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Communities Under Seige By Badge-Wearing Armies In Name Of Drug War
Lima Police Won't Have to Re-Enact Fatal Shooting of Tarika Wilson
Attentive readers probably remember late Lima, Ohio resident Tarika Wilson, the unarmed, bi-racial mother of six who was fatally shot by police officers during a raid-gone-wrong in early January of 2008. The raid - purportedly aimed at her significant other, alleged drug dealer Anthony Terry - also resulted in serious injury to Wilson's then-14-month-old son, Sincere, and vehemenent (as well as thoroughly justified) protests from Lima's African American community; as if foreshadowing the large role dogs would come to play in this year's discussion of SWAT raids, "Chavalia mistakenly shot Wilson when he heard gunfire," which actually "came from other officers shooting at dogs" in Wilson's home, as a new story posted at LimaOhio.com on August 5, 2009 reports ("Judge Rules Against Re-Enactment of Fatal Police Shooting").
If this story is unfamiliar to you, the New York Times provided a compelling overview about three weeks after the botched raid, and the Drug War Chronicle covered the story multiple times for multiple reasons since Wilson's murder in early 2008, even launching in 2009 a SWAT reform campaign inspired by her death.
Although the initial investigation into the fatal shooting found the officer, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, guilty of no wrongdoing in the raid (he was "acquitted of negligent homicide and negligent assault [charges] at a trial last year"), "the family of Tarika Wilson [sought] to have [...] Chavalia re-enact the events of the Jan. 4, 2008, raid, including the shooting of Wilson and her 1-year-old son," for use in "the wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit they filed last year," according to the August 5 article. Unfortunately, the family has been denied the chance to do so following a ruling from Judge David Katz of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which stated that "it would be nearly impossible to perform a valid re-enactment and it even could be misleading because it would take place at a different time of day under different circumstances." Instead, Katz suggested the Wilson family "use statements Chavalia made during his criminal trial, which included a full account of his actions that night." However, while the videotape might be useful, the Wilson's probably don't need it. They've got not only Chavalia's testimony but have also "inspected [Tarika's former] home at 218 E. Third St. and taken various measurements as well as conducted tests at the scene." In their suit - which has yet to be scheduled - the Wilson's also estimate their legal costs, which "reach $1.09 million, [half of which] was associated with collecting evidence."
Apparently, the Wilson family - either from their experiences following Tarika's death or their prior encounters with law enforcement - is well aware of (particularly racially marginalized) citizens' virtual inability to hold police accountable for their actions, as many other United States residents have learned over the past several decades. Rather, the family appears to have decided that the best way to right a wrong is to do so for themselves. Please join CSDP in wishing the Wilson family the best of luck in their endeavors.
FBI Mistakenly Raids North Carolinian Cancer Patient's Home
On August 5, 2009, local news station WSOC-TV 9 in Charlotte, NC reported that the FBI "startled" east Charlotte resident Rosie Lee Bright, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, on August 4 "when federal agents burst into her apartment searching for suspects in a drug trafficking ring" ("FBI Storms Wrong Home in East Charlotte"). Bright reports repeatedly asking officers "What happened, what happened, and they said it was a drug bust." However, the "only drugs [Bright] had in [her] apartment [...] were to help with her breast cancer treatments."
Bright immediately recognized the raid as "a case of mistaken identity," but police remained unaware of their blunder until after they "ordered her to lie on the floor and handcuffed her." As the article states, "Agents later learned that the suspects they were looking for were actually in the apartment next door;" a raid on the correct apartment netted the arrests of "two men who [the FBI agents] said are part of a heroin trafficking ring that's been operating" in two North Carolina counties. An FBI spokesperson told the news outlet "that the mix-up appears to have been an honest mistake," and the agents "apologized and offered to pay any medical bills [Bright] might have because of the raid" upon learning of their mistake, the victim said.
Although these FBI agents, along with a growing number of their law enforcement colleagues, probably need to take a couple of courses in math (or number recognition) and geography (or apartment building navigation), they don't appear to need etiquette lessons. An apology - though called for - does not suffice when armed federal agents storm into an innocent person's home and force its resident (especially when she is currently going through treatment for breast cancer) to lie handcuffed on the ground because trained FBI employees couldn't correctly identify a number on an apartment door, the agents at least acknowledged their mistake, recognized that their treatment of her was rough enough that the victim may have sustained injuries, and attempted to make up for their wrongdoing by compensating Bright for any damage they may have caused. It's a sad day in America when this has to be said, but at least the officers kept their weapons in their holsters this time.Click on the article link above to watch a video interview with Bright courtesy of WSOC-TV 9.
Maryland Family Alleges Gross Misconduct in 2008 SWAT Raid, Files Suit
A Columbia, Maryland couple filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore Monday, July 27, "alleg[ing] assault, battery, state and federal constitutional violations and malicious prosecution" against Howard County and three of its officers, who mistakenly raided their home and apparently purposely killed their dog on January 18, 2008, as local news outlets WBAL ("Police SWAT Raid on Columbia House Leads to Suit")and the Maryland Daily Record report ("Family Sues Howard County over SWAT Raid, Dog Shooting"). The couple, Kevin and Lisa Henderson, are seeking $5 million in the "civil rights lawsuit."
Although the "suit says police had a warrant that indicated they suspected drug dealing or gang activity" on the Hendersons' premises, the raid's victims disagree. They "claim the visit from the county SWAT team was 'suspect' because a nearby house the police raided later that evening more closely matched the warrant's description, and contained marijuana, a pair of scales and large sums of money." However, as the Daily Record states, "Unlike the white woman who lived in that house [...], the Hendersons, who are black, were charged with drug possession - even though a visitor to their house confessed to owning the paraphernalia found on their coffee table and the marijuana found in [the visitor's own] jacket." The visitor was "immediately arrested," but "the Hendersons were charged only after Lisa Henderson called to complain about the raid," contends the attorney representing the family, Jimmy A. Bell. Neither of the printed reports discuss the nature of the charges police brought against the family.
Watch WBAL-TV's report on the story here.
Mayor Cheye Calvo Files Lawsuit Against Raid Perpetrators, Introduces New SWAT Team Oversight Legislation
As the Maryland Gazette reported on June 25, 2009 ("Berwyn Heights Mayor Files Lawsuit Against County, State, and Sheriff"), "Eleven months after a Prince George's County sheriff's department SWAT unit raided the home of Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo, he filed a lawsuit to hold the county and state responsible and prevent future incidents." The SWAT raid, during which the mayor's two dogs - Labradors Payton and Chase - were "needlessly shot," occurred after "a package slated for delivery to the home was found to contain marijuana," though the mayor and his wife "were cleared of any involvement in drug activity, and police linked the [...] package [...] to a FedEx courier who was later arrested." However, as Reason's Jacob Sollum writes in a highly recommended piece that touches not only on this particular raid gone wrong but others around Maryland and across the country as well, the Prince George's police department "took nearly a year [...] to release its report on the incident," which concluded that, as usual, "the officers did nothing wrong" ("SWAT Gone Wild in Maryland: A Botched Raid on a Small-Town Maryland Mayor Exposes Widespread Abuse by the State's SWAT Teams"). Calvo filed his lawsuit soon after the department released its report (which did not, incidentally, include any sort of meaningful apology).
Of course, Mayor Calvo represents just one of many cases in which SWAT teams mistakenly, illegally, and/or irresponsibly storm a residence in search of major drug hauls - most of which are nonexistent. And, despite the deaths of his family's beloved dogs, Calvo remains among the luckiest of such targets; many people involved in botched raids end up dead or imprisoned (though pets too frequently find themselves among drug war casualties, as well). However, Calvo is also in a unique position of power - one from which he can promote positive changes in the law enforcement regime of which he claims he is "tired of being embarrassed," as he told the Gazette.
Indeed, Calvo did use his political might to push through legislation aimed at improving oversight of Maryland SWAT raids. In May and June of 2009, the mayor played an "instrumental" role "in getting state leaders to enact the nation's first statewide legislation to oversee SWAT team deployments," the Gazette contends. As local FOX affiliate WBOC-TV 16 reported on its website in a June 30 post ("New Laws Take Effect in Maryland"), the new law "require[s] local law enforcement agencies that deploy SWAT teams to report the deployments to the governor's office" in reports submitted "every six months." Calvo told reporters that "the law will create an oversight mechanism for deployments and make authorities more careful in how they use SWAT teams." As the mayor stated, "When you know someone is watching, you behave differently."
Anti-Drug Task Force Shoots Michigan Student in Chest Over Miniscule Amount of Marijuana
According to an April 17, 2009 report by the Drug War Chronicle ("Michigan Student Shot in Chest Over 'Spoonsful' of Marijuana to be Charged"), "a Western Michigan Enforcement Team (WMET), a multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task force, raided" the apartment of "20-year-old Grand Valley State University student" Derek Copp on March 11, 2009. Upon entering Copp's apartment through its back door, according to the blog Don't Tase Me, Bro!, "an Ottawa County deputy allegedly shined a flashlight into the student's face, causing him to raise his right hand in front of his eyes" ("Unarmed, Non-Confrontational Pot Legalization Activist Shot in Chest During Raid for a 'Few Tablespoons Worth of Marijuana'"). The officer, Ryan Huizenga (who is also a member of the county's SWAT team), erroneously interpreted Copp's attempt to shield his eyes from the blinding light as a hostile act and "fired a single bullet into Derek Copp's chest;" the unarmed student was not killed, but "the bullet tore through his upper right lung and liver and damaged two [of his] ribs." According to the Chronicle, authorities "raided Copp's apartment in search of evidence of drug dealing," but they have yet to reveal "exactly what -- if anything -- was recovered in the raid. Copp's attorney said [...] that all that was found was a few 'spoonsful' of marijuana" - hardly evidence that the 20-year-old involved himself in major trafficking activities. The blog post reports that "he appears to be a marijuana activist," but - disregarding for a moment both the First Amendment and the fact that the raid produced little to no evidence to support authorities' suspicions - "Copp's parents insist their son is not a drug dealer."
Indeed, Copp reportedly had no idea who was at his door or why when Huizenga raised his flashlight and subsequently discharged his weapon. As Don't Tase Me, Bro! reports, the young man's mother, who remained unaware of the shooting until six hours after its occurence, lamented that "He never even had a chance to even see who was coming at him, with a bright flashlight in his face." Additionally, Copp "said he had no idea the man was an officer." The Chronicle reports that "Huizenga [was] charged with a misdemeanor -- careless discharge of a firearm," an understatement to say the least. After being arraigned in April, the officer "was first put on unpaid leave, but has now been returned to the job to perform administrative duties by the sheriff's office, which said [Huizenga] was reinstated because it would take a long time for the case to be heard."
Copp's injurious encounter with irresponsible law enforcement prompted "angry protests by college students and others in the area, as well as calls for an investigation by university officials and local newspaper editorial pages." Those officials and editorial writers were granted an investigation, but "it is being conducted by the Michigan State Police, which partners with WMET." That connection calls into question the probability that an unbiased review of the shooting will surface and - based on previous, similar cases - virtually guarantees that the task force will be cleared of any wrongdoing. Perhaps even more eggregiously, Copp was actually "charged with an unspecified drug possession offense," as if being shot in the chest wasn't punishment enough for shielding one's face from unidentified, flashlight-wielding home invaders.
The FBI is reviewing a raid by a SWAT team on the suburban Maryland home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. Mr. Calvo's two dogs were shot and killed during the raid.
The Washington Post reported on August 8, 2008 ("FBI to review raid that killed mayor's dogs") that "The Prince George's Sheriff's Office SWAT team and county narcotics officers raided the home after Calvo brought in a 32-pound marijuana-filled package addressed to his wife. They tied up Tomsic's mother and Calvo, and they interrogated the mayor for hours. On Wednesday, police announced they had arrested a package deliveryman and another man in connection with a scheme to smuggle marijuana by intercepting packages addressed to unsuspecting recipients. Police Chief Melvin C. High said that Calvo and his wife were probably innocent victims of the conspiracy but that the case remained under investigation. He and Sheriff Michael Jackson defended the actions of deputies and officers who carried out the raid."
According to the Post, the FBI "has begun 'reviewing the events that occurred at Mr. Calvo's residence,' said Richard J. Wolf, spokesman for the FBI in Baltimore, which has jurisdiction over federal civil rights investigations in Maryland. The FBI announcement came in response to a call yesterday by Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, for such a probe. Calvo and Tomsic suggested a systemic problem might exist in county law enforcement. 'We have witnessed a frightening law enforcement culture in which the law is disregarded, the rights of innocent occupants are ignored and the rights of innocent animals mean nothing,' Calvo said, surrounded by county elected leaders and friends on the front lawn of his house. 'A shadow was cast over our good names. We were harmed by the very people who took an oath to protect us.' June White Dillard, president of the NAACP's local chapter, also called for a thorough investigation and said Calvo experienced police action familiar to many young black men in the county."
The Post noted that "An attorney came forward yesterday to allege a possible pattern of animal abuse by the sheriff's department. Michael Winkleman said he is representing another family whose dog was shot by sheriff's deputies in November, along with a woman who is suing the department for searching her home without a warrant and threatening to shoot her dog. In the first case, Winkleman said, sheriff's deputies arrived at the Accokeek home of Frank and Pamela Myers with a warrant for another house on their street. After the couple informed the deputies of their error, they continued to question the couple and looked around their home. As they spoke, the couple's 5-year-old German boxer began barking in a yard, out of sight. Soon after, according to Winkleman, the couple heard gunshots, and they found the dog shot to death. He said the family is preparing to file suit. In another case, Upper Marlboro resident Amber James has filed a $4 million lawsuit accusing sheriff's deputies of searching her home without a warrant in May 2007 while looking for her sister, who lived in Capitol Heights. According to the suit, deputies falsely claimed to have a warrant and searched every room of the home. When they did not find the sister, the suit alleges, they threatened to return the next day and search again, saying that if they did, James's dog would be dead. Some lawyers and leading law enforcement groups said deputies should have known to do everything possible to avoid killing Calvo's dogs. Courts across the country in recent years have ruled that it is almost always unacceptable for police to kill pets in the course of searching a home. Cases in three federal circuits have found that killing pets amounts to unreasonable seizure."
An unarmed, innocent Ohio mother was shot to death by a veteran police officer during a Jan. 4 drug raid at her home. The jury determined not-guilty verdicts for homicide and negligent assault. According to The Blade August 5, 2008 article,("Lima Police Officer Not Guilty in Deadly Raid") "After hearing 3 1/2 days of testimony in Allen County Common Pleas Court, the jury of four white men and four white women deliberated a little more than three hours before returning the not-guilty verdicts for misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. The jury had been charged with determining whether Sergeant Chavalia, 52, was negligent when he fired his fully automatic rifle from a dark stairway at a shadowy figure he said he believed was firing at him. His three shots killed Wilson, 26, and injured her 1-year-old son, Sincere, who was in her arms."
The article states, "Mr. Kluge said no officer wants to kill another person yet many of the SWAT team members who took the stand during the trial testified that if they were placed in Sergeant Chavalia's position, they would have done exactly what he did. The defendant himself took the stand last week and unapologetically told the jury that as he neared the top of the staircase moments after the SWAT team burst into the Third Street house, he spotted movement down the hallway behind him. He said he saw a shadowy figure he believed to be an adult move in and out of a bedroom doorway, appearing at the same time he heard gunfire. He returned fire. As it turned out, the gunfire had come from the kitchen where two members of the SWAT team had fired at two pit-bull dogs let loose on the officers by Wilson's boyfriend, Anthony Terry, who was the target of the raid. Police found no weapons in the house but discovered Wilson's five other children in the bedroom where she and Sincere were shot."
The article adds, "In closing arguments yesterday, Mr. Strausbaugh told the jury that the fact that Sergeant Chavalia fired the weapon that killed Wilson and injured her son was undisputed. The only issue, he said, was whether he acted negligently, meaning he showed 'a substantial lapse of due care' when he pulled the trigger. Mr. Strausbaugh said in his mind the officer was indeed negligent: Sergeant Chavalia did not identify his target, which was in fact an unarmed mother with a baby in her arms. He said Sergeant Chavalia's contention that he thought the gunfire came from the bedroom was inconsistent with the testimony of the officer standing just one step behind him on the stairs who told the jury he thought the gunfire came from downstairs.'There wasn't so much as a verbal threat that came out of that room before he fired,' Mr. Strausbaugh said. He said the officer should be held accountable; otherwise 'you end up with a situation like this where officers are never wrong."
Asset forfeiture has always been controversial, yet the uses to which these funds are put are not often closely scrutinized. Recently however, authorities have been looking into questionable expenditures, using seized funds, by Camden County, GA Sheriff Bill Smith.
The Florida Times-Union reported on July 5, 2008 ("Sheriff's drug fund spending revealed") that "Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith stopped paying jail inmates from seized drug assets when state investigators began looking into the controversial practice last July, according to copies of checks he released to avoid a lawsuit last month. But Smith continued to use the federal forfeiture money for other questionable expenditures such as college tuition for favored deputies, a Kingsland boxing club's lease, and a retainer for a private lawyer, the checks show. And he used the federally regulated fund to pay routine expenses after county commissioners cut his operating budget last year. Federal guidelines say the asset money, returned to counties based on drug arrests, is to be used only for law enforcement purposes such as equipment, jails or training. They expressly say the funds are not to be used for the department's general operational costs or in any way that gives the appearance of extravagance, waste or impropriety."
According to the Times-Union, "Questions over his use of the funds led County Commission Chairman Preston Rhodes to refuse to sign an authorization form in September to receive money from the federal government this year. 'While they're noble, they're not legal,' Jim Stein, one of the attorneys who sued Smith to open the 2007-08 records, said of many of the sheriff's expenditures. The records show Smith spent about $615,000 from the fund from July 2007 through May."
The Times-Union reported that "Commissioners repeatedly criticized his use of federal drug money to pay jail inmates to work on private property, including the sheriff's, and not just in Camden County but also at his ex-wife's house in South Carolina. According to previous years' audits, inmates were paid $50 a week from the fund, a practice Smith always defended as beneficial not only to the community, but to the inmates. After the Times-Union spotted Camden jail inmates working on private land on Cumberland Island in June 2007, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began probing Smith's use of inmate labor. That investigation is in the hands of a federal grand jury in Savannah. The checks released last month show Smith stopped using seized assets to pay the inmates around the time the GBI investigation began last July. Brown said the sheriff has completely stopped the practice because of all the questions raised about it. Smith's critics also questioned his use of the assets to send some of his own employees to college. A review of the released checks shows he spent about $33,800, roughly 5 percent of the federal drug money, for tuition and related costs at colleges around the Southeast. [Sheriff Smith's campaign consultant Terry] Brown said the deputies are being trained in criminal justice or related fields and noted that Tommy Gregory, Smith's opponent in the impending election, benefited from the program when he was a sheriff's deputy. But Commissioner Steve Berry, Smith's most outspoken critic on the board, said the tuition program is unfair to employees who aren't picked and a misuse of the shared asset money. He questioned the expenditure at a time when the sheriff has complained he needs new patrol cars and a bigger jail. 'It's only available to the chosen, and there's no guarantee they're going to stay working for us,' Berry said. Smith also spent about $14,400 on employee training and associated travel, about 2 percent of the total. Brown said a $900 check in August to Bally's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino was to send four deputies to drug interdiction training.&quto;
The Times-Union also noted that "Fuel expenditures made up most of the money spent on operational expenses. 'They are doing what they can to meet all their expenses by using the assets,' Brown said. Smith started using the fund for fuel costs in November, the checks show. But Berry said less than a third of the sheriff's monthly fuel costs are for patrol vehicles. The majority pays for take-home vehicles for 23 nonpatrol Sheriff's Office employees, he said. "The waste is not in the patrol deputy division," Berry said. "Basically they need $4,000 a month to protect the public. The rest is just waste, fraud and abuse." Berry also criticized the sheriff's purchase of a 28-foot boat with $79,000 in drug funds. At the time, Smith said the boat was for "terrorist interdiction and drug enforcement," but Berry said it has done little more than be Smith's personal ferry to Cumberland Island. Court records show no felony drug arrests on Camden waterways since the boat was purchased Aug. 1. But Brown said it has been used to patrol the waterways, assist state and federal agencies, and most recently, ferry firefighters to battle a wildfire on Cumberland."
The Supreme Court will soon clarify the circumstances in which police officers, who do not have a warrant, can conduct a vehicle search of an arrestee. The Court will consider the case of Rodney Gant, who was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia.
According to the February 25, 2008 New York Times ("Justices Take Vehicle-Search Case"), "The justices agreed on Monday to review the case of Rodney Joseph Gant, whose arrest on Aug. 25, 1999, raised questions that have sharply divided Arizona courts. State officials are asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn a ruling last July by the Arizona Supreme Court, which ruled that a search of Mr. Gant's car violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and that the evidence must therefore be thrown out."
The Times reported that "After Mr. Gant was convicted of possession of a drug with intent to sell plus possession of drug paraphernalia, his lawyers continued to try to have the evidence against him suppressed, asserting that there had been no justification for the warrantless search of his vehicle. The Arizona high court agreed, holding that because Mr. Gant and the other suspects had been cuffed and the scene was secure, 'neither a concern for officer safety nor the preservation of evidence justified the warrantless search of Gant's car.'"
The Times noted that "Courts at all levels have wrestled over the years with the circumstances under which the police can search cars ( and houses and people ) without warrants. Warrantless searches have often been upheld in situations that demand quick decisions by police officers, either to protect human life or preserve evidence or both. This fall, the justices will hear arguments on how Mr.Gant's case fits into those considerations."
More than a dozen residents of Mansfield, OH, have returned home from prison after being freed when an informant's lies came to light. The drug sting operation, which yielded 26 prosecutions, is now the focus of a grand jury investigation and a special prosecutor appointed by the US Justice Department.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Feb. 24, 2008 ("A Frame-Up Falls Apart") that "Federal judges, acting on an unprecedented request from a prosecutor, have freed 16 Mansfield residents from prison because of an undercover drug investigation that turned into a law-enforcement scandal. U.S. Attorney Greg White of Cleveland said their convictions for selling crack cocaine were tainted by an informant who admits framing innocent people. Mr. White does not call the Mansfield defendants innocent, but he says the cases against them were built on lies. He said he had to let them out of prison because they were wrongly convicted. 'The government has an obligation to do the right thing. The truth matters,' Mr. White said in a recent interview. In all, the discredited drug sting in Mansfield resulted in prosecutions of 26 people. The cases against 23 have been dismissed by judges or have ended in acquittals by juries. This month alone, 15 men came home from prison."
According to the Post-Gazette, "The Department of Justice appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Teitelbaum of Pittsburgh as special prosecutor in the Mansfield inquiry. Mr. Teitelbaum says he is focusing on drug investigations in which federal and local law officers used a convicted killer named Jerrell Bray as their paid informant. Mr. Bray, 36, says he lied with impunity to implicate Mansfield residents in drug crimes. Worse, he says, law officers, led by a federal agent named Lee Lucas, helped him railroad many of those people into convictions. Mr. Bray pleaded guilty in December to two counts of perjury and five charges of violating the civil rights of Mansfield defendants. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, he has agreed to help in the ongoing investigation of the Mansfield cases. By cooperating he could reduce his sentence to 11 years."
The Post-Gazette noted that "Richland County Sheriff J. Steve Sheldon declined to be interviewed about the tainted cases, but he issued a statement last week saying his detectives did nothing improper. Many of those who were wrongly imprisoned tell a different story. They say in civil lawsuits that Sheriff's Detective Metcalf lied under oath about them selling drugs. They say his testimony -- or the threat of it -- proved powerful in winning over juries or obtaining guilty pleas from the accused. Most of the Mansfield suspects had prior convictions for selling drugs. Many pleaded guilty in the new round of charges in exchange for reduced prison sentences instead of taking their chances at trials in which decorated law officers would testify against them."
A rally is planned for Feb. 23, 2008, in Chesapeake, VA, to protest the indictment of Ryan Frederick for the death of a police officer killed when a SWAT team raided Frederick's home. The raid was based on an informant's incorrect claim that Frederick was growing marijuana.
The Virginian-Pilot reported on Feb. 12, 2008 ("Frederick Supporters Plan Rally Outside Chesapeake Jail") that "Frederick has been held at the jail since his arrest following the Jan. 17 shooting of Detective Jarrod Shivers, 34, a father of three. He is charged with first-degree murder, use of a firearm and first-offense possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. Shivers, an eight-year police veteran, was shot while executing a drug search warrant at Frederick's home in the 900 block of Redstart Ave., in the Portlock section of Chesapeake. Police said Shivers was attempting to enter the suspect's home when "shots were fired from inside the residence," striking the detective. Frederick, in a jail interview with The Virginian-Pilot, said he did not know it was a police kicking in his front door and fired his .380-caliber handgun at what he thought was an intruder. A special prosecutor from Northern Virginia has been appointed to handle the case. Paul Ebert, the commonwealth's attorney from Prince William County, was appointed when Chesapeake prosecutors removed themselves from the case to avoid any perceived appearance of bias."
According to the Virginian-Pilot, "Supporters of Ryan Frederick, the man accused of fatally shooting a city detective, are planning a march and rally Feb. 23 at the city jail where the 28-year-old is being held without bail. The rally is planned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Chesapeake Correctional Center, 400 Albemarle Drive. Frederick is expected to appear in Chesapeake General District Court two days before the planned rally for a bond hearing."
The case has had reverberations well beyond Virginia. As the Victorville, CA Desert Dispatch noted in an editorial on Feb. 12, 2008 (Unnecessary SWAT Raids Put All Parties At Risk"), "Right now, in Chesapeake, Va., Ryan Frederick is in jail, charged with murdering a police officer. On Jan. 17, a police SWAT team converged on Frederick's home after an informant told police he was growing marijuana, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Based on this information, the police organized an evening raid. Frederick, who was apparently asleep, said he thought somebody was trying to break into his home. The circumstances are not fully clear, but he ultimately shot one of the officers as they broke down his front door. The officer later died. The police did not find a marijuana-growing operation in Frederick's house. He was growing tree saplings in his garage apparently. He had a slight amount of marijuana for recreational use, a misdemeanor. His first one. According to the Virginian-Pilot, Frederick was afraid because somebody had broken into his garage three days before the police raid, which may well explain the source of the informant's claims. As a result, an officer is dead and a man who believed he was protecting his home from an intruder may stand trial for it. The community is coming out in support of Frederick, but it's a tragedy all around."
The Desert Dispatch wrote that "SWAT raids should be intended as a tool of last resort, when lives are endangered and there is no other way for authorities to safely enter a home or building. Even in the appropriate circumstances these raids can be deadly for all involved. A SWAT officer was killed last week in the Los Angeles area in a raid trying to stop an apparently mentally ill man who killed three members of his own family. When authorities misuse these raids - for whatever logical reason - to execute search warrants, they put themselves and sometimes innocent people at risk."
Residents of Lima, OH, are protesting the recent killing of a young woman and wounding of her 14-month-old child during a police SWAT-team raid.
The Toledo Blade reported on Jan. 17, 2008 ("Angry Lima Slams Shooting Inquiry") that "On Jan. 4, Tarika Wilson, 26, was shot to death and her 14-month-old son, Sincere, was wounded when members of the Lima Police Department's SWAT team searched Wilson's East Third Street home and arrested her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, 31, on drug charges. At some point during the 8:15 p.m. raid, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, a 30-year veteran of the department, fired at Wilson, who was holding her young son in her arms. Her five other children were in the house at the time."
According to the Blade, "Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann came to town yesterday to assure Lima residents that his office would do a thorough and unbiased investigation into the fatal shooting of a local woman by a Lima police officer. Instead, he got an earful. For more than two hours, Mr. Dann and representatives of the FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation listened as black and white residents expressed their distrust of the Lima police department, told stories of how they allegedly had been harassed by officers, and demanded to know how they could expect the state law enforcement agency to impartially investigate the actions of another law enforcement agency."
The Blade noted that "The state's findings are to be turned over to Defiance County Prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh, who was appointed special prosecutor. Mr. Strausbaugh said he will review BCI&I's findings and determine whether or not the case should be presented to an Allen County grand jury for possible criminal charges against Sergeant Chavalia. 'I want an investigation that's been done independently, competently, and very thoroughly,' Mr. Strausbaugh said, adding that he was 'independent' of Lima and Allen County. FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said agents from the Toledo office also are investigating the case for possible federal civil-rights violations. Their findings will be turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice. Officials declined to discuss any details of the investigations. Several people in the audience asked why the probe should take so much time when it should be clear what happened. 'You've given us nothing,' said Thelma Flint. 'This case is open and shut. She was murdered. She was with her children.'"
Investigation into the police killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston has led to widespread allegations of wrongdoing and corruption in the Atlanta, GA police department. The New York Times reported on April 27, 2007 ("Prosecutors Say Corruption In Atlanta Police Dept. Is Widespread") that "After the fatal police shooting of an elderly woman in a botched drug raid, the United States attorney here said Thursday that prosecutors were investigating a 'culture of misconduct' in the Atlanta Police Department. In court documents, prosecutors said Atlanta police officers regularly lied to obtain search warrants and fabricated documentation of drug purchases, as they had when they raided the home of the woman, Kathryn Johnston, in November, killing her in a hail of bullets. Narcotics officers have admitted to planting marijuana in Ms. Johnston's home after her death and submitting as evidence cocaine they falsely claimed had been bought at her house, according to the court filings."
According to the Times, "Two of the three officers indicted in the shooting, Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith, pleaded guilty on Thursday to state charges including involuntary manslaughter and federal charges of conspiracy to violate Ms. Johnston's civil rights. 'Former officers Junnier and Smith will also help us continue our very active ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct that led to this tragedy extends within the Atlanta Police Department,' said David Nahmias, the United States attorney. Asked how widespread such practices might be, Mr. Nahmias said investigators were looking at narcotics officers, officers who had once served in the narcotics unit and 'officers that had never been in that unit but may have adopted that practice.' The investigation has already led to scrutiny of criminal cases involving the indicted officers and others who may have used similar tactics. Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney, said his office was reviewing at least 100 cases involving the three officers, including 10 in which defendants were in jail. If they continue to cooperate, Mr. Junnier, who retired after the shooting, faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and Mr. Smith, who resigned Thursday, faces 12 years. The third officer, Arthur Tesler, declined a plea deal. He was indicted on charges of violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process."
The police originally tried to assert that they were acting on an informant's tip. That story however proved to be false. The Atlanta Journal & Constitution reported on April 28, 2007 ("Scared Police 'Snitch' To Sue") that "Officers Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith claimed White had bought drugs inside the house as they waited outside. But when a team of officers forced their way into the home, instead of drugs, they only found frightened and confused elderly homeowner, Kathryn Johnston, who died in a shootout with police. Smith handcuffed Johnston, who lay on her floor bleeding to death before he planted drugs in her basement. Smith quickly called White, telling him to memorize a version of events agreed upon by the officers involved. The next day, two other officers picked up White close to White's house in a patrol car and drove around telling him what he was to say. But White refused. He tried to open the car door, but it was locked. He said the officers held him against his will for two hours, threatening him if he didn't agree to tell the stream of lies. Fearful they'd kill him, White was finally able to open the car door, rolling down the window and pulling on the door handle. He then jumped out and ran to a crowded public place, hiding nearby until a federal agent came to pick him up."
According to the Journal-Constitution, "Whoever said crime doesn't pay hasn't met Alexis White. While others shuffle off to work to early morning desk jobs, White has slept late and made a living buying drugs throughout the city as a police informant. That work, which netted White between $20,000 and $30,000 a year, came to an abrupt halt in November when an elderly Atlanta woman was fatally shot by police during a botched drug bust near White's neighborhood. Narcotics officers asked White, 45, to lie to help them with a cover-up, but he called authorities and exposed renegade cops. Three officers were indicted this week in the case, and two have pleaded guilty to killing 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston. White plans to sue police and the city for his loss of income, according to a notice his attorney, Fenn Little, hand-delivered Friday to the offices of the mayor, city attorney, Municipal Court clerk and police chief. But aside from his job, which can be replaced, he's also suing because of his ever-present fear, which can't be erased. White has been officially outed as an informant, more commonly called a 'snitch' or 'rat.' He feels this makes him Public Enemy No. 1 for street thugs and some police officers. His photo has been in the newspaper and he's been interviewed on television."
More stories on this case can be found by clicking here.
Police in Queens, NY, shot and killed a man after his bachelor party. The New York Times reported on Nov. 27, 2006 ("50 Shots Fired, And The Experts Offer A Theory") that "According to the police account, five officers fired 50 shots at a bridegroom who, leaving his bachelor party at a strip club, twice drove his car into a minivan carrying plainclothes police officers investigating the club. The bridegroom, Sean Bell, who was to be married hours later, was killed, and two of his friends were wounded, one critically."
According to the Times, "The shooting on Saturday unfolded in a flash. An undercover officer posted inside the Club Kalua, a site of frequent drug, weapon and prostitution complaints in Jamaica, overheard an exchange between a stripper and a man that led the officer to suspect the man was armed, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said on Saturday. The undercover officer alerted the officers acting as backup outside -- there were seven officers in all -- about 4 a.m., setting into motion the events to follow later. Eight men left the club and argued briefly with another man, with one from the group saying, "Yo, get my gun," Mr. Kelly said. The eight men apparently split into two groups of four, with one group piling into a Nissan Altima driven by Mr. Bell, Commissioner Kelly said. As an undercover detective who had been following the group on foot approached the vehicle, Mr. Bell drove into him, striking his leg, before plowing into a minivan carrying two backup officers, the commissioner said. The Altima reversed, mounting a sidewalk and hitting the lowered gate of a building before going forward and striking the van again. The officers opened fire, striking Mr. Bell, 23, twice, in the right arm and neck, Commissioner Kelly said. The critically wounded man, Joseph Guzman, 31, was struck 11 times, and the third man, Trent Benefield, 23, three times. Mr. Kelly said it was unclear whether there was a fourth man in the car and what became of him."
Actually the details of the event are not clearcut. Bob Herbert of the NY Times wrote in his column of Nov. 30, 2006 ("Badges, Guns And Another Unarmed Victim") that "Yesterday, under an overcast sky and with a crush of reporters around them, the relatives and fiancee of Sean Bell visited the narrow street in Queens where he was killed in a sudden frantic fusillade of police bullets early last Saturday morning, just a few hours before he was to be married. Mr. Bell and two friends who had attended his bachelor party at a nearby club were in his car when they were set upon by a group of undercover cops who had been staking out the club. The two friends were seriously wounded in the shooting. Here is my first quick take on this case: If I was in my car outside a rowdy nightclub in the wee hours of the morning and someone who looked like a club patron came running toward me, screaming and waving a gun, I would immediately slam the gearshift into drive, hit the accelerator and try to get the hell out of there. This appears to be what happened. The cops, dressed to blend in with the club crowd, were single-mindedly looking for trouble -- evidence of prostitution, underage drinking, illegal guns, and so forth. They were looking so hard for criminal behavior that they seem to have imagined it where none was occurring. One officer is said to have believed that one of Mr. Bell's companions may have had a gun. No gun was found and there is no evidence that any of the three men were armed at any time. 'It sounds to me like excessive force was used,' said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who characterized the 50-shot barrage as 'unacceptable' and 'inexplicable.' Referring to Mr. Bell and his two friends, the mayor said, 'There is no evidence that they were doing anything wrong.' The thing that is most unacceptable about this case is not the total number of shots fired, but the fact that five New York City cops were so willing to begin firing at all -- willing to take the life of another human being, and maybe a number of human beings -- without ever establishing that there was a good reason for doing so."
There are also questions being raised about the investigation. The NY Times reported on Dec. 4, 2006 ("In Seeking Clues To Police Shooting, A Search And Arrests"Detectives investigating the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell, an unarmed 23-year-old black man, arrested four people at a Queens apartment building and seized a loaded semiautomatic handgun and a bag of marijuana, the police said yesterday. The arrests were believed to be part of a broad police effort to locate witnesses -- including one described by many in the case as a 'fourth man' -- who may have briefly been in Mr. Bell's car on Saturday morning in the moments before five police officers fired a fusillade of 50 bullets. Mr. Bell was killed in the gunfire, and his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were injured. The arrests did little to cool tensions in an emotionally charged case. One of those arrested, LaToya Smith, said in an interview that she knew Mr. Benefield, who lives in the same complex, as well as Mr. Bell, who she said was helpful to her in the past. Friends and family of the three men said the police were acting overzealously by arresting those who knew the dead and injured men, and noted that all three were victims who have not been charged with any crimes. They also questioned the existence of the fourth man. 'If he's bionic, and he's that good to get away from those bullets, I want to meet him, too,' said Eboni Browning, Mr. Guzman's fiancee, after leaving his bedside at Mary Immaculate Hospital."
According to the Times, "Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday that the warrant that led to the arrests was executed 'in conjunction' with the investigation of the shooting of Mr. Bell. 'The warrant execution took place as a result of previous purchases of narcotics at that location,' where the raid took place, he said at a news conference at 1 Police Plaza. But people at the apartment complex in Queens, where candles and photos were set up in tribute to Mr. Bell, said they were outraged by the police behavior. And the mood was the same at Mary Immaculate Hospital, where Mr. Benefield and Mr. Guzman were recuperating. 'I'm enraged,' said Bishop Erskine Williams, who said that his 26-year-old son, Erskine Williams Jr., was arrested yesterday on a warrant for an unpaid summons of $25. He was soon released. 'They're harassing a lot of male blacks where we live, and it's got to stop,' the bishop said. According to the bishop, who said he was in a group of people who met with Mayor Bloomberg on Monday, his son, who knows Mr. Guzman and Mr. Benefield, was questioned by the police about Mr. Bell's bachelor party, whether he was there, and what those involved might have told him. 'It's obvious the police need to build a case," said the bishop, who is the pastor of New Seasons Family Worship Center in Jamaica. He said the Smiths are his niece and nephews and that Stanley Smith is the keyboard player at his church. 'They don't have credible evidence. Their methods are wrong, even if their intentions may be pure.' In an interview, his son said that after he spent a night in the hospital watching over Mr. Benefield, detectives checked him for tattoos and pressed him for details about what Mr. Benefield had said. 'They know I'm Trent's best friend,' said the younger Mr. Erskine. 'That's why they're harassing me.' Others at the complex where the arrests took place, the Baisley Park Gardens, said the police were asking about a man nicknamed Ducky. Mr. Kelly declined to speak about any incremental developments in the police investigation. He said there was nothing he could do about the skepticism about the existence of a fourth man. 'The existence of a fourth person is a part of this investigation,' Mr. Kelly said. 'It's one of the issues being addressed by investigators.' The police efforts are being led by the same unit of the Internal Affairs Bureau that spearheaded the inquiry into the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, seven years ago."
Atlanta police shot and killed an 88-year-old woman in her home during a raid intended to find a coke dealer. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote on Dec. 4, 2006 ("88-Year-Old Woman Is Latest Collateral Damage In Senseless Drug War") that "Kathryn Johnston was collateral damage in America's misguided "war on drugs." On Nov. 21, the 88-year-old woman was shot dead by Atlanta undercover police officers who crashed through her door after dark to execute a "no-knock" search warrant for illegal drugs. Living in a high-crime neighborhood, apparently frightened out of her wits, she fired at the intruders with a rusty revolver, hitting all three. That's according to the police account, which says the officers then returned fire, striking Ms. Johnston in the chest and extremities. Because there are suggestions of police impropriety in the case, Police Chief Richard Pennington has asked outside law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to review the actions of the narcotics officers. The investigation may reveal police incompetence, and it may reveal police malfeasance. Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely to point to the root cause of this tragedy: a foolish, decades-long effort to curb illegal drug use through arrests and incarceration. Raging on mindlessly, the war on drugs has caused untold collateral damage - leaving children fatherless, helping to exacerbate the spread of AIDS, and filling prisons with people who, with minimal rehabilitation, might be contributing to society rather than draining its resources."
Questions have already been raised about the incident. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Nov. 27, 2006 ("Informant In Shooting Says He Never Bought Drugs At Home") that "The confidential informant on whose word Atlanta police raided the house of an 88-year-old woman is now saying he never purchased drugs from her house and was told by police to lie and say he did. Chief Richard Pennington, in a press conference Monday evening, said his department learned two days ago that the informant -- who has been used reliably in the past by the narcotics unit -- denied providing information to officers about a drug deal at 933 Neal Street in northwest Atlanta. 'The informant said he had no knowledge of going into that house and purchasing drugs,' Pennington said. 'We don't know if he's telling the truth.' The search warrant used by Atlanta police to raid the house says that a confidential informant had bought crack cocaine at the residence, using $50 in city funds, several hours before the raid. In the document, officers said that the informant told them the house had surveillance cameras that the suspected drug dealer, called 'Sam,' monitored. Pennington on Monday evening said the informant told the Internal Affairs Unit that he did not tell officers that the house had surveillance equipment, and that he was asked to lie."
According to the Journal-Constitution, "Kathryn Johnston was killed Tuesday night when she fired at officers seeking to serve a warrant. They had broken down the front door and exchanged gunfire with Johnston. Police later claimed a man named "Sam" had sold drugs from inside the house to an informant, prompting the officers to seek a 'no-knock' warrant. Such warrants are frequently issued so police can get inside a home before suspects can destroy or flush drugs. Johnston --- described by neighbors and family as a frightened woman who had burglar bars on her windows and door and rarely let friends and neighbors into her home --- had lived at the one-story brick home near the Georgia Dome for 17 years. The police chief said officers found marijuana inside the house but 'not a large quantity.' The officers were not wearing uniforms but had on bulletproof vests with 'Police' emblazoned across the front and back. And they identified themselves as they burst through the doors, police said. Johnston grabbed a rusty six-shot revolver and emptied it. Five shots struck the officers, hitting one of them three times. The other two were each hit once. The officers returned fire, shooting Johnston twice in the chest and elsewhere, police have said."
The mother of Jonathan Magbie filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia and a local hospital in Sept. 2005 over Mr. Magbie's death. As reported in the Washington Post on Sept. 21, 2005 ( "Mother Sues Over DC Inmate's Death"), "The mother of a quadriplegic inmate who died after suffering breathing problems at the D.C. jail has filed a lawsuit accusing the District government and Greater Southeast Community Hospital of failing to give him proper care. Standing on the courthouse steps yesterday, nearly a year after her son Jonathan Magbie died of acute respiratory failure, Mary Scott said she wants justice -- and $50 million in damages -- for what her suit called the repeated failures and 'brutal insensitivity' of the city and hospital. 'My baby lost 40 pounds in four days, and they never lifted a finger. No one should have been treated like that,' Scott said. 'He needed medical attention, and they turned their backs on him.'
According to the Post, "Magbie, 27, of Mitchellville, was paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a drunk driver when he was 4. On Sept. 20, 2004, he sat in his mouth-operated wheelchair as D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith E. Retchin sentenced him to 10 days in jail for a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana. He was a first-time offender. Magbie was taken to the D.C. jail, and within hours he was having difficulty breathing. He was moved to the emergency room at Greater Southeast; the hospital released him to the jail the next day. On Sept. 24, he again was taken to the hospital, where he died that day. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, asserts that Greater Southeast should have treated Magbie for respiratory distress and other serious problems and admitted him Sept. 21, instead of discharging him. It also claims that medical staff members at the D.C. Department of Corrections knew they did not have the ventilator that Magbie said he needed to breathe at night but still put him in a locked jail infirmary room where they couldn't hear him and ignored his rapidly deteriorating health. Hospital officials have defended the care they provided. Yesterday, they declined to comment on the lawsuit until it is reviewed by lawyers. D.C. officials also would not immediately comment on the suit. Corrections officials have said Magbie received 'all the necessary treatment' while in custody."
The Post noted that "Investigations were launched after Magbie's death and provided some conclusions about its cause. But his family's legal complaint makes new detailed allegations about what it calls the missteps and 'cruel and unusual punishment' by nearly a dozen city and hospital medical staff members. The suit does not name Retchin as a defendant. A D.C. Department of Health investigation concluded in December that the hospital failed to provide adequate care. An investigation by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure cleared Retchin of blame, concluding that she acted within the law and made an effort to determine whether the D.C. jail would be able to care for a quadriplegic. That report noted, however, 'failures of communication . . . in this tragic sequence of events' in which the judge's staff was actually checking whether a federal prison could take care of a paraplegic."
Members of the Campbell County, TN sheriff's department were expected to plead guilty in federal court to charges arising from the beating of a drug suspect and possible informer. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on Feb. 6, 2005 ( "Tape Reveals Terrifying Campaign In War On Drugs") that "'It's ( expletive ) over, son.' For two hours, authorities say, that message would be pounded into Lester Eugene Siler's head and body, reinforced with the barrel of a gun and echoed in threats of electrocution. Handcuffed and surrounded, Siler was now a prisoner of the war on drugs in Campbell County. Seven months later, five former Campbell County Sheriff's Department lawmen are poised to plead guilty to federal charges they conspired to violate Siler's civil rights by beating, threatening and torturing him. Named in informations drafted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Atchley Jr. and filed last week in U.S. District Court are David Webber, 40; Samuel R. Franklin, 42; Joshua Monday, 24; Shayne Green, 35; and William Carroll, 26."
According to the News-Sentinel, the charges involve "a plot by the former lawmen to force Siler to put his signature on a form they could use in court as proof the convicted drug dealer agreed to let them search his home in the White Oak community in search of drugs and money. Atchley lists in the documents disturbing examples of the lengths he alleges these former lawmen were willing to go: threats to electrocute Siler, drown him and break his fingers, beatings and gunplay. But as shocking as those allegations are, they pale in comparison to the bone-chilling account of Siler's ordeal captured on a secret recording and laid out in a 59-page FBI transcript. On these pages, it is the ex-officers' own words that tell the tale of a drug war where the rules of engagement are written in Siler's blood. 'We're going to take every dime you have today and if we don't walk out of here with every piece of dope you got and every dime you got, you're ( expletive ) ass is not going to make it to the jail,' Webber warned in the transcript."
The incident was caught on an audio tape by the victim's wife, Jenny Siler. The News-Sentinel reported that "With lawmen at her door, Jenny Siler turns on a tape recorder in her kitchen and sighs as she heads to the door to greet them. The recorder would continue to roll long after the lawmen send away Jenny Siler, 27, and her 8-year-old, leaving them alone with Eugene Siler. It would produce a recording that spanned 40 to 45 minutes of what authorities contend was a two-hour ordeal. The FBI transcript of the recording indicates that it not only captured what the officers said but what they did. It is replete with references to sounds of Siler being slapped and struck. It details Siler's moans, his pleas, his piercing screams. The lawmen indicate in the transcript that Siler had fled out the door when they arrived. They've caught him and handcuffed him. He is brought into the house and placed in a chair, his hands cuffed behind his back. He is already moaning. Webber is heard first, telling Siler his 'dope dealing's over.' Franklin chimes in, telling Siler the lawmen are shutting down his drug business. Monday speaks next. 'It's ( expletive ) over, son,' Monday says. The beating begins then. There is no way to tell from the transcript how long the first assault lasts. At some point, Franklin instructs Carroll to hold off. 'Wait a minute, Will, before you start,' Franklin says."
The torture continued for quite a long time. Apparently
the officers were trying
to get Siler to sign "form that, once signed, will state that
Siler gave his consent for the officers to search his home."
According to the News-Sentinel,
"Webber tells him that they could take a battery charger, hook
some wires to it and attach it to Siler's testicles. The federal
informations allege that the lawmen later rigged up such a device
and used clamps to attach it to Siler's body.
The Campbell County Sheriff's Department, headed by
Sheriff Ron Coleman, does a great deal of PR on its drug war efforts.
According to the News-Sentinel, "Hardly a week goes by without
a press release from McClellan's office detailing the latest raid,
the fruits of the newest undercover operation or the next roundup
of drug purveyors." The News-Sentinel reports that the Department
"has been so successful at nabbing drug traffickers on the
interstate that it has been featured on a nationally syndicated
police reality show. The agency boasts some of the largest cash
seizures in the state and was once forced to borrow money-counting
machines from local banks to tally up the take.
It is not known whether or not the guilty pleas by the five defendants will
end the federal probe. According to the News-Sentinel:
The key figure in the Tulia Travesty, former police officer Tom Coleman, was found guilty of perjury in Jan. 2005. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on Jan. 15, 2005 ( "Coleman Convicted Of Perjury") that "Coleman was convicted on one count of aggravated perjury relating to a March 2003 writ of habeas corpus hearing where he told a judge he did not know of Cochran County theft charges against him prior to Aug. 7, 1998. He was acquitted of a second count of aggravated perjury relating to whether he knew he put gasoline into a private vehicle from a county-owned pump. 'Ask not, Mr. Coleman, for whom the bell tolls,' urged prosecutor Rob Hobson in his closing remarks, walking toward the defense table and looking grimly at Coleman. 'The bell tolls for you.'"
The defense was successful in getting for Coleman a sentence of probation only. According to the Avalanche-Journal, "Much of Friday's punishment phase parted ways with the actual issues surrounding Coleman's perjury as the defense tried to turn the sentence to probation and Hobson pushed for jail time. Hobson took advantage of the punishment phase to delve into the Tulia drug defendants and convictions snatched up with the help of Coleman's sole testimony. To do so, he called Freddie Brookins to the stand. Brookins, 27, spent three years and eight months in the Texas prison system before he was released - finally pardoned more than a year ago of a drug crime he did not commit. On Friday, Brookins took the stand, describing the effects of jail time and the accusations. The defense, said Hobson, used the opportunity to question Brookins to their own advantage, pitting blacks against whites. Of the 46 arrests in the bust, 39 were of black defendants."
The Avalanche-Journal noted that "At one point, defense attorney Kirk Lechtenberger pointed to the back of the courtroom where many of the Tulia defendants were watching the trial. 'Why do you think they're all watching this?' Lechtenberger said, alleging the case against Coleman was retribution for the Tulia bust. 'Because a long time ago, doing what he thought was right ... because he's white ...' Lechtenberger was cut off by an objection from Hobson, which was sustained by Gleason. 'That's offensive,' said a stunned onlooker in the gallery. The jurors - 10 whites and two Hispanics - were quick to make each of their decisions on convictions and jail time, spending a little less than three hours deliberating."
According to the A-J, "The sentence offered a brief, shining moment of happiness for former Tulia defendants in the back of the courtroom, who peered on with hopeful faces. Then, Judge David Gleason finished reading the verdict. Indeed, as quickly as their glee erupted, it just as soon faded when they learned of the jury's recommendation to probate the sentence. The judge will later rule on the length and terms of the probation."
The trial was disappointing in many ways but it did serve a good purpose. As the A-J reported, "'In Tulia, it's bigger than Tom Coleman,' said Gerrod Ervine, 23, who was convicted in the Tulia sting. 'It's a system. They just got one of their soldiers ( Coleman. )' With most of the case serving as a post-mortem media feeding frenzy, the search for answers to questions left over spilled into the fifth floor of the Lubbock County Courthouse where attorneys reflected on the legal effort in the case. As many of the questions focused on whether any other justice might be sought for the drug bust gone awry, Hobson said he was happy with getting more information out about what happened in Tulia. 'I think the people know a lot more about what happened in Tulia than they did before this case started,' he said. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart testified. In the midst of his testimony, Hobson asked Gleason to appoint an attorney for Stewart because of potentially perjurious testimony. Although nothing more was said about Stewart's statement, Hobson said determining whether Stewart lied on the stand would be up to Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Bill Sowder and a grand jury."
A settlement has been reached in the Tulia drug sting case. According to the New York Times on March 11, 2004 ( "$5 Million Settlement Ends Case Of Tainted Texas Sting"), "Five years after 46 people, almost all of them black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex., their ordeal will draw to a close today with the announcement of a $5 million settlement in their civil suit and the disbandment of a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force responsible for the arrests."
The Times reported that "'This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice,' said Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer in Amarillo who represented the people arrested five years ago in the civil suit. 'With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done.' Mr. Blackburn added that the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force failed adequately to supervise the agent, Tom Coleman, in its eagerness to win battles in the war on drugs."
The Times noted that "The $5 million will be divided among 45 former defendants based on a formula that will take account of whether they served time in prison and how long. One defendant has since died. The settlement will be paid by the City of Amarillo, which had a leading role in running the task force. Marcus W. Norris, the city attorney, said many drug task forces in Texas were poorly organized and governed. That led, he said, to poor supervision of Mr. Coleman in Tulia, a lack of accountability and catastrophic misjudgments. 'There's a lesson here,' Mr. Norris said, 'that cities should be very careful about these alliances.' Mr. Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go on trial on perjury charges in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Jon Mark Hogg, a lawyer for Mr. Coleman, declined to comment on the civil settlement."
A settlement has been reached with Amarillo, however negotiations continue with other Texas counties and cities. According to an Associated Press story carried by the Charlotte Observer on March 12, 2004 ( "Amarillo Admits Drug Sting Had Erred"), "Kizzie White, who will receive part of the settlement, said Thursday she is satisfied with it and is especially glad to see the task force disbanded. 'They need to be gone, and let the city and county do the job,' said White, who spent four years behind bars and was released in 2003. 'The money is good, too, but that can't bring back the time I missed with my kids.' Mediation is ongoing with others named in the lawsuit -- 26 counties and three cities involved with the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force. Swisher County officials earlier approved a $250,000 settlement for those imprisoned based on Coleman's testimony in exchange for the defendants promising not to sue the county. Coleman no longer is an officer."
Authorities have charged with murder the police officer who shot and killed an innocent young man in Louisville earlier this year. According to an AP report in the Boston Globe on March 21, 2004 ( "Murder Charge In KY Police Shooting"), "Michael Newby's extra-large jogging pants were falling down as he rushed out of the house. 'Boy, you better get a rope or a belt or something for those,' Jerry Bouggess told his slender stepson, who was heading out for a Saturday night. That was the last conversation they would have. Early the next morning, Newby, 19, was dead, shot in the back three times by an undercover Louisville police officer during a drug bust. Newby was the seventh black man killed by police in the past five years in this city of nearly 700,000, where blacks make up about 20 percent of the population."
Though Newby was shot in the back, legal experts and rights activists are not confident that the charges will result in a conviction. As the Globe noted, "Unlike the past killings, however, this one led to murder charges against the officer, McKenzie G. Mattingly, a white man who had been on the force for about six years. But legal specialists and local activists are skeptical the case will end in a murder conviction. 'Just because somebody is shot in the back doesn't mean it's a criminal act,' said Tim Apolito, a criminal justice professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. 'It's a quantum leap from somebody getting indicted to actually being convicted.' Jefferson County prosecutor David Stengel said the Jan. 3 slaying appeared all along to be a 'bad shooting,' in part because of the shots in the back. Mattingly, 31, pleaded not guilty and is free on bail."
Louisville, KY is the site of protests over the police killing of yet another young black man. The Guardian newspaper reported on Jan. 9, 2004 ( "Protest Of KY Suspect Shooting Gets Tense") that "A protest following the death of a black teenager who was shot three times in the back by a white police officer turned violent Thursday, with demonstrators breaking windows of the police chief's office. About 400 people gathered outside Louisville Metro Police headquarters to protest the Saturday night shooting death of 19-year-old Michael Newby. Newby was shot in the back by undercover police officer McKenzie G. Mattingly. Police said Mattingly was trying to buy drugs from Newby when the deal went wrong, and Newby was shot after the two struggled for Mattingly's gun. It was the second killing of a black man by a white police officer in the city in just over a year."
The FBI has begun an investigation into the incident. The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reported on Jan. 7, 2004 ( "FBI Joins Probe Into Fatal Shooting Of Teen By Police") that "Federal officials are investigating the fatal shooting of a black teenager shot in the back last week by a Louisville police officer, an FBI spokesman said Tuesday. 'We are going to conduct what we call a substantial investigation, and that means we will conduct a complete, independent, thorough and impartial investigation of the matter,' David Beyer, an FBI spokesman in Louisville, said in a phone interview. Beyer said the investigation was initiated early this week."
Calls for patience as the investigation progresses are being met with skepticism and anger. The Messenger-Inquirer noted that "The call for patience incensed some civil rights leaders who have protested the Louisville police in the past. Newby was the seventh black man to be shot and killed by Louisville police in the past five years. 'We have too many of our young black men dying unnecessarily by a police department that is corrupt to the core,' said the Rev. James Tennyson, a local pastor and activist. The Justice Resource Center, headed by the Rev. Louis Coleman, met with Newby's family on Monday and recommended that the family sue the city. It was not known Tuesday whether the family would heed Coleman's advice. 'It's up to them. We've encouraged them to fight this as hard as they can,' Coleman said."
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The police shooting of an unarmed Columbus, GA man has sparked a controversy locally and nationally over the question of racially biased law enforcement, with the FBI beginning an investigation of the incident. The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported on Dec. 17, 2003 ( "FBI Starts Preliminary Probe") that "The Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun a preliminary inquiry into the fatal shooting of an unarmed Columbus man by a deputy sheriff. The federal agency became involved at the request of Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson. 'I feel this is the proper, procedural process for the citizens to continue to have confidence in this office,' Johnson said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Government Center. The announcement comes a day after a coalition of area churches called for a federal inquiry into the death of Kenneth B. Walker, a 39-year-old father and husband. Some community leaders have also called for an investigation into the department's search and seizure procedures and for the sheriff to step aside during the investigation."
Previously, the state's investigative agency had taken charge of the investigation. The Athens Banner-Herald reported on Dec. 14, 2003 ( "GBI Takes Over Muscogee Shooting Probe") that "The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has assumed control of the probe into the shooting of an unarmed man by a Muscogee County Sheriff's deputy. Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson said Friday he almost has finished his own investigation of Wednesday night's incident on Interstate 185 in which a deputy sheriff shot and killed an unarmed 39-year-old Columbus man."
According to the Banner-Herald, "Walker and three friends were pulled over in their gray GMC Yukon Wednesday night. Officers with guns drawn ordered the four men, 'Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!' and 'Let me see your hands!' Walker's three companions apparently complied with the commands, but Walker provided 'some resistance,' according to the sheriff's account. Although Walker was on the ground, his right hand couldn't be seen by the officers, Johnson said. The deputy fired at least two shots, including the fatal shot to Walker's head. No gun was found in the Yukon. Walker died during surgery about 2:25 a.m. Thursday. The other three men were released. On Thursday, Johnson called the incident 'a tragic day for the family of the deceased and for my office and for the city of Columbus.' Walker's family and friends say they want to know why he was shot and why they didn't find out until nearly four hours later. Mother Emily Walker said she was called to the hospital after 1 a.m. Thursday. He died before she and Walker's wife located him in the hospital. 'There are so many unanswered questions,' said Emily Walker."
The incident has been cast by officials as stemming from a case of mistaken identity, which others -- including an attorney for the Walker family -- dispute. The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported on Dec. 13, 2003 ( "Sheriff Denies Race As Factor In Interstate Shooting") that "The tragic incident began when Walker, a former Kendrick High School bsketball star working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, met three friends after work Wednesday evening. The four men gathered at Applebee's at Gentian Boulevard and University Avenue, part of their ritual weekly get-together. They usually followed happy hour at Applebee's with a journey to El Vaquero, a Mexican Restaurant in Cross Country Plaza, for its margarita specials. Walker left his car at Applebee's and rode with the others in Carver High School basketball coach Warren Beaulah's GMC Yukon, but a Walker family friend said on this night the men departed from their usual script. They stopped at the Northwoods Apartments on Armour Road, where one of the men asked a resident to give him a ride to work Thursday morning -- then the four took off again to El Vaquero's. Walker and his friends apparently didn't know that the Metro Narcotics Task Force had one of the Northwoods Apartments units under surveillance as a site where drug deals were transacted. The drug investigation also included a tip from an informant that the suspected drug dealers' source of contraband would be arriving in a gray GMC Yukon, which would be occupied by armed people from Miami. When Beaulah drove his vehicle from the apartment parking lot at 5000 Armour Road, he was followed by officers. He turned onto Manchester Expressway, then headed south on I-185 toward Macon Road when officers hit their blue lights and pulled the SUV over against the sound barrier wall. Officers with guns drawn ordered the four men, "Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!" and "Let me see your hands!" Walker's three companions apparently complied with the commands, but Walker provided "some resistance," according to the sheriff's account. Although Walker was on the ground, his right hand couldn't be seen by the officers, he said. At least two gunshots rang out on that roadside about 9:30 p.m. -- one shot striking Walker in the head and the other passing through his right shirt sleeve. An ambulance rushed Walker to The Medical Center, where he died during surgery about 2:25 a.m. Thursday. Beaulah and the other two men were taken in separate cars to the sheriff's department, where they were questioned and detained in a holding cell for six hours. They didn't discover until after they were released that Walker had died. During a morning radio show Friday, a caller who identified himself as having been a passenger in the Yukon offered an account of the traffic stop and the shooting that followed. "The way they had the guns in the faces and without not saying anything and we not understanding what was going on, it was very confusing," the man told Michael Soul, host of Foxie 105's "Breakfast Jam." "It was very scary and you basically didn't know what to do. You felt like if you even tried to turn your face from one side to the other, they'd shoot you. It was that scary." Soul described the caller's reenactment as "chilling" and "sickening." Columbus attorney Derrell Dowdell said he and attorney Gary Parker were asked by the Walker family to ensure that an independent investigation was made into Kenneth Walker's death, but Dowdell wants federal intervention. "We're seeking a thorough investigation by the U.S. Justice Department or by the FBI," he said Friday. Dowdell said he would provide witnesses, other than the passengers in the Yukon, who could testify that all four men were "ambushed" by law enforcement the night of the incident. "They will testify that Walker didn't physically or verbally disobey any command by any law enforcement officer," Dowdell said. "The evidence will show these young men were physically removed from the vehicle, had guns touching portions of their body and were shoved to the ground and placed in a prone position.""
National civil rights figures have also taken note of the incident. The Ledger-Enquirer reported on Dec. 18, 2003 ( "Sharpton Plans To Visit Columbus Over Shooting") that "The Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights leader and presidential candidate, is heading to Columbus. He's accepted an invitation to visit the area sometime in the next 10 days, a National Action Network representative said Wednesday during a news conference. The NAN, headed locally and statewide by Columbus' A.D. Carter, is the activist organization Sharpton heads nationally. Sharpton is expected to address last week's shooting death of Kenneth B. Walker, a black Columbus resident whose funeral was Tuesday. "A lot of people feel we need some national presence. This issue is not isolated in the country," Carter said, speaking at Spirit Filled Ministries."
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Nearly all those convicted in the Tulia drug sting a few years ago were pardoned by the governor of Texas in late August. As reported by the Abilene Reporter-News on Aug. 23, 2003 ( "Perry Pardons 35 Convicted In Tulia Case"), "Gov. Rick Perry on Friday granted pardons to 35 people who were convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of an undercover agent later charged with perjury. 'Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair,' Perry said in a statement. 'I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just.' Perry said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom Coleman, the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June, Perry signed a bill allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants who were still in prison." Also earlier in summer, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended that the governor issue the pardons.
Two of the other innocent victims in the Tulia case are filing suit in federal court over the arrests. The Longview News-Journal reported on Aug. 24, 2003 ( "Pardoned Tulia Drug Defendants Celebrate Release: 'I'm Really Free'") that "Drug charges against Zuri Bossett and Tonya White were dropped last year after they proved they were not in Tulia at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs from them. The women sued Coleman, Swisher County and its sheriff, Larry Stewart, prosecutor Terry McEachern and several officials with a narcotics task force in Amarillo that worked with Coleman. The women, who did not specify damages in their lawsuit, said the officials violated their civil rights and directed racial bias against Tulia's black population. Coleman's attorney did not return calls for comment. Stewart declined to comment."
Twelve of the Tulia defendants, wrongfully convicted on the word of a sole, now-indicted narc, were set free in June, 2003. As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press on June 17, 2003 ( "12 Jailed In Drug Bust Set Free, Agent Indicted"), "After as much as four years behind bars, 12 people sent to prison in a drug bust that brought cries of racism in this Texas Panhandle town were freed yesterday by a judge who said they were railroaded by a white undercover agent. 'I got something to smile about today,' Freddie Brookins said after the release of his son, Freddie Jr . The 11 black defendants and one white defendant were released on bail while they pursue their appeals. But a special prosecutor has said he will dismiss all charges if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grants them new trials. The racially charged case tore apart this town of 5,000 people and led to investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas Attorney General's office. A bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry two weeks ago cleared the way for the defendants' release while their cases were still on appeal. 'There are a great number of people who have a great deal of time, effort and faith in each of you invested,' state Judge Ron Chapman, who was brought out of retirement to preside over a review of the case. The undercover agent, Tom Coleman, who worked for a regional drug task force, has been indicted on perjury charges. All 12 were released from the Swisher County Jail on personal recognizance bonds. The judge has recommended the appeals court overturn all convictions."
Supporters and rights activists were pleased, yet concerned that there are many more victims of injustice lingering behind bars. A story by United Press International on June 16, 2003 ( "Analysis - Are There More Tulias Out There?") reported that "'Who knows how many other Tulias are out there,' said Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who has worked on the case along with scores of other lawyers. The factors behind the arrests in Tulia are at play in the criminal justice system across the nation, she told United Press International. They include inadequate indigent defense systems, unchecked prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias, she said."
One Texas legislator is calling for an Innocence Commission to look into other cases where innocent victims may have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. According to UPI, "Questions have more recently been raised about the so-called 'fake drug' arrests in Dallas and the DNA work of the Houston Police Crime Lab, which involves death row cases. A Houston senator wonders how many others there are. 'The only reason we know about the problems in Tulia, Dallas and Houston is because it makes good press,' he said. 'But what happens when it is just one person who is wrongfully convicted? Nothing, they sit in jail.' Ellis wants an innocence commission established in Texas to investigate what went wrong in such cases just the National Transportation Safety Board does in plane crashes. 'I am glad to see these people released here today,' he said. 'Their plight should serve as a stark reminder that this can happen anywhere to anybody. We have a duty to prevent it from ever happening again.'"
Will justice finally start being served? The Austin American-Statesman reported on April 29, 2003 ( "One Bad Agent, One Failed System Of Justice In Tulia") that a Swisher County, TX grand jury indicted Tom Coleman the week before "on three felony perjury charges accusing him of lying on the witness stand in March." According to the American-Statesman, "According to the indictment, Coleman testified he learned he was facing theft charges in August 1998 when Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart told him there was a warrant for his arrest. But other testimony he gave and evidence indicated Coleman knew months earlier -- in May 1998 -- about the theft charge. Before working undercover in Swisher County, Coleman had been a deputy in Cochran County. That county had issued a warrant for his arrest in the summer of 1998 for stealing county-owned gasoline two years before. Charges were dismissed after Coleman made restitution. The indictment also stated that Coleman lied about whether he told the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, as required, that he had been arrested."
The American-Statesman points out however that this case is
about more than just Tom Coleman. The note:
Four of the Tulia, TX defendants convicted on the testimony of former undercover cop Tom Coleman are back in court to determine if there is any evidence of actual guilt. The Amarillo Globe-News reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Hearings Begin On '99 Drug Bust") that "Evidentiary hearings on the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust kicked off Monday with a full house and witnesses questioning the integrity of the undercover officer who made the cases. The 242nd District courtroom was packed with spectators and attorneys in town for evidentiary hearings in the writ of habeas corpus appeals of four of the people convicted in the sting. The four defendants - Jason Jerome Williams, Christopher Eugene Jackson, Freddie Brookins Jr. and Joe Moore - all sat quietly to hear testimony that mostly called into question the honesty of their accuser, Tom Coleman. The four men were convicted and received sentences ranging from 20 to 90 years in prison. The cases of the four men were upheld on direct appeal, but the habeas corpus appeals of the four men were remanded back to Tulia last year."
The defense presented a number of witnesses who appeared to agree with the contention that Coleman could not be trusted. The New York Times reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Texas Cases Challenged Over Officer's Testimony") that "The proceedings started with lawyers for the jailed residents calling a parade of law enforcement officials who testified to Mr. Coleman's poor character and odd conduct. Ori White, the district attorney for Pecos County, who had litigated a divorce case against Mr. Coleman while in private practice, said, 'I do not believe Tom Coleman is an honest individual.' Mr. White said Mr. Coleman owned an illegal machine gun and that he so feared for his safety in the divorce case that he wore a bulletproof vest to court. Bruce Wilson, who was the sheriff of Pecos County for 16 years and for 5 years in the early 1990s was Mr. Coleman's boss said, 'You just couldn't depend on what he told you.' Juan Castro, the police chief of Fort Stockton, said Mr. Coleman was 'a paranoid gun nut.' Samuel Esparza, an investigator for the police department there, testified that Mr. Coleman was a racist. Mr. Coleman, who is now a private investigator, was not present today, has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment. He is expected to testify on Wednesday."
Coleman's own testimony in an earlier case also seems to call his veracity into question. Again according to the Times, "Mr. Coleman, who was named the state's Lawman of the Year in 1999, used unorthodox methods. He worked alone and did not tape record his drug buys. No drugs, weapons or large sums of cash were found in the arrests among the network of drug traffickers Mr. Coleman said he had identified. He described his methods in a 2001 deposition in a civil rights case brought by one of the defendants in the sweeps, which the county later settled for an undisclosed sum. When he bought drugs, Mr. Coleman said, 'I would put them in my sock, and write down the time and the date, and if I had a street name, first name, subject in a green pickup, whatever I had -- because I didn't know none of these people.' Whatever he had to go on, he said, 'I wrote on my leg.' Mr. Coleman was less than categorical when asked in the civil case whether he stood by the truthfulness of his earlier testimony. 'That can be questionable,' he said in his deposition. 'I mean, I have read over my testimony, and some of that stuff in there is, like, totally out in left field.' Lawyers for the defendants say there is a name for that patch of field. They call it perjury."
The death of Alberta Spruill, resulting from a raid on her apartment by overzealous cops acting on bad information, has been rulted a homicide, the Detroit Free Press reported on May 28, 2003 ( "Mistaken Raid Death Is Ruled A Homicide").
Background on the story: The NY Times reported on May 17, 2003 ( "Woman Dies After Police Mistakenly Raid Her Apartment"), that "A 57-year-old Harlem woman preparing to leave for her longtime city government job died of a heart attack yesterday morning after police officers broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade into her apartment, the police commissioner said. They were acting on what appeared to be bad information about guns and drugs in the apartment. Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly apologized to the family of the woman, Alberta Spruill, and said he had ordered an investigation of the entire incident and suspended the use of the grenades, which are meant to stun and disorient people with a loud noise and a flash. He said that he had reassigned the lieutenant who made the decision to use the grenade to administrative duties, pending the investigation, and that he would review how the grenades were used and search warrants carried out. Mr. Kelly said that the officers were executing what is known as a no-knock search warrant based on information provided by a drug dealer, who told the police that his supplier stored guns and drugs in Apartment 6F at 310 West 143rd Street. The dealer had told the police that he had seen armed people in the apartment on three occasions and that there were dogs inside, Mr. Kelly said. But in the raid at 6:10 a.m., the officers found only Ms. Spruill, and realized the information was wrong."
According to the Times, "Ms. Spruill, whom relatives and neighbors called hardworking and devout and someone who minded her own business, was a city employee for 29 years. Her job at the Division of Citywide Administrative Services included maintaining lists of candidates for civil service jobs, including police officers. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that what had happened was tragic and 'a terrible episode,' and said in a statement that he joined all city employees in grieving for Ms. Spruill. Neighbors and several elected officials questioned the department's tactics. 'Obviously it's slipshod police work,' said State Assemblyman Keith Wright, who added, 'I'm sorry to say, but these things happen all too often in this neighborhood.' At a news conference seven hours after Ms. Spruill's death, Mr. Kelly said it did not appear that the drug dealer had given any previous information to the department, although he was registered as a confidential informant. The commissioner also said that it was unclear whether the officers involved in the raid, who were from the 25th Precinct, conducted any surveillance of the building or the apartment before executing the search warrant, which was signed by Judge Patricia M. Nunez of Criminal Court."
Clayton Helriggle, 23, was shot to death by a police SWAT team during a raid on his Lanier Township, Ohio home on Sept. 27, 2002. According to the Dayton Daily News on Oct. 5, 2002 ( "Tip Led To Deadly Raid In Preble"), "A tip from an informant about marijuana trafficking led Preble County authorities to send the sheriff's emergency services unit on a surprise drug raid to a rural farmhouse on Sept. 27, Sheriff Tom Hayes said Friday. The specially trained police squad rarely is assigned to serve a search warrant, Hayes said."
As the Daily News reported, "Minutes after the officers forced their way into Clayton J. Helriggle's rented farmhouse at 1282 Ohio 503 outside West Alexandria, a Lewisburg police sergeant assigned to the group shot and killed the 23-year-old man. The officer, 41-year-old Sgt. Kent Moore, has been placed on administrative leave while Montgomery County sheriff's officers investigate Helriggle's death, Lewisburg Police Chief John Wright said. 'He is in seclusion,' Wright said Friday. 'Naturally, he's taking it very hard.' Moore, a Lewisburg police officer since 1983, also is a certified weapons instructor who serves as a sheriff's deputy when the Preble County emergency services unit is activated."
Some details of the incident are being kept from public view for the time being, the Daily News article reported. "Eaton Municipal Judge Paul Henry approved a search warrant earlier on Sept. 27. On Monday, he ordered it sealed until the investigation is complete."
An initial report on the death issued by the Preble County Sheriff's Department has been released, according to an article in the Eaton, OH Register-Herald on Oct. 9, 2002 ( "Shooting Incident Report Released"). The Register-Herald reported that "The facts of that report are being questioned and contradicted by Helriggle's family and those who were at the residence. A group of Helriggle's friends protested the shooting for more than a week, claiming it was unjustified. The incident has become a widespread controversy fueled by various media reports and contradicting accounts of the incident. Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office continues its investigation and the officer remains on administrative leave." According to the Register-Herald, "The search warrant, according to Hayes, was not a 'no knock' warrant. He added, when officers approached the residence, they did knock on the door and announce themselves. He added, however, officers did not receive a response and eventually entered the residence through an unlocked back door. Hayes also stated, because the investigation led them to believe 'up to a dozen people' may have been at the house, the situation was considered a 'high-risk' operation. Therefore, he stated, the Emergency Services Unit was used and took all necessary precautions, including full protective gear."
Yet, again as the Register-Herald reported, "Hayes also stated, those expected to be at the residence did not have any prior violations involving weapons or other assault-related incidents. Although only a small number of drug-related items were found in the home, the sheriff's office believes more intense drug-related activity was going on in the residence."
In fact, according to another article in the Dayton Daily News on Oct. 4, 2002 ( "Lewisburg Officer Involved In Shooting Identified"), "Deputies from both counties executed the search warrant Sept. 28 and the Preble County report notes that they confiscated a small amount of marijuana, two containers of pills, several pipes, rolling papers and plastic sandwich bags. Weapons also were seized, including a 12-gauge shotgun, BB gun, ornamental sword, knives, a hatchet and a grenade. Investigators also confiscated wallets containing $469 and $288.56. Helriggle's roommates were jailed the night of the shooting and released about 1:30 a.m. No one has been charged."
The question of whether officers properly identified themselves is also in dispute. According to the Daily News, "Family and friends of Helriggle said this week that they dispute police accounts, especially about how officers entered the farmhouse and what Helriggle was carrying in his right hand as he descended the stairs and was shot by Moore. Officers said they knocked on the door and identified themselves as sheriff's officers; Helriggle's roommates said they did not hear anything until a flash-bang grenade was tossed inside and police broke through the doors. Helriggle was unarmed, according to his roommates, and carrying a blue plastic cup of water. Law officers said he held a gun."
Family and friends of Clayton Helriggle have rallied to protest his death. The Eaton Register-Herald reported on Oct. 6, 2002 ( "Helriggle Family, Friends Protest Death") that "Nearly 30 people marched in front of the Preble County Courthouse for hours on Monday, Sept. 30, protesting the death last Friday of 23-year-old Clayton Helriggle. Helriggle was shot and killed during a drug raid near West Alexandria on Friday, Sept. 27. Since the incident, and as an investigation by Montgomery County authorities proceeds, two differing accounts have emerged. Officers at the scene said Helriggle approached with a handgun. Family and friends contend he held only a blue glass of water in his hand when a Preble County officer fired a single fatal round from a shotgun. The protest on Monday brought to light much of the family's belief about what happened. Helriggle's family and friends carried poster board signs professing 'They murdered my friend' and 'God won't forget.' Several carried blue cups, signifying what they believe the officers saw."
The investigation continues, and part of it is being carried out by authorities outside the area. The Middletown, OH Journal reported on Oct. 10, 2002 ( "Outsiders To Probe Preble Shooting") that "The Greene County prosecutor and his first assistant have been appointed special prosecutors in the case involving the Sept. 27 fatal shooting of Clayton J. Helriggle by a Preble County Emergency Services Unit member. Helriggle, 23, was shot during a drug raid at his home south of West Alexandria. Preble County Prosecutor Rebecca J. Ferguson voluntarily handed the case over to William Schenck on Wednesday after speaking with Helriggle's family, according to a media release from her office. Suzanne Schmidt, first assistant prosecutor in the Greene County office, will assist Schenck. No one from either office could be reached for comment. Preble County Sheriff Tom Hayes turned the investigation over to Montgomery County Sheriff Dave Vore's office. Vore has said the results of criminal and administrative investigations could take weeks."
The incident was the subject of a column by Steve Stephens of the Columbus (OH) Dispatch on Oct. 7, 2002 ( "War On Drugs Can Claim A Deadly Victory"). As Stephens put it, "Pot-smoking Ohioans already get off easy, say opponents of Issue 1, which would mandate rehab instead of jail for some users. For Clayton Helriggle, however, the penalty was death. On Sept. 27, the doors of his Preble County home were kicked in by masked, heavily armed men. One shot Helriggle in the chest. The intruders belonged to a SWAT team -- 'lawmen,' so to speak, from several Preble County jurisdictions. They were seeking drugs and found some -- a tiny bit of marijuana. They also found a couple of pot pipes and 'quantities of packaging items used in the distribution of marijuana,' i.e., sandwich bags. Helriggle was buried a week ago."
The shooting death by police of 20-year-old Jose Colon in Suffolk, NY, continues to generate controversy. New York Newsday reported on April 27, 2002 ( "Cops' Account Disputed Again") that "A second witness in the fatal shooting of Jose Colon -- who Suffolk police have said was accidentally killed by an officer during a drug raid in Bellport April 19 -- has come forward to dispute the police's version of events. Rahmel Pressley, 18, who lives directly across the street from the suspected drug house on Doane Avenue, said he was walking home from a friend's house about 10:30 p.m. when he saw the patrol cars pull up and the helicopter hover overhead."
Newsday notes that the community of Bellport is enraged by Colon's death at the hands of police, and many are calling for appointment of a special investigator. According to Newsday, "about 50 friends and relatives of Colon, who gathered on Friday at noon to protest the shooting outside Suffolk's Fifth Precinct in Patchogue, said they don't believe police have been honest about what happened. 'I want justice for my son because he was murdered in cold blood,' Colon's father, Juan Colon, said, calling for a special independent investigator. 'We can't have cops investigating cops,' he said. Colon also said Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota is too close to the police department to conduct an impartial investigation. During the hour-long demonstration, two officers sat and watched in a patrol car nearby. Colon's father said he doesn't distrust all police officers and understands the important role they must play in communities such as Bellport. But, added the Rev. Allen Ramirez of Brookville Reformed Church, who took part in the protest, many in Bellport believe they are treated like criminals simply because of where they live. 'We need for police to communicate why they police our communities the way they do for us to trust them,' Ramirez said. 'Assigning a special investigator in this case would help develop that trust.'"
Colon's mother, meanwhile, has filed suit against the Suffolk police in the case. As Newsday reported on May 1, 2002 ( "Mom Sues Suffolk, Police Dept."), "The mother of Jose Colon, who Suffolk police said was accidentally shot and killed by an officer during a drug raid in Bellport on April 19, has filed papers to sue both Suffolk County and its police department for his death. 'I am hoping that the new District Attorney Thomas Spota will conduct a comprehensive and thorough investigation,' said Colon's mother, Kathleen Seaton of East Patchogue, 'and I am confidently hoping that those responsible are held accountable for the death of my son.'"
According to Newsday, "'Irrespective of whether this was an accident or not, the family deserves just compensation,' said attorney Ted Rosenberg of Holtsville, who, along with William LaVelle of Patchogue, is representing Seaton. Seaton's notice of intent to sue served Monday does not specify a dollar amount, but reserves the right to bring the wrongful death civil suit within the next 90 days, LaVelle said. LaVelle said he and Rosenberg are hoping to question the officers who took part in the raid, and are also awaiting the results of ballistics and toxicology tests. LaVelle and Rosenberg said they have hired an investigator to look into the tactics employed by police during and after the raid. Of particular concern, LaVelle said, is that at least one officer was armed with 'military-type' weapons, which he called excessive, because police were executing a search warrant of a house where only marijuana was believed to be sold."
Suffolk County, NY police shot to death a 20-year-old senior at Briarcliff College in a raid on a residence on Long Island. New York Newsday reported on April 22, 2002 ( "Outrage At Police Shooting"), "The family of a young Bellport man killed by Suffolk police during a drug raid Friday night voiced grief and outrage yesterday over the shooting of a loved one they called an unarmed, 'innocent kid.'"
According to Newsday, "A Suffolk police helicopter was hovering overhead and at least eight heavily armed officers of the elite Emergency Services unit were swarming on 862 Doane Ave. when Jose Colon, 20, emerged from the house about 10:40 p.m. He was there to repay a debt, friends and relatives said yesterday, when police raided the single-story blue-paneled house suspected of being a drug den. Colon's relatives said his pregnant girlfriend sat in a car 20 to 30 feet away when he was shot once in the head. She could not be reached yesterday, and it was not known what she had seen. 'They killed an innocent kid,' said Colon's sister, Ana Colon, 25. She said Jose stayed away from trouble, worked hard and enjoyed the computer. He was a senior at Briarcliffe College where he excelled in computer graphics. 'This is a nightmare, I can't stop shaking. I can't believe they killed my brother,' she said."
Charges were dropped against one of the last remaining defendants yet to stand trial on charges arising from the infamous Tulia drug sting. As the Amarillo Globe-News reported on April 10, 2002 ( "Newly Uncovered Evidence Frees Defendant In Tulia Drug Sting"), "One of the last defendants from the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting was freed Tuesday on newly uncovered evidence that put her in Oklahoma City at the time she allegedly sold illegal drugs."
According to the Globe-News, "Tonya Michelle White, 33, was expected to go on trial Tuesday for allegedly selling cocaine to an undercover agent Tom Coleman. That won't happen after an emergency grand jury took one hour to decide not to indict White. The hearing came after District Attorney Terry McEachern received new evidence that showed White made bank transactions and phone calls within hours of the alleged 10:15 a.m. Oct. 9, 1998, drug deal with Coleman."
The Globe-News noted that "White was one of 46 defendants - 39 of whom are black - who were indicted in July 1999 after an 18-month undercover investigation that sparked a firestorm of controversy. White was not arrested until last year, when she turned herself over to authorities, and she was later released on a $25,000 bond. Fellow defendant Zury Bossett remains to be tried in the case." According to the Globe-News, "White's attorney, Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo, said the evidence proved it was more than a minor inconsistency. 'Now we know it's ( the case ) a total lie,' he said. 'To say it's an inconsistency is like saying the Empire State Building is kind of big.'"
Blackburn was able to elaborate on the case in an article in the New York Times on April 12, 2002 ( "Drug Charge Dropped In Case Criticized By Rights Groups"): "Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer for Ms. White, said the charge against her that was dismissed on Tuesday further undermined the credibility of the undercover agent in the Tulia operation, Tom Coleman. In nearly every case, Mr. Coleman was the lone witness and provided the only evidence in winning convictions. One case has been dropped because of false identification. Critics say Mr. Coleman operated with almost no oversight. Former colleagues described him in documents in a dispute over custody of his children as a compulsive liar. Mr. Coleman has also been charged with misdemeanor theft of gas from a government pump while he was a sheriff's deputy. 'This is the first time that we have proven through direct evidence that he made up an accusation against someone,' Mr. Blackburn said of the White case. Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation known as the Tulia law that prohibits convicting a defendant solely on the testimony of an undercover agent."
People involved with the Tulia defendants are hopeful for more positive outcomes. As the Times reported, "Mr. Blackburn said the White case could provide grounds to overturn other convictions. Already, national groups like the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union have gotten involved. Vanita Gupta, a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said her group was representing two defendants in their appeals and had found lawyers in Washington or New York for the other 18 defendants who are in prison."
A police scandal in Dallas, TX has resulted in at least two dozen criminal cases being suspended, according to the New York Times on Jan. 16, 2002 ( "Fake Drugs Force An End To 24 Cases In Dallas"). The Times reported that "Nearly half of the cocaine and nearly a quarter of the methamphetamine that the Dallas police seized last year have turned out to be gypsum from wallboard, a discovery that has led to the suspension of two dozen criminal cases, local officials say. All the cases involve a single unidentified informer who has received at least $200,000 from the Dallas Police Department over the last two years, officials confirmed last week. The supposed drugs tested positive in field tests after the arrests, they said, but more sophisticated testing done later in preparation for trial found no more than traces of drugs."
The scale of the case is rather large. According to the Times, "Investigators have found more than 660 pounds of fake cocaine and at least 22 pounds of fake methamphetamine. Some of those arrested have already spent up to six months in jail and at least four have been deported on charges that could have resulted in sentences from five years to life in prison." A great number of cases may be affected. The Times again: "Janice Houston, a spokeswoman for the police department, said today that at least 70 drug purchases associated with the unnamed informer over the past two years would be reviewed. But Ms. Houston would not comment on the possibility that the evidence in question might have been tampered with while under police custody. 'We have an investigation under way,' she said, 'and it's just too early to speculate on where the problem might be.'"
Additionally, allegations have arisen of racial bias in this case. According to the Times, "All 18 people named in the two dozen suspended prosecutions have Hispanic surnames, prompting accusations of racial profiling from the Mexican Consulate here and Hispanic organizations." According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News on January 22, 2002 ( "Hispanics Were Targets In Drug Cases, Attorneys Say"), "Outrage in the legal community appears to be growing, as District Attorney Bill Hill announced that his office is working to dismiss 59 cases, some involving two Dallas police undercover narcotics officers who are on administrative leave and at least one paid confidential informant who no longer works for the department. Thirty-nine people had been arrested as a result of the 59 cases."
According to the News, "'The majority of defendants involved are Mexican nationals, which to me looks like they were targets,' attorney Cynthia Barbare said. Dallas attorney Tony Wright was more pointed, calling the cases "the epitome of racial profiling.' 'The police knew they were picking on people that would be deported,' he said. '( Hispanics ) need to be marching on City Hall,' Wright said. 'They're upset. They just don't know what to do about it. They came from a country where corruption is the standard. Now they just don't know who to trust.'"
The informant in this case has run into other troubles in the since the story broke. As the Rocky Mountain News reported on Feb. 8, 2002 ( "Ex-Informant Lied, Indictment Says"), "A judge has ordered the key confidential informant in the fake drug cases handled by the Dallas Police Department held on charges of lying about being a U.S. citizen. Enrique Martinez Alonso, 44, appeared in federal court in Dallas after being indicted on two felony counts of misrepresenting himself as a U.S. citizen while applying for a Social Security card. Alonso was a paid police informant in a series of major drug seizures in which, lab tests later showed, the evidence contained finely ground gypsum, flour or only trace amounts of illicit substances."
Meanwhile, another confidential informant for the Dallas police
has charged that police "encouraged" him to lie. The
News reported, again on Feb. 8:
Update: The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reported on Oct. 30, 2001 ( "Racial-Bias Suit Settled Over Tulia Drug Bust Case") that "A black man who said he was unfairly targeted in a 1999 drug bust because of his skin color has settled with local authorities for $30,000. Billy Wafer settled with Swisher County officials for $5,000 in cash and $25,000 in attorneys' fees. Wafer was among 43 people, 37 of them black, who were arrested during an undercover drug bust in Tulia. Tulia, a town of about 5,000 about 40 miles south of Amarillo, is home to about 250 blacks."
Attorneys are not commenting on the settlement reached in a civil rights suit stemming from the Tulia travesty. The Amarillo Globe-News reported on Oct. 20, 2001 ( "Tulia Man's Civil Rights Suit Nets Settlement") that "Attorneys for plaintiff Billy Wafer and defendants Tom Coleman, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart and Swisher County reached a settlement in Wafer's lawsuit and the case was dismissed from U.S. District Court, according to court records." No details of the settlement are available. As the Globe-News noted, "Jeff Blackburn, one of Wafer's attorneys, said he could not comment on details of the agreement because of a no-comment clause in the settlement."
In spite of the no-comment clause, Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter gave some details to the media. "Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter said Friday he couldn't comment on the term of the agreement because the county had yet to receive documents detailing the terms of the settlement. Keeter was able to say that the plaintiffs admitted no wrongdoing and agreed to the settlement on the advice of attorneys. 'The Texas Association of Counties risk management pool recommended we make this agreement, and we thought it was best for everyone involved to agree,' Keeter said."
News reports from Boston allege that the FBI was given a tip about a terrorist cell operating in the Boston area, but it was ignored because the feds were focused on drugs. According to the Boston Herald on Oct. 17, 2001 ( "Report: FBI Probe Targeted Drugs, Not Terrorism" ), "Raed Hijazi, 32, an American citizen now awaiting trial in Jordan in a foiled millennium terrorist plot, told FBI agents about 'Arab terrorists and sympathizers,' but they were more interested in whatever knowledge he had about heroin being brought into Boston via Afghanistan, WCVB-TV reported last night. Hijazi is an admitted member of al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist ring founded by Osama bin Laden. Hijazi became a 'willing informant' for the Boston office of the FBI to avoid jail time on charges being investigated by the agency's drug squad, the station reported, citing a 'high-level source.'"
The Herald reports that Hijazi "left Boston in 1998 after working in Everett for several years as a cabdriver. He was arrested in Syria in October 2000 on charges he led a ring of terrorists in a botched plan to blow up a hotel and other sites expected to be filled with revelers celebrating the millennium in Jordan." The Herald also notes a direct link between Hijazi and the events of 9/11: "Hijazi reportedly told investigators his friend, another Boston cab driver, Nabil al-Marabh, 34, was an al-Qaeda agent. Hijazi has denied he made this claim. Al-Marabh was arrested in Chicago last month by FBI agents probing the Sept. 11 attack on America. Authorities believe al-Marabh had close ties to at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Authorities have also frozen al-Marabh's financial assets."
Don't Sugarcoat Things, Bob, Tell Us How You Really Feel: St. Louis Prosecutor Criticized For Calling Men Slain By Police "Bums"
Local attorneys and community leaders are trying to make sense of remarks by local prosecutor Robert McCulloch. As the St. Louis Dispatch reported on Oct. 7, 2001 ( "Lawyers Criticize McCullough For Calling Slain Men 'Bums'"), "At his press conference in Clayton last week, Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch described the two men whom police fatally shot on a fast-food parking lot as 'bums' who destroyed lives in the community by drug dealing." As the Post-Dispatch noted, "But even some of those who have come to expect law-and-order rhetoric from McCulloch were taken aback by his remarks about the deaths of Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley during an attempted drug arrest outside a Jack in the Box restaurant in June of last year."
In the incident, "DEA agent Keith Kierzkowski and Dellwood police Detective Robert Piekutowski fired 21 shots into the car -- killing Murray and Beasley. The officers said later that they feared for their lives. From the beginning, police said the shooting of the two black men was justifiable; so, too, did McCulloch, who presented the case to a county grand jury." Federal authorities also declined to prosecute the two officers ( click here for more info) "But U.S. Attorney Ray Gruender did say he found some aspects of the case 'troubling.' Although the Justice Department investigation found that Murray's car was never moving forward toward the officers, federal authorities said they could not 'prove beyond a reasonable doubt, as we must in order to prosecute, that the officers were not in fear that Mr. Murray's car was about to hit them when they fired.'"
Feds Refuse To Charge Police In St. Louis Double Killing; Local Leaders Outraged, Saddened, Unsurprised
The US Attorney in St. Louis, Ray Gruender, has decided not to file charges against two local police officers who shot to death two African-American men. According to an AP report in the Durham, NC Herald-Sun ( "St. Louis Officers Cleared In Shooting"), "'It does not become a federal criminal civil rights violation just because two people are dead,' U.S. Attorney Ray Gruender said Wednesday. Keith Kiorzkowski, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and St. Louis County police drug task force Det. Robert Piekutowski fatally shot the two men in the parking lot of a restaurant in June 2000. Earl Murray was the subject of a drug investigation. His friend Ronald Beasley was not suspected of any wrongdoing. The officers told investigators they fired at Murray when they thought he began to pull forward and drive at them. Murray was hit 12 times. Investigators found Murray was not driving toward the officers, but such a mistaken perception is not criminal, Gruender said."
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 4, 2001 ( "Black Leaders Denounce Decision"), community leaders are enraged: "Earlier in the day, U.S. Attorney Ray Gruender met for an hour with about 10 civil rights and religious leaders. Three of the participants - Zaki Baruti, Sultan Muhammad and Anthony Shahid - were so displeased with the findings that they walked out. 'This is a classic example of legalized lynching,' Baruti said. Eric Vickers, who helped organize protests last year over the shootings, said, 'Justice has not been served.'"
This is an excellent column about police shootings in St. Louis: "Two Police Shootings Show Upside-Down Priorities Of Drug War," by Bill McClellan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 11, 2001.
According to DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, no DEA agents will be disciplined for use of career informant Andrew Chambers, whose lies under oath went unchecked for 16 years. Tthe St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sept. 30, 2001 ( "DEA Won't Punish Agents Who Failed To Disclose Lying By Informer Chambers") reported that "Beginning in 1984, when Chambers was recruited at the agency's Clayton (MO) office, he helped arrest more than 400 drug suspects in 31 cities. He also lied under oath at least 16 times, but the DEA says its agents either didn't know or, if they did, didn't tell their colleagues elsewhere."
The Post-Dispatch asked, in its story,
"How could no one be punished after years of courtroom lying?
Administrator Hutchinson defended the use of snitches in the Post-Dispatch interview, saying "'You've got to use informants. . . . Otherwise, you can't get the job done.'" The Post-Dispatch continues: "He said the DEA won't use Chambers again in any capacity - despite accolades from dozens of agents who considered him the best. Here's how the DEA investigation describes Chambers: '. . . Motivated by money, thrill, camaraderie and a sense of self-righteousness.'" Critics are not pleased. The Post-Dispatch spoke with the attorney who led an effort to stop the snitch Andrew Chambers career of deceit. According to their story, "'I'm stunned that so much government wrongdoing meant so little to the government,' said Dean Steward. He's a former federal public defender in California who led a three-year effort to make the Justice Department disclose the extent of Chambers' lying - and the Justice Department's complicity. 'Had this been a major corporation, heads would roll,' Steward added."
Rainbow Farm, a campground and concert venue in Vandalia, Michigan, was the site of a police stand-off that resulted in tragedy on August 3, 2001. As the Dowagiac Daily News reported on August 4, 2001 ( "FBI Agent's Shot Kills Crosslin"), "Grover Thomas Crosslin's four-day showdown with law enforcement ended in his death on Labor Day. Crosslin, 46, who owned Rainbow Farm campground in Newberg Township, was shot and killed by an FBI agent Monday." A second man, Rolland Eugene Rohm, was also shot and killed.
The Daily News reported:
According to the Daily News, "On June 29, Cass County Circuit Judge Michael E. Dodge issued an order prohibiting Crosslin from holding festival gatherings where drugs were previously distributed and consumed until his trial, scheduled Feb. 26, 2002. On Aug. 17-18, 'Crosslin directly violated this order and held a festival at Rainbow Farm,' the press release said." Crosslin and his housemate, Rolland Eugene Rohm, "were scheduled to appear in 43rd Circuit Court in Cassopolis to respond to a Petition to Show Cause and a Motion to Revoke Bond" the Friday on which the stand-off began. "Crosslin, owner of Rainbow Farm since 1993, had been charged in May with manufacturing marijuana, more than 200 plants, a 15-year felony; maintaining a drug house, a two-year misdemeanor; and felony firearm, a five-year felony. Rohm was charged with manufacturing marijuana, maintaining a drug house and felony firearm.
As the LA Times reported on September 4, 2001 ( "Second Death Caps Campground Standoff"), "The standoff began Friday when deputies went to the farm after neighbors said Crosslin was burning buildings on his property, which is the target of civil forfeiture proceedings. A house and four main buildings appeared to have been burned since then, Underwood said." The Times reported further that "Dori Leo, Crosslin's and Rohm's attorney, said Rohm and his 12-year old son, who was recently placed in foster care, had lived with Crosslin for at least five years. Leo said Crosslin was upset because Rohm's son, whom he helped raise, had been taken from the home. Deputies said they believe Crosslin was upset about a bond revocation hearing scheduled for Friday." The Times reports that Rohm was "fatally shot by police after allegedly pointing a weapon at an officer."
A Freedom Ride -- a 36 hour bus ride from Austin to Tulia with press events and demonstrations along the way -- organized by the Texas Network of Reform Groups was held July 22, 2001. The event led up to the "Never Again" Rally and Vigil in Tulia, TX that evening organized by the Tulia-based Friends of Justice. Other participants include the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and Common Sense for Drug Policy, along with LULAC, the NAACP and ACLU. The rally in Tulia July 22-23, 2001 was held to protest the arrest of dozens of African-Americans on bogus drug charges two years earlier -- 15% of the African-American population of this low-income, rural Texas community. (For more background information on the Tulia travesty, click here.) (You can also click here for a streaming video by the Kunstler Foundation about Tulia.)
The Dallas Morning News reported on July 23, 2001 ( "Rally Held To Protest Drug Bust") that "A crowd of about 350 people rallied peacefully in a Tulia park Sunday night to protest a 1999 drug bust they say was racially motivated." The story quotes Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU and a speaker at the rally, saying "'We need to challenge the drug policy that led to what happened in Tulia two years ago. Tulia has become a symbol of what's wrong with our drug policy. It's got to be a collective effort, and every one of us counts.'"
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on July 23, 2001 ( "Freedom Ride Hits Tulia") that though the rally was peaceful and orderly, "Police occasionally circled the block, and about 35 officers, including a Department of Public Safety riot team, waited at police headquarters." The Amarillo Globe-News reported July 23, 2001 ( "Rally Commemorates Arrests") explained that "The high number of people expected at the park and the tension from the controversy over the Tulia arrest put local law enforcement on alert." The Amarillo paper quoted Tulia Police Department Lt. Joe Bill Dempsey on the police presence, "'We're going to be out here because we don't want anything to get out of hand. We don't expect any problems and we're going to be as accommodating as possible, but we're going to be prepared.'"
Attempts to intimidate the protesters began on the Freedom Ride itself. According to the Amarillo news story, "The event kicked off with a 'Freedom Ride' from Austin with two buses carrying supporters to a vigil outside the Formby and Wheeler Units in Plainview, where participants protested the number of nonviolent offenders in the prisons. The vigil became a little tense as Assistant Warden Greg Franklin confronted the protesters, demanding that the protesters move to another area and stop videotaping the facility. Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy Reform [sic], downplayed the incident and instead chose to focus on the message of the vigil. 'We simply had a disagreement, and I think it was a fairly cordial one,' Zeese said. 'We wanted to get the message out to all the nonviolent drug offenders in there that someone is taking up their cause. I think we were successful in that.'"
The incident at Tulia in 1999 spurred some in the Texas Legislature to act, and reforms were passed in the 2001 session. The Texas Observer did an excellent interview with Texas State Representative Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, who "deserves much of the credit" for passage of two of the 'Tulia' bills: "Police must now corrobate evidence collected by undercover informants in drug stings; and law enforcement agencies now have easier access to the disciplinary records of potential employees, making it harder for rogue cops to hop from job to job with no accountability." Click here to read "A Good Shepherd," July 20, 2001, Texas Observer, in the MAPINC archive.
Citizens, Activists, Civil Rights Groups Plan Freedom Ride, "Never Again" Rally July 22-23 In Tulia To Mark Second Anniversary Of Arrests
Citizens of Tulia, civil and human rights activists, and Friends of Justice will hold a Freedom Ride and "Never Again" rally in the town of Tulia, TX in July of 2001. As the University of Texas-Austin's Daily Texan reported on June 26, 2001 ( "Freedom Rides Scheduled For Late July"), "The ride is scheduled to coincide with the second anniversary of a July 23, 1999 incident, in which the Swisher County Sheriff's Department arrested 43 citizens of the Panhandle town of Tulia.
As the Daily Texan reported:
William Harrell, executive director of the ACLU's Texas chapter,
"said that in the aftermath of the Tulia drug sting,
at least eight more incidents of racial targeting were
reported in Texas. 'The
struggle in Tulia is constant. There are still 20 people in
jail who are innocent of the crimes they are accused of,'
Harrell said. 'This is madness. Innocent people of color,
who are poor, are being abused systematically.'
More information on the Tulia event is available on the Friends of Justice page by clicking here.
Collateral Damage: Police, Military Kill Innocent Victims
Overzealous drug enforcement has resulted in several unfortunate tragic incidents around the country, not least of which was the death in the late 1990s of Esequiel Hernandez, a young shepherd in Arizona. Esequiel was killed by a marine attached to Joint Task Force 6, a special military unit devoted to "anti-drug" operations. Others, like 68-year-old John Adams of Lebanon, TN were killed because authorities raided the wrong home, and 11 year old Alberto Sepulveda of Modesto, California, shot in the back for no reason by a SWAT team serving a warrant. The Drug Policy Forum of Texas maintains on its website a tribute to these innocent victims. It is well worth the visit.
Former Oakland Police Officers Tried For Kidnap, Assault
The San Francisco Chronicle reported June 3, 2001 ( "Oakland Cops Tried For Kidnap, Assault") on a preliminary evidence hearing to decide whether to try three former Oakland police officers for criminal police misconduct. According to the Chronicle, Clarence Mabanag, Jude Siapno and Matthew Hornung, "along with suspected ringleader and fugitive Frank Vasquez, are accused of 34 felony counts in connection with the case," including kidnap and assault. The Chronicle reported that "Mabanag, Siapno and Hornung have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against them. Vasquez fled town soon after the charges were announced and he is believed to be in Mexico."
San Jose SWAT Team Members Face Charges In Killing
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News reported on March 15, 2001 ( "Five On SWAT Team Facing Charges") that "Five members of the Miami Police Department's SWAT team were charged Wednesday with lying to federal investigators during a probe of a 1996 drug raid in which a 73-year-old man was killed in a hail of 123 bullets." They were "accused of fabricating evidence and agreeing to make false statements regarding the slaying of Richard Brown, a retired seaman who was gunned down by the five officers and a sixth SWAT team member."
Wrong Home In Waukesha, WI Raided By Police, No One Injured
Fortunately, not all raids on the wrong homes result in an innocent death. In Wisconsin in early 2001, a Muskego, WI woman was forced to the snowy ground and handcuffed while a drug enforcement squad in SWAT gear searched her home. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that after realizing their mistake -- the address listed on the court-approved search warrant was for a different house on the block -- police decided not to raid the correct house "because they feared it would be too dangerous after the element of surprise was lost." The Waukesha Freeman reported on March 1, 2001, that There was no disciplinary action taken against any of the officers involved." The paper quotes Waukesha County Sheriff Bill Kruziki saying "Nobody did anything intentionally reckless."
(For more information about happenings in Wisconsin, visit the Drug Policy Forum of Wisconsin homepage.)
Sometimes, overzealous enforcement sparks a backlash. This is the case with Tulia, TX. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on Feb. 25, 2001, that "The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking that lawmakers file a set of 'Tulia Proposals' in response to a 1999 drug bust that led to the arrest of about 10 percent of the city's black population."
The paper notes that all of the arrests were made based on one police officer's 18-month undercover investigation, "in which he worked alone and used no audio or video recording equipment." The victims in Tulia are hopeful. The Lubbock paper quotes Billy Wafer, one of the arrested Tulia residents whose case has been dismissed, as saying "'We've always said this has to have happened for a reason, and maybe this is it. Maybe these laws are the good that will come out of all this bad.'"
A compilation of articles on the Tulia raid can be accessed through the MAP media archive.
Los Angeles, California
The Los Angeles Police Department has developed a rather harsh reputation over the years. The most recent mark against that department: the Rampart Division scandal. ( Click here for articles on LA's Rampart Division scandal from the MAPINC news archive.) The problem with LAPD has grown so out of control that, as the Washington Post reported on April 21, 2001 ( "LA Is Subject To RICO Statute In Police Case"), "The judge presiding over about 100 federal police corruption lawsuits has ruled the city's police department can be sued as a racketeering enterprise. The ruling by US District Judge Gary A. Feess could lead to a sharp increase in the city's financial liability from the police corruption scandal in which some member of the Rampart station's anti-gang unit allegedly robbed, beat, framed and shot suspects."
There continue to be serious problems in the department. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 15, 2001 ( "Officer Robbed Suspects, US Says") that "A Los Angeles police officer who was arrested last week on charges of trying to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine has been using his position at the LAPD to rob suspects of drugs and money for at least two years, a federal prosecutor charged in court Thursday. LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares, 31, and four other men allegedly bought the 10 kilograms of cocaine as part of a more ambitious scheme to steal 50 kilograms from the drug supplier in the future, said Assistant US Atty. Randy Jones."
The Times story notes, "The government's allegations against Palomares in the current case are strikingly reminiscent of the now-admitted exploits of Rafael Perez, the ex-LAPD officer who cut a deal on his own drug charges and launched what has become known as the Rampart corruption scandal. In fact, Perez implicated Palomares and another officer an an allegedly unjustified shooting of a reputed drug dealer in 1998. LAPD and FBI officials say they are investigating Palomares in connection with that shooting, but the officer has never been charged with wrongdoing in that case."
Unfortunately problems with LA law enforcement are nothing new. Early in 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported on a 1988 Los Angeles police assault which still reverberates through that city ( "The Raid That Still Haunts LA"):
"On Aug. 1, 1988, scores of Los Angeles police officers
descended on two apartment buildings on the corner of
39th Street and Dalton Avenue in southwest Los Angeles. It
was an all-out search for drugs and a massive show of force
designed to deliver a strong message to the gangs.
A compilation of news articles about raids gone awry available in the MAP media archive.