Criminal Justice

RSS Feed for this category

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Florida police chief gets caught with online pills, a North Carolina jail guard gets caught peddling pills, a former Pennsylvania cop heads to the slammer for cooking meth, and a Seattle-area former deputy gets even more prison time for lying during sentencing. Let's get to it:

In Atlantic Beach, Florida, the former police chief was arrested Tuesday on numerous drug charges just a week after he resigned in the middle of a state investigation. Former Chief Michael Classey went down after federal Homeland Security agents told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement they had intercepted a package of drugs from India addressed to Classey. He was arrested when he went to pick up the package, and a subsequent police search of his home turned up more drugs. He is now charged with 18 counts of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, one count of trafficking in a controlled substance, one count of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a York County jail guard was arrested last Friday after he was seen selling prescription drugs in a gas station parking lot. Guard John Strait allegedly admitted he stole Xanax pills from family members. He is charged with distribution of a controlled substance and is now out on bail. And looking for a new job.

In Brookville, Pennsylvania, a former Brookville police officer was sentenced last Thursday to five years in state prison for running a meth lab. April Ann Novak was convicted of criminal conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance and manufacturing methamphetamine.

In Seattle, a former King County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to more prison time after he was found to have lied during his sentencing hearing. Darion Holiwell had been convicted in August of pimping his estranged wife, stealing ammunition from the department, and dealing drugs and was sentenced to a year in prison. During his original sentencing hearing, Holliwell's lawyer told the court the ex-deputy was broke, but investigators found that he had just cashed in a $180,000 retirement package. That earned him an additional five months in the clink.

Chronicle AM: Decrim in Jamaica/MD/Philly, Chris Christie Talks Drugs, PA ODs Bill, More (10/1/14)

Decrim comes to Maryland and Philadelphia, and Jamaica is working on it, too; the Oregon initiative campaign heats up, Chris Christie talks drugs, a SWAT reporting bill in Michigan gets a hearing, and more. Let's get to it:

Rastas down Jamaica way will soon have something to smile about. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legalization Campaign Unveils First TV Ad. The Measure 91 legalization initiative campaign has unveiled the first of its TV spot ads, featuring a former veteran Oregon law enforcement officer explaining why he supports legalization. The campaign has about $2 million budgeted for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign. Click on the title link to view the ad.

Leading Legalization Foe to Make Oregon Campaign Appearances. The man who is arguably the leading public opponent of marijuana legalization, Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), will make seven appearances in Oregon this week to campaign against the Measure 91 legalization initiative. He had planned a 13-stop "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" partly funded with federal grant dollars, but that was scrapped after the Measure 91 campaign cried foul. Now, Sabet's crusade is privately funded.

Philadelphia Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) today signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Up to an ounce will be considered a civil offense, punishable by a $25 fine or a $100 fine for public consumption. The new law will go into effect October 20.

Decriminalization Now in Effect in Maryland. As of today, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, but a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100. The move comes after the legislature earlier this year passed and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signed into law SB 364. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Louisiana Poll Shows Little Support for Harsh Marijuana Sentences. A new Public Policy Polling survey released by the ACLU of Louisiana found that 78% opposed sentences of longer than six months for pot possession, 71% opposed life sentences for felons caught with marijuana, and 68% support medical marijuana. Louisiana has some of the nation's harshest marijuana laws, including a sentence of up to life in prison for marijuana possession by a felon and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for repeat pot possession offenders. Simple possession first offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, but 60% of respondents said it should be decriminalized. Click on the poll link for demographics and methodologies.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers to Hear High CBD Cannabis Oil Testimony Today. A legislative panel is meeting today in Lawrenceville to hear testimony from law enforcement, health care professionals, and others about medical marijuana extracts and cannabis oils. This could lay the groundwork for new legislation to be filed next year.

New Mexico Credit Unions Will Close Medical Marijuana Producer Accounts. Some credit unions have sent letters to nearly half the state's licensed medical marijuana producers saying they no longer accept their business and are closing their accounts. The credit unions said they could not comply with federal guidelines. Medical marijuana supporters are demanding to know why.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Talks Drug Treatment, Ending Mandatory Minimums. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential contender, called Tuesday for making drug and alcohol treatment "more available for everybody" and criticized mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. "With 23 million folks addicted, it's not working," Christie said of the war on drugs. "There's gotta be a separation between the criminal act [of using illegal drugs] and the disease." Click on the link for more details.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) Tuesday signed into law SB 1164, which has two harm reduction measures aimed at reducing drug overdoses. The bill creates a "Good Samaritan" immunity from prosecution for people helping overdose victims and it makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) more available to police and the public. The new law will go into effect on October 20.

Law Enforcement

Michigan House Committee Hears Testimony on SWAT Reporting Bill. The state House Criminal Justice Committee is hearing testimony today on a bill that would require SWAT teams in the state to report on their activities. The SWAT Team Reporting ACT, HB 4914, would require agencies with SWAT teams to n the number, location, reason, authorization and outcome of all deployments, and to file reports with the Attorney General's office twice a year.

International

Jamaica on the Way to Marijuana Decriminalization. Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that a bill to decriminalize marijuana has been drafted and should be passed into law before the end of the year. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces a petty offense and would also allow decriminalization for religious purposes, allowing the island nation's Rastafarians to smoke "Jah herb" without fear of arrest.

Chronicle AM: UMass Snitch Policy Review, Baby Bou Bou SWAT Grand Jury, More (9/30/2014)

Medical marijuana news from several states today, the Baby Bou Bou SWAT raid case is before a grand jury, UMass examines its student snitch policy, DA candidates in Houston are fighting over drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Group Wants Legalization Initiative. A group of activists filed a petition Monday with the secretary of state's office seeking a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. This is the first step in putting a measure before the voters. The group is called Mississippi for Cannabis. We're not sure if these are the same folks, but there is a Legalize Marijuana in Mississippi Facebook page.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Hearing Patient's Wrongful Firing Lawsuit Today. The state Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for the Dish Network until he was fired four years ago for testing positive for marijuana. Dish Network argues that even though medical marijuana is legal under state law, it is still illegal under federal law, and the firing was thus justified.

New York US Senators Ask Feds to Approve State's Request to Transport Medical Marijuana Across State Lines. US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) Monday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) request for the Justice Department to allow the state to import high-CBD cannabis oil from out of state. "As members of Congress whose constituents suffer from these illnesses, we feel that the federal government ought to do what it can to help these children," the senators wrote. "Therefore, we are requesting that you provide the state of New York with a waiver that would prohibit federal prosecution for the importation of cannabidol in the rare cases where medical marijuana is imported between two states with legalized medical marijuana, and the amount is small, finite and prescription-based."

Second Annual Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Festival This Weekend. The Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition is hosting the festival to celebrate the eighth year of the state's medical marijuana program. Click on the link for more details.

Wisconsin Activists Target Recalcitrant Legislators With Billboards. Sick and tired of seeing bills blocked in the state legislature, medical marijuana activists are targeting two key opponents, Republican state Sens. Mary Lazich and Leah Vukmir, in a newly unveiled billboard campaign. The billboards urge readers to call the two senators and ask them why Wisconsin patients have no access to medical marijuana.

Drug Policy

Harris County, Texas, (Houston) DA Race All About Drugs. A debate over the weekend between Republican incumbent Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Democratic challenger Kim Ogg was all about drugs. The candidates both suggested that they would allow some low-level marijuana possession offenders to avoid permanent criminal records, although Ogg would go further than Anderson. They also tussled over whether or not to press felony charges for trace amounts of cocaine or crack pipes, with Anderson taking the harder line. Click on the link for more flavor.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors' Group Issues Pain Reliever Guidelines, Says Not Appropriate for Many Cases. The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position paper, Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, that says the risks of opioid pain relievers outweigh their benefits in treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. "Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the group concludes. The position paper calls for increased screening, monitoring, and drug testing of opioid-using pain patients, but has little to say about actually treating chronic pain.

Law Enforcement

UMass to Review Whether to Allow Students to Act as Drug Snitches. In the wake of the heroin overdose death of a student who had been arrested by campus police on drug charges, but who was allowed to become an informant for police, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Monday it would review the program that allows police to recruit students as snitches. Questions have been raised about whether the program gets students appropriate treatment for drug problems and whether the students' parents are notified of violations, as they are with alcohol violations.

Georgia Grand Jury Hearing Evidence on "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid. A Habersham County grand jury Monday began reviewing evidence in the case of "Baby Bou Bou," the toddler who was seriously injured when a SWAT team member on a drug raid threw a flash bang grenade into his play pen. The SWAT team found neither drugs nor the individual they were seeking. The grand jury will review the evidence surrounding the drug raid and determine if criminal charges should be filed against authorities who executed it.

International

Eleven Killed in Mexico Cartel Clashes in Chihuahua. Mexican prosecutors said clashes last Friday between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members in the town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, in the Tarahumara mountain range, left 11 people dead. No Mexican security forces were involved, they said. The isolated region, home to the Tarahumara Indians, has been the scene of repeated clashes between rival drug gangs.

Canadian Drug Reformers Rally in Ottawa. Drug reformers, health lobbyists, and the Liberal Party's health critic, Hedy Fry, gathered on Parliament Hill Tuesday to advocate for more enlightened drug policies. Current policies unfairly criminalize drug users and don't effectively treat addiction, they said. Click on the link for more detail.

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

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Policy in Senate Races, CA Fair Sentencing Act, Stanton Peele on Disease Model, More (9/29/14)

Marijuana politics is popping up in some US Senate races, pot arrests are still going up in some states, the Guam medical marijuana initiative faces a legal challenge, Stanton Peele takes on the disease model of addiction and liberals who love it, Jerry Brown signs the California Fair Sentencing Act, and more. Let's get to it:

Addiction psychologist Stanton Peele rips into liberals who embrace the disease model of addiction. (YouTube.com)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy in the Kentucky US Senate Race. Pot politics is playing a role in the Kentucky Senate race. Both incumbent Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Grimes agree that industrial hemp is a good thing, but Grimes said last Thursday she wants to have a discussion on legalizing marijuana, especially for medical purposes. McConnell retorted last Friday that he opposes legalizing marijuana for any reason because the state has a heroin problem and it would send the wrong message.

Nebraska Democratic US Senate Candidate Open to Legalization. The Democratic nominee for the US Senate from Nebraska is open to marijuana legalization. "I think we should give very serious consideration to legalization of marijuana," Dave Domina said Thursday. "If I were a philosopher king, we wouldn't have it, but I'm not and we need to spend our law enforcement dollars as intelligently as we can. That's not on marijuana enforcement. "What we should do is to make safe and dispense responsibly the drugs that are the most common, the least dangerous," he said. "I'm not saying they are desirable. I don’t think cigarettes are desirable, frankly. But nonetheless, I think that’s what we need to do. We need to methodically make marijuana available to people on a rational basis. It needs to be safely distributed and it needs to be taken away from crime as a profit center." The Republican nominee, Ben Sasse, didn't take a firm stand on the issue.

Marijuana Arrests Up in 17 States. Marijuana legalization may be inevitable, but some states haven't gotten the message. According to a new report from marijuana researcher Dr. Jon Gettman, even though national marijuana arrests peaked in 2007, marijuana arrests increased in 17 states between 2008 and 2012. Those states and their rates of annual increase are: South Carolina (11.6%), Washington, DC (7.7%) South Dakota (7.7%), North Dakota (5.5%), Utah (4.5%), Illinois (4.3%), Montana (3.5%), Idaho (3.2%), Virginia (2.6%), New York (2.4%), New Jersey (2.4%), Oregon (2.1%), Tennessee (1.7%), Wisconsin (1.2%), Vermont (1%), Michigan (1%), and West Virginia (1%). The report is Marijuana in the States 2012.

Overblown Analogy Department. The Polk County, Florida, Sheriff's Office is sounding the alarm over high-THC cannabis oil, popularly known as "wax" or "dabs," but its spokesperson is relying on an old bogeyman to get her message across. "This particular drug is to marijuana the way crack is to cocaine," Donna Wood said.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Attorney Seeks to Block Medical Marijuana Initiative. Voters in Guam are set to vote on a medical marijuana initiative submitted by the territorial legislature next month, but a Guam attorney has asked the US District Court there to block the vote. Howard Trapp argues that the legislature can't legally "pass the buck" to voters, even though the island's Supreme Court said it could in an August ruling. The election commission has until October 7 to respond to the filing.

First Illinois Patients Get Their Cards. Jim Champion, an Army vet who suffers from multiple sclerosis, is apparently the first Illinois patient to get his medical marijuana card. His came last week. He is the first of more than 2,000 Illinois residents who have applied under the state's new law.

New York Governor Asks Justice Department to Allow State to Acquire Medical Marijuana from Other States. Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General David Cole asking the Justice Department to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy. The letter follows a similar letter sent last month by the Cuomo administration to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Drug Policy

Dr. Stanton Peele on the Disease Theory of Addiction. Drug war critic and iconoclastic addiction psychologist Dr. Stanton Peele has penned a provocative screed critical of the disease theory of addiction and political liberals who embrace it. The article is "Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It."

Sentencing

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law. California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement. The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

International

Uruguay Presidential Candidate Says Pot Smoker Registry Could Be Used to Identify People Needing Drug Treatment. Former President Tabare Vazquez, who is running to return to the office, has proposed using the state's registry of marijuana users to expose them to drug treatment. He was attempting to frame the law as a rehabilitative measure, but critics say it could dissuade users from registering with the state. Vazquez's remarks also run afoul of provisions in the law that limit revealing such data "without the individual's express written consent."

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

California Fair Sentencing Act Signed Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown Sunday signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which will undo racial disparities in the sentencing of cocaine offenders under laws passed during the crack cocaine hysteria of the 1980s. Brown did not issue a signing statement.

CA state Sen. Holly Mitchell's bill to eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity has been signed into law.
The law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. It also eliminates related disparities in probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for those offenses.

"Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody," said Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of California's Legislative Black Caucus. "My bill establishes fairness in sentencing. We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lock-up, unemployability and re-arrest," Mitchell went on to say. "The law isn't supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness."

Although crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug, legislation in the 1980s, driven by fear, misinformation, and political posturing, created much harsher penalties for crack cocaine offenses.

The racial impact of those laws was dramatic. In California, 77% of people imprisoned for crack offenses are black, 18% are Hispanic, and less than 2% are non-Hispanic whites. With blacks making up only 6.6% of the state's population, they are clearly being hit disproportionately by the crack sentencing disparity.

"The California Fair Sentencing Act takes a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980's drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men," said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are actively dismantling institutional racism. I hope California's action gives momentum to the remaining 11 states that still retain this unjust and irrational racial disparity in their penal codes."

The bill was sponsored by a dozen civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform groups. It also won the support of the district attorneys of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Poll, Colombia Drug Accord, Big Philly Drug Case Dismissal, More (9/26/14)

A new poll is surely leading to nail-biting in Oregon, a dirty narc is costing Philadelphia prosecutors dozens of drug cases, Colombia reveals details on drug accords with the FARC, a Canadian drug policy rally is coming next week, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Latest Oregon Poll Has Initiative at 44%. A new SurveyUSA poll has support for the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative at 44%, with 40% opposed, and 16% undecided. The high number of undecideds may be an artifact of the way the poll question was asked -- it asked if voters were "certain" to vote for or against the measure. An even split among undecideds would result in passage of the initiative. This is a decline from an August SurveyUSA poll, which had the measure at 51%, but the questions were worded slightly differently in the two polls. Click on the links for more poll details.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Dismisses 59 Drug Cases Involving Dirty Narc. The cases involved former narcotics officer Jeffrey Walker, who has been convicted of plotting to rob drug dealers. That brings to 160 the number of cases involving Walker that have been vacated since he was indicted in May 2013. Another 58 cases remain open. Walker is now cooperating in a broader probe of the narcotics unit, where six officers were charged in July with robbing, beating, and kidnapping drug suspects.

International

Colombia Reveals Details on Drug Policy Treaty Provisions With FARC. Colombia Reports has an in-depth look at the drug provisions in the work-in-progress peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC. A preliminary agreement was released Wednesday in the face of criticism over the lack of transparency in the process. The two sides have agreed on national-level programs to conduct consensual illicit crop substitution, address drug use through a public health approach, and beef up law enforcement to combat criminal groups involved in drug trafficking. Click on the link for much more.

Mexican Congressman Assassinated By Drug Cartel. Prosecutors in the state of Jalisco are saying they believe Dip. Gabriel Gomez Michel, who was abducted from a highway on the outskirts of Guadalajara on Monday, was most likely killed by a drug cartel. The bodies of Gomez and his driver were found in his burned out vehicle on Tuesday and positively identified on Wednesday. Prosecutors are pointing the finger at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a relatively new entrant in the cartel wars.

Mexico Arrests Eight Soldiers in Apparent Execution of Drug Gang Suspects. Seven soldiers and their commander have been arrested over the killing of 22 suspected drug gang members in a June 30 incident in the village of San Pedro Limon in Mexico state. The army had said the victims died in a fire fight with soldiers, but witnesses said they were killed in cold blood, and further suspicions were raised by the one-sided nature of the conflict. Only one soldier was slightly injured. Witnesses said only one person died in an initial confrontation; the rest were killed after surrendering. The army said they were members of La Familia Michoacana.

Canada First Annual National Drug Reform Rally Set for Tuesday. The first Annual National Rally for Canadian Drug Policy Reform will take place September 30 in Ottawa. A day earlier, proponents will meet with members of parliament to discuss evidence-based drug policy reforms. The rally is sponsored by the Canadian Drug Reform Network, the Canadian Harm Reduction Coalition, and Canada NORML, among others. Click on the link for more information.

Did Miami Police Wrongfully Execute Four, Including Their Informant? [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker, cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

Part II of his series on ATF Fake Drug Stings Across America.

During the 1980s, Miami was a rich, glittering, southern city, awash in cocaine, and all sorts of other illegal drugs. The drug scene was so heavy and dangerous, its real-life drama inspired the popular Miami Vice TV series and the classic movie Scarface, as well as the more recent Cocaine Cowboy, an award-winning documentary based on the city's cocaine trafficking scene.

Today, Miami is no longer in the spotlight, but the drug business is still booming. And now there's a new twist: Law enforcement has made the dangerous world of the illicit drug trade even more dangerous by creating schemes to deceive would-be players into robbing drug trafficking stash houses that don't exist, setting up confrontations between robbers and police or robbers and homeowners over crimes cooked up by law enforcement itself.

The "fake robbery sting" is the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), and the pro-active tactic has proven wildly popular, with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country engaging in the stings, particularly in the inner cities. In Miami, the results have included the mass killings of suspects by police SWAT teams under highly questionable circumstances.

A 2011 "fake robbery sting" that left four people dead -- including a police informant -- gunned down by a Miami-Dade SWAT team, has brought the program into harsh relief. Tricked by an informant into believing the residence was loaded with marijuana and large amounts of cash, the four men showed up armed and wearing ski masks.

SWAT officers shot and killed all four of them, including informant Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, 39, an ex-con who helped police set up the sting. Also killed by police were Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., age 52, Jorge Lemus, 39, and Antonio Andrew, 36.

A fifth suspect Gonzalez-Valdez Jr., the son of Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr., was the only survivor. Police arrested him at the scene in the getaway vehicle, an Cadillac Escalade located outside the targeted residence. Gonzalez- Valdez Jr. later pled guilty to a litany of brutal home invasion robberies and got 27 years in federal prison.

The dead informant, Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia (Dade County)
Prosecutors investigated the killings, but got little cooperation from the SWAT team. Of the 11 officers involved in the mass killing, only four -- one from each fatal scene -- agreed to give statements to investigators, and only as long as no prosecutors were present. The other seven officers refused to give statements.

Prosecutors decided not to prosecute any of the police involved, making it clear as they did that they were frustrated by their inability to bring charges and that they believed serious police misconduct was involved. Especially damning to police was the State Attorney's Office (SAO) memorandum on the resolution of the case. The SAO report found one killing justified, but barely minced words about the rest of the lethal operation and police cooperation with investigators:

"Due to a number of unusual, counter-intuitive, suspicious and/or disturbing factors present in the other three shootings, we cannot state definitively that those shootings were legally justified. Nevertheless, because we do not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to disprove the version of events given by the three officers and are thus compelled to accept their testimony as truthful [bolding and italics in original],… there is insufficient evidence to prove an unlawful killing of Rosendo Betancourt-Garcia, Antonio Andrew, or Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. by any of the other 10 officers involved in the events of June 30, 2011."

That claim of legal compulsion drew a scoffing rebuke from Jeanne Baker, an attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "There's no rule of law that says that the prosecutors when evaluating a case are compelled to accept as truthful the testimony of the subject of the investigation," she told Miami NBC 6 News.

The SAO report further accused the officers of lying to investigators, moving dead bodies, and possibly planting evidence. The shootings were so disturbing that the State Attorneys went so far as to say "the officers weren't necessarily innocent."

The prosecutors' outrage was palpable, but what really lit up the city was the release by NBC 6 News of a video tape from a police helicopter's infrared camera that showed a replay of the men shot multiple times, although it appeared the men had not fired a shot at the officers and actually had surrendered.

Confronted with the now public video evidence, Miami police officials went on the offensive, expressing resentment that NBC Channel 6 got access to the secret police helicopter surveillance video. Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson asked the State Attorney's Office to investigate how the video tape showing the shootings fell into the hands of reporters.

A police spokesman said the informant, Rosendo Betancourt, defied officers' orders not to go onto the property, and that the officers, hidden in the dark, said it appeared the would-be robbers were trying to reach for weapons.

But consider the case of Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. The one weapon -- fully loaded -- that was allegedly his was located a few yards from where his body was found. Police had shot him 40 times as cowered against a tree in the fetal position. Police did not explain how Gonzalez-Valdez was threatening them with a weapon yards away from him.

Police officials also complained about the release of information in a State Attorney's Office report revealing that Betancourt, had been wearing a well-disguised audio wrist watch to record conversations. Betancourt could be seen wearing the watch during a surveillance video recorded earlier on June 30, 2011, the day of the killings.

Betancourt had been given code words to signal to police that he was their informant, and the audio surveillance from his watch would have showed whether or not he did so. But the audio wrist watch somehow went missing.

"That would've been a critical piece of evidence," said Jose Arrojo, a Chief Assistant at the State's Attorney Office.

Although police managed to thwart any attempt to prosecute them, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade have not been so fortunate. In July, the city agreed to pay $600,000 to the families of three of the men to settle a deadly force lawsuit. Betancourt's family didn't settle, and their lawsuit against the city remains pending.

The Redland sting -- named after the neighborhood where it went down -- remains one of the bloodiest episodes in a city that has seen its share of questionable police killings. And it raises serious questions about police misconduct and impunity.

"Are there questions marks? Of course. There are too many questions marks," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle admitted in an interview with Miami's NBC Channel 6.

Fernandez-Rundle said it was reasonable to conclude that based on the evidence that the officers acted with negligence and may have violated proper police procedures by shooting the men, particularly when an analysis of audio recording of the shooting proved "definitely" that six of the officers did not hear a gunshot from one of the dead men, nor did anyone find a rifle belonging to any of the men, as reported by an officer who said Jorge Lemus had a rifle.

Fernandez-Rundle also cited as another factor in her decision not to file charges a Florida appeals court decision that, she said, held "that any violation of police procedures and training is not admissible as evidence in criminal cases."

"The cops violated his civil rights," Jesse Dean-Kluger, an attorney involved in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Antonio Andrew, told the Miami New Times in 2012. Dean-Kluger argued the cops led the men into a scheme to expect an armed confrontation with drug dealers.

Deadly Operation: An Informant Comes Forward

So where did everything began in the first place? While most people snitch to avoid going to prison or for the easy money, police said Betancourt walked into a Miami-Dade robbery detail in June 2011 out of a sense of moral duty. He told a harrowing tale about being "sick and tired" of extreme violence inflicted on victims by a group of brutal home-invasion robbers.

Betancourt said the violence carried out by the men he knew personally included savage beatings, the cutting of one man's scrotum, using a hammer to pound the toes and fingers of the victims, cutting off fingers, and issuing threats to cut off childrens' fingers to force parents to reveal hidden valuables and money.

Police investigators questioned Betancourt as to how he knew so much about the crimes, Betancourt explained the men regularly sold him the stolen goods that were taken during the robberies. He identified Roger Gonzalez Valdez Sr., Jorge Lemus, Antoinio Lewis and Gonzalo-Valdez Jr. -- as the men responsible for the violent robberies Miami-Dade cops were already investigating.

Police developed a scheme to Betancourt as an informant to lure the men into a plot to rob a drug dealer's marijuana stash house in Redland, a suburb of Miami.

Attorney Matthew Leto is representing the Betancourt-Garcia family. (hlhlawfirm.com)
Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm on June 30, 2011, the men arrived at the "fake drug house" located at 18930-216th Street SW in Redland. Once the men agreed on an entry plan, they cut through a fence to reach the house -- and as they trudged closer; suddenly, police snipers, hidden among the shadows, armed with Colt M4 Commando assault rifles, stormed out from different directions in the dark to pursue the men who, now aware they'd been set up, scattered throughout the property. It is unclear if the officers commanded the men to "halt," but officers fired upon each suspect.

The first suspect killed, an armed Jorge Lemus, was shot to death while crouching down behind a vehicle. Informant Rosendo Betancourt died next in a hail of bullets. An overhead police helicopter infrared camera captured Betancourt surrendering to police with his hands up in the air. Next, police ordered Betancourt to lie on the ground, and crawl towards the officers. Betancourt complied.

The SAO report stated Sergeant Manuel Malgor then ordered Betancourt to turn over, and at this point, according to Malgor, this is when the informant got blasted 23 times -- just as it appeared to Malgor that Betancourt reached for his gun. Indeed a weapon was found in Betancourt's waistband but the lawyers representing Betancourt's family suspected the police planted the gun.

They had other questions, too. Why didn't Betancourt utter the code word assigned by police: "I'm heading to Disney World -- or help!" And what happened to the missing audio watch that Betancourt was wearing to record conversations between himself, the police and the robbers, a watch that could be clearly seen that he was wearing during the "real time" surveillance -- only a few hours before he was killed.

Aerial video footage did not actually capture Sgt. Malgor and fellow officers shooting Betancourt, thus, the prosecutors said, they "could not disprove the Sergeant's story," but they seriously questioned why the officer did not handcuff Betancourt as he laid on his stomach.

"The police let him down," a family member lamented.

Antonio Andrew was shot a dozen times while lying on the ground. Again, the officers claimed Andrew reached for a gun, although State prosecutors determined the officers gave contradictory orders.

For example, one officer hollered at Andrew, "Don't move your hands, and let me see your hands underneath your waistband." When Andrew obeyed the second command, an officer said Andrew made a quick movement towards his waist area. And this is when officers fired a dozen shots, killing Andrew instantly.

When a NBC Channel 6 reporter asked Assistant State Attorney Don Horn how someone can make a simultaneous move for his waistband -- when an officer said Andrew's hands were already in his waistband, Horn replied in disgust, "I don't know. It made no sense to me."

Even more disturbing, Horn wasn't able to question the officer (why) he gave obvious conflicting commands or ask the officer any other question because the officers, as mentioned earlier, would only speak to investigators if no prosecutor was present.

Roger Gonzalez-Valdez Sr. either dropped or discarded his gun as he tried to flee the scene. Police eventually found Gonzalez cowering at the base of a tree. The officer seen on the released video behind the tree with Gonzalez's "back" to him said in his statement that Gonzalez made a quick move into his waistband, a move that allegedly forced the officers to open fire, striking Gonzalez 40 times out of 50 shots fired.

But prosecutors question whether the officer had a good view of Gonzalez near the tree, as the officer claimed. "Our repeated reviews of the video caused us to question whether the officer... was even in a position to see what he saw," the attorneys wrote.

State prosecutors also said the evidence showed that officers moved Gonzalez-Valdez's body after they shot him dead. Here's why prosecutors suspected this: a black hand-held police radio was found in Gonzalez's hand.

"We have a system of justice that require apprehension, prosecution, conviction and sentencing," said attorney Justin Leto of Miami, who handled the wrongful death lawsuit for Jorge Lemus and Antoinio Andrew. "I don't see any evidence indicating these people needed to be shot on sight," Leto said.

Justin Leto's brother Matthew is representing the Betancourt family in its pending federal lawsuit.

"The police did not take care of Mr. Betancourt like they promised," said Matthew Leto.

That lawsuit appears to be the end of the story. Four men are dead -- gunned down by police in an operation more reminiscent of an elite military anti-terror raid than of what we traditionally think of as civilian law enforcement -- and there is no legal accountability. Impunity is something we criticize in heavy-handed Latin American or Middle Eastern governments, but perhaps we need to look in the mirror.

Miami, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: Holder Ponders Rescheduling, CT MedMJ Dispensaries Open, Honduras Prez Slams Drug War; More (9/25/14)

Holder will resign, but has some parting words on rescheduling, Rahm Emmanuel supports pot decrim, but legalization is a step too far, Connecticut dispensaries are now open for business, and more. Let's get to it:

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder to Resign, Says We Should Consider Rescheduling Marijuana. As he announces his resignation, Attorney General Holder has signaled that he thinks it may be time to reschedule marijuana. "It's certainly a question we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as heroin, especially given what we've seen recently with regard to heroin -- the progression of people, from using opioids to heroin use, the spread and the destruction that heroin has perpetrated all around our country," Holder told Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric. "And to see how, by contrast, what the impact is of marijuana use. Now it can be destructive, if used in certain ways, but the question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that we need to ask ourselves -- and use science as the basis for making that determination."

Chicago Mayor Emanuel Just Says No to Legalization. Just a day after he called for marijuana decriminalization and the defelonization of drug possession, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said marijuana legalization is a step too far. He was responding to remarks from potential challenger Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, who suggested legalization was "another source of revenue we ought to look at."

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Dispensaries Now Open for Business. The state's first licensed grower sent its first shipment this week to dispensaries, which promptly began selling it to qualified patients. All six dispensaries in the state should be open this week.

SurveyUSA Poll Has Florida Initiative at 53%, Needs 60% to Win. The latest SurveyUSA poll has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative with 53% of the vote, but since the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. That's a slight drop from the last SurveyUSA poll, which had support at 56%. Importantly, while only 53% said they would vote for it, only 31% said they would vote against and 15% were undecided. If the undecideds split evenly, the initiative will squeak out a victory.

More Than 350 People Applied for Illinois Medical Marijuana Business Permits. State officials said Wednesday that more than 350 people had applied to legally grow or provide medical marijuana by the Monday afternoon deadline. Some 158 people applied as potential cultivation centers, while 211 applied to operate dispensaries. The state will grant 21 grow center permits and 60 dispensary permits by year's end, with the first legally obtainable medical marijuana available by spring 2015.

Pennsylvania Senate Passes Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Wednesday approved Senate Bill 1182, after amending it to remove the ability to vaporize the plant and removing a large number of qualifying medical conditions. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court to Hear Arguments on Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals has set a hearing date of November 20 for Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) welfare drug testing law. The state lost last December in US circuit court, with the trial judge ruling that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied." The state is appealing.

International

Honduras President Uses UN Speech to Rail Against Drug War. In a speech to the UN General Assembly Wednesday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez lambasted international drug policies "based on waging a ceaseless war on all fronts without regard to the costs." He urged creation of a "multinational force" to fight drug cartels "just like the one that this morning, President Obama asked for to confront radical fundamentalists. Today, we talk about what is happening in other regions to children, young people, families displaced by war, violence and radical extremists," he said. "But little is said about the situation of thousands of families in the northern triangle of Central America."

California Defelonization Initiative Appears Poised for Victory [FEATURE]

While the nation focuses on marijuana legalization initiatives in Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, a California initiative that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors is quietly heading for a likely victory at the polls in November.

Proposition 47, the smartly named Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, is sponsored by two prominent California law enforcement figures, former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and current San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and the campaign is being led by Californians for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools. It has lined up an impressive array of supporters, ranging from crime victims' groups to the Catholic Church and racial and social justice organizations.

The initiative would attempt to address the state's chronic over-incarceration problems by moving six low-level, nonviolent crimes from felony/wobblers to misdemeanors. A "wobbler" is an offense that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. Among the included offenses is simple drug possession. (The others include shoplifting under $950, check forgery under $950, and petty theft or receipt of stolen property under $950.)

About 10,000 people are arrested on drug possession felonies each year in the state.

Passage of Prop 47 would also help the state get closer to meeting a looming deadline from the federal courts to shrink its prison population. A new study by the California Budget Project finds that Prop 47 would move in that direction by reducing the number of people sentenced to prison and by allowing those already serving time for such offenses to petition for resentencing in county jails.

In addition to reducing prison overcrowding, Prop 47 aims to reduce felony caseloads in the court system, thus freeing up criminal justice resources for more serious and violent crime. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office, if the initiative passes, there would be "state and county criminal justice savings potentially in the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Savings from a successful Prop 47 would be dedicated to investment in mental health and drug treatment (65%), K-12 school programs for at-risk youth (25%), and trauma recovery services for crime victims (10%). The impact could be substantial.

San Francisco's DA is a Prop 47 proponent. (wikimedia.org)
"This initiative is very important for California," said Anthony Thigpen, president of California Calls, an alliance of 31 community-based organizations across the state. "We need new safety priorities that stop wasting resources on over-incarceration and invest in treatment and prevention. It's better for state and local budgets, better for public safety and better for the health of all of our communities."

While mainly flying under the radar, Prop 47 has still managed to pick up popular support. A California Field Poll in June and July had the initiative winning with 57% of the vote. And just this week, the campaign got even better news. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Tuesday had support for the initiative at 62%, with only 25% opposed.

It has also picked up financial support. According to the California secretary of state's office, Prop 47 campaign committees have taken in more than $3.4 million in donations (including more than $1.2 million from the Open Society Policy Center, $600,000 from the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, and several six-figure donations from individuals). And while the campaign has spent more than $2 million so far, it still has about $1.2 million in the bank right now, and will continue to fund raise to finance last-minute advertising.

If that is even necessary. Prop 47 has picked up organized opposition, in the form of the Californians Against Prop 47 campaign finance committee, but the committee, representing groups including the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Peace Officers Association, and the California Correctional Supervisors Association, has so far raised only $42,000. That doesn't buy a lot of TV ad time.

Opponents charge that Prop 47 would "release dangerous inmates," "tie judges' hands," and is "completely unnecessary" because the state's ongoing "realignment" is already shifting prisoners from the state to the county level. But the initiative's proponents rebut those charges, arguing that it "keeps dangerous criminals locked up," "prioritizes serious and violent crime," and "provides new funding for crime prevention and education."

California State Prison, Solano, and example of the state's voracious prison-industrial complex (cdcr.ca.gov)
"The reason I support this measure is simple: The more addiction and mental health services we provide to communities hardest hit by crime, the less likely another mom will find herself in my shoes. Having to tell your children that their daddy was shot and they will never see him again is something I wouldn't wish on anyone," said Dionne Wilson of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

The group is a key part of the campaign and serves as a counterpoint to other crime survivors groups that oppose the initiative, such as Crime Victims United. That group has joined forces with law enforcement and the state district attorneys association to oppose Prop 47.

"When three out of four people go back to prison within three years -- and it's been that way for 30 years -- it's obvious that we need a new plan," Wilson continued. "This measure will save a ton of money that would be wasted on incarcerating nonviolent people for nonviolent crimes, which will then be reinvested into trauma care for victims, mental health services and drug treatment. I think that's what a sound public safety strategy looks like."

Prop 47 is also a response to the lack of action on the issue in Sacramento, or, more precisely, action thwarted in Sacramento. Last year, a defelonization bill sponsored by Sen. Jay Leno (D-San Francisco) passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

"Unable to get meaningful sentencing reform through Sacramento, this initiative is a tremendous opportunity to make responsible and significant fixes to our broken criminal justice system by allowing simple drug possession and other non-violent petty crimes to be treated appropriately as misdemeanors, avoiding the lifelong collateral consequences that go along with felony records and the unsustainable court and incarceration costs that accompany mass felonization in California," explained Lynne Lyman, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Prop 47 looks well-positioned to emerge victorious in November. But we're six weeks out now, and this is when initiative campaigns tend to heat up. The opposition is going to do its best to scare Californians into voting no, but it doesn't -- yet -- have enough money to make much of a media splash. At this point, it looks like California is on the verge of taking another big step toward addressing its chronic incarceration crisis.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: MPP Files for 2016 in CA, Addiction Group Calls for FDA Head's Head, More (9/24/14)

MPP begins laying the groundwork for a 2016 legalization initiative in California, a new report examines the impact of pot law reforms, Pennsylvania Senate votes on medical marijuana today, anti-addiction activists target the FDA, and more. Let's get to it:

Chart from the CJCJ's report on the impact of marijuana law reforms.
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Campaign Committee for 2016 California Initiative. And so it begins. The Marijuana Policy Project today filed with the California secretary of state to create a campaign committee to support a 2016 marijuana legalization ballot initiative. The group says the committee will be part of a broad coalition working to legalize marijuana in the nation's most populous state. That coalition will be working on an initiative draft in the coming months.

CJCJ Report Examines Impact of Marijuana Law Reforms, Supports Legalization Over Decriminalization. In a report released today, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the impact of pot law reforms in states that have either decriminalized or legalized the herb and calls legalization the best policy choice. The report is Reforming Marijuana Laws: Which Approach Best Reduces the Harms of Criminalization? A Five-State Analysis.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Headed for Senate Vote Today. The bill, which was amended yesterday in the Appropriations Committee to ban the use of vaporizers and to greatly narrow the list of allowed conditions for using medical marijuana, is set for a Senate floor vote today.

Heroin and Opiates

Pennsylvania Report Says Heroin Cheaper Than Beer. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (an agency of the state legislature) has issued a report on opiate addiction in the Keystone State that finds that heroin is cheaper than beer and is sold through sophisticated retail networks. The report, Heroin: Combating this Growing Epidemic in Pennsylvania, recommends a variety of legislative actions, including passage of bills creating a statewide prescription drug database, "Good Samaritan" laws, and making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone more available.

Anti-Addiction Activists Call on FDA Head to Resign. A group calling itself FED UP: A Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic today released a letter calling for the resignation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg because of "the FDA's continued approval of new, dangerous, high-dose opioid analgesics that are fueling high rates of addiction and overdose deaths." The group takes issue with the FDA's approval last year of the new opioid pain reliever Zohydro, but it also criticized the agency for approving new drugs that are actually designed to be harder to misuse, such as Targiniq, which combines oxycodone with naloxone. FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson defended Dr. Hamburg, saying she had to balance concerns about abuse and public safety with those about adequate access to pain medications. "Preventing prescription opioid abuse and ensuring that patients have access to appropriate treatments for pain are both top public health priorities for the FDA," Jefferson said in a statement.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Has Healthy Lead in New Poll. A poll released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California has the state's defelonization initiative, Proposition 47, winning with support at 62%. The initiative would turn drug possession felonies and some other low-level nonviolent offenses into misdemeanors.

International

Bermuda Activist Sues Premier Over Medical Marijuana. Attorney Alan Gordon has sued Premier Michael Dunkley as part of his campaign to ease access to medical marijuana on the island. Gordon accuses the government of creating a double standard by not arresting him for openly cultivating medical marijuana while prosecuting atheists and Rastafarians for the same offense.

Serbian Health Minister Supports Medical Marijuana. Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar has said marijuana provides "good results in medicine" and announced he will open a public debate on the issue. "The ministry would not prevent the introduction in medicine of anything that gives results for treatment, including marijuana. There are results showing that cannabis gives good results in medicine. We do not want to make decisions for one day, though. We want to meet people with all the details," he said.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School