SWAT/Paramilitarization

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SWAT Team Kills Armed Homeowner in Dawn Drug Raid

An armed West Virginia homeowner who confronted dawn police raiders with a rifle was shot and killed by State Police officers Wednesday. Richard Dale Kohler, 66, becomes the 18th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third in less than a week.

According to the West Virginia Gazette, State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said officers from the State Police special response team and DEA agents knocked on the door of Kohler's home at 6:05am. to serve a federal warrant. The newspaper described the special response team as "akin to a SWAT team."

Officers knocked on the door, Baylous said, but no one answered, so police "had to break down the door or forcefully open it somehow." Baylous gave no indication of the amount of time that elapsed between the initial knock on the door and police breaking it open.

When police break down the door, they saw Kohler pointing a rifle at them, Baylous said. The troopers opened fire, shooting multiple rounds and killing Kohler. Baylous said he did not think Kohler had fired his weapon, but it was still unclear.

Baylous said the warrant police were executing was part of a larger, ongoing drug investigation with multiple suspects. He would not comment further on the nature of the investigation, except to say that the DEA division involved was one that focused primarily on prescription drugs.

A neighbor told WSAZ TV that she had seen unusual amounts of traffic going to and from Kohler's home, but that she was surprised to hear he even had a gun.

"I mean, I can't see him just open fire like that, but you know when all that comes after you, you never know what somebody's going to do," Christina Murdock said.

Clay , WV
United States

Missouri Man Killed After Firing at Police in Drug Raid

A Warrensburg, Missouri, man was shot and killed by police executing a drug search warrant last Thursday night. Beau Appleton, 57,becomes the 10th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to local media reports, members of the Warrensburg Police Department's Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) went to Appleton's home to serve a drug search warrant. He "apparently" fired a shotgun at the SERT team as its members entered the residence. Police then opened fire, killing Appleton.

No further details on the shooting were available. Police have not said whether any officers were injured in the incident.

Police said they seized drugs, drug paraphernalia, and firearms, but have not released more specific information.

While the extent of Appleton's criminal history isn't clear, records show he was arrested for drunk driving in Illinois in 2011 and again for driving without a drivers' license in Missouri in February.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating the shooting at the request of the Warrensburg Police.

Warrensburg , MO
United States

ACLU to Examine SWAT, Police Militarization

The American Civil Liberties Union announced this week that it was seeking data from police departments across the country in an effort to determine the extent to which law enforcement agencies are using federally-subsidized military-style weapons and tactics. The group said it had filed 255 public records requests with law enforcement agencies in 23 states, as well as with the National Guard.

Paramilitarized SWAT teams are one example of what the ACLU will be looking at. Originally conceptualized as specialized units to be used in limited circumstances, such as hostage-rescues or armed standoffs, SWAT teams have been subject to mission creep and are now used routinely by some departments for, among other things, executing drug search warrants.

"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU's Center for Justice. "We've seen examples of this in several localities, but we don't know the dimensions of the problem."

The ACLU will be seeking information on the number and purpose of SWAT deployments, the types of weapons used, injuries sustained by civilians, training materials, and funding sources for them.

The group will also be looking more generally at the use of advanced weapons and cutting edge technologies, including unmanned drones, GPS tracking devices, detainee restraint devices ("shock-cuffs"), and military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained directly through the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security or funded by them.

They will also seek information from state National Guards regarding incidents of direct contact with civilians, as well as examining cooperative agreements between local law enforcement agencies and the Guard's counter-drug program.

"The American people deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing," said Allie Bohm, ACLU advocacy and policy strategist. "The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections."

The affiliates which filed public records requests are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, ACLU plans to use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

Connecticut Towns Pay Out Big for Deadly SWAT Drug Raid

Five Connecticut towns whose SWAT team killed an unarmed man during a 2008 drug raid have agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the man's family. Another lawsuit, filed by the man who owned the home that was raided, is pending.

Gonzalo Guizan
In a joint statement, officials from Easton, Monroe, Trumbull, Wilton and Darien all maintained their police were not responsible for the death of Gonzalo Guizan that day. Eaton First Selectman Thomas Herrmann spoke for all five towns.

"While the defendants, police departments and officers from Darien, Easton, Trumbull, Monroe and Wilton maintain they were not responsible for the unfortunate death of Mr. Guizan, the insurers for the defendants, who will bear the full cost of the settlement, believed that it was best to resolve the matter rather than incur further attorneys' fees, which were anticipated to be significant," Hermann said. "The defendants concurred, further believing it was important to facilitate the Guizan family being relieved of the combined burden of litigation."

But the attorney representing the homeowner, Ronald Terebisi, told the Stamford Advocate the settlement was solid evidence the towns knew their SWAT team had gone overboard.

"This is a clear admission of misconduct on their part," said Gary Mastronardi. "There is undisputed evidence Guizan and Terebesi were huddled in a corner when police shot," he said. "This is just the first of two shoes that have dropped," Mastronardi added, referencing his pending lawsuit for Terebisi's emotional suffering and damage to his home.

A federal judge last summer had upheld the lawsuits, holding that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to decide if the SWAT team had used excessive and unreasonable force against the pair. That led to pressure on the towns to settle, even though they had filed an appeal.

The raid was organized by former Easton Police Chief John Solomon, who said in pretrial depositions that he had been under pressure to "do something" about Teresbisi, who was considered a blot on the neighborhood. Terebisi had entertained strippers at his home and was once found passed out in his home because of drug use. On one occasion, a boyfriend of one of the strippers shot up Terebisi's house, heightening neighborhood concerns.

On May 18, 2008, things came to a head. That morning, a stripper called Easton police and said she had seen a small amount of drugs in the house. (She later admitted that she had left the house after having a dispute with Terebisi.)

Early that afternoon, the Southwest Emergency Regional Response Team, dressed in full SWAT garb, took off for Terebisi's house after Solomon and others warned them that Terebisi was armed and would likely shoot at police. Police videos showed them throwing a flash-bang grenade through a window, smashing down the back door, and yelling out, "Police, warrant!"

One of the officers, Monroe police officer Michael Sweeney, yelled "I'm hit, I'm hit," and then there was the sound of repeated gunfire. When it was over, Guizan lay dead on the floor with six gunshot wounds and Terebisi, who had been pinned by one of the officers, was handcuffed and dragged out of the house.

SWAT members then searched the house, but found no guns. They did find two crack pipes and a small amount of cocaine. Sweeney, the officer who yelled "I'm hit," was the one who fired on Guizan and Terebisi. He turned out to have been hit by debris from a third flash-bang explosion. He claimed in testimony that he had struggled with the pair and shot because he felt his life was in danger, but other officers at the scene didn't back up that account. Guizan was found lifeless in a corner.

Sweeney received the Monroe Police Officer of the Year award for his part in the raid.

Easton, CT
United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what we found:

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

Law Enforcement Deaths

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

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

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

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

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

Civilian Deaths

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

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

The Drug War and the Second Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing Police to Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona SWAT Team Kills Man in Drug Raid Shootout

A Phoenix-area SWAT team shot and killed one man during a "dynamic entry" (break the door down) drug raid early last Thursday morning after the raiders were met with gunfire. The as yet unidentified man becomes the 39th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third one in the past week.

Police told ABC 15 News the raid in a Phoenix neighborhood was undertaken by the Surprise, Arizona, police SWAT team. Team members were met with gunfire from multiple sources as they attempted to make entry into the residence. They responded with gunfire of their own, killing one of the men in the house.

ABC 15 News reported that the purpose of the raid was unclear, but Policemag.com, which bills itself as a "community for cops," reported that police were serving a drug search warrant. It was also Policemag.com that described the raid as a dynamic entry raid.

There is no word yet on what happened to the other alleged shooters in the house, nor have police mentioned what, if anything, they found in the house. No police were injured in the raid.

Phoenix, AZ
United States

Mexico's Drug War Version 2.0 [FEATURE]

Dismayed and horrified by the wave of prohibition-related violence unleashed on Mexico with President Calderon's deployment of the military to fight the country's wealthy and powerful drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- Mexican voters on Sunday appear to have rejected Calderon's party, the PAN, instead harkening back to the past, choosing as president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the PRI, the party that dominated Mexico for most of the 20th Century.

Mexico's likely next president, Enrique Peña Nieto (wikimedia.org)
While Peña Nieto is virtually certain to be Mexico's next president, it's not quite official yet. Mexico election officials are recounting half the ballot boxes because of inconsistencies in the tallies and expect to release final results Sunday. But with Peña Nieto holding a five-point lead over second place finisher Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador, the recount is unlikely to change the outcome.

The election came amidst relentless and terrifying violence. At least 55,000 people have been killed in the internecine conflicts among the rival cartels and in the multisided fighting between the cartels, the police, and the military, with thousands more gone missing. Election week saw a new video of Gulf Cartel operatives beheading four Zetas, as well as the killing of three federal police officers at the Mexico City airport by other federal police officers being targeted in a drug trafficking investigation.

That is nothing unusual for Mexico these days, six years after Calderon sent 50,000 troops and federal police out to stop the cartels. The question is whether Peña Nieto is going to do anything substantially different once he takes power in December, and right now, the answer is unclear.

During the run-up to Sunday's election, the charismatic former governor of the state of Mexico attempted to create some distance between himself and Calderon's approach, but his policy prescriptions appear to be more in the nature of adjustments than a radical rethinking. He has made two direct proposals for retooling Mexico's drug war and one key appointment.

Peña Nieto has called for the creation of a paramilitary force of 40,000 ex-soldiers to take the burden of fighting the heavily-armed cartels from the military, which has seen an increasing number of human rights complaints filed against it. But that will take time to pull together, and he has said nothing about sending the military back to its barracks before then.

He is also calling for something like a single unified national police force, or what he calls the mando unico, the unified command. Calls for reforming Mexico's police, with its thousands of different municipal, state, and federal department, have been a constant for at least the last quarter-century, as those forces repeatedly expose themselves as hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. But reorganizations have been done before, only to create a new cadre of cops to be corrupted.

The US-Mexican border
In another sign of the direction he intends to take the country, Peña Nieto this week appointed as an internal security advisor the former chief of the Colombian national police, Oscar Naranjo. Working closely with the US, Naranjo vastly expanded the intelligence apparatus of the national police and is credited with helping to bring down the Medellin and Cali cartels. But Naranjo also ran the national police under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, a period marked by shady dealings with rightist paramilitaries linked to the drug trade.

On Tuesday, Peña Nieto told PBS he would continue to use the military indefinitely.[Editor's Note: In that same interview, he had some words to say about discussing drug legalization; see our news brief on that here.]

"I will maintain the presence of a Mexican Army, and the Navy and police in the states of the Mexican Republic, where the problem of crime has increased," he said. "We will adjust the strategy so that we can focus on certain type of crimes, like kidnapping, homicide, extortion, which today, unfortunately, have worsened or increased, because we have a lot of impunity in some areas. The state's task is to achieve more efficiency, and to go back to the rule of law and enforce laws strictly in our country."

Raising eyebrows in Washington, Peña Nieto has previously hinted that he may refocus Mexico's anti-crime efforts, placing lesser emphasis on nailing cartel kingpins and eradicating illicit crops and placing more emphasis on reducing the violence.

"Violence is the most sensitive issue for Mexicans," he told the Financial Times in his first interview with an international newspaper. "Mexico cannot put up with this scenario of death and kidnapping."

Such comments have led many observers in both Mexico and the US to suggest that Peña Nieto may revert to the PRI's old ways. It is commonly believed -- although difficult to prove -- that during the latter part of its 70-year rule, that the PRI did not so much attempt to suppress the drug trade but to manage it, allowing itself to be bought off by the cartels. In return for non-interference from the state, the drug traffickers would keep a relatively low profile as they went about their business. What is certain is that the levels of violence around the drug trade and its repression have soared during the 12 years the PAN held power and moved aggressively against the cartels.

[Ed: Whether or not the government or individual officials made explicit deals with the cartels, it is generally understood among scholars that government's mostly manage illegal drug trades rather than seriously trying to undo them -- doing so enables them to keep crime within "normal" levels, as opposed to the kinds of bloodbaths seen in Mexico recently or Colombia during the time of Pablo Escobar.]

Sensitive to such charges, Peña Nieto took pains to say he was not going to make deals with the cartels. "There will be no pact or truce with organized crime," he said.

"What's really going on is that he's being very careful to assure the US that it will be business as usual, that they will continue fighting the drug war," said Nathan Jones, a fellow in drug policy at the Baker Institute in Houston. "There could be ways you could shift from counter-narcotics to counter-violence and have it be in line with US policies. With a counter-violence strategy, you would be consciously and publicly targeting the most violent cartels, but they're already doing that."

What drug prohibition brings Mexico (PGR Mexico)
"Much is up in the air in terms of what differences there will actually be once he comes to power in December," said Elise Dunn, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "On the one hand, he has promised not to negotiate with the drug cartels, and on the other hand, he comes to power at a difficult time, but I don't think the strategy will change dramatically. No president is going to lose the appearance of taking a hard stand against the cartels, but there are many accusations that he will deal with them, and those accusations are based on the past behavior of the PRI."

Still, Dunn said, the PRI has traditionally had a close relationship with the US, and Peña Nieto will seek to keep it that way.

"I would anticipate that in public relations with the US, he will say they'll go after the capos, but that's very much up in the air," she said. "He has also suggested that putting the military back in its barracks is an option, but I consider that very unlikely given the pressures the US would exert."

It is also unlikely, at least in the near term, because there is no effective force in place to replace the military.

"This idea of the paramilitary force composed of former soldiers seems to be popular in Mexico because the military is the second most respected institution in the country behind the Catholic Church," said Jones, "but 40,000 men is a very large force and that will take time to build, so they continue to have to use the military at least for the short term."

"The one reform Mexico really needs is a complete overhaul of its police force," said Dunn. "Peña Nieto has suggested the shift, and his paramilitary plan could be the core of a national police force. We need a complete overhaul of the more than 2,000 different police forces that have been rife with corruption and lack of transparency, but what that overhaul will look like is up in the air."

Reforming law enforcement, though, is an old and so far failed game in Mexico. As each corrupted unit or department is disbanded and replaced, the new ones consistently fall prey to the same temptations.

"One problem is that Mexico has been readjusting its federal police forces since the 1980s, they've had an alphabet soup of federal drug enforcement agencies, so I'm a bit skeptical about a new one," she added.

One obstacle to reforming the Mexican police will be political. While Peña Nieto triumphed on Sunday, the PRI failed to achieve a majority in the congress. That means he will need the support of other parties to move forward on the idea, and that's by no means a given.

Peña Nieto has five months before he takes office in December. There is no sign of any let-up in the prohibition-related violence, nor any sign all the captures or killings of cartel higher-ups are having any impact on the violence or the drug trade. And there appears to be little sign that the new president will do anything radically different about it -- at least not out in the open.

Mexico

Pelosi Condemns Medical Marijuana Crackdown

US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) issued a statement last Wednesday condemning the federal campaign against medical marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law. The prominent Democrat's statement is a clear shot across the bow for President Obama and his Justice Department, which is leading the charge against dispensaries and associated medical marijuana enterprises.

Nancy Pelosi had Obama's ear after he won the White House in 2008. Will he listen to her now? (wikimedia.org)
"I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana," Pelosi said.

The House Minority Leader said access to medical marijuana is "both a medical and a states' rights issue" and that it has "proven medical uses," including alleviating the suffering of AIDS patients.

"I have long supported efforts in Congress to advocate federal policies that recognize the scientific evidence and clinical research demonstrating the medical benefits of medicinal marijuana, that respect the wishes of the states in providing relief to ill individuals, and that prevent the federal government from acting to harm the safe access of medicinal marijuana provided under state law," Pelosi said. "I will continue to strongly support those efforts."

Pelosi's statement came the same day that the Alameda County (Oakland) Democratic Party unanimously adopted a resolution "decrying the federal raids on dispensaries and calling for the US Department of Justice to refrain from future expenditure of public resources on any act that contradicts the will of the California voters regarding medical marijuana" and just days after the San Francisco Democratic Party passed a similar resolution.

The Bay Area Democrats are responding to a coordinated crackdown on the medical marijuana industry by federal prosecutors in the state that began last fall and has led to the forced closing of dozens of California dispensaries and related businesses, including such well-respected institutions as the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Berkeley Patients Group, as well as last month's raid that crippled Oaksterdam University.

The toll includes five dispensaries in San Francisco itself. Another four San Francisco dispensaries or their landlords have received similar threatening letters from US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag.

The politicians are being prodded by San Francisco United for Safe Access, an ad hoc group of patients, patient advocates, dispensaries, and other stakeholders led by Americans for Safe Access (ASA). The coalition was formed to mobilize political opposition to the Obama administration's crackdown.

"We applaud Pelosi's leadership in urging President Obama to address medical marijuana as a public health issue," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "Rather than defending a policy of intolerance, President Obama should end his unnecessary and harmful attacks once and for all."

There have been more than 200 SWAT-style raids on dispensaries, growers, and associated businesses since Obama took office in January 2009. Most of them have taken place since the administration unleashed its offensive in March 2011 with a series of DEA raids in Montana that decimated that state's until-then booming medical marijuana industry.

Washington, DC
United States

Jacksonville Police Kill Armed Man in Drug Raid

A Jacksonville, Florida, narcotics detective shot and killed an armed man during a drug raid aimed at arresting a small-scale crack dealer last Thursday. Juan Montrice Lawrence, 40, becomes the 22nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year, and the third in a one-week period.

According to the Florida Times-Union, citing Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman John Hartley, detectives had spent six weeks buying crack out of an apartment in the Casa del Rio St. Johns complex, and, after making one last purchase at the apartment door Thursday afternoon, a "take-down team" attempted to arrest their target, Nathaniel Phillip Hill, 39.

But Hill struggled, and the officers were pulled into the apartment as they took Hill to the floor. A second male, later identified as Hill's teen-age son, was also tackled. At that point, veteran narcotics Detective Valentino Demps saw Lawrence standing in a hallway with a gun in his hand. Demps ordered Lawrence to drop the gun, then shot him twice when he did not comply.

"He gave multiple commands for the suspect to drop the gun. He refused to obey the commands," Hartley said. "He was shot at least twice, once in the face, once in the hip."

Lawrence was taken to Shands Jacksonville Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Witnesses described seeing officers in black uniforms and ski masks gathered at the apartment complex.

By Friday, police had identified Lawrence as an "armed felon" whose previous convictions including carrying a concealed weapon and cocaine possession and were saying that the decision to shoot him had probably saved several officers' lives.

"If he'd let him get down that hallway, we could have three or four dead officers at the scene," Hartley said. "Certainly he [Lawrence] was ready to fire on them."

Nathaniel Hill was arrested and charges with distribution of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. An ounce of cocaine, a pistol, and rounds of ammunition were seized at the apartment. Hill's teenage son was detained, but later released without charges.

Jacksonville, FL
United States

Two More Drug Raids, Two More Deaths

Two drug raids last Wednesday, one in Miami Lakes, Florida, and one in New Orleans, have resulted in the deaths of two men, one in each raid. Michael Ray Santana, 26, of Miami Lakes and Wendell Allen, 20, of New Orleans become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Miami Lakes, according to police, Santana was shot and killed after he confronted members of the Miami-Dade police Special Response Team, a SWAT-style outfit, serving a "high risk narcotics search warrant" at his residence. Police said officers knocked, announced themselves, and then went inside, when they were confronted by a man armed with a firearm.

Santana was the subject of the police investigation, and police said they found numerous firearms and a substantial amount of unspecified "narcotics" in the residence.

In New Orleans, according to police, Allen was shot in the chest and killed by a police officer serving a search warrant at a home where he was present. Officers from both the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department took part in the raid, but the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shot has not been made public.

Police made no mention of any weapons found.

New Orleans Police Superintedant Ronal Serpas said the house in the Gentilly district had been under surveillance for several days.

"Today, multiple narcotics transactions of a distribution nature were observed," he said, adding that a person who left the house was later charged arrested for intent to distribute "narcotics."

Serpa did not identify either the shooter or the dead man, and he didn't take questions during a brief press conference.

But a distraught woman at the scene of the shooting told the New Orleans Times-Picayune he was her grandson, Wendell Allen.

Allen's shooting was the second fatal police shooting in the NOPD's 3rd District in less than a week.

As people milled around the scene of the shooting, one woman screamed, "Lord have mercy! Why does this stuff keep happening?" Another shouted, "The policeman killed him. They killed my baby."

Allen had one arrest on his record, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was one year into a five-year suspended sentence when he was shot and killed.

In the days since Allen's death last week, a growing clamor has arisen.The Louisiana Justice Institute is threatening to sue the city unless it releases more information on the killing. Police have yet to supply a narrative of what happened, and the officer who pulled the trigger has yet to be interviewed. Family members and community activists demonstrated last Friday and again on Tuesday to keep up the pressure.

What is clear is that the raid was aimed at small-time marijuana dealing, and Allen wasn't the subject of the raid.

 

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