Tough Call

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

A Virginia woman has been arrested for blogging about the members of a local drug task force. The charge is harassment of a police officer. She apparently posted on the blog one officer’s home address, as well as photos of all members of the task force, and a photo of one officer getting into his unmarked car in front of his home.

Most readers of this site oppose the drug war. Set that aside for a moment. Assume instead that these officers were investigating organized crime, or a terror cell. What do you think of this woman’s arrest? Photographing, writing about, and criticizing police officers, even by name, should of course be legal. But it’s a tougher call when the officers in question work undercover. Naming them, posting their photos, posting their addresses, are all pretty clearly efforts to intimidate them, and it isn’t difficult to see how doing so not only makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs, but may well endanger their lives.

The woman says all of the information on her blog was publicly available. If that’s the case, and all she did was aggregate already available information, I’m inclined to think she shouldn’t have been arrested.

It doesn’t look like the woman was accusing these officers of any misconduct. She appears to have been merely goading them. That of course makes her less sympathetic, though I don’t think it would or should have much effect on whether or not her arrest was constitutional.  The charge for which she was arrested seems like it could just as easily be applied to someone who publicly criticizes or alleges misconduct against an undercover officer by name. That can’t be illegal. And I don’t know that you can really make a distinction under the law.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

99 Responses to “Tough Call”

  1. #1 |  JS | 

    The slippery slope thing comes to mind. If they can arrest you for publicizing what they’re doing then why not arrest people who warn of speed traps?

  2. #2 |  BamBam | 

    Innocent. Harassment does not equal posting publicly available info about someone. This is intimidation and abuse of power to get her to shut up.

  3. #3 |  capn_amurka | 

    I cannot find an applicable harassment law in the Virginia code. If someone would provide information about the text of the law she’s been charged under, I’d be interested.

  4. #4 |  SusanK | 

    I don’t think it’s a tough call. I despise the thought of undercover policework for ANY crime. We aren’t meant to have a secret police force.
    The bulk of undercover work is done because the “crimes” being investigated are consensual or victimless. How much undercover work do you see for assault, rape, burglary, robbert, etc? It’s always for gambling, drugs, prostitution, internet (adult) child enticement.
    If the state can’t investigate it openly, the state should have no interest in prosecuting it. Even if it’s a terror cell or organized crime.
    Question witnesses in plainclothes if you think that makes them more cooperative, but masking your purpose and joining groups to “bring them down” is a slippery slope towards entrapment or, at the least, moving the group toward a more criminal direction than where it was heading originally.

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    “The charge for which she was arrested seems like it could just as easily be applied to someone who publicly criticizes or alleges misconduct against an undercover officer by name”

    I agree. The problem, IMHO, is one that the police put upon themselves by showing themselves incapable of reasonable discretion in applying the law.

    My fear is that this case will be used to argue for new laws that further infringe our rights.

  6. #6 |  ktc2 | 

    I got to go with SusanK on this one.

    When you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys they aren’t good guys anymore.

  7. #7 |  Michael Pack | 

    WellI think the drug war is unconstitutional or illegal if you prefer ,I also find undercover ( buying and selling) enforcement to be illegal also.I have no problem with them being exposed.You might fine this harsh,but,I blame the the law and it’s overly harsh enforcement for any danger these officers are in.Not to mention the vast amount of corruption.

  8. #8 |  Whim | 

    The police are actually harassing the citizen, not vice-versa.

    Blogging would be no different than writing a newspaper or magazine article about plainsclothes or undercover police.

    Even publishing their pictures or home addresses has been litigated before. Sometimes even JUDGES home addresses get published in controversial cases.

    No harm, no foul, here.

  9. #9 |  Ira | 

    C-ville cops hated the hippies back in the early 80s.

    Seems like times haven’t changed much.

  10. #10 |  JS | 

    Michael Pack “You might fine this harsh,but,I blame the the law and it’s overly harsh enforcement for any danger these officers are in.”

    They’re in no danger. You ever been around drug dealers or crackheads? They aren’t like evil bad guys in a Hollywood movie. They’re usually paranoid young guys who stay messed up a lot of t he time. This was just an excuse to intimidate that blogger.

  11. #11 |  freedomfan | 

    Especially if she was just posting information that is publicly available, she shouldn’t be arrested. I have some sympathy for officers who work undercover when tackling real (non-consensual) crimes but, even there, it’s their job to remain undercover, it’s not the public’s job to cover for them. Legally observing something that someone doesn’t want known should not curtail one’s 1st amendment rights.

    And, I agree that prosecuting this has a real “slippery slope” feel to it. Ultimately, I don’t see how this is different from people emailing the locations of red-light cameras, speed traps, etc. Communicating legally obtained information about government activity shouldn’t itself be a crime.

    However, while I don’t think it should be illegal (assuming she isn’t “calling out a hit”), I think it’s sort of a crap thing to post the personal information (home addresses, etc.) of the cops, even if it is publicly available. If they are doing something wrong on the job, then post the video (or written account or whatever) of that on-the-job behavior. Even if this is her techno-guerrilla method of fighting the drug war, she could have exposed their undercover status by pictures alone, without putting their families at risk from retaliation.

  12. #12 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I agree with the trend in comments so far. If these guys were really an undercover task force, how did she know who they were? Seems to me that the fault is that they didn’t do a very good job of maintaining secrecy. I don’t like the idea that the cops can just declare something a secret and immediately everyone has to suddenly shut up about it.

    I can’t access the blog from work, so I could be completely full of shit. My comment is just based on what’s in the story which seems to raise more questions than it answers.

  13. #13 |  The_Chef | 

    Holy shit. This is right in my backyard as it were.

    I just think this entire thing is going to end in yet more restrictions on our ability to speak out on the internet.

    The camera is the new gun and as a result it will be regulated accordingly by the powers that be.

  14. #14 |  InMd | 

    If all she did was compile public information then I think it ends there. It’s pretty well established that citizens don’t have a privacy interest in things they put into the public sphere so I don’t see why it would be different with the government. If you can criminalized compiling public information how is investigative journalism and whistleblowing supposed to happen?

  15. #15 |  David McElroy | 

    I don’t care where she got the information OR how unsympathetic she is. We have the right to publish what we want to publish. If she broke a law in how she got the information, she can be prosecuted for that. But to say that she can’t publish accurate and truthful information is wrong. The idea that publishing truthful information is “harassment” sounds like something from George Orwell. Even though the First Amendment has been watered down with unconstitutional exceptions, it still says what it says — “Congress shall make NO LAW … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” It doesn’t say that there can’t be any laws except those that the police don’t find convenient.

  16. #16 |  JS | 

    The_Chef “I just think this entire thing is going to end in yet more restrictions on our ability to speak out on the internet.”

    Thats right. Use it while you can. Eventually the government will find a way to curtail or eliminate all the free speech on the internet.

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #3 SusanK

    I don’t think it’s a tough call. I despise the thought of undercover policework for ANY crime. We aren’t meant to have a secret police force.

    The bulk of undercover work is done because the “crimes” being investigated are consensual or victimless. How much undercover work do you see for assault, rape, burglary, robbert, etc? It’s always for gambling, drugs, prostitution, internet (adult) child enticement.

    Wow! That really cuts right to the chase. Perfect response.

  18. #18 |  Ginger Dan | 

    I think turnabout is fair play. Cops goad people into getting a disorderly charge or resisting arrest, so I don’t see anything wrong with this. What’s worse is the authorities have no concrete evidence that any harm came to these officers or their families. If all this info is publicly available, then I don’t see what the problem is.

  19. #19 |  Paul | 

    I don’t think this is a tough call at all, and I don’t think it matters a bit what crimes were being investigated, drugs, terrorists, child molesters, etc. She’s got a right to publish the information… even if it’s NOT public.

  20. #20 |  MacGregory | 

    I’m also going with SusanK on this one too. Most of this undercover shit is nothing less than entrapment.

    My question though is this: If the blog was about outting police informants instead of cops would they have went after her with such zeal? Or would they have waited until one of them got killed to take action?

  21. #21 |  Michael Pack | 

    JS,I grew up in the 70′s and knew people who used and sold drugs,as have most people my age.Never saw them as a threat.I smoked pot a few times when I was about 19 or 20.I decided I liked imported beer better.I know many people who used at least pot that are now successful people,some are even cops just like the last 3 presidents and many in congress.

  22. #22 |  Chris in AL | 

    I agree with most of what SusanK said, except that I believe there have been and still are cases, like mafia related cases, where extortion and bribery are only prosecuted because of the info discovered by an undercover officer. So I think it can play some legitimate role in protecting good citizens from genuinely bad guys.

    However, this just seems to be more evidence of how genuinely bad at police work the majority of police are these days. How good was this guys ‘cover’? Christ, if this blogger can find out his home address so can the ‘bad guys’. If this guy had the Donnie Brasco gig, he would have been fed to the fishes on day one. They can’t even fool Elisha Strom the Bedford County Blogger?

    Good Grief!

  23. #23 |  Marc | 

    Secret police – I think several countries with poor civil rights records have tried that.

  24. #24 |  Marty | 

    #3 wins my vote. several close runner-ups, though…

  25. #25 |  Sean | 

    If this woman was able to obtain the identities of undercover officers, what makes them think that their “marks” couldn’t obtain the same information? Any argument regarding officer safety falls flat. This should not be illegal.

  26. #26 |  JADE | 

    JADE internet assault force here. You’re all under arrest.
    Yep even you, who didn’t post. We see ya.

  27. #27 |  Windypundit | 

    Well, there’s Donnie Brasco undercover, and then there’s walking-four-blocks-from-where-you-parked-your-unmarked-car-to-see-if-you-can-get-someone-on-a-corner-to-sell-you-drugs undercover. All that happens to the latter if they get outed is that nobody knows nothin’ about no drugs.

  28. #28 |  Michael Pack | 

    Of course most organized crime in this country has been caused by prohibitions on gambling,drugs,alcohol and prostitution.It shows what happens when you make illegal things many people want.Things,I might add,that hurt no one else.Things even our founders indulged in.Black markets also attract people willing to do anything to bring their ‘goods’ to market.Look at Mexico.

  29. #29 |  Mike | 

    Were these truly undercover officer? Or just those who work in plain clothes? There’s a difference, though it’s one some in LE sometimes gloss over.

  30. #30 |  ChrisD | 

    I know this will not be popular here, but that’s what debates are for: If the data was publicly available, then there’s no way she should be arrested. Still, it’s hard for me not to think that undercover cops deserve some protection.

    There are non-vice crimes that benefit from undercover operations:smuggling of stolen goods (cars, for example). Even the recent homegrown terrorists could have been caught by undercover work for all we know.

    For the record, I think there should be a law to protect people’s right to film cops who are not part of an undercover operation. I want to roll back drug laws/wars, legalize prostitution…etc. I read the Agitator; it’s not like I’m Patterico. But I think there is a reasonable case for protecting undercover work.

    I doubt any of these cops will get shot or taken out like Billy Batts. But would you really be surprised if some tweaker set their house on fire to “scare” them and accidentally killed someone? I wouldn’t.

  31. #31 |  Dave Krueger | 

    They shouldn’t call them undercover cops anyway. They should call them something more descriptive of the strategy they employ like entrapment thugs or crime inducement agents. Maybe morality enforcers or pursuit of happiness detectives.

  32. #32 |  teammarty | 

    After the outing of Valerie Plame, does this even matter? We shouldn’t be looking back at the past but forward into the future, right??

    Oh, that’s only for millionaire criminals. Nevermind.

  33. #33 |  Aresen | 

    Chris in AL #21 basically made the point I would make about some legitimate uses of undercover work.

    However, agents that are sent into those situations usually have extensive backstories and identities created for them in advance, they are not sent in with IDs that can be blown by a few minutes’ of google time.

    This arrest is repression and intimidation, pure and simple. It is no different than a group of criminals “roughing someone up” if they don’t “play by the (our) rules.” I think she should file a suit against everyone involved in bringing the charge.

  34. #34 |  Chance | 

    Well, looks to be 99% on the woman’s side, so I guess I will be one of the few dissenting voices. I think undercover operations (like any police activity) probably can be and no doubt are abused, but I think the tactic itself is legitimate. Since I think the tactic is legitimate, I can see why these blog posts would be of concern.

    As for the arrest – was the information all publically availible? Even if it was, I think a reasonable case can be made for harassment, according to the statute cited on her own blog. That’s really for a jury to decide IMO. I know if Mr. Balko started posting pictures of me and my home on his blog, I might feel intimidated and/or harassed.

  35. #35 |  Chance | 

    You may commence negative karma…..now.

  36. #36 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Irrespective of her guilt or innocence, I think she’s a strange lady once married to a strange guy.

    “He further claimed that Elisha did not think he was a pedophile because on October 18, 2005, the day after she found him looking at more little-girl pix, she allowed her daughter to go with him on a four-day trip to pick up his autistic son.

    Elisha Strom did not respond to her husband’s charges, saying only, “I did my best to prevent him from accessing children.”

  37. #37 |  Aresen | 

    #32 | Chance | July 29th, 2009 at 3:57 pm
    You may commence negative karma…..now

    First I have to get signed up on 100 different computers.

    :)

  38. #38 |  Zargon | 

    #25
    Well, there’s Donnie Brasco undercover, and then there’s walking-four-blocks-from-where-you-parked-your-unmarked-car-to-see-if-you-can-get-someone-on-a-corner-to-sell-you-drugs undercover. All that happens to the latter if they get outed is that nobody knows nothin’ about no drugs.

    Exactly. Virtually all “undercover operations” are simply some cop taking off the uniform and attempting to nail some people on consensual crimes, because those don’t produce any victims that cops can track down the normal way. Tracking cops that do this is nothing but positive.

    As for the remaining .1% or .01% or .001% of undercover operations that are actually trying to catch actual criminals committing actual crimes with actual victims (love how ya gotta spell this out anymore), well, they’re not doing a pretty bad job at the undercover part if John Q Public can find out who they are in the first place, so it must not have been that important anyways.

  39. #39 |  Gary | 

    Chance, feeling that the blog posts were a concern and were harassing (I mean harassing in a literal sense, not a legal sense) is fine. Personally, I think they are “harassing”, too, and done for what seems to be no particularly good reason. In other words, the specific cops involved don’t seem to have done anything wrong other than be involved in prosecuting something she didn’t agree with.

    That being said, I don’t think she did anything illegal. Distasteful is far different from illegal.

  40. #40 |  Cappy | 

    I have no problem with her posting the officers information, whether it’s for organized crime, terror cell, drugs or other vice. Why?

    For the most part these officers engage in the very crime they are investigating or trying to stop.

    It’s completely legal for the state and it’s agents to commit crime to prove crime.

  41. #41 |  The Volokh Conspiracy | 

    Crime-Facilitating Speech, and Showing Photos (and One Home Address) of Undercover Police Officers:…

    Radley Balko (The Agitator) writes:

    A Virginia woman has been arrested for blogging about the members of a local drug task force. The charge i……

  42. #42 |  Crime-Facilitating Speech, and Showing Photos (and One Home Address) of Undercover Police Officers: | My Legal Spot | 

    [...] Radley Balko (The Agitator) writes: [...]

  43. #43 |  anarch | 

    What if it were a private security firm’s employees?

    And if there are different standards for them, why should there be?

  44. #44 |  Patrick | 

    Radley, do you make up your mind on each incident based only on the facts at hand, or do you have a foundational set of values, morals and principles the are the bedrock of your position and which guide your decisions? I am suspecting you are in the latter category, although it is more and more hard to tell.

  45. #45 |  Fluffy | 

    Well, looks to be 99% on the woman’s side, so I guess I will be one of the few dissenting voices. I think undercover operations (like any police activity) probably can be and no doubt are abused, but I think the tactic itself is legitimate. Since I think the tactic is legitimate, I can see why these blog posts would be of concern.

    Even if you think the tactic is legitimate, there’s nothing that says it has to be convenient.

    And that’s basically the issue here.

    Allowing this woman to publish true information makes it inconvenient for the police task force to function. They’ll say it makes the officers unsafe, but their safety would be perfectly restored if they were pulled off the task force, so they’re still basically talking about convenience.

    If I see someone who I know is an undercover police officer approach someone on the street to attempt to purchase drugs from them, and I say, “Hello, Officer Whatever” to the cop, and as a result the operation is blown – oh well. It can’t possibly be illegal to say Hello to a government employee on the street. I’m not a deputy of the police force and I shouldn’t be expected to be in on their con games.

  46. #46 |  SJE | 

    Why is she in JAIL pending trial?? Is this normal for “harrassment.” If I “harrass” someone, I can imagine a restraining order, and THEN maybe arrest if there is contempt of court. Not jail at the first time.

    What was a 1st amendment violation would seem to now be in violation of due process, as well.

  47. #47 |  Dave W. | 

    The value of her blog is that she showed that these policemen do not respect the Constitution. That was her hypothesis and it turns out she was correct. This is a hugely valuable public servive rendered in a very funny way.

    I CAN”T BELIEVE SHE IS STILL IN JAIL AND YET THE BLOG IS STILL UP!!!!

  48. #48 |  coyote | 

    I might agree with logic of paragraph 2. But then it (publishing names of folks who are undercover) should be specifically illegal in Virginia. Like with agents of the CIA (anyone remember Valerie Plame?)

    Barring this, there are very, very, very few and very narrow exceptions to the First Amendment acknowledged by law and the courts. A reasonable person should expect that if an exception has not been made for the specific activity in which they are engaging, that their speech is legal. And besides, one should never have to go to court and wait for a jury verdict for everyone to figure out if an activity is legal or not.

  49. #49 |  Dave | 

    It is hard to muster much sympathy for the plight of the undercover officers, if they feel their lives are now in danger, maybe they should find something more beneficial to society to do, like get a job being productive.

  50. #50 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Ok, I finally got home and had a chance to look at the website. It will be real interesting to see where this goes.

    Was anyone else irritated by the law (posted on her site) that harassing a mere person is a class 1 misdemeanor while harassing a cop is a felony with a 6 month minimum sentence.

    I can see how cops have come to think of themselves as better than ordinary people. Hell, the evidence is everywhere you look. They don’t get tickets, they get served free food, people are overly deferential to them because they’re intimidating, courts take their word at face value despite their obvious incentive to lie and their history of doing so, and, last but not least, women love guys in uniforms and throw themselves (naked!) at cops.

  51. #51 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    How much undercover work do you see for assault, rape, burglary, robbery, etc?

    In terms of policing organized crime involvement in the above, as well as things like murder for hire, protection rackets, etc. I imagine there’s a lot of undercover work going on. Just because some or even most undercover work is involved in vice doesn’t mean it all is.

    Another thought: suppose the government started compiling dossiers on everyone and sticking it in a database (e.g. TIA). If they said, ‘well, we’re sticking to only publically available information’ would that make it okay with any of us?

  52. #52 |  D.C. Russell | 

    If you believe that the First Amendment means what it says, and not whatever distorted meaning and list of exceptions various lying officials use to justify their oath-breaking, there should be no question that (1) she has the right to do what she did, and (2) the people who charged her with a crime are unfit to hold public office.

  53. #53 |  supercat | 

    //…and wait for a jury verdict for everyone to figure out if an activity is legal or not.//

    If jurors were properly informed of their duties, they would recognize that particularly harsh punishments are only just in cases of substantial criminal intent, and that the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments would preclude conviction of serious crimes in cases where intent was lacking. Note, btw, that judges often withhold information about sentences from juries, claiming such information is “irrelevant” (in reality, it’s very relevant).

    If a person had an objectively reasonable belief that his actions were legal, there is no criminal intent. That does not imply that an individual’s ignorance of the law is an excuse for criminal behavior, but if nobody knows whether an activity is legal or not, it would generally be unjust to prosecute someone for it. Of course, a lot of ‘chilling regulation’ would become largely meaningless if jurors were instructed to honor their duties, but illegitimate government action should not be used to justify further illegitimate government action.

  54. #54 |  SJE | 

    From reading her blog, I can see that she is a PITA to the c’ville police. However, being a PITA is not a crime.

    They did ask nicely for her to stop, and she didn’t. However, she does ask why she should stop and they do not seem to provide it, other than she is being a PITA. They cite all sorts of vague reasons, none of which are particularly informative of what law is being broken.

    If the police thought that she was breaking a law, they should have asked for a restraining order on the blog. The “harrassment” code seems the sort of overly vague law that is entirely up to the discretion and decision of the arresting officer and the prosecutor.

    The concern I have is when is it, and when is it not harrassment? Is Radley’s blogging on Rack-n-Roll billiards harrassment?
    The blogger here is a PITA, but is, on the other hand, merely documenting the activities of the government. Her activities are indistiguishable from any good investigative work which, as far as I know, is not a crime. As for secrecy, she notes that the JADE task force is routinely on the evening news, or given up by their kids (“thats my daddy over there”).

  55. #55 |  MAWG | 

    I’m a middle age conservative white professional.

    And even I know cops are thugs.

  56. #56 |  jp | 

    Tough Call?

    Hardly, innocent citizen’s personal info is blasted over the news practically everyday.

    Pictures of the citizen, their families, homes, cars, etc. are frequently shown after an arrest or accusation, long before a trial ever occurs (or charges dropped).

    The only crime committed here was by the State…

  57. #57 |  Bill | 

    Naming them and showing their pictures is not only fair game, it is a public service. Giving their home addresses seems a bit unfair.

  58. #58 |  Dave W. | 

    Why is she in JAIL pending trial??

    It is not just that she is in jail, but that she has been there for weeks before the media picked up. Media did the popo a total solid on this one. They had two weeks to work her over before the flood of good, free First Amendment lawyers comes her way. That is huge and it is also very evil.

  59. #59 |  wannabe anonymous | 

    I would normally post this under my real name, but since I live in Charlottesville I don’t want to deal with police backlash for exercising my right to free speech. Hopefully you fight the inevitable subpoena, Radley!

    That said, I’m extremely disappointed with your contention that this is a “tough call.” Entertaining the hypothetical situation in which someone unmasks undercover police who have infiltrated the mafia or terrorist cells distracts from the reality of this situation.

    First, the laws being enforced are inextricable from the techniques used to enforce them. Invoking your hypothetical is akin to defending the use of a SWAT team to take out a jaywalker because sometimes SWAT teams are necessary for dealing with dangerous situations. You simply cannot get around the fact that undercover drug police enforce unjust vice laws and often use criminal tactics to do so, such as planting evidence and entrapping people. You’d have to be pretty naive not to think this happens all over, not just Atlanta or other major cities where large-scale police misconduct been brought to the surface. It is a cancer, born of the war on drugs, that has metastasized throughout the US and the world. When ordinary citizens use peaceful means to fight this cancer, it’s heroic, not criminal. I hope she gets somebody to litigate this (sup 42 U.S.C. 1983) and gets a windfall out of this. It’s unlikely, but one can hope!

    Also, why do you think we hear so much about undercover drug busts, but never about undercover mafia or terror busts? In part, it’s because when an undercover cop gets exposed during a drug bust, the drug dealer usually gets judged by twelve. When an undercover cop gets exposed during a mafia meeting, he gets carried by six. Essentially, the drug dealers targeted by these agencies are low-hanging fruit that require much less in terms of effort or risk. Unlike organized criminals, they are easy targets who often cannot afford to have (or see the futility in having) their day in court. Look at it from the police’s point of view: they’ll get the same amount of pay/funding (or likely more) by busting a small-time drug dealer than they would for busting real-deal dangerous-to-other-people criminals. It comes down to the decision of “risk your life for $X by busting real criminals, or risk practically nothing for $X by throwing victimless criminals in the gulag.” Despite the rhetoric of police “risking their lives”

    As an aside, this blogger could be doing the police department a big favor by exposing the shoddy way in which they protect their undercover agents’ identities. Perhaps it will spur the department to keep their officers’ identities super-secret, so they can more effectively stamp their boots onto our faces forever. They probably owe her a debt of gratitude.

  60. #60 |  Highway | 

    Dave Krueger, I love the term “entrapment thugs”.

  61. #61 |  wannabe anonymous | 

    Oops, I posted prematurely. At the end of paragraph 4, I meant to say “despite the rhetoric of police putting their lives on the line, 99.99% of people, police or not, will choose the path with less risk.”

  62. #62 |  Chance | 

    Personally, I think they are “harassing”, too, and done for what seems to be no particularly good reason…That being said, I don’t think she did anything illegal. Distasteful is far different from illegal.”

    I don’t have enough information to judge one way or the other, but as I said, I think a reasonable case can be made for harassment, which is illegal.

    “Even if you think the tactic is legitimate, there’s nothing that says it has to be convenient. And that’s basically the issue here.”

    I disagree that is the issue. The issue is if her actions amounted to harassment. At first glance, I’d say it is a definite “maybe”.

  63. #63 |  Dave W. | 

    At first glance, I’d say it is a definite “maybe”.

    No. It was clearly not harassment because they were free to ignore the blog.

  64. #64 |  RWW | 

    I like the term “whim enforcers” for the police, personally.

  65. #65 |  Brock | 

    Drug suppliers are extremely adept at collecting and leveraging information. They know their competitors and they know the drug warriors. They know their names, where they live, and what schools their children attend. They know what time they go jogging in the morning, and the route they take to work. They know information about the drug warriors that the drug warriors would not want public. They know that any drug warrior that actually posed a threat to their operation could be easily discredited or eliminated.

    But, the black market for drugs is high stakes because it is high risk. Drug suppliers know that their enormous profits come not in spite of the environment created by the drug warriors, but because of it. They recognize drug laws for what they are – protectionism. They applaud and encourage the anti-competitive actions of governments around the world and thank the drug warriors for erecting high barriers to entry in their market.

    There is No War on Drugs

  66. #66 |  Aresen | 

    Brock

    Interesting take on it and it makes a good point.

    I gave you an uptick although your last comment tempted me do a downtick. I agree that the “War on Drugs” (note quotes) does serve to enrich the drug lords and, as your post says act as a form of – not protectionism, but – cartelization/price support.

    However, the “WOD” term does serve to identify a set of policies – however counterproductive and damaging they may be – that can be thus encapsulated and opposed. While “War on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” might be more accurate, getting semantic about it doesn’t really serve a purpose.

  67. #67 |  Daniel Quackenbush | 

    I believe the plaintiff in the following case won:
    http://www.politechbot.com/docs/sheehan.lawsuit.052202.html

  68. #68 |  SusanK | 

    I’ve thought about this more today. Even organized crime shouldn’t necessarily be investigated by undercover police. The mafia used a lot of protection rackets with immigrants who DIDN’T TRUST the police. That’s why the crimes weren’t reported. People don’t report blackmail/extortion because they know if they do, the secret they’re hiding will become public (either by the blackmailer or by the State).
    The more I think about it, the more I think that police should only respond to calls. Maybe undercover would be acceptable to me if they were investigating a crime a victimized citizen reported and wanted investigated. But if they’re just doing it to pad their stats, it serves no purpose.

  69. #69 |  Bob | 

    I gotta wonder what got under her bonnet so much.

    Anyway, what is clear is that she didn’t just go get stuff off the internet and repost it, she followed them around and took pictures of them.

    And while, certainly, taking pictures of police (or anyone else) in public places is no cause for suspicion, linking those pictures with other data, like names and addresses… seems to cross over the line into stalking or even harassment.

    Like this, from 12-30-2008:
    “Though I plan on following each of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force Officers, the target of my first attempt at tailing is, I admit, chosen quite impetuously.

    She follows people around and takes pictures of them. Then posts the pictures on the internet.

    Do you want some obsessed freak following you around taking pictures of you for no apparent reason then posting them in a blog? No? I don’t either.

    How would you like to be followed around by a stalker who posts “I unnecessarily and deliberately ride his bumper all the way to the I-64 exchange. The only reason I stop there is because we have to stop there. At a red light. When we get moving again I graciously let him have some distance. A spare inch.” You wouldn’t like that either, would you?

  70. #70 |  Brock | 

    Thanks, Aresen.

    Hopefully you noticed that the last statement was a link to my essay entitled “There is No War on Drugs“. I don’t like to link whore, but the quote was relevant so I went with it.

    In that essay I counter the use of “war” qua war, not merely as a semantic issue. The conclusion:

    There is no war on drugs even though there are armies, weapons, tactics, spies, and collateral damage. There are no definable or achievable objectives, no overwhelming force employed, and no ground gained or lost. The phrase “war on drugs” dehumanizes the victims: enforcers, families, farmers, legitimate businesses, and, yes, drug users and the soldiers. The phrase provides a smoke screen for the profiteers: drug warriors and suppliers. It’s time to start naming and exposing the people and quit using the phrase.

  71. #71 |  Harvey | 

    I don’t know why, but this story made me think of a passage on page 27 of “The List” written by Chet Dettlinger (with co-author Jeff Prough, to give credit where credit is due):

    “Policing has proved to be an indispensable service that saves lives, responds to emergencies and provides ’round the clock social services. But, it only PRETENDS to prevent crimes. The illusion cast by screaming sirens, squealing tires and cops in two-handed pistol stances while crying ‘Freeze!’ serves to delude nobody more than the police themselves. Thus, the drug busts are always “the biggest ever,” and the murders “the worst ever seen.”

  72. #72 |  Chance | 

    “No. It was clearly not harassment because they were free to ignore the blog.”

    Maybe (probably?) she isn’t guilty. Again I don’t know, and lean towards not guilty. However, I can’t follow your logic here. Something is only harassment if it is impossible to ignore? One can ignore almost anything, so by extension there is practically no such thing as harassment. If that is your position, I have to disagree again.

  73. #73 |  Dave W. | 

    I am not merely saying that the officers could ignore the IHeArTEJAGE blog. I am saying that they would have to take affirmative, intentional steps that they would not otherwise take in the ordinary course of affairs in order to be exposed to it.

    Harrassment, as traditionally understood, comes to you — you don’t come to something on purpose and then call it harrassment.

    If the law attempts to impute a different meaning to this common word, then the law is void for vagueness.

  74. #74 |  rsm | 

    @Bruce #69

    There are usually laws against stalking, there are restraining orders available if she is stalking them. W.r.t. the blog, there is no legitimate reason to target her for the blog, but it would provide good evidence in a stalking case if it can be proven. Still not harassment as Dave W. #73 points out.

  75. #75 |  Mac Deeds | 

    I agree

  76. #76 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Back in the 1960s the LA Free Press published the names and phone numbers of undercover narks. If the police didn’t have the power to ruin people’s lives–and if they didn’t wield it so indiscriminately–perhaps I would be more sympathetic.
    So one narc has to move. Sorry–not a big deal to me. I’m sure the department will find him new (and perhaps better) housing. And a safer job, probably.

  77. #77 |  M in Harlem | 

    Did I miss something in all these comments or did everyone completely overlook the parallel of publishing abortion doctors’ names and addresses on the web?

    The intention, cloaked in a veil of personal liberty, is to neutralize the opposition so to speak. I think that cops deserve some privacy too by default; the heinous ones will rise to the surface without people putting a bullseye on their backside.

  78. #78 |  Andrew Williams | 

    #31

    Dave: Alan Watts came up with the term “Armed clergymen.” That’s the best one I’ve heard.

  79. #79 |  Andrew Williams | 

    #76: The doctors in question are performing an ethical service to women in distress; they are not, however you might twist the definition of life, killing human beings. Police, OTOH, have the capacity to destroy lives, defame law-abiding citizens and ruin reputations–often on the basis of anonymous tipsters, unreliable informants or anyone with an axe to grind.

  80. #80 |  Fluffy | 

    Do you want some obsessed freak following you around taking pictures of you for no apparent reason then posting them in a blog? No? I don’t either.

    Come on, this is the worst argument offered yet.

    She observed police activity and procedures, photographed it, and published it.

    “Oh heavens, she’s a stalker!”

    Give me a god-damn break.

    Every single last newspaper reporter and tv reporter is a “stalker”, too, in that case. OK, not the Mike Barnicle types who just make their stories up, but all the others are.

  81. #81 |  Fluffy | 

    BTW, a couple of people have mentioned the Valerie Plame case in passing.

    Please remember: it wasn’t illegal [and could not be made illegal] for the press to print articles about how Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. The only criminal charges reporters could face were contempt of court charges if they refused to testify regarding who their sources were.

    The only people facing criminal charges for revealing “secret” information were employees of the Federal government. Because while the state can criminalize Federal employees revealing information they have access to in the course of their jobs, it can not prevent a private citizen who comes into possession of that information from publishing it.

    If CIA agents can’t constitutionally be protected from the press, I don’t see how beat cops can be.

  82. #82 |  Dashfield | 

    Elisha Strom’s blog is really quite interesting.

    A link to it is in the story above, but the whole site with every article can be seen as one big page if you go to the site and then append this to the base url — …/search?updated-max=2009-07-17T19%3A12%3A00-04%3A00&max-results=1000

    Leaving aside the legal issues, it’s a testament to a totally obsessed woman. Celebrity stalkers and John Hinckley’s “thing” for Jodie Foster are nothing compared with Elisha Strom’s obsession with Brian O’Donnell and the JADE Task Force. Apparently Elisha once had a close relationship with O’Donnell that went bad: See her post …/2008/12/ghost-from-christmas-past.html

    That relationship, whatever it was, started when Elisha Strom was a star witness in the politically-tinged trial of her husband, in which O’Donnell was the lead FBI – Joint Terrorism Task Force agent:

    http://www.kevinalfredstrom.com/2009/01/kevin-alfred-strom-address-to-the-court/

    It’s not clear how the relationship went bad, but Elisha says O’Donnell’s actions inspired her anti-JADE blogging and stalking, as she makes clear on her very first post at ../coming-soon_25.html

    She also had what appears to be a sexual relationship with another unnamed officer linked to the JADE Task Force (who she nicknamed “Boomslang”), and was using him to get confidential information about other officers and about JADE operations. See her post …/2009/04/put-camo-green-up-somewhere-anywhere_30.html

    She also says O’Donnell (who she nicknames “Longhead” or “LH”) “bullied” her: See …/2008/11/longer-version-with-oodles-of_13.html

    Right at the end of the above post, she implies that she’ll retaliate somehow if the FBI (probably meaning O’Donnell, who works with the FBI as well as the JADE and JTTF task forces) comes down on her.

    It’s not clear what she means by retaliation, but revelations of inside information on agents – possibly including marital infidelity and law violations – seem the most likely: In other posts, she claims to have discovered a married agent’s mistress/girlfriend. She asserts she had close relationships herself with the possibly-married O’Donnell and “Boomslang.” Maybe it’s a kind of blackmail, though money doesn’t seem to be a motive: “Leave me alone or I’ll tell all I know.” Were there other demands we don’t know about?

    It’s cosmically bizarre the lengths to which this woman went to stalk her prey: following agents into stores and gyms, finding out their pants sizes, tailing them within inches of their bumpers for miles into the country, going to the property rolls and then letting everyone know where their families live, where they do target shooting, what kind of cars they drive (even down to updates when something is added to or repaired on the vehicle), lying in wait for them at home, at work, at stakeouts, at court. When did she have time to work – or to raise the 12-year-old daughter she claims to have? Just the writing alone must have taken many many hours, to say nothing of the stalking.

  83. #83 |  M in Harlem | 

    #78 I’m going to rewrite your quote from the POV of an anti-abortion activist so you can understand my point:

    The police in question are performing an ethical service to people in distress; except in the most extreme of circumstances they are not killing human beings, merely keeping the peace. Abortionists, OTOH, destroy innocent lives daily, turn law-abiding women into accomplice killers and ruin young people’s reputations.

    ***

    Not all cops are bad and many (most maybe?) of them don’t enforce the dumbest laws. We are all troubled, however, that they may do so arbitrarily and legally.

    Disclosure: I am fundamentally and vehemently opposed to the war on drugs. It is colossally stupid, wasteful and unsuccessful. It ruins lives. And I believe it will eventually fail Constitutional tests. I am also a recreational drug user who in general appreciates the cops on my street, who have a tough job and usually do it well.

  84. #84 |  JS | 

    Fluffy wins!

  85. #85 |  NC_Runner | 

    While I agree with the general theme of the earlier comments, I’d like to at least raise the question of legal vs. moral.

    While I don’t think the woman in question should be arrested, or that she broke any laws, posting someone’s home address to apply professional pressure crosses a line for me. By all means, publish complaints & the like on your website — as is done on this very site. But posting the officer’s home address, to me, has parallels to anti-abortion activists posting personal info of those doctors who perform the procedure.

  86. #86 |  omar | 

    Leaving the philosophy of “is this a good thing aside”, this woman could have gotten away with it if she did one simple thing: conceal your identity, speak anonymously.

    In our modern age, the first amendment is much more powerful safeguard against tyranny than the second. This isn’t just a matter of law and application of the constitution, but symbolic of practical application of available tools. In 2009, an oppressive government is much better fought with untraceable words than with weapons. The most powerful weapons: information and anonymity. No matter what laws the State invent, they can’t shut you up. They can, however, easily pry your guns from your cold dead fingers.

  87. #87 |  EH | 

    NC Runner: Except that the context of anti-abortion bears no relation to this situation. The rhetoric of anti-abortionists has been violent for nigh-on 25 years now, and there is nothing of parallel in the JADE case. There simply is no connection, and I defy anybody to tell me how observation becomes harassment.

  88. #88 |  pc | 

    I wonder if the JADE task force is familiar with the Streisand effect? If not, I’m sure reddit, Digg and a few other sites might be interested in this story of intimidation.

  89. #89 |  NC_Runner | 

    #87

    You don’t see the potential correlation for violence in the two? Where anti-abortionists have gone out to intimidate/threaten/kill doctors, you couldn’t see criminals related to gang and/or drug violence doing the same? There’s a reason prison guards are kept at arm’s length from prisoners & don’t give out ANY personal info… and it’s not because they don’t want extra birthday cards. Same argument applies here – at the end of the day, these people go home & should be able to live in peace with their family.

    While I don’t support the expanded power & general pattern of misconduct by police, I don’t see how that should correlate to them giving up to a safe & peaceful private life… one which we hope they in turn respect as well.

  90. #90 |  Dashfield | 

    I saw this on another site, and it makes me think that there was potential for violence:

    —quote—

    And I don’t think that Brian N. O’Donnell or the Charlottesville Police are saints, either. O’Donnell sent someone to the slammer for YEARS just because he pointed his index finger at O’Donnell and said “pow.” Look here

    romingerlegal.com/va_caselaw/virginia/1040939.html

    People need to stop automatically believing what cops say. They lie all the time, worse than used car salesmen.

    But I think Elisha Strom may well be violent and dangerous. She concocted a kooky story a year or two ago to justify shooting at some people, and, ironically, O’Donnell himself protected her from local law enforcement cuz she was a “witness” in a big federal trial at the time.

    She’s made death threats, too. The gun stuff and mp3 recordings of the threats are online,

    http://www.documents.iqradio.org/

    —end quote—

    So, generally, I say reduce the power of the police and keep a close eye on them – and receive anything they say with skepticism.

    But Elisha Strom’s bizarre love/hate obsession doesn’t seem healthy and could have ended up tragically.

  91. #91 |  Dave M | 

    Those involved in drug task forces are the enemies of freedom and should fear for their lives.

  92. #92 |  Hittman | 

    Assume instead that these officers were investigating organized crime, or a terror cell. What do you think of this woman’s arrest?

    Then it would be an entirely different situation. Investigating real crime or a terror cell is a good thing. Enforcing the war on some drugs is an evil thing.

    Drug Warriors ruin lives, and often end them. If outing them makes their job more difficult, good. If it makes it more dangerous, better. It it makes it impossible, best.

  93. #93 |  Phelps | 

    Innocent. They are just called “Undercover police” because if they called them “Secret police” people would see them for what they really are.

  94. #94 |  colson | 

    I tend to lean in on the blogger’s side on this whole debate as well. The police force is a public institution and the roster is generally public information. An officer choosing a position as an undercover officer is not afforded a cloak of public invisibility. His or her family is not afforded a cloak of invisibility.

    In the same regard, officers are also granted super-citizen powers in most states where they are permitted to carry concealed firearms, make arrests and otherwise act as a police officer even if he/she is off duty. To any degree, these individuals are both trained for and have willingly accepted the risk the commitment makes including the public disclosure of otherwise public information including addresses, phone numbers and photographs.

    However, where I don’t necessarily agree with the blogger is the method of attack. Just like cops going after drug dealers, you can knock out one or two but there are always more to replace them. If you’re going to fight the task force’s actions, it has to be done at the public policy level – higher up the food chain. Otherwise you do nothing but wage war on soldiers who are there doing a job rather than working to truly eliminate the underlying public policy structure that is the problem to begin with. I don’t agree with the drug war at all but you can at least see that the police-state drug war logic can be used against them.

  95. #95 |  Patriot Henry | 

    “But it’s a tougher call when the officers in question work undercover. ”

    The call may be easier to make if one uses a less politically correct term: secret police.

    Whether you are pro or anti secret police – calling them as what they are reveals the bloggers actions as what they are.

  96. #96 |  supercat | 

    Until fairly recently, it would have been common knowledge in many towns who all the law-enforcement personnel were and where they lived. Likewise for judges, politicians, etc. What has changed?

    I would conjecture that what has changed is that in years past, citizens would have been more than happy to protect sheriffs, judges, etc. from anyone who might do them harm. Nowadays, many citizens would be inclined to secretly cheer on the assailants.

    If the government were not as able to shield its personnel from the citizenry, such personnel would be less inclined to alienate the citizens they are supposed to serve.

  97. #97 |  supercat | 

    //Just like cops going after drug dealers, you can knock out one or two but there are always more to replace them.//

    Depends how they get knocked out. If a few cops get killed in such a fashion that they can be portrayed as martyrs, more cops will replace them. If they get pushed out in disgrace, and it’s clear that other bad cops will suffer a similar fate, bad replacements might be scarce.

  98. #98 |  Dale Bennett | 

    There’s even more evidence now that Elisha Strom was having a sexual affair with JADE Task Force detective Brian N. O’Donnell, whom she credits with “inspiring” her obsessive stalking, evidently after their relationship went bad.

    This is really getting interesting.

    Apparently this sexual affair took place during the trial of her husband, Kevin Alfred Strom, on child pornography and other charges. Kevin Strom maintains his innocence and says he was forced to plead guilty to one count because of perjury on Elisha Strom’s part and the suborning of that perjury by O’Donnell. O’Donnell was the investigator in Kevin Strom’s case. Elisha Strom was the only witness.

    Elisha Strom has just posted a link to a recorded telephone conversation she had with said Brian O’Donnell, in which it is quite clear she spent the night with O’Donnell on at least one occasion. He is very nervous about his wife finding out about his relationship with Strom. O’Donnell also expresses fear about possible repercussions to his career on the Joint Terrorism Task Force and JADE task force and to his career as a Charlottesville Police Detective.

    O’Donnell states flatly that Elisha Strom lied to him on several occasions.

    Link on the I Hearte JADE site by Elisha Strom:
    http://iheartejade.blogspot.com/2009/11/five-fer-friday.html

    Link to mp3 of the phone conversation:
    http://www.upload-mp3.com/files/116457_vyhex/BrianODonnell-games.mp3

    Transcript of conversation:
    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: Of course I got upset. So yeah, I said things… You there?

    Elisha Strom: Yeah, I’m thinking.

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: That was a good rant. I didn’t want to waste it on thin air. I thought you hung up.

    Elisha Strom: No, no. It was wonderful, fantastic, delightful.

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: (laughs) The point is…

    Elisha Strom: (laughs)

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: The point is, OK, you know, you treat me like shit. You have lied to me. You said you haven’t lied, and you have. I know you have. I’m not going to get into how I know, but I know you have. You were playing games. That’s NOT RIGHT.

    Elisha Strom: I was not playing games.

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: You are now. Even mentioning my wife makes me nervous. You spend the whole night over here. You don’t seem to understand. I’m a Task Force officer. I’m a Charlottesville Police detective. It’s only your word right now. There you go.

    Elisha Strom: I didn’t bring anything up!

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: Well thank you. That was decent of you. I meant that sincerely.

    Elisha Strom: You know, you are just so arrogant –

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: Is that — is that fair to say? I was actually thinking that about you.

    Elisha Strom: (sighs)

    Detective Brian N. O’Donnell: Hey, you know what? It’s your decision. It’s your decision. It really is. So, I will call you tomorrow. See ya.

  99. #99 |  Don B. | 

    Apparently she’s been arrested yet again, this time for violating her court order:

    http://www.charlottesvilletimes.com/2010/03/elisha-strom-arrested-again/

Leave a Reply