Prison guards go bad on a massive scale in Maryland, a Pennsylvania narc's police station overdose creates problems for his boss, an Iowa trooper cops to stealing pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the police chief was suspended last Friday after one of his officers broke through a wall into the evidence room, stole drugs, consumed them, and was found suffering an overdose on the police station floor. Police Chief Craig Foust knew about security problems with the evidence room and failed to act on them, leading to his suspension, the county prosecutor said. The officer who overdosed, William Slisz, is a multi-year veteran and member of the Cambria County Drug Task Force.
In New Britain, Connecticut, two New Britain police officers were suspended last Friday for interfering in a federal drug investigation. Officer Brian Shea and Brian Solek were suspended for 25 days after they engaged a drug suspect in a high-speed pursuit just after he had been involved in an under-surveillance fentanyl deal. The pair were aware of the federal probe and "directly jeopardized the integrity of the investigation," Police Chief James Wardwell said.
In Baltimore, 18 state prison guards were arrested last Wednesday in a massive bust that led to 80 arrests, including guards, prisoners, and "outside facilitators. Most are charged with orchestrating a vast smuggling operation into the Eastern Correctional Institution, the state's largest prison. Guards smuggled heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and suboxone in exchange for cash, money orders, and in some instances, sexual favors from inmates.
In Mason City, Iowa, a former Iowa State Patrol trooper pleaded guilty last Wednesday to stealing drugs from the evidence room. Michael Haugen, 32, admitted taking over $500 in pain pills by removing them from evidence bags and then altering the labels to cover up the thefts. He has agreed to plead guilty to tampering with official records and 3rd degree theft. Prosecutors are recommending a suspended sentence.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.
More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.
Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.
The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.
"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, AryehNeier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."
Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.
The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.
Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.
"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."
The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.
Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.
And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.
report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.
"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.
"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."
Louisiana cops go down in a contraband cigarette conspiracy, a Massachusetts narc gets suspended for threatening to plant dope on a teenager, a Tennessee chief deputy gets popped for stealing from the drug fund, and more. Let's get to it:
In New Orleans, two New Orleans police officers and an Orleans County sheriff's deputy were arrested last Wednesday for their roles in an interstate cigarette smuggling conspiracy. Officers Justin Brown and Joshua Carthon and Deputy Garrett Partman are accused of accepting bribes and agreeing to protect shipments of contraband smokes across state lines. The conspiracy involved at least 15,000 cartons of cigarettes from North Carolina, where taxes are low. The trio, along with three civilians arrested in the scheme, face a host of charges, including conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes, evading federal excise tax, and interstate transportation in aid of a racketeering enterprise.
In Monroe, Washington, a state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly accepting bribes to smuggle meth into the prison. Guard Michael Bowden, 31, went down after an FBI investigation using confidential sources turned up information he was accepting bribes and then created a sting where Bowden thought he was carrying meth into the prison. He is charged with three counts of extortion under color of official right and one count of attempted distribution of methamphetamine.
In Jackson, Tennessee, a former Wayne County chief deputy was arrested last Friday on charges he stole more than $7,700 from the department, including money from the agency's drug buy fund. Gerald Baer, 62, now faces two counts of theft over $1,000, 111 counts of forgery, and one count of official misconduct. He's now out on $75,000 bond.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, a Springfield narcotics detective was suspended Monday for threatening to kill and plant drugs on two teenagers who stole an unmarked police car. Detective Greg Bigda is suspended for 60 days after video of his encounter with the youths showed he threatened to crush the skull of one of the teens and plant a kilo of cocaine in his pocket. Local defense attorneys are now using the video to impeach Bigda's testimony in pending drug cases, and two cases have already been dropped. Bigda has not been charged with any crime, but the Hampden District Attorney continues to investigate the incident.
California's governor signs asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana "micro farmer" bills, a Massachusetts town pays out big time for killing an elderly black man in a drug raid, Indianapolis narcs have arrested 1,000 people in two and a half months and think that's success, and more.
Eurie Stamps. Killed in a 2011 drug raid, now his family wins a $3.75 million settlement. (Stamps family)
Another California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning. A new KPIX 5/Survey USA poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning with 52% of the vote, with 41% opposed. It's the latest in a long line of polls that show the initiative winning, but has it winning by a smaller margin than most other polls.
California Governor Signs Marijuana "Micro Farmer" Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law the Cottage Cannabis Farmers Bill, Assembly Bill 2516. The measure creates a new medical marijuana cultivator license for "micro farmers," defined as farms with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy size for mixed-light cultivation, up to 25 mature plants for outdoor cultivation, or 500 square feet or less of total canopy size for indoor cultivation, on one premises.
DEA Ban Delayed, But Only for Days. The DEA says that despite loud protests, its proposed emergency ban on kratom is still coming; it's just been delayed for a few days as the agency deals with paperwork. It was supposed to become Schedule I Friday, but the reprieve could last a week or more. A DEA spokesman said it's "highly accurate" to say the ban won't take effect next week, either.
California Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 443, which requires a criminal conviction before police can permanently seize property valued at under $40,000. Bill sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sponsored a similar bill last year, but it failed after law enforcement grumbled that it would make it more difficult to go after big drug dealers. Police dropped their opposition after Mitchell agreed to the $40,000 threshold.
Federal Bill to Require Police Reporting of Deaths and Injuries Filed. Rep. Mark Veasey (D-TX) has filed HR 6217, which would "require States and units of local government to have in place laws requiring law enforcement officers to submit... reports when an individual is injured or killed by such a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer's employment as a condition on receiving certain grant funding, and for other purposes. Currently, there is no federal database on law enforcement killing or injuring suspects.
Indianapolis Narcs on Mad Arrest Binge. A newly formed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department drug unit has arrested more than 1,000 people in the past two and half months. Local media is calling it a "success" and IMPD Chief Troy Riggs vowed that more of the same was coming. "We're not backing off," he said. "This is the new normal."
A Texas border town cop gets nailed for helping a cartel, an Indiana cop prepares to head to federal prison for peddling dope in uniform, and more. Let's get to it:
In Lawton, Oklahoma, a Lawton Correctional Facility guard was arrested last Wednesday for smuggling methamphetamine into the prison. Darnell Buckley apparently ratted himself out, showing Lawton police where he had hidden 204 grams of speed. He also admitted that he was being paid money to smuggle the drugs in. He is charged with trafficking illegal drugs.
In Rio Grande City, Texas, a Rio Grande City police detective was arrested last Thursday for allegedly helping a drug cartel smuggle hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the US over a period of years by staging fake drug busts. Detective Ramon De La Cruz allegedly conspired with the Beltran Cartel to stage drug seizures and provide confidential police information to the gang. De La Cruz would allegedly set up busts where only some of the stash was seized, letting the rest get away.
In Brewton, Alabama, a Holman Correctional Facility guard was arrested Sunday for trying to smuggle illegal contraband into the prison. DeJuan Rudolph, 25, got caught with drugs, cell phones, and other contraband as he came to work. He is charged with trafficking cocaine, possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, attempting to commit a controlled substance crime, and use of a position for personal gain.
In Indianapolis, a former Anderson police officer was sentenced Monday to eight months in federal prison for selling drugs while on duty and in uniform. Donald Jordan had been charged with one count each of possession with intent to distribute Xanax and hydrocodone and pleaded guilty. He went down last December following a year-long investigation after he sold drugs to a snitch and an undercover FBI agent.
The chain of events that led to the death of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of Charlotte Metropolitan Police Department (CMPD) officers and days of civic unrest in North Carolina's largest city began with a joint, Charlotte police said Saturday.
In an official statement posted on the CMPD's Facebook page and during a press conference last Saturday afternoon announcing that the department was releasing some police body- and dash-cam videos of the fatal encounter, Charlotte police laid out a timeline of what occurred:
Two plain clothes officers were sitting inside of their unmarked police vehicle preparing to serve an arrest warrant in the parking lot of The Village at College Downs, when a white SUV pulled in and parked beside of them.
The officers observed the driver, later identified as Mr. Keith Lamont Scott, rolling what they believed to be a marijuana "blunt." Officers did not consider Mr. Scott's drug activity to be a priority at the time and they resumed the warrant operation. A short time later, Officer Vinson observed Mr. Scott hold a gun up.
Because of that, the officers had probable cause to arrest him for the drug violation and to further investigate Mr. Scott being in possession of the gun.
Due to the combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession, officers decided to take enforcement action for public safety concerns…
And Keith Scott ended up dead. According to his family, he was in his vehicle waiting for his son to get off the school bus. But because he was rolling a joint while waiting, and because police just happened to be engaged in an operation nearby, he caught the attention of the cops.
Even when police said they saw him hold up a gun, they used the joint-rolling as probable cause to investigate the presence of the gun. If not for marijuana prohibition, the whole unraveling of events, with dire consequences for Keith Scott, and lamentable ones for the city of Charlotte, most likely would never have occurred.
Polls show thing looking good for marijuana legalization efforts in California and Maine, tight for medical marijuana in Arkansas, possession arrests hit a 20-year-low, and more.
California Poll Has Prop 64 Support at 60%. The latest Field Poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative winning handily with 60% of the vote. That's roughly in line with other recent polls, all of which have had it above 50%. The Field poll surveyed likely voters. Among demographi groups, only Republicans and conservatives opposed the initiative.
Massachusetts Congressman Endorses Legalization Initiative. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Salem) has bucked the trend among Bay State politicos and come out in support of the Question 4 legalization initiative. "Let's not kid ourselves -- people are using marijuana," he said. "The problem is now that it operates in the shadows. There's no control. We really have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible."
Wyoming Legislators Ponder Lowering Marijuana Penalty. In off-season discussions, the Joint Judiciary Committee is proposing to make first-offense marijuana possession a misdemeanor, but would make subsequent offenses felonies. The proposal isn't set in stone; a subcommittee is now charged with writing a more detailed one.
Arkansas Poll Shows Tough Battle for Medical Marijuana Initiatives. A new poll from KATV shows the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6) with 49% in support, 43% against, and 8% undecided and the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act (Issue 7)with 36% in support, 53% opposed, and 11% undecided. "Arkansas voters do appear to distinguish between the two medical marijuana proposals, according to our survey," said pollster Roby Brock. "With legal challenges remaining, high-profile opposition, and the possibility of national groups spending money in support of the issue, these proposals may be the most contested on the November ballot."
Marijuana Arrests at 20-Year Low, But Other Drug Arrests Take Up the Slack. While still occurring at a rate of nearly one a minute, simple pot possession arrests have fallen to the lowest number since 1996, just under 575,000. That's a 25% decline from just nine years ago, when they totaled just under 800,000. Marijuana arrests now account for just 43% of all drug arrests, down from 52% in 2010. There were some 928,000 drug arrests overall last year, which is a nearly 14% decline from a decade ago. These numbers are from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report released Monday.
The DEA issues a warning on a powerful emerging opioid, Michigan marijuana legalizers turn their eyes to 2018, Malaysia sentences a man to death for pot dealing, and more.
This Year's Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Could Add $7.8 Billion to US Economy. A new report highlighting the rush of capital into the legal pot business estimates that expanding the legal marijuana market into the states that have initiatives on the ballot this year could add $7.8 billion to the nation's economy by 2020. The report is from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research. The report said legalization could generate a billion in taxes in California alone.
Undaunted Michigan Legalizers Lay Plans for 2018. After losing their battle in the courts to get all their signatures counted, the folks at MI Legalize are already gearing up for 2018. The group turned in 354,000 signatures for this year, but some were not counted because they were gathered outside a 180-day window. The group said is going to restructure itself in preparation for another petition drive.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning to Police and Public. "DEA has issued a public warning to the public and law enforcement nationwide about the health and safety risks of carfentanil. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin. DEA, local law enforcement and first responders have recently seen the presence of carfentanil, which has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths in various parts of the country. Improper handling of carfentanil, as well as fentanyl and other fentanyl-related compounds, has deadly consequences," a DEA press release said.
Dutch Moving Toward Allowing Legal Marijuana Cultivation. Draft legislation that would regulate legal marijuana cultivation now appears to have backing from a majority of members of parliament. The bill had been pushed by the liberal D66 Party, with backing from Labor, Green Links, the Socialists, and an animal rights party. That was not quite enough. But now, two MPs who left the anti-Islamic PVV to form their own breakaway party say they will support the measure, and that should be enough to pass it. Stay tuned.
The FBI is investigating a pair of Louisville narcs, the state police are investigating thefts at a Massachusetts police department, a Philly cop gets busted sending pot through the mail, and more. Let's get to it:
In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was arrested Tuesday for trying to send a package of marijuana through the US mail. Officer William Branish Jr. screwed up, though; he used an associate's account at a local business to mail the package, which he incorrectly addressed. When the package came back to the business, Branish was busted. He is charged with simple possession of marijuana and possession with intent to deliver.
A Mississippi police chief shoots himself during an investigation into asset forfeiture funds, a Massachusetts police officer shoots herself during an investigation into thefts from her evidence room, an Ohio cop goes to prison for lying on drug search warrants and stealing big time, and more. Let's get to it:
In Braintree, Massachusetts, somebody has been stealing from the police evidence room, according to an audit released Wednesday. The audit found that the Braintree Police Department is missing nearly 5,000 pieces of drug evidence, 60 guns, 4,700 pieces of property evidence, and $407,000 in seized cash are missing. Some drug evidence bags were torn open and emptied, while others had the drugs replaced with other substances. Two of the missing guns were found at the home of Officer Susan Zopatti, who was in charge of the evidence room. She killed herself in May after being interviewed as part of the audit. At least six drug cases have been dropped, and more are likely to follow.
In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the police chief shot and killed himself last Thursday after being relieved of duty during an investigation into the department's handling of asset forfeiture funds. Chief Mike De Nardo was being escorted by two deputies out of the police station when he shot himself in the chest.
In Eugene, Oregon, a former Deschutes County sheriff's captain was sentenced last Thursday to five years in federal prison for stealing more than $205,000 from drug buy funds and money seized in drug busts. Scott Beard repeatedly stole funds over a two-year period and laundered them using the bank account of his mistress, whom he treated to a lavish lifestyle. He copped to two counts of theft and two counts of money laundering in May, and was taken into custody upon sentencing.
In Columbus, Ohio, a former Reynoldsburg police officer was sentenced last Friday to 33 months in federal prison for falsifying search warrants in drug cases and stealing $150,000 in property and cash. Shane Mauger had worked with Reynoldsburg Detective Tye Downard, who hung himself in his jail cell after being arrested for using his connections to sell drugs, including drugs stolen from the evidence room. Both were members of the Franklin County Drug Task Force, and at least 15 felony drug cases have been dropped because they lied on search warrant applications. Mauger pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to deprive persons of the civil rights and theft.