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Back to Police Shootings & Botched Raids home page

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.


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