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DEA Must Pay $3 Million in 2010 Killing of LA Teen

A federal judge Tuesday awarded $3 million to the family of an 18-year-old Los Angeles honors student who was gunned down by undercover DEA agents in a parking garage in 2010. But the judge also ruled the officers were not negligent in their actions.

Zachary Champommier (justiceforazac.blogspot.com)
Zachary Champommier died when he drove into a Studio City shopping center parking lot to meet a friend. Also in the parking lot were a group of undercover officers, including DEA agents and LA County sheriff's deputies and LAPD officers who had been deputized by the DEA.

The cops were discussing a search warrant they had just served when they observed Champommier's friend walking in the parking garage. Suspecting the friend was breaking into cars, they detained him. When Champommier drove up, he saw his friend being accosted by people he didn't know and attempted to drive away from possible trouble.

Officers claimed that Champommier's vehicle struck a deputy as he attempted to leave the scene. Officers opened fire, killing the 18-year-old honor student and "band geek."

Both the DEA and the LA County Sheriff's Department said the shooting was justifiable because Champommier had tried to run down an officer.

"The nature of [Champommier's] aggressive actions, actually hitting the deputy -- that is not someone who is without some degree of fault," Sheriff Lee Baca said shortly after the shooting.

Champommier's mother, Carol, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, charging that federal and local drug enforcement officers were reckless in shooting at her son, who she claimed posed no reasonable threat.

US District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the DEA agents did have reason to believe they were in danger, but acted recklessly in shooting at Champommier's vehicle as it passed them because at that point they were no longer in danger.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

New Hampshire Cops Kill Man Fleeing Drug Sting

An undercover drug bust in a Weare, New Hampshire, shopping mall Wednesday night ended with the target of the bust shot to death as he attempted to flee. The as yet unidentified victim is the 25th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Concord Monitor and a press release from the state attorney general's office, several Weare police officers and two confidential informants were outside Dunkin' Donuts in Lanctot's Plaza on US Highway 114 doing a drug sting on the target, a suspected heroin dealer.

When officers attempted to detain the man, he tried to flee. Two officers then opened fire, wounding the man as he sped off in his vehicle. He made it about one hundred yards before crashing near an ice cream stand along the highway. He was taken by ambulance to a Manchester Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police have not said why they opened fire. They have not claimed that the man was shooting or pointing a gun at them, or even if a weapon was recovered. They have not claimed he was trying to run them over and they feared for their lives. And they have not mentioned the seizure of any drugs.

The attorney general's office said the investigation into the killing was "ongoing."

Weare, NH
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Thuggery in Philly, protecting drug shipments in Houston and Detroit, sticky fingers in Los Angeles, and that's not all. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, five undercover narcotics officers are the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was wrongfully arrested during a drug raid at a friend's auto shop that included acts of police brutality directed at him and others present. Thomas Basara claims the narcs used a battering ram to break down an office door and conduct a search without a search warrant.  The lawsuit says the narcs never identified themselves as police, asked those present "where the money and drugs were hidden," then brutally assaulted them. Office Thomas Liciardello was named as an officer who struck one man with a steel pipe, knocking him unconscious, then kicked him in the mouth so hard his front upper row of teeth were separated from their roots.  He also broke the man's index finger and pointed his service revolver at the man's head, threatening to kill him. Basara claims that officers also beat him, knocking out two of his teeth and causing rib and back injuries, and that the narcs stole $41,000 in cash as drug profits, but only turned in $6,600, keeping $34,400 for themselves. The other officers named in the suit are Brian Reynolds, Brian Speiser, Michael Spicer and Lt. Robert Otto.

In Orange, Texas, a former Orange police officer was arrested last Tuesday after a citizen's complaint that he was stealing prescription pain pills. Taylor Scott Saleme resigned from his position as the complaint was investigated. He had worked as a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy for two years before joining the Orange Police Department last August. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance -- hydrocodone. He has bailed out of jail.

In Washington Park, Illinois, a Washington Park police officer was arrested last Thursday on charges he smuggled drugs to a female jail inmate. Douglas Young, 61, is charged with official misconduct for bringing narcotics and prescription drugs to an inmate of the St. Clair County Jail, where he "used his position as a law enforcement officer" to arrange jail visits to a woman in custody on theft charges. He was being held on $25,000 bail.

In Los Angeles, a former LA County sheriff's narcotics sergeant was arrested Monday on charges he stole $4,000 in cash during a sting set up by his own department. Bonnie Bryant III, 57, took the money in a July 2012 sting set up by the department's criminal internal affairs division. That sting went down after Bryant was caught on a business surveillance camera stealing money during a May 2012 bust. He is charged with one felony count each of grand theft of personal property and embezzlement by a public official. He was a narcotics task force supervisor when arrested and resigned from the department in December. He's looking at up to four years and six months if convicted.

In Houston, two former Houston police officer were convicted last Friday of protecting what they thought were drug shipments in return for bribes. Emerson Canizales, 27, and Michael Miceli, 27, went down after investigators learned they were involved in illegal conduct involving drugs and bribes. Both men acknowledged taking money to protect the drug load. They were convicted of extortion under color of law and face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in September.

In Detroit, a former Highland park police officer was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in prison for agreeing to take money in exchange for delivering a shipment of cocaine. Craig Clayton, 55, was one of four Highland Park officers charged with taking bribes and conspiring to distribute cocaine. Clayton was accused of bringing his badge and gun to protect a shipment, and accepting $1,500 in cash from an FBI informant. He copped to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. Two other officers in the case have pleaded guilty.

One Dead After Charlotte Police Stage Drug Sting on Elementary School Grounds

An undercover drug sting in the parking lot of a Charlotte, North Carolina, elementary school ended up with one person killed and one person wounded, and a community wondering why police chose that particular location for their operation. Jaquaz Walker, 17, becomes the 17th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to reports from WSOC-TV and WBTV 3, police set up a marijuana buy between an undercover police officer, an informant, and two teenagers last Tuesday afternoon. Police said that during the drug deal, Walker pulled a gun and shot the informant in the shoulder in an attempt to rob him.

The undercover police officer then shot Walker in the head, killing him. The teen who accompanied Walker fled, but was arrested later.

"You know, you have 15, 16 year old kids out here wielding firearms, that's a very dangerous situation," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who also defended the decision to do the deal in an elementary school parking lot. "Anytime you conduct an undercover operation, what's a good location? Whether it's a shopping mall or neighborhood, there is no real perfect location."

Monroe also said that school was out and that the site was chosen by Walker and his companion. "This was a location identified by individuals that we were seeking to purchase drugs from," he said. "We were aware that the school was empty of kids."

But residents of the neighborhood where the shooting took place were not mollified.

"It bothers me that I live right across from the school, and it is bad that it was on school grounds," said neighbor Wilmer Bourne. "That's what bothers me so much."

"It's been quiet in this neighborhood, ain't nothing happened over here, everything been good, it's always somebody come in the neighborhood and do this, it ain't nobody in our neighborhood," said resident Johnny Crank.

Charlotte, NC
United States

Undercover Narc Kills Armed Michigan Teen

An undercover Michigan drug task force officer shot and killed a 17-year-old who pulled a weapon and tried to rob him Tuesday afternoon in Southfield, police said. Austin Ryan Thomas becomes the 7th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Detroit Free Press, citing police sources, an as yet unidentified Madison Heights police officer working with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET) was working undercover during an investigation at an apartment complex in Southfield when the teenager pulled a weapon and tried to rob him.

"During the investigation a suspect pulled a weapon on one of the undercover NET officers and placed the weapon to the officer's head in an attempt to rob him," said Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe late Tuesday in a prepared statement.  "The officer pulled his gun and was able to fire shots that struck the suspect."

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Wednesday that undercover agents had twice previously bought cocaine from Thomas. He added that Thomas had entered the undercover agent's unmarked vehicle and was seated in it when shot. The vehicle did not carry surveillance cameras because it was an unmarked vehicle, he said.

 Thomas was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead there. No officers or bystanders were hurt.

The NET task force is comprised of deputies and police officers from 13 Oakland County jurisdictions, along with DEA agents. The police shooter has been placed on paid administrative leave pending a review of the killing.

Southfield, MI
United States

Police Kill Oklahoma City Man in Convenience Store Drug Deal

An undercover police officer shot and killed an Oklahoma City man while attempting to arrest him after observing a suspected drug deal Friday. Marcus Dewayne Patterson, 35, becomes the sixth person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Oklahoman, relying on police accounts, Oklahoma City police were called to a convenience store about noon Friday because of reported "narcotics activity." Officers witnessed a drug deal, and three officers and a supervisor, all in plain clothes, drove unmarked police cars toward Patterson, who was in his car, according to Capt. Dexter Nelson.

Another plain clothes officer, Sgt. Charles Schamel, approached the vehicle on foot from the side and was struck by the car as Patterson attempted to flee the scene. As he rolled over the hood of the car, Schamel fired his weapon.

"That officer then fired on the man in the car, killing him," Nelson said. "A car can be used as a weapon anytime you are standing in front of a car and someone comes toward you."

Schamel was treated at the scene for bumps and bruises.

When investigators examined Patterson's body, they found a 9 mm hand gun tucked into his waistband, but police said he apparently never drew the weapon.

Two men in the car with Patterson were arrested at the scene and charged with felony murder. They got hit with that because police charged they were in the act of committing a felony when Patterson's killing took place.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Look Out, New York, It's Credico For Mayor! [FEATURE]

New York City has earned itself the sobriquet of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World, with tens of thousands of minor pot possession arrests every year -- mostly of young men of color -- generated in good part by the city's equally infamous stop-and-frisk policing, again aimed primarily at the city's young and non-white residents. There's a man running an outsider campaign for the mayor's office there this year who wants to end all that.

Randy Credico during 2010 Senate campaign
Veteran Big Apple civil rights, social justice, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and drug reform activist Randy Credico, who also doubles as a professional comedian, is mounting an insurgent campaign for the Democratic Party mayoral nomination, and he wants to end the city's drug war and a whole lot more, and he wants to do it now.

The inventively funny, yet deadly serious, agitprop artist has an ambitious 17-point program for his first day in office, with promises that range from going after "the biggest criminals in our city" -- the Wall Street bankers -- and reforming the city's tax code to favor the poor to rolling back privatization of city schools and reforming various city agencies.

But just beneath banksters and taxes is a vow to begin reining in the NYPD by firing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (to be replaced with Frank Serpico) and "abolishing the NYPD’s unconstitutional policies of racial profiling, stop and frisk, domestic spying, entrapment, and its infamous (albeit unadmitted) 'quota system.'"

Central to that policing reform plank, Credico says, is reclassifying the smoking and carrying of marijuana as no longer an arrestable offense. He also vows to fire any officer who lies or perjures himself on the stand, and to bar the use of "no-knock" warrants and stun grenades "except in the case of legitimate terrorist attack."

And he wants to replace the city's Special Narcotics Office with a Harm Reduction Office, whose leadership he has offered to Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann. He also vows to shut down the Rikers Island prison and turn it into a treatment center and education facility with a state of the art library, and to nominate law professor Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-blindness, to run it.

That's quite a tall order for a first day in office, but Credico says he's up for it.

"I plan to stay up for 24 hours and get all that stuff done," he told the Chronicle.

Of course, first he has to win the Democratic Party nomination and then win the general election, and that's a pretty tall order, too. There is a bevy of candidates (polling data at the link as well) running for a shot at the prestigious post, and he is facing stiff establishment opposition in the primary, most notably from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the as yet officially undeclared city council Speaker Christine Quinn, who leads the other Democrats in early polls, but is in a close race with "undecided."

The Republican race includes a handful of announced or potential candidates led by former Metropolitan Transit Authority head Joseph Lhota (who still trails "undecided" by a large margin) and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is as yet unannounced. The Libertarians may also field a candidate this year, possibly former "Manhattan madam" and gubernatorial candidate Kristin Davis, and we can't forget the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, either.

"The GOP has a rich guy who just jumped in, and the Democrats have a six-pack of hacks, all getting money from the real estate interests and Wall Street and none of whom will talk about the issues," Credico explained. "The Democrats are all doing the Schumer act -- just talking about the middle class, not the poor, the homeless, the division between the rich and poor, not about drug policy. This city is virtually a police state right now."

Credico has a remedy for that: Elect him.

"I will get rid of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is a combination of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph Fouche, Napoleon's dreaded head of the secret police. Everyone is afraid of him. He's got the Red Squads going; they were infiltrating groups at Occupy Wall Street. Kelly is doing all these joint operations with the feds under the guise of fighting terrorism, and this city is crawling with undercover cops -- FBI, DEA, AFT, all running joint task forces with the NYPD. They've foiled 14 plots, all hatched by the NYPD. Ray Kelly has way too much power," the veteran activist said flatly.

"There is a lot of money not only in the prison industrial complex, but also the police industrial complex," Credico noted. "They have asset forfeiture and lots of new schemes, tons of undercover agents, who are really there to beat up on the black community. They infiltrate, demonize, and destroy lives, and this has to stop."

Credico has been active in the Occupy Wall Street moving, having been arrested five times by the NYPD, but before that, he was active in the city's minority communities for years, working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws with the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice (in between stints flying out to Tulia, Texas, to deal with the bogus mass arrests of black men on drug charges there), and fighting stop-and-frisk. He currently is taking time out of his days to attend hearings in the criminal trial of the NYPD officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in his own bathroom as he was flushing a bag of weed down the toilet.

"I go to every one of the court dates and sit right next to his mother," he said. "This cop invaded Ramarley's house and shot him in the head for weed, but it's not an isolated incident. No cops go to jail for killing a black person, but a spit on a cop and you can go to jail for years. This is just one cop -- and he's like the Lt. Calley of the NYPD. [Editor's Note: Calley was the sole US Army officer convicted of a crime in the Vietnam War My Lai massacre.] It's not an isolated incident; it's the policy, the same policy that killed Ramarley Graham and Sean Bell and Amador Diallou. So many people have been killed by the NYPD, and it's not just the guys on the street; it's a brutal force."

Marijuana could also be a wedge issue for him, Credico said.

"I'm a committed pot smoker, and I think it should be legal, and I'm the only candidate saying it should be legal. Of course, it's up to the state legislature to do that, but I would direct the NYPD not to enforce those laws and particularly not to arrest anyone."

Under current state law, pot possession is decriminalized, but beginning with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD had a policy of turning what should have been tickets for possession into misdemeanors by either reaching in someone's pocket and removing the baggie or intimidating the person into revealing it himself, thus elevating the offense from an infraction to the misdemeanor of "public possession." Under increasing pressure over the tactic, Commissioner Kelly last year issued an order for it to stop, and arrests have declined somewhat, but still remain at unacceptably high levels.

In 2011, there were some 50,000 marijuana possession arrests in the city, nearly 80% of them of people of color. Nearly one-quarter (12,000) were youth aged 16 to 19, and of those, 94% had no prior criminal records.

And it's not just marijuana, Credico said.

"There should be no more prosecutions for drug possession," he said. "They should be going after the real criminals, the guys on Wall Street. They don't have to go up to Harlem and Washington Heights, the real big barracudas are right down here."

The city's criminal justice system is rotten to the core, he said.

"This is like Tulia, this is like the South," he moaned. "The criminal justice system here is a black box where blacks and Latinos go in and disappear into the penal system. The cops are white, the judges are white, the prosecutors are white -- only the Bronx has a rainbow coalition of prosecutors -- the rest are white, and they're going after black people in this city."

Many of those busted ended up in Rikers Island or the Tombs, often after first spending hours or days crammed into precinct holding cells.

"Rikers Island is like Alcatraz for poor people on minor drug offenses," said Credico. "It's all Mickey Mouse; there's no Hannibal Lectors there. They need to turn it into a university for poor people. And no one is talking about the Tombs. I've been there. There are lots of junkies in there going through withdrawals, filthy toilets, people penned in like cattle. No one will talk about that, or about the hundreds of precincts with their holding cells."

Unsurprisingly, Credico doesn't think much of his establishment opposition.

"Christine Quinn is Bloomberg in drag wearing a red wig," he declared, "and de Blasio supported stop-and-frisk. He was also Hillary's hit man when she was running for the Senate, and derailed Grandpa Munster Al Lewis's campaign then."

Lhota, who has recently made noises about legalizing marijuana, "looks like a weed head," Credico snorted. "But I actually smoke it."

Now, Credico has to go through the process of qualifying as a Democratic candidate, smiting his foes within the party, and then taking on the Republican challenger in the general election. His first official campaign task will be to complete a month-long signature-gathering drive in late spring to qualify for the primary.

"I'll be on talk shows -- people all over the place are asking for interviews -- making some ads and some YouTube videos, and they'll be interesting and funny. It will be a very entertaining campaign. We have buttons coming out soon, we have the web site, there are people who will be putting ads in the Nation," he explained.

"Drug reformers are interested in my campaign, and I've got tons of volunteers from the stop-and-frisk campaigns and people from OWS," he said. "I'm getting a lot of attention right now."

Credico, of course, is a long-shot, but even if he doesn't become the next mayor of New York, to the degree that his campaign shines a light on the problems in the city's criminal justice system and forces other candidates to address them, he will be judged a success.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

New York City, NY
United States

First Drug War Death of the Year

[Editor's Note: For the past two years, we have been tracking all reported deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement activity in the US, including the border. We continue to do so this year. If you have information about a death we haven't included, please contact us. Remember, we are only tallying those deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement -- for an example of a close call that didn't make the list, see the latter part of the article below.]

Well, that didn't take long. A Tampa, Florida, man was shot and killed by undercover police officers during a drug sting last Wednesday night. Robert Early Gary, Jr., 31, becomes the first person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement activities this year.

According to our tally, 55 people died in US domestic drug law enforcement operations in 2011 and 63 last year. Read our report on last year's toll here.

Police told the Tampa Bay Tribune Gary was shot and killed by an undercover deputy who was buying drugs when Gary tried to rob him of the money he was carrying. Sheriff's Colonel Donna Lusczynski said the two began fighting and fell down a stairwell. The deputy lost his handgun in the struggle, and as the men fought for the weapon, it discharged several times.

Two backup deputies were nearby. Lusczynski said the deputies told Gary to drop the gun, and when he failed to comply, they shot him.

"They saw the deputy in a fight for his life and they shot the suspect," she said.

The undercover deputy, who remains unnamed, was injured, but not shot. He was evaluated and released at a local hospital Wednesday night.

People at the scene and Gary's relatives took issue with the police account.

"There was no reason to shoot him down," said his stepfather, Dallas Gillyard, outside a nearby home where a crowd of people had gathered. "Was it because of his previous record or the color of his skin?" Gillyard asked.

Gillyard accused the police of lying about what happened. "He wasn't going to rob anybody," Gillyard said. "If he would do anything, he would give you something. If you're going to tell a lie, tell me elephants fly, too," Gillyard said. "Every time (police) kill somebody, it's justified."

In an earlier account, WTSP TV reported that residents of the area, a poor, mixed race neighborhood known colloquially as "Suitcase City," said the killing was just the latest incident of racial profiling in a neighborhood where police harass residents constantly.

"This is a deliberate act. You don't shoot someone six or seven times. It's just not right. It's uncalled for," said one witness.

The three deputies involved have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, which is standard practice when a deputy discharges a weapon.

Five days earlier, police in Philadelphia shot and killed a North Philly man in an incident with distinct drug prohibition overtones even though it doesn't qualify for our tally of killings directly related to drug law enforcement.

According to Philadelphia police, they were investigating an armed robbery when they encountered Darrell Banks, 47, who they said matched the description of the suspect. Banks allegedly took off running, and police claim he pointed at object at them when they tried to stop him. An officer shot him once; he died a short time later at Temple University hospital.

Police didn't find a weapon, but said they recovered "a small amount of drugs" at the scene, which could explain why Banks, who had a previous record that included drug charges, was trying to avoid them.

"He had no gun on him," said Terra Banks, his niece. "He had his cell phone!" She told NBC 10 News he left behind 10 children and six grandchildren. "We want justice," said Terra. "We want the cop who did this to be brought to justice!"

The Philadelphia police Internal Affairs unit is currently investigating the shooting.

In both Tampa and Philadelphia, the dead persons were black males. Black males were also disproportionately represented among the tally of drug war deaths in 2011 and 2012.

Tampa, FL
United States

Who Was Killed in America's Drug War Last Year? [FEATURE]

For the past two years, Drug War Chronicle has been tracking all the US deaths directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement, including the border. You can view the 2011 deaths here and the 2012 deaths here.Soon, we will hand our findings out to criminal justice and other professionals and then issue a report seeking to identify ways to reduce the toll. In the meantime, we can look at the raw numbers from last year and identify some trends.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wendell-allen-200px.jpg
A New Orleans police officer was indicted for killing Wendell Allen during a drug raid in March. (family photo)
Before we begin, though, it's important to note our resource and data limitations, as well as explaining what gets included and what doesn't. We depended largely on Google news alerts for "officer shoots" or "officer kills" and their variations (trooper shoots, deputy shoots, police shoot, etc.) We can't claim that the list is exhaustive -- some initial reports never mention drugs, although they were involved; some others may have slid through the cracks. (Our tally includes several cases where people collapsed and died during or immediately after being arrested; the drug link became apparent only weeks or months later when toxicology reports came back. We could have missed others.)

We also used fairly tight criteria for inclusion. These deaths had to have occurred during drug law enforcement activities. That means people whose deaths may be at least partially blamed more broadly on drug prohibition (overdoses, AIDS and Hepatitis C victims, for example) are not included. Neither are the deaths of people who may have been embittered by previous drug law enforcement operations who later decide to go out in a blaze of glory, nor the deaths of their victims.

It's only people who died because of drug law enforcement. And even that is something of a grey area. One example is traffic stops. Although they ostensibly are aimed at public safety, drug law enforcement is at least a secondary consideration and, sometimes, as in the case of "pretextual stops," the primary consideration, so we include those deaths when it looks appropriate. Another close call was the case of a Michigan father accused of smoking marijuana and reported to Child Protective Services by police. He was shot and killed in a confrontation with police over that issue. We included him even though it was not directly drug law enforcement that got him killed, but the enforcement of child custody orders related to marijuana use. It could be argued either way whether he should not have been included; we decided to include him.

Because we are a small nonprofit with limited resources, we have been unable to follow-up on many of the cases. Every law enforcement-related death is investigated, but those findings are too often unpublished, and we (I) simply lack the resources to track down the results of those investigations. That leaves a lot of questions unanswered -- and some law enforcement agencies and their personnel, and maybe some others, off the hook.

We attempted to provide the date, name, age, race, and gender of each victim, but were unable to do so in every case. We also categorized the type of enforcement activity (search warrant service, traffic stops, undercover buy operations, suspicious activity reports, etc.), whether the victim was armed with a firearm, whether he brandished it, and whether he shot it, as well as whether there was another type of weapon involved (vehicle, knife, sword, etc.) and whether the victim was resisting arrest or attempting to flee. Again, we didn't get all the information in every case.

Here's what we found:

In 2012, 63 people died in the course of US domestic drug law enforcement operations, or one about every six days. Eight of the dead were law enforcement officers; 55 were civilians.

Law Enforcement Deaths

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/officer-victor-soto-velez.jpg
Officer Victor Soto-Velez was ambushed in Camuy, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in June.
Law enforcement deaths began and ended the year. The first drug war death, on January 4, was that of Ogden, Utah, police officer Jared Francom, who was serving on the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force when he was shot and killed during a "knock and enter" SWAT-style raid on a suspected marijuana grower. Five other officers were also shot and wounded, as was the homeowner, Matthew Stewart, who is now charged with his killing and faces a death sentence if convicted.

The last drug war death of the year, on December 14, was that of Memphis police officer Martoiya Lang, who was shot and killed serving a "drug-related search warrant" as part of an organized crime task force. Another officer was wounded, and the shooter, Trevino Williams, has been charged with murder. The homeowner was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

In between Francom and Lang, six other officers perished fighting the drug war. In February, Clay County (Florida) Sheriff's Detective David White was killed in a shootout at a meth lab that also left the suspect dead. In April, Greenland, New Hampshire, Police Chief Michael Maloney was shot in killed in a drug raid that also left four officers wounded. In that case, the shooter and a woman companion were later found dead inside the burnt out home.

In June, Puerto Rican narcotics officer Victor Soto Velez was shot and killed in an ambush as he sat in his car. Less than two months later, Puerto Rican police officer Wilfredo Ramos Nieves was shot and killed as he participated in a drug raid. The shooter was wounded and arrested, and faces murder charges.

Interdicting drugs at the border also proved hazardous. In October, Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie was shot and killed in a friendly fire incident as he and other Border Patrol agents rushed to investigate a tripped sensor near the line. And early last month, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed when a Mexican marijuana smuggling boat rammed his off the Southern California coast. Charges are pending against the smugglers.

Civilian Deaths

Civilian deaths came in three categories: accidental, suicide, and shot by police. Of the 55 civilians who died during drug law enforcement operations, 43 were shot by police. One man committed suicide in a police car, one man committed suicide in his bedroom as police approached, and a man and a woman died in the aftermath of the Greenland, New Hampshire, drug raid mentioned above, either in a mutual suicide pact or as a murder-suicide.

Five people died in police custody after ingesting packages of drugs. They either choked to death or died of drug overdoses. One man died after falling from a balcony while fleeing from police. One man died in an auto accident fleeing police. One Louisville woman, Stephanie Melson, died when the vehicle she was driving was hit by a drug suspect fleeing police in a high-speed chase on city streets.

The Drug War and the Second Amendment

Americans love their guns, and people involved with drugs are no different. Of the 43 people shot and killed by police, 21 were in possession of firearms, and in two cases, it was not clear if they were armed or not. Of those 21, 17 brandished a weapon, or displayed it in a threatening manner. But only 10 people killed by police actually fired their weapon. Merely having a firearm increased the perceived danger to police and the danger of being killed by them.

In a handful of cases, police shot and killed people they thought were going for guns. Jacksonville, Florida, police shot and killed Davinian Williams after he made a "furtive movement" with his hands after being pulled over for driving in a "high drug activity area." A month later, police in Miami shot and killed Sergio Javier Azcuy after stopping the vehicle in which he was a passenger during a cocaine rip-off sting. They saw "a dark shiny object" in his hand. It was a cell phone. There are more examples in the list.

Several people were shot and killed as they confronted police with weapons in their own homes. Some may have been dangerous felons, some may have been homeowners who grabbed a gun when they heard someone breaking into their homes. The most likely case of the latter is that of an unnamed 66-year-old Georgia woman shot and killed by a local drug task doing a "no knock" drug raid at her home. In another case from Georgia, David John Thomas Hammett, 60, was shot and killed when police encountered him in a darkened hallway in his home holding "a black shiny object." It was a can of pepper spray. Neither victim appears to have been the target of police, but they're still dead.

Police have reason to be wary of guns. Of the eight law enforcement officers killed enforcing the drug laws last year, seven were killed by gunfire. But at least 22 unarmed civilians were shot and killed by police, and at least four more were killed despite not having brandished their weapons.

It's Not Just Guns; It's Cars, Too

In at least seven cases, police shot and killed people after their vehicles rammed police cars or as they dragged police officers down the street. It is difficult to believe that all of these people wanted to injure or kill police officers. Many if not most were probably just trying to escape. But police don't seem inclined to guess (which might be understandable if you're being dragged by a moving car.)

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Danielle Misha Willard, a relapsed heroin user, was shot by West Valley, UT police in a parking lot in November. (facebook.com)
Race and Gender

Getting killed in the drug war is mostly a guy thing. Of the 63 people killed, only six were women, including one police officer. One was the Georgia homeowner, another was the Louisville woman driver hit by a fleeing suspect, a third was the unnamed woman who died in the Greenland, New Hampshire raid. Other than the Memphis police officer, only two women were killed because of their drug-related activities.

Getting killed in the drug war is mostly a minority thing too. Of the 55 dead civilians, we do not have a racial identification on eight. Of the remaining 47, 23 were black, 14 were Hispanic, nine were white, and one was Asian. Roughly three out four drug war deaths were of minority members, a figure grossly disproportionate to their share of the population.

Bringing Police to Justice

Many drug war deaths go unnoticed and un-mourned. Others draw protests from friends and family members. Few stir up public outrage, and fewer yet end up with action being taken against police shooters. Of the 55 civilians who died during drug law enforcement activities, charges have been filed against the police shooters in only two particularly egregious cases. Both cases have generated significant public protest.

One is the case of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old black teenager from the Bronx. Graham was chased into his own apartment by undercover NYPD officers conducting drug busts on the street nearby. He ran into his bathroom, where he was apparently trying to flush drugs down the toilet, and was shot and killed by the police officer who followed him there. Graham was unarmed, police have conceded. A small amount of pot was found floating in the toilet bowl. Now, NYPD Officer Richard Haste, the shooter, has been indicted on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, with trial set for this coming spring.

The other case is that of Wendell Allen, 20, a black New Orleans resident. Allen was shot and killed when he appeared on the staircase of a home that was being raided for marijuana sales by New Orleans police. He was unarmed and was not holding anything that could be mistaken for a weapon. Officer Jason Colclough, the shooter, was indicted on manslaughter charges in August after he refused a plea bargain on a negligent homicide charge. When he will go to trial is unclear.

Criminal prosecutions of police shooters, even in egregious cases, is rare. Winning a conviction is even less unlikely. When Lima, Ohio, police officer Joe Chavalia shot and killed unarmed Tanika Wilson, 26, and wounded the baby she was holding in her arms during a SWAT drug raid in 2008, he was the rare police officer to be indicted. But he walked at trial

It doesn't usually work out that way when the tables are turned. Ask Corey Maye, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for killing a police officer who mistakenly entered his duplex during a drug raid even though he argued credibly that he thought police were burglars and he acted in self defense. It took 10 years before Maye was able to first get his death sentence reduced to life, then get his charges reduced to manslaughter, allowing him to leave prison.

Or ask Ryan Frederick, who is currently sitting in prison in Virginia after being convicted of manslaughter in the 2008 death of Chesapeake Det. Jarrod Shivers. Three days after a police informant burglarized Frederick's home, Shivers led a a SWAT team on a no-knock raid. Frederick shot through the door as Shivers attempted to break through it, killing him. He argued that he was acting in self-defense, not knowing what home invaders were on the other side of the door, but in prison he sits.

Both the Graham and the Allen cases came early in the year. Late in 2012, two more cases that would appear to call out for criminal prosecutions of police occurred. No charges have been filed against police so far in either case.

On October 25, undocumented Guatemalan immigrants Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar were shot and killed by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who shot from a helicopter at the pickup truck carrying them as it fled from an attempted traffic stop. Texas authorities said they thought the truck was carrying drugs, but it wasn't -- it was carrying undocumented Guatemalan immigrants who had just crossed the border. Authorities said they sought to disable the truck because it was "traveling at reckless speeds, endangering the public." But the truck was traveling down a dirt road surrounded by grassy fields in an unpopulated area. The Guatemalan consulate and the ACLU of Texas are among those calling for an investigation, and police use of force experts from around the country pronounced themselves stunned at the Texas policy of shooting at vehicles from helicopters. Stay tuned.

Two weeks later, undercover police in West Valley, Utah, shot and killed Danielle Misha Leonard, 21, in the parking lot of an apartment building. Leonard, a native of Vancouver, Washington, had been addicted to heroin and went to Utah to seek treatment. Perhaps it didn't take. Police have been extremely slow to release details on her killing, but she appears to have been unarmed. An undercover police vehicle had boxed her SUV into a parking spot, and the windshield and both side windows had been shattered by gunfire. Later in November, in their latest sparse information release on the case, police said only that she had been shot twice in the head and that they had been attempting to contact her in a drug investigation. Friends and family have set up a Justice for Danielle Willard Facebook page to press for action.

Now, it's a new year, and nobody has been killed in the drug war so far. But this is only day two.

Ohio Cop Kills One in Undercover Bust Gone Bad

Cincinnati Police undercover officers shot and killed one man and wounded another during a drug buy gone bad Wednesday night. Montez Oneal, 19, becomes the 59th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WKRC TV 12 News, acting Police Chief James Whalen said Friday Oneal was driving a car that drove away from two undercover officers who attempted to pull it over after buying heroin from the three men inside. Oneal's vehicle eventually drove into a dead end, when he allegedly put the car in reverse and slammed into the unmarked car carrying the undercover officers. Another Cincinnati police officer in a patrol car then pulled his cruiser beside Oneal's car to try to box him in.

At that point, according to Whalen, one of the men then jumped out of the vehicle, pointed a weapon at the uniformed officer, then fled as the officer fired on him. Whalen said police did not think that suspect had been hit. He remains at large.

Then, Oneal stepped halfway out of his car and fired at the uniformed officer with a .45 caliber handgun. The officer returned fire, striking Oneal multiple times. He died at the scene. A third man in the vehicle, Robert Matthews, 23, who was the target of the investigation, was in the back seat. He was wounded when the officer fired on Oneal, then treated at a local hospital and jailed.

The police shooter, Officer Orlando Smith, has been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation into the shooting.

Cincinnati, OH
United States

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