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Law Enforcement: Atlanta Police Change Policies in Wake of Fatal Drug Raid

The Atlanta Police Department has announced a series of policy changes in the wake of a botched November drug raid that left a 92-year-old woman dead and three undercover officers wounded. According to Chief Richard Pennington, the changes are necessary to protect both citizens and officers in cases where police are relying on informants.

In the November raid in which Kathryn Johnston was shot and killed after opening fire on undercover officers breaking down her door, police said a confidential informant led them to the home. The man police named as the informant has since denied leading them there and has said police asked him to lie about it after the raid occurred.

Fulton County prosecutors have said they will pursue murder indictments against the officers involved. The FBI is also investigating.

"I think a lot of times, some of these things could have been avoided" had the new reforms been in place, Pennington told a downtown press conference Tuesday.

While the federal investigation continues, Pennington said the department would not wait to implement reforms. "We're going to wait for the FBI investigation, but I thought it was incumbent on us to see what we can do to ensure this is not going to happen again," he said.

Pennington said the department would nearly double the size of its narcotics unit, from 16 to 30 officers, and will rotate them off the drug squad every few years to prevent complacency. [Editor: They're increasing the size of the unit after they killed a 92-year old woman?!?!? Doubling it?!?!?!?!?!?] The department will also drug test all 1,800 of its officers.

More to the point, Pennington announced that all applications for "no-knock" warrants, like that obtained in the Johnston case, must now be approved by officers with the rank of major or higher. Applications for regular search warrants must now be approved by an officer with the rank of lieutenant or higher. Previously, lower ranking officers could approve "no-knock" warrants and drug raids.

Also, police supervisors must now witness any payments to confidential informants, and informants must now undergo "integrity checks" to ensure their truthfulness. Police must now photograph informants as they enter a drug location to make a buy, Pennington added.

Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Approved By Second House Panel

Members of a Minnesota House committee Monday voted to approve a medical marijuana bill despite the objections of law enforcement. The House Public Safety and Civil Law Committee approved the bill, HF655, on an 11-8 vote. It has already passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and is now headed for the House Finance Committee.

A Senate companion bill passed the Senate Health, Housing and Family Committee a month ago. It currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana upon obtaining a recommendation from a doctor and registering with the state. But in an effort to address law enforcement concerns, the public safety committee amended the bill so that individual patients cannot grow their own supply. Instead, sanctioned nonprofit organizations would be permitted to grow up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces per patient.

The law enforcement contingent was out in force at the committee hearing. "Immediate and obvious areas of concern include existing conflicts with federal law, the potential for youth access and abuse, and the potential for this action being used as a platform for legalizing marijuana on a larger scale," Mitch Weinzetl of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association told KARE TV 11 News in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"Smoking is harmful to the human body in any form, and it's particularly harmful with marijuana, which has significantly more dangerous chemicals than tobacco," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.

But while committee members attempted to ease law enforcement worries by amending the bill as noted above, they seemed more moved by the testimony of patients like Don Haumont, who suffers from liver cancer and other ailments. He told lawmakers only one thing helps: marijuana.

"I ate more, I gained weight, I felt healthier, I felt that I could take care of myself, I could do things," he said. "I could work and be productive." A former California resident, Hauman said he could smoke legally there. "And then when I moved here, it was harder to obtain and the quality was less," he said.

While law enforcement and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) oppose the bill, it is gathering bipartisan support in the legislature. "It's more of a left and right coming together, which I think is a very good bill and one Minnesota should become the 13th state to pass," said Rep. Steve Sviggum (R-Kenyon), who once opposed such a measure.

Eleven states have working medical marijuana programs. New Mexico is about to become the 12th once Gov. Bill Richardson (D) signs the bill that passed there last week.

Europe: Heroin Substitute Buprenorphine Now Available in Scotland

A Scottish government agency has approved the use of the heroin substitute buprenorphine as a replacement for heroin users unable to take the more common substitute methadone. A tablet form of the drug, Suboxone, is now available through the National Health Service.

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now-outdated European buprenorphine availability chart, from the EMCDDA web site
Although buprenorphine is widely used in England, Europe, and Australia, and is available with restrictions in the United States, it had been banned in Scotland since the mid-1980s because it had been abused by users who heated and injected it to get high. But Suboxone will, according to its manufacturer, cause withdrawal symptoms if injected, easing fears of abuse.

The Scottish Medical Consortium, the agency that decides which drugs can be prescribed, has approved Suboxone only for patients for whom methadone is not suitable. It also requires that Suboxone maintenance stand place only "within a framework of medical, social, and psychological treatment."

Drug experts interviewed by the newspaper the Scotsman generally thought it was a good thing, although at least one advocated abstinence instead. The decision was welcomed as a "useful addition" by David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum. Andrew Horne, of the drug treatment charity Addiction Scotland, said: "We think it is a useful alternative and will complement the rehabilitation work we do."

But opiate maintenance is "part of the problem," said Neil McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research at Glasgow University. "We have a large number of people on substitute medications and here is another substitute drug; it will still leave us with too few abstinence-focused drug treatments."

Europe: Clamor for Licit Medicinal Afghan Opium Grows Among British MPs

Dozens of members of the British Parliament (MPs) are calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to allow Afghan farmers to head off what they call a world shortage of opiate pain relievers. Some 40 MPs, including senior Conservative opposition leaders Michael Ancram, Bill Cash and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, are urging Blair to support a UN-led pilot program to allow the cultivation of Afghan poppies for the medicinal market.

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the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
Afghanistan is the world's dominant opium producer, accounting for more than 90% of the global harvest last year. This year's crop is expected to grow even larger. The Afghan government and its NATO and US backers are attempting to suppress the crop, but doing so threatens to undermine the broader counterinsurgency effort against the resurgent Taliban.

The call from MPs came in a parliamentary motion last week. The motion followed by two weeks the revelation that the British Foreign Office had considered such a proposal, but gave up in the face of implacable opposition from the American and Afghan governments. Under the NATO-US agreement, Britain is charged with responsibility for the fight against opium, but despite spending more than $400 million in the past four years, both the poppy crop and the Taliban have instead expanded.

The call from the British MPs is only the latest to echo a 2005 proposal from the European defense and drug policy think thank the Senlis Council, which called for the diversion of illicit opium production destined to be turned into heroin for the black market into licit medicinal markets, especially in the poorer countries of the South. While not embraced by any government except Italy, the clamor for this radical idea continues to grow.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Just another week of drug prohibition-related law enforcement corruption. An NYPD cop gets caught with a stash in her undies drawer, an Ohio cop has some bad hits, more prison guards get greedy, and a former St. Paul cop goes to prison.

But before we get to it, we need to make a couple of corrections. Last week, we briefly included a former Wisconsin prosecutor who got busted with marijuana and grow equipment in our hall of shame. We shouldn't have. He was a prosecutor long, long ago and for only a brief period, and while he was charged with manufacture and delivery of marijuana, it's not clear that he was dealing. Our apologies to Gene Radcliffe.

More than a year ago, we included Arizona attorney William Reckling in the list of law enforcement bad boys. We shouldn't have. We saw him as a hypocritical prosecutor who used drugs himself, but that's not the case. After belatedly coming across our article, Reckling wrote to clarify that he was a city attorney, who, unlike district or county attorneys, don't prosecutions. Furthermore, Reckling wrote, he shares our views on the cruelty and futility of the drug war, and his experience getting busted has so soured him on his homeland that he is leaving for the more freedom-loving climes of Central America. Good luck to him.

The weekly rundown of corrupt cops is supposed to be just that. Sometimes it's pretty clear cut; sometimes it's more subjective. We don't generally include police who get caught using or possessing drugs. While people who arrest people for doing the same thing they do in their spare time may qualify as hypocrites, that doesn't make them corrupt. Where do you draw the line? This week, we include the Ohio cop who has so far only been arrested on possession charges on the basis of claims in the search warrant that he was dealing. At this point, that cop is a borderline case. Now, if we run into a judge or prosecutor who is persecuting drug offenders during the night but snorting lines at home, we'll probably include him too, just because of the unmitigated hypocrisy of it. I guess we hold them to a slightly higher standard than police and prison guards. These are judgment calls, but that's the way we've tried to make them so far. Okay, let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD rookie officer was arrested March 15 after police executing a search warrant on her home found a large stash of drugs in her underwear drawer. Officer Carolina Salgado, 30, was arrested after a month-long probe of drug sales near the home she shared with her boyfriend, Nelson Fernandez, a reputed Latin Kings gang member. During the search of her home, police found 150 small bags of marijuana, two bags of cocaine, $3,000, and a bunch of Latin Kings paraphernalia. Although Salgado and Fernandez were not home at the time, police found them in a car nearby. In the car, police found another 15 bags of pot and two more bags of cocaine. Salgado faces counts of endangering the welfare of a child (three children with no adults present were at the home when it was raided) and drug possession.

In Toledo, Ohio, a Toledo police officer was arrested Saturday on drug possession and related charges. Officer Bryan Traband, 36, and another man were arrested at Traband's home after police serving a search warrant found cocaine and marijuana. According to the search warrant, police received two confidential tips last month that Traband was involved in selling and using drugs, but authorities so far have only charged him with possession of cocaine, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia and permitting drug abuse. The 13-year veteran of the force has resigned and is now out on a personal recognizance bond.

In Amite, Louisiana, a Tangapahoa Parish sheriff's deputy serving as a county jail guard was arrested March 15 after agreeing to smuggle crack cocaine and vodka to an inmate. According to federal officials, Deputy Harris Robertson has confessed to smuggling banned items into the jail at least 10 times since September and receiving from $100 to $300 per delivery. Robertson went down after someone called in a tip that he was delivering drugs, alcohol, cell phones and food to prisoners, and the feds set up a sting. An agent posing as an inmate's friend gave Robertson 15 grams of crack, two bottles of Grey Goose vodka, and $300 for his efforts. Robertson was arrested after accepting the goods and cash. Now he faces up to 40 years in prison on federal possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine charges.

In Sacramento, California, a former state prison guard pleaded guilty last Friday to smuggling methamphetamine into a prison in Amador County. John Charles Whittle, 47, a 22-year veteran of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, went down after internal affairs investigators intercepted a package mailed to Whittle's home and found it contained 10 grams of meth hidden inside a teddy bear. When agents arrived, Whittle had already removed the meth and secreted it in a stab-resistant prison guard vest. Whittle admitted that he was paid $5,150 by friends of inmates to smuggle drugs into the Mule Creek State Prison. He agreed to forfeit his profits and now awaits an April 19 sentencing date, when he faces up to two years in prison.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, a retired St. Paul police sergeant was sentenced to five years in prison last Friday on methamphetamine trafficking charges. Retired Sgt. Clemmie Tucker could have faced up to life in prison after he was caught picking up a meth shipment at the Greyhound Bus terminal in Minneapolis. He pleaded guilty in September to possession with the intent to distribute more than a pound of meth. US District Judge Joan Ericksen said she was going to give Tucker a "substantial break" in sentencing because he had no prior record and little likelihood of reoffending, but gave him a few years "because drugs are so harmful."

Sentencing: Tyrone Brown is a Free Man!

Tyrone Brown, the Dallas man sentenced to life in prison in 1990 for smoking a joint while on probation for an armed robbery in which no one was injured, walked out of prison in Huntsville Thursday after receiving a conditional pardon from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). The pardon came after ABC News' 20-20 featured his story twice, helping to create a nationwide grass roots effort to win his freedom, Save Mr. Brown.

Brown was met by relatives and journalists, according to an Associated Press report filed from Huntsville. He broke into a broad smile as he embraced his mother, Nora Brown. "I didn't believe this day was going to come," he said.

Under the terms of the pardon, Brown will have to live with his mother, find a job, go to a therapist, and report to a parole officer. If he violates any of those conditions, the pardon could be revoked.

Brown was 17 when he was convicted of armed robbery. After he tested positive for marijuana once, Judge Keith Dean re-sentenced him to life in prison. The harshness of Judge Dean's sentence for Brown, which he has never explained, stands in sharp contrast to his treatment of well-connected, white John Alexander Wood. Wood was convicted of murder, but Dean sentenced him to probation, where he repeatedly tested positive for cocaine. But instead of sending him to prison, Dean gave him permission to quit reporting to his probation officer and quit taking drug tests.

With the glare of the national spotlight on the case, Judge Dean (by now ex-Judge Dean) joined a long list of local law enforcement officials calling on the governor to free Brown. Thanks to their efforts, as well as the efforts of muckraking media outlets and an aroused populace, one drug war prisoner has gone home. That leaves about 499,999 to go.

Harm Reduction: Los Angeles County Okays Needle Exchange Program

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $500,000 needle exchange program Tuesday. The board approved the harm reduction measure, which is designed to save lives and dollars by reducing the rate of spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis B and C, on a 3-2 vote.

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widely-used syringe exchange logo
The city of Los Angeles and seven California counties already have approved needle exchange programs. Los Angeles County has an estimated 120,000 to 190,000 drug injectors, nearly half of whom are estimated to share needles.

The new needle exchanges targeting heroin users will be at the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, Bienestar Human Services, Common Ground-The Westside HIV Community Center, Public Health Foundation Enterprises (and through them, Clean Needles Now) and Tarzana Treatment Centers.

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe voted against the program. "The problem that we have here is you're having the government be in a position of sponsoring a known drug that could lead to death and leads to dependence," Antonovich said. "I would rather put our money into rehabilitation and education encouraging a drug-free society instead of being politically correct and helping addicts remain addicts," he said.

But Supervisor Gloria Molina defended the program, saying its aim is to prevent AIDS. "This is a very simple program that's had unbelievable success, and it's unfortunate (that) it is not supposed to address, and it does not address, the rehabilitation of drug users. All it does is, hopefully, address the issue of prevention of HIV," Molina said.

Medical Marijuana: Federal Appeals Court Rules Angel Raich Can Be Prosecuted, Even If Only Marijuana Keeps Her Alive

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday ruled that Angel Raich, an Oakland woman whose doctor says marijuana is keeping her alive, can still be prosecuted on federal drug charges. Raich and her attorneys had argued that the desperately ill have the right to use marijuana to keep themselves alive when all other drugs fail.

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Angel Raich, May 2005
Raich is the woman who went all the way to the Supreme Court seeking protection for medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal. But she lost in a 2005 decision when the court held that patients and their providers could indeed be prosecuted under federal law even if their states had legalized it.

Raich suffers from a brain tumor, scoliosis, chronic nausea, and a number of other medical conditions. She uses marijuana every couple of hours to gain appetite and suppress pain on her doctor's recommendation.

The ruling does not mean Raich will be prosecuted. She filed the lawsuit preemptively, in an effort to avoid any possible future arrest. Because Raich's doctors believe medical marijuana is essential to her survival, she argued that for the government to deprive her of her medicine would violate the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that no person may be "deprived of life... without due process of law."

But in its opinion this week the three-judge appeals court panel ruled that the United States is not yet at the point where "the right to use medical marijuana is 'fundamental' and 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'" The court did suggest, however, that if Raich were ever arrested, she could seek to mount a "medical necessity" defense.

"The court has just sentenced me to death," Angel Raich said in a written statement. "My doctors agree that medical cannabis is essential to my very survival, and the government did not even contest the medical evidence. Every American should be frightened by this ruling. If we don't have a right to live, what do we have left?"

"Today's decision marks a disappointing setback for rational medical policy as well as fundamental constitutional rights in America," said Robert Raich, attorney for the plaintiff. "We may ask the Supreme Court to review the case, and may ask the district court to review issues that the Ninth Circuit left unresolved."

"Today's ruling is shocking, but it's not the end of the struggle," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Last June, legislation to end the federal government's war on medical marijuana in the 11 states where medical marijuana is legal received a record number of votes in the US House of Representatives, and support has grown this year. This is literally a matter of life and death for Angel and thousands of other patients, and we will keep fighting on both the legal and political fronts until every patient is safe."

Medical Marijuana: Federal Judge Dismisses Charges Against Ed Rosenthal

A federal district court judge dismissed money-laundering and tax evasion charges against Ed Rosenthal Wednesday, saying federal prosecutors had vindictively re-indicted the "Guru of Ganja" after he publicly criticized them in the wake of his successful appeal of his 2003 marijuana cultivation conviction. In that case, Rosenthal was convicted after not being allowed to present evidence he was growing for medicinal purposes, but was sentenced to only one day in jail after the jury protested upon hearing the rest of the story.

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Ed Rosenthal at courthouse, with supporters, September 2006 (courtesy indybay.org)
The same judge who presided over Rosenthal's first trial, US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, ruled that prosecutors illegally retaliated against Rosenthal by re-indicting him for the acts that were the basis of his original conviction, which was overturned last year, and piling on with the tax evasion and money-laundering charges over a sum that amounted to less than $1,900.

Federal prosecutors tried "to make Rosenthal look like a common criminal and thus dissipate the criticism heaped on the government after the first trial," Breyer said in his opinion. That perception, he said, "will discourage defendants from exercising their First Amendment right to criticize their prosecutions and their statutory right to appeal their convictions."

While he dismissed the two financial counts, Judge Breyer let stand Rosenthal's indictment for growing marijuana for medical patients. But that doesn't give prosecutors much to work with because Breyer also noted that even if he were convicted in a new trial, they could not seek to sentence him to more than the one day that he has already served. That leaves them with the equally unpalatable options of appealing the decision to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals -- the same court that overturned the original conviction -- or pursuing a conviction where they cannot punish Rosenthal even if they win.

Assistant US Attorney George Bevan, the chief prosecutor on the case, helped Judge Breyer prove the case for a revenge prosecution. While Bevan told Breyer he would not seek additional prison time on the marijuana counts, he said he was "committed to doing the retrial and seeing the case to a conclusion." That remark came after Bevan told the court in October that Rosenthal had complained about not getting a fair trial because he could not mention medical marijuana. "So, I'm saying, this time around, he wants the financial side reflected, fine, let's air this thing out," Bevan said. "Let's have the whole conduct before the jury: tax, money-laundering, marijuana."

In Wednesday's ruling, Breyer noted Bevan's candor but said his comments only "confirm the appearance of vindictiveness."

"The government was clearly out of line to bring this case forward against me," said Rosenthal in a statement released by his attorneys. "The court's ruling is reassuring, but my continued prosecution on the marijuana charges is still malicious. To make me and my family go through a second prosecution to obtain, at most, a one-day time served jail sentence seems personally motivated."

"We are gratified that the court has recognized the vindictive nature of this prosecution and has reigned in the prosecutor," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, and author of the successful vindictive prosecution motion. "The additional charges brought against Rosenthal were clearly in retaliation for his criticism of the government. Taxpayer dollars should not be wasted on a vendetta carried out by a prosecutor against a defendant."

Australia: NSW Greens' Call to Decriminalize Drug Possession Causes Pre-Election Stir

Drug policy is becoming a major campaign issue in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW). With an ongoing, highly publicized "epidemic" of methamphetamine use under way and elections now less than 10 days away, the NSW Green Party is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession -- even the dreaded ice, as meth is commonly referred to Down Under -- and Liberal and Labor party foes are attacking them for it.

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Lee Rhiannon
Although Greens hold only a handful of seats in the state parliament, by throwing their support to the governing Labor Party in some key districts, they could end up holding the balance of power in the Upper House. The NSW Greens' leading Upper House candidate, Lee Rhiannon, has been the party's main spokesperson in the increasingly nasty exchanges over drug policy.

The Greens' position on the decriminalization of drug possession is not ad hoc. It reflects the party's formal platform on drug policy, adopted last October after extensive consultations with party members. The platform also calls for the stronger embrace of harm reduction measures and the decriminalization of marijuana growing for personal use.

While the Greens' drug platform is not new, Rhiannon's public reiteration of it Monday ignited a firestorm of criticism and mischaracterization. The Daily Telegraph blurted to its readers that the Greens were "effectively saying that ice junkies should be free to buy as much of the deadly substance as they want." The Daily Telegraph also described the Green position that decriminalizing drug possession was less dangerous than prohibition as "a bizarre defense."

Liberal leader Peter Debnam was also caustic, writing in his blog: "Any Member of Parliament who thinks we should decriminalize drugs, including 'Ice', should take a good hard look at themselves, do the community a favour, and resign" and "This drug is death to young people and it is undermining a whole generation."

While Debnam accused the Greens and the Labor Party of cooking up some sort of "ice deal," there was little sign of that from Labor Premier Morris Iemma. He responded to the Green drug platform by saying: "It is just an absurd, ridiculous and disgusting policy." Any MP who supported such a policy was "completely out of touch with reality," he said.

Just to make things perfectly clear, Labor Party secretary Mark Arbib added that while Labor was willing to cut an electoral deal with the Greens, it does not endorse Green drug policy. "There will be no watering down of the (Labor) party's tough drug laws or positions on other social issues," he said.

But the Greens are fighting back, against both the political attacks and the yellow journalism. "The allegation in today's Daily Telegraph that the Greens policy would allow people to buy unlimited amounts of the deadly drug 'ice' is totally false," Rhiannon said in a Tuesday statement. "The Greens policy does not support unlimited supply of any drug, least of all crystal methamphetamine. This attack on the Greens is an election scare tactic which will distract from the urgent task of protecting young people from ice. The Greens do not support drug use and our policy does not condone people using the new drug known as ice."

Rhiannon also went after Premier Iemma for both failure and hypocrisy. "The Iemma government has failed to deal with the increased use of ice," she said. "The use of crystal methamphetamine has increased during the term of the Iemma/Carr government. There are now more than 17,700 regular methamphetamine users and 14,700 dependent methamphetamine users in Sydney and the number is growing rapidly," she noted.

"The drug policies of the Labor government are failing to deal with the epidemic," Rhiannon continued. "What is needed are prevention initiatives that educate the target populations to the dangers of using the drug and effective and accessible treatment programs for dependent and addicted users."

In fact, as the Greens noted in a Wednesday press release, Labor actually quietly supports many Green harm reduction notions and treatment and diversion programs for meth users. "The Premier is quick to put the boot into the Greens for our approach to ice. But the reality is Labor has instituted innovative ice programs, based on the harm minimization principles advocated by the Greens," Rhiannon said.

Among those programs is a stimulant treatment program at two hospitals, the safe injection room at Kings Cross, and the "MERIT" program that diverts meth users into treatment instead of jail. "If we really want to make NSW ice free, these programs need to be expanded and receive a massive increase in funding," said Rhiannon. "Premier Iemma should shout these initiatives from the rooftops instead of hiding behind his tough "law and order" policies. It appears that he is more concerned about a political backlash. To successfully eradicate ice politicians must be willing to take action that may be at first unpopular. Without brave policy from government, ice will continue to wreak havoc in our society."

Perhaps Debnam, Arbib and Iemma should listen to prominent Australian physician Dr. Alex Wodak's interview last year with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Among Wodak's quotes of note: "Prohibition didn't work in America in the 1920s and it won't work now."

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