotting him rolling a joint in his car, the city was shaken by angry protests. Part of it was that he was another black man gunned down by police; part of it was undoubtedly because video taken by Scott's wife as her husband was killed went viral.

Most drug war-related deaths don't get so much attention, but they happen with depressing regularity. The Drug War Chronicle has been tallying them since 2011, and throughout that period, drug war deaths have remained fairly constant, averaging about one a week throughout that period.

The good news is that this year it looks like we're not going to reach that one a week threshold. The bad news is we're still going to get close. With less than a month to go, the Chronicle's tally this year has reached 45.

Here are the seven people killed by police enforcing drug laws since the Scott killing. At least three of them were killed as they attempted to flee police in their vehicles, including one where a bystander video shows police opening fire after he posed no obvious immediate danger to police.

On September 27 in Phoenix, Arizona, a Phoenix police officer shot and wounded John Ethan Carpenter, 26, who died of his wounds a week later. Police were tailing Carpenter as part of a drug investigation and had arranged a drug deal with him. He pulled up to a convenience store parking lot next to an undercover cop who was part of the investigation, and other officers then blocked his vehicle in with a marked police cruiser. When officers approached on foot, Carpenter reportedly pulled a hand gun and pointed it at them. When they retreated, he put his vehicle in reverse, ramming the police cruiser, and the undercover narc then "feared for the safety of his fellow officers" and opened fire. Drugs were found in the vehicle. Carpentier had previously done prison time for aggravated assault and drug paraphernalia (!?).

On October 19, in Willoughby, Ohio, a Willoughby police officer shot and killed Frank Sandor, 38, as he attempted to speed away from two officers questioning him in the parking lot of a Lowe's Home Improvement store. Sandor was wanted on drugs and escape warrants and first gave officers false information when they stopped him, then put his vehicle in reverse, striking a police motorcycle parked behind him before driving off. A YouTube video posted shortly after the incident shows the motorcycle officer shooting three times at Sandor's vehicle as it fled -- after the officer was no longer in any immediate danger. That video showed the officer limping after he fired the shots. Sandor's vehicle rolled to a halt a few yards away. The Ohio Bureau of Investigation is conducting the investigation of the shooting.

On October 25, in Elkton, Maryland, state police attempting to serve a Delaware drugs and guns arrest warrant at a local motel shot and killed Brandon Jones and Chelsea Porter, both 25, when, instead of surrendering to the dozens of police surrounding the motel, they came out of their motel room with guns pointed at police. Jones came out first, refused demands to drop the weapon, and was shot. Then Porter did the same thing. The shooting will be investigated by Maryland State Police, as is protocol when any police action results in a death.

On November 3, in Salisbury, North Carolina, a member of the Salisbury Police's SWAT-style Special Response Team shot and killed Ferguson Laurent, 23, as the team executed a "no-knock" search warrant looking for drugs, guns, and stolen property. "One subject fired at least one shot at the officers," said an official statement from the department. "Officers returned fire and struck the subject who has since passed away at the hospital." The officer who shot Laurent was identified as K. Boehm. Boehm shot and killed another suspect in 2008; that killing was found to be justified. Word of the killing spread rapidly and a "tense" crowd gathered at the scene, leading Police Chief Jerry Stokes to warn that while people had a First Amendment right to protest, "if you start becoming violent and damaging property, then that is the problem." The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.

On November 15, in Webster, Texas, members of the nearby Alvin Police Department Street Crimes Unit shot and killed Robert Daffern, 37, after locating the wanted drug felon at a motel. Police said they approached Daffern, but that he didn't comply with commands to surrender and instead brandished a pistol and aimed at one of the officers. The Alvin Police investigators then fired several rounds, leaving Daffern dead at the scene. Police found a second pistol in his pocket, and a "significant amount" of drugs and cash. The incident is being investigated by the Webster Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney's office and will be reviewed by a grand jury.

On November 28, in Hickory, North Carolina, a Catawba County sheriff's deputy with the narcotics division shot and killed Irecas Valentine, 41, during a "narcotics investigation." The sheriff's office said "an altercation occurred involving the unidentified suspect's vehicle and an undercover deputy's vehicle" and "shots were then fired by at least one deputy." Valentine died after being transported to a local hospital. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the case.

The Charlotte Killing That Sparked Civic Unrest Began With a Joint

The chain of events that led to the death of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of Charlotte Metropolitan Police Department (CMPD) officers and days of civic unrest in North Carolina's largest city began with a joint, Charlotte police said Saturday.

the fateful, fatal joint (CMPD)
That makes Scott the 38th person to die in domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In an official statement posted on the CMPD's Facebook page and during a press conference last Saturday afternoon announcing that the department was releasing some police body- and dash-cam videos of the fatal encounter, Charlotte police laid out a timeline of what occurred:

Two plain clothes officers were sitting inside of their unmarked police vehicle preparing to serve an arrest warrant in the parking lot of The Village at College Downs, when a white SUV pulled in and parked beside of them.

The officers observed the driver, later identified as Mr. Keith Lamont Scott, rolling what they believed to be a marijuana "blunt." Officers did not consider Mr. Scott's drug activity to be a priority at the time and they resumed the warrant operation. A short time later, Officer Vinson observed Mr. Scott hold a gun up.

Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott being in possession of the gun.

Due to the combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession, officers decided to take enforcement action for public safety concerns…

And Keith Scott ended up dead. According to his family, he was in his vehicle waiting for his son to get off the school bus. But because he was rolling a joint while waiting, and because police just happened to be engaged in an operation nearby, he caught the attention of the cops.

Even when police said they saw him hold up a gun, they used the joint-rolling as probable cause to investigate the presence of the gun. If not for marijuana prohibition, the whole unraveling of events, with dire consequences for Keith Scott, and lamentable ones for the city of Charlotte, most likely would never have occurred.

Charlotte, NC
United States

A Long Hot Summer of Drug War Deaths [FEATURE]

The killing of a young, black, unarmed Tampa man by a SWAT team that raided his home in an operation that turned up two grams of marijuana has sparked angry protests last week, including demonstrations last Thursday where people damaged vehicles, lit fires, and threw trash at police, leaving five people arrested and a community outraged.

Levonia Riggins. Unarmed, killed in his bedroom in a raid that netted two grams of weed. (family photo)
Levonia Riggins was shot and killed in his bedroom by Deputy Caleb Johnson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as the SWAT team executed a search warrant based on purchases of marijuana from Riggins by undercover officers earlier this summer. Police said they used the SWAT team because they had found guns in the house a year earlier.

When deputies arrived, they broke through a window and found Riggins in bed. "Mr. Riggins then jumped up and moved his hands toward his waistband," a police spokesman explained. Johnson then fired, killing Riggins in what police called "a split-second decision." The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is now investigating the killing, as is a sheriff's internal team.

Riggins was only the last person to be killed in drug law enforcement operations this summer that left 10 other people dead in separate incidents, including a Tennessee police officer. According to the Drug War Chronicle, which has been tracking such deaths since 2011, the year's drug war death toll now stands at 33.

That's a rate of about one a week, a rate that has held constant throughout the five years the Chronicle has been counting. Also consistent is the ratio of civilians killed to police officers killed. It has been running at about 10:1 over the five-year period, and with three officers killed so far this year, that ratio is being maintained.

Here are the rest of the summer's drug war victims and the circumstances of their deaths:

On August 18, in Apache Junction, Arizona, a Maricopa County sheriff's SWAT Team member shot and killed Larry Eugene Kurtley, Jr., 53, as the SWAT team attempted to take him into custody on drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons charges. A woman who left the residence as police arrived told them he could be armed, and the SWAT team then began to negotiate his surrender, police said. But Kurtley refused to come out, so police fired tear gas into the home. When he emerged from the house, he was armed, police said, and one of the SWAT deputies opened fire, killing him. Kurtley had served multiple prison sentences dating back to the 1990s. The Pinal County Attorney's Office and the sheriff's office professional standards bureau are investigating.

On August 16, just outside Augusta, West Virginia, a sheriff's deputy shot and killed John O'Handley, 55, of Yellow Springs as he reportedly grabbed the deputy's gun while being transported to jail after being arrested on methamphetamine and other charges. Deputies had originally gone to O'Handley's residence in search of a stolen motorcycle, but discovered an active meth lab in the home, as well as homemade bombs and stolen property. O'Handley allegedly reached between the front seats of the police car and grabbed the arresting deputy's gun. "A struggle then ensued," and the deputy fired one shot, striking O'Handley in the head and killing him. The shooting is being investigated by the West Virginia State Police.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier. Killled during an undercover drug buy. (tn.gov/tbi)
On August 9, in Jackson, Tennessee, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy. Special Agent De'Greaun Frazier, 35,was assisting Jackson Metro Narcotics and was in the front seat of a vehicle when the man he was supposed to buy drugs from instead tried to rob him, shooting him from the back seat. That man, Brendan Burns, has now been charged with murder in his death. Frazier had earlier served on a DEA task force while working at the Millington Police Department.

On August 9, in Los Angeles, LAPD officers in Boyle Heights shot and killed Jesse Romero, 14, as he fled from them while they investigated a report of possible "gang writings" and drug activity. According to the LAPD account, Romero and another youth split up and took off running when police arrived, and a witness saw Romero shoot a handgun toward pursuing officers. One officer returned fire, striking and killing Romero. But another witness said she saw Romero pull a gun from his basketball shorts as he ran, then toss it toward a fence. The gun fired when it fell to the ground after hitting the fence, startling Romero. "He didn't shoot," she said. Police recovered an old revolver, but it is unclear how near it was to Romero's body. The officers involved were wearing body cameras, but under LAPD policy that footage is only released to the officers involved before they make an initial statement -- not to the public. The ACLU of Southern California released a statement saying it was "particularly concerned" about Romero's death and criticizing LAPD's body camera policies.

On July 7, in Clovis, California, Clovis Police serving an arrest warrant on narcotics and related charges shot and killed Adam Smith, 33, as he attempted to flee in his vehicle. Police and his girlfriend's family lured him to the family residence, but he and his girlfriend tried to escape, jumping in his van in an alley. According to police, when they confronted the pair in the alley, the girlfriend jumped out of the van, Smith slammed it into reverse, nearly hitting her, then accelerated his vehicle toward the officers. Two of the three offices opened fire, fatally wounding Smith. He was not named in initial reports, but was later identified. In another report, an acquaintance said Smith was on heroin and had repeatedly said they he would die in a "suicide by cop," especially when he was on heroin.

Street meorial for 14-year-old Jesse Romero. (scpr.org)
On June 30, in Douglas, Wyoming, a US marshal shot and killed Jasen Scott Ramirez, 44, in the parking lot of a Catholic Church as he was leaving his father's funeral. The federal agents were seeking Ramirez to serve an arrest warrant on methamphetamine and weapons charges. Local police called to the scene after the shooting discovered 3.5 ounces of meth and two pistols in the vehicle he was driving, but it's unclear to whom the car, the guns, or the drugs belonged. It's also unclear whether Ramirez was brandishing or reaching for a weapon when he was shot and killed. The US Marshals Service has issued only a one-paragraph statement, short on details, including the name of the marshal who pulled the trigger. The agency said it would not be saying more until all investigations into the incident are concluded, including one by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. After the killing, an unconfirmed death threat was made against law enforcement, prompting authorities to temporarily lock down the county courthouse, city hall, and the hospital where Ramirez died.

On June 16, in Westminster, Colorado, a Westminster police officer shot and killed Nicholas Damon, 30, after Damon allegedly dragged the officer and ran over him with his car. Police were attempting to arrest Damon on outstanding drug and assault warrants when he hopped into his car and attempted to flee the scene. The officer involved was briefly hospitalized with "non-life threatening injuries." The killing is being reviewed by an Adams County special investigatory team.

On June 14, in Chula Vista, California, an undercover ICE agent shot and killed Fernando Geovanni Llanez, 22, as agents met with a half-dozen suspected marijuana traffickers in an apparent buy-bust deal at an Eastlake-area strip mall. The agent was part of the Homeland Security Investigations Operation Alliance drug task force, and the agency said Llanez attacked him in what could have been a robbery attempt. The agent fired several times, fatally wounding Llanez. His five companions fled, but were all chased down and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, conspiracy, and suspicion of robbery. Chula Vista police declined to confirm that it was an undercover operation and would not say if any cash or drugs were seized. There was no mention of any weapon.

On June 8, in Kansas City, Missouri, members of a DEA task force executing a search warrant shot and killed Carlos Garcia, 43, after he fired at officers from inside the house and then refused to exit, leading to an hours-long standoff. Finally, after police shot tear gas into the house, Garcia ran out the back door of the residence aiming his rifle at officers, police said. Task force members then opened fire on Garcia, killing him in the back yard.

On June 7, in Turlock, California, two Modesto police officers who were members of the Stanislaus County Drug Enforcement Agency "involved in a narcotics investigation" shot and killed Omar Villagomez after the vehicle he was driving collided with unmarked police vehicles as they attempted to arrest him. The passenger in the vehicle was not shot, but was injured by debris from the collision. He was charged with suspicion of meth possession with intent to sell, transportation of meth, possession of a controlled substance while armed, and possession of a loaded and concealed firearm.

May Was a Bad Month for Drug War Deaths

At least seven people were killed by police doing drug law enforcement last month. Four were armed and two of them engaged in shootouts with police. Two were killed by police after vehicle chases where police claimed they were trying to run them over. One was killed during a physical struggle with police.

Four of the victims were white, two were black, and one was a Pacific Islander. The ethnicity of one -- Eugene Smith -- remains undetermined.

May's drug war killings bring Drug War Chronicle's count of drug law enforcement-related deaths this year to 21. The Chronicle has been tallying such deaths since 2011, and they have occurred at a rate of roughly one a week over that period. The Chronicle's count includes only people (police and civilians) who died as a direct result of drug law enforcement activities, not, for example, people who died in conflicts between drug sellers or people who died because they ingested bad drugs.

In May, drug war deaths occurred at a rate nearly twice the five-year average. The seven killings in May accounted for one-third of the killings tallied so far this year. Let's hope last month was an aberration and not a harbinger of a long, hot summer.

It's worth emphasizing that more than half the people killed last month were carrying firearms, and two of them turned them on police. Attempting to enforce widely-flouted drug prohibition laws in a society as heavily armed as this one is a recipe for violent encounters, as we saw last month. When the war on drugs intersects with the Second Amendment, the bullets fly.

Our count here also includes two deaths in March and one in April that had not yet been added to our tally.

Here are the latest drug war deaths:

On March 14, in Chicago, police investigating "possible narcotics activity" shot and killed Lamar Harris, 29, during a shoot-out in which three officers were also struck and wounded. When the cops approached Harris, he took off running through a dimly lit courtyard in the Homan Square neighborhood before reportedly turning and firing, hitting one officer in the back, one in the foot, and another in the chest. At least one officer returned fire, killing Harris.

On March 22, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a Fredericksburg police officer shot and killed Travis Blair, 33, after he fled the officer's effort to pick him up for missing a court date on a drug possession charge. Officer Christopher Brossmer pulled Blair over, but Blair then drove away, dragging Brossmer with him before fleeing on foot after crashing in a ditch. A foot pursuit ensued, which ended with Brossmer shooting Blair in the leg as the pair struggled on the ground. Blair was hospitalized, but died five hours later. Police made no mention of a weapon being found, but they did find five packets of heroin inside a Marlboro package. Brossmer was later absolved of any criminal liability in the shooting.

On April 30, near Spanish Fork, Utah, a Utah County sheriff's deputy attempting to arrest Mark Daniel Bess on drug-related felony and misdemeanor warrants and a traffic-related warrant shot and killed him after he allegedly charged the officer with a knife. Police said Bess had fled from the deputy, but was found hiding behind a barn at a nearby residence. The deputy said Bess refused repeated commands to drop the knife and get on the ground and instead charged at him. The deputy fired at least two shots when Bess was 10 to 15 feet away, striking him in the head and body. He died at a local hospital hours later. He had been wanted for failure to appear in felony heroin possession case and failure to appear in another case where police caught him preparing to inject on the sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City.

On May 1, in Alamo, Tennessee, police finishing up a 3 AM drug raid at a private residence shot and killed Army veteran Ronald Branch, 28, when he arrived at the home carrying "multiple handguns." Two Crockett County opened fire on Branch, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Police said Branch knew the homeowner, but they didn't know why he went to the house. The homeowner wasn't home, but police arrested another man on drug, drug paraphernalia, and marijuana possession charges. The officers involved were placed on administrative leave pending a review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

On May 5, in Gretna, Louisiana, police chasing a man who fled from them in a vehicle shot and killed Corey DiGiovanni, 36, who was the target of an ongoing heroin distribution investigation. DiGiovanni spotted narcotics officers outside a residence in Gretna and took off in his pick-up truck, leading police on a high-speed chase through the city. Police said they opened fire on him after he rammed several police cars and accelerated toward officers at an intersection.

On May 9, in St. Martin, Mississippi, police called to a Ramada Inn to investigate "possible drug activity" in a guest room shot and killed Christian Bowman, 23, after he became "aggressively combative" toward a deputy on the scene. One of the two deputies on the scene then shot him in the chest, killing him. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident.

On May 11, in San Diego, police shot and killed Thongsoune Vilaysane, 30, at the end of a car chase that began when officers investigating drug and weapons activity at a Pagel Place residence followed the car he was driving as it left the home. Police learned it had been reported stolen and pursued the driver during a short pursuit before he crashed into a parked car. Police said officers with guns drawn ordered Vilaysane to get out of the car, but he instead put it in reverse, nearly striking two officers, police said. "In defense of their (lives), four officers fired multiple rounds at the driver to stop the threat of the moving vehicle," Homicide Lt. Manny Del Toro explained in a statement. He was hit multiple times and died at the scene. The officers were wearing body cams, and San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis has announced the videos will be released to the public after her office reviews whether the shooting was legally justified.

On May 19, in Miami, gang unit detectives on a narcotics investigation shot and killed Kentrill Williams, 22, after he allegedly grabbed a gun from his waistband. Williams was shot by Detective George Eugene. He died at a nearby hospital.

On May 24, in Park Forest, Illinois, FBI agents serving a search and arrest warrant on a high-ranking member of the Black P Stone Nation gang found him dead inside the home after a shoot-out that left two agents wounded. Melvin Toran, 50, committed suicide after the shoot-out, the medical examiner said. The raid was part of a federal sweep targeting drug trafficking by members of the Black P Stone Nation.

On May 26, in St. Paul, Minnesota, police doing a drug investigation at a residence shot and killed Eugene Smith, 29, after he allegedly fired at them from a bedroom. Police had been called to the home a week earlier on a drug complaint and had found meth, marijuana, and a rifle. When they returned the following week, they said Smith opened fire on them after they shot and killed a pit bull in the house. Smith died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Chronicle AM: MD MedMJ Delay, Ohio's Bad "Good Samaritan" Bill, No RI Referendum, More... (5/17/16)

Another New England legislature fails to act on pot legalization, Maryland's long-awaited medical marijuana program is again delayed, Wisconsin's GOP attorney general wants all employers to drug test their workers, and more.

No medical marijuana for Maryland patients for at least another year. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Chances Fade for Rhode Island Referendum on Pot Policy. For six years, marijuana legalization bills have failed to even get a vote in the legislature. This year is no exception. There has been some talk of a non-binding referendum to plumb public sentiment on the issue, but it now looks like even that is going nowhere. "A referendum on this year's ballot is unlikely," House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told The Providence Journal in an email Monday. "I am keeping an open mind on the issue and will continue to analyze it over the summer and fall."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Announces Continuing Delays in Implementing Program. The commission, which is charged with establishing the state's medical marijuana program, announced Tuesday yet another delay in getting the program up and running. The state approved medical marijuana more than two years ago, in April 2014, making this one of the slowest roll-outs yet. The commission now says patients probably won't have access to medical marijuana until the late summer of 2017.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Attorney General Wants Every Workplace to Test for Prescription Drugs. Attorney General Brad Schimel (R), championing his Dose of Reality program aimed a prescription opioid use, has called on all employers in the state to institute drug testing programs. "We have 163,000 in Wisconsin abusing opiates in some manner. We need to get them help," Schimel said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Legislature Considers 911 "Bad" Samaritan Law That Could Increase Overdose Deaths. As early as Wednesday, the Ohio Senate could consider a bill, House Bill 110, that was originally designed to save lives but has been amended so badly it could do more harm than good. The original bill was modeled after laws in more than 30 states known as 911 Good Samaritan laws that provide people who call 911 to report drug overdose immunity from arrest for drug possession. The Ohio bill, which some are calling a 911 "Bad" Samaritan law, was amended in committee in ways that would make people less likely to call 911; health experts warn people could die as a result. The bill would limit the number of times people could get immunity from prosecution for reporting an overdose and it requires medical providers to give patient information to police.

Law Enforcement

Texas Trucking Company Owner Asks Supreme Court to Hear Case Against DEA. The owner of trucking company whose semi was used without permission by DEA agents in a failed Zetas sting that left the driver dead wants the US Supreme Court to take up his case. Craig Patty, the owner, had filed a $6.4 million lawsuit for damages in the 2011 incident, which led to a wild shoot-out in northwest Houston. A New Orleans-based appeals court throw out his case in March; now, Patty wants it reinstated. A Patty employee working as a DEA informer took the truck to the Mexican border, then drove a load of Zetas marijuana to Houston, where DEA and local police would swoop in and make arrests, but the truck was attacked before the bust could go down.

Chronicle AM: NYPD Targets Addicts for Felony Dealing Busts, DC Cannabis Club Ban, More... (4/5/16)

Bernie talks pot in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh is a mayor's signature away from pot decriminalization, the DC city council votes to ban social consumption, NYPD narcs are targeting street addicts for felony trafficking busts, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Talks Marijuana Legalization in Final Wisconsin Speech. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders sought to win votes in Wisconsin Sunday night by not only hitting his standard themes of economic inequity, but also emphasizing his progressive marijuana and drug policy approach, including removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. "Today, under the Federal Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is listed as a schedule one drug alongside of heroin," said Sanders. "Now we can argue when scientists do the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but everyone knows marijuana is not a killer drug like heroin." The Vermont senator also addressed racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement: "(Criminalization of marijuana) becomes a racial issue as well, because it turns out that blacks and whites smoke marijuana at equal levels," Sanders said. "Blacks are four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than are whites."

Pittsburgh Council Approves Decriminalization. The city council voted 8-1 Tuesday to make small-time marijuana possession a summary offense rather than the misdemeanor mandated by state law. Mayor Bill Peduto now has 10 days to sign the ordinance. Possession of small amounts will now be punishable by a $25 fine, with a $100 fine for smoking in public.

DC Council Votes to Ban Marijuana Social Clubs. The council voted 7-6 Tuesday to uphold a ban on marijuana consumption outside of private homes, making the ban permanent. The move is a reversal from the council's earlier position, which was to enact a temporary ban and set up a task force to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Reform Groups Call for Hearings on CARERS Act. The Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, and the National Cannabis Industry Association have all issued calls for the US Senate to take up the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 683), which would protect state-legal medical marijuana activities from federal interference. The bill, filed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than a year. Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has refused so far to let it move.

Oklahoma CBD Bill Advances. Last year, the legislature approved a bill allowing children with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oils, and now it is moving to allow adults to use it as well. A Senate committee approved House Bill 2835, which would remove the age restriction. The measure has already passed the House and awaits a Senate floor vote.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Is Busting Low-Level Addicts for Small-Time Drug Sales, But Ignoring Dealers. The NYPD is using undercover narcotics officers to seek out drug addicts, ask them for help in scoring drugs, give them money to make the buy, and then arresting them on felony drug trafficking charges. The narcs didn't even bother to go after the dealers the small-time addicts were scoring from, the New York Times reports. Last year, nearly 5,000 people were charged with dealing small quantities of heroin or cocaine.

International

Europe Spends $27 Billion a Year on Illicit Drugs, Monitoring Agency Says. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said in a report Tuesday that EU citizens shell out about $27 billion for illicit drugs each year."Illicit drug production and trafficking remains one of the largest and most innovative criminal markets in Europe," Europol director Rob Wainwright said in a statement.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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