- Federal ATF agent arrested, charged with working with an informant to fabricate a drug buy. A local narcotics cop in Tulsa has also been implicated.
- Joe Arpaio’s goons (basically) kill a man for trespassing.
- The 9/14 presidency, or why Obama is no better than Bush on civil liberties and the war on terrorism.
- A rather unserious article about “getting serious about pornography.” (I’ve responded to these tired arguments before. Read here.)
- More Obama hagiography.
- Reading the Pentagon’s report on the Wikileaks video.
Category: Police Informants
NPR recently ran a three-part series about the “House of Death,” in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents refused to close an investigation into a drug operation despite becoming aware of and having the capacity to prevent a number of gruesome murders, some of which were aided by one of their informants, who went by the name of “Lalo.” (Prior Reason coverage of the story here.)
I reported last March that the federal government has been trying to deport Lalo back to Mexico, despite knowing that he’ll almost certainly be killed. According to NPR, the deportation proceedings haven’t yet been resolved, and Lalo is still in solitary confinement—not for his crimes in Mexico, but because the U.S. government no longer needs his services as an informant, and now considers him an illegal alien.
Last May, I interviewed Sandy Gonzalez, the DEA agent who blew the whistle on the House of Death—and lost his job because of it.
Got my front door open. Did some shoveling. Took some pictures. Today we have a bright winter sun. It’s beautiful on the snow, if a bit blinding. Hoping to get to Old Town before the Super Bowl this evening to snap some more pics.
On to the links . . .
- This picture should be a poster.
- From the files of great newspaper corrections.
- DEA agent accused of working with informant to frame innocent people is acquitted on all counts. Amazing how trustworthy these informants are when they’re being used against regular people, and how shady they become when they start accusing law enforcement of misconduct.
- New York City police no longer using flash bang grenades. This is a good thing.
- Puppycide in Colorado. I’ve made this point before, but how is that this “vicious” dog never bit or attacked a mailman, a deliver man, or a meter reader?
- Conjure your inner Paul Oakenfold. And waste an afternoon. The thing is pretty great, until it starts to drive you batty.
- Federal agent driving SUV hits blogger for The Daily Caller, breaks his knee. Cops then lie on police report. More here.
Alexandra Natapoff is probably the leading academic expert in the country on the use of informants by law enforcement.
She just started a blog devoted to the issue. Well worth adding to your RSS feed if you’re interested in criminal justice and drug policy.
I want to elaborate a bit on the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police’s shameful defense of Officer Jeffrey Cudjik, a cop now under internal and federal investigations for habitual lying on affidavits; harassing, terrorizing and possibly stealing from immigrant shop owners; and routinely violating procedures on dealing with informants (see post below). Cujdik’s exploits have been exposed by the Philadelphia Daily News. Check out this February article on the FOP’s rally in support of Cujdik:
The Fraternal Order of Police and Officer Jeffrey Cujdik’s lawyer joined forces yesterday to attack Daily News stories that raised questions about Cujdik’s relationship with a paid police informant.
“It’s a shame we have to stand here today to defend a highly decorated police officer in the Narcotics Field Unit, an officer who confiscates a ton of drugs, a ton of guns and is out there doing what a lot of other citizens in the city of Philadelphia do not want to do,” FOP President John J. McNesby said.
Flanked by more than a dozen officers at a news conference inside FOP headquarters, on Spring Garden Street near Broad, McNesby said that the FOP would defend Cujdik “to the wall.”
At times the attack seemed personal: “You have to remember, you’re dealing with a confidential informant here. A confidential informant in the city of Philadelphia is one step above a Daily News reporter,” McNesby said, prompting cops to applaud and laugh.
McNesby is referring to allegations against Cujdik made by one of his former informants. But those allegations have since been bolstered by statements from victims of Cujdik’s raids, and by a review (see post below) of search warrants conducted by Cujdik’s unit.
The sad irony here is that when an informant makes an allegation against a citizen, his word is considered good enough to send a squad of police officers to kick down that citizen’s door. In some states, the word of a confidential informant, without any corroboration, is enough for an indictment and arrest on drug charges, putting even innocent people in the position of having to decide whether to fight the charges and risk a prison term or plea to something they didn’t do, and accept probation and a criminal record. This is what happened in places like Tula and Hearne, and what I’m sure happens all over the country with these narcotics unit, whose funding tends to rest on how many arrests and seizures they make.
But witness how quickly cops will trash an informant whose word was gold in search warrant affidavits for years the moment he comes forth with allegations of police corruption.
Previously (here and here), I blogged about a rogue narcotics unit in Philadelphia that was raiding bodegas on the flimsy excuse that the stores were selling resealable zip-lock bags that could potentially be used by drug dealers. Bodega owners say the cops were cutting the lines to surveillance cameras, then stealing cash, alcohol, cigarettes, and snack food from the stores. The Philadelphia Daily News was able to obtain footage of the cops cutting off one of the cameras during a raid, then inquiring to the store owner about whether the camera feeds went to a computer that was on or off-site.
The lingering question, here, is how this unit was able to operate like this for so long without any oversight. Why wasn’t anyone questioning the use of such aggressive tactics in searches not for drugs, but for no more than an otherwise legal product? Why did no one in the department ask why an “elite” narcotics unit was wasting its time busting immigrant shop owners with no criminal record for selling bags instead of pursuing actual drug distributors?
It’s one thing to have a few rogue cops that, once caught, are fired and—hopefully—criminally charged. It’s a more wide-ranging and serious problem if there are institutional failures in the Philadelphia police department that allowed Officer Jeffrey Cujdic’s scam of terrorizing immigrant shop owners to flourish.
Now, the Daily News has published the results of its review of the search warrants obtained by Cujdik’s unit over the last several years, and the results are troubling. They find a wholesale lack of supervision of Cujdik and his men, even as complaints against them mounted.
Narcotics enforcement is ripe for corruption because officers handle large amounts of cash and drugs, legal experts say.
So the Police Department has procedural safeguards: A supervisor must review and approve all applications for warrants, officers must never meet an informant without another officer present, and at least two officers should conduct drug surveillances.
Yet supervisors and officers often disregarded those rules, a Daily News review of hundreds of search warrants found.
In several cases, officers worked alone with informants and were the only ones to watch drug buys. Yet supervisors approved those search-warrant applications…
Cpl. Mark Palma, a narcotics-squad supervisor, was apparently not bothered when Officer Richard Cujdik, Jeffrey’s brother, worked alone on a three-day surveillance job in September 2007.
Palma approved a search-warrant application for Jose Duran’s West Oak Lane grocery store, based on Richard Cujdik’s assertion that he watched a confidential informant – CI #142 – enter the store to buy ziplock bags three times.
The validity of that search warrant is now in question.
For the last buy, Richard Cujdik wrote that he “observed” CI #142 enter Duran’s store at about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2007. Yet the Daily News watched the time-stamped Sept. 11 surveillance footage of the store between 4 and 5 p.m., and no one asked for or bought a ziplock bag.
Sgt. Joseph Bologna supervised the ensuing raid, part of which was captured on video. The Daily News obtained the video and posted it on its Web site, philly.com.
The video shows Bologna directing officers to “disconnect” camera wires. They do so with pliers and a bread knife. Bologna makes no effort to stop Richard Cujdik when the officer searches Duran’s van, allegedly without a warrant.
Duran alleges that officers seized nearly $10,000 in the raid but documented taking only $785.
While Cujdik has been demoted to desk duty pending the results of internal and federal investigations, Bologna has since been promoted to lieutenant.
The Daily News reports that all of this has happened less than five years after an agreement between the city and civil rights groups expired, stemming from a scandal in the 1990s in which narcotics cops went to jail for lying on search warrants, shaking down drug dealers, and making dozens of wrongful arrests. That agreement required more vigilant oversight of the city’s narcotics units by police supervisors to guard against mistaken raids, corruption, and false statements on search warrant affidavits. Not only does it appear the brass in Philly didn’t learn from that scandal, the Daily News writes that it’s unclear if Philly PD officials ever actually carried out the requirements put forth in the agreement.
Hats off to Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker for pursuing and sticking with this story, despite attacks on their character and credibility by Cujkik’s supporters in the Philly police union.
A few weeks ago, I posted about Guillermo Ramirez Peyro’s appeal of his pending deportation before a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Peyro (also known as “Lalo”) is the central figure in the “House of Death” scandal, in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are accused of allowing Peyro and members of the Juarez drug cartel to commit as many as a dozen murders because preventing the murders would have disrupted their drug investigation. Peyro is the only non-government witness who knows exactly what happened in that case. If the longtime federal drug informant is deported to Mexico, he’ll almost certainly be killed, rendering moot any possible future investigation of the case here in the U.S.
The bad news is that at the hearing, the Obama administration continued with the Bush administration’s efforts to deport Peyro. The good news is, the panel of judges appeared to be fairly skeptical of the government’s position.
Narcosphere’s Bill Conroy has the transcript of the oral arguments.
You can read my interview with Sandy Gonzalez, the DEA agent who blew the whistle on the House of Death case, here.
The movie American Violet opens next month, and is based on the real-life experience of Regina Kelly, a waitress wrongly arrested and charged during a disastrous drug sweep in Hearne, Texas back in 2000. Kelly was one of 28 people arrested. Her refusal to accept a plea bargain eventually helped expose that District Attorney John Paschall case for the massive sweep was a sham, based almost entirely on the word of a pathological informant (who also claims he was beaten by police). Paschall promised his informant he’d drop the theft charges pending against him if the informant could produce information that would lead to 20 drug arrests.
Even after his case fell apart and Paschall had no choice to drop the charges against those who hadn’t alread plead guilty, he refused to exonerate anyone, telling the New York Times that of those charged, "I don’t doubt one minute their guilt in dealing drugs.” Paschall is still district attorney, and he’s not particularly happy about the movie. He told the Dallas Morning News, "The only way I’d watch it, I’d have to be handcuffed, tied to a chair and you’d have to tape my eyes open."
Like the series of wrongful drug arrests in Tulia, Texas, the Hearne scandal was largely attributable to the federal Byrne Grant program, which not only creates the unaccountable, multi-jurisdictional drug task forces like those responsible for Hearne and Tulia, but then also sets artificial, improper incentives by tying future funding to the number of arrests and drug seizures a task force makes. Oddly enough, the Bush administration actually phased out Byrne Grants. Obama and the Democrats in Congress are bringing them back.
I interviewed Regina Kelly a couple of years ago at an ACLU conference:
The Reason.tv video Mississippi Drug War Blues: The Case of Cory Maye took top prize in the Best Documentary Short category at the Oxford Film Fest. Congratulations to Paul Feine, Roger Richards, and Dan Hayes for their hard work. And of course, props to Drew Carey for making the video possible. You can watch it below.
In this passage of John Wilburn’s summary of Paul Ebert’s closing, Ebert is recalling the testimony of an alleged marijuana expert. Ebert’s trying to make the case that Frederick is a big-time pot dealer.
Meinhart says 1 plant produces 1 pound of salable marijuana. 1 pound is 16 ounces, and at $400.00 per ounce is $6400.00 times 10 plants is $64000.00.
Which of course would explain why Ryan Frederick got up at 4am each morning to deliver soft drinks.
Yesterday, both sides in the Ryan Frederick trial made their closing arguments. This morning, the jury will begin their deliberations.
Ryan Frederick is the 28-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing murder charges for killing a police officer during a drug raid (see this wiki for more on Frederick’s case). Prior coverage of his trial here.
Some wrap-up odds and ends from the last few days of the trial:
• Last week, the defense called seven of Frederick’s neighbors, one of whom was outside the night of the raid. All said they heard no police announcement, though neighbors did testify about hearing the battering ram.
• There’s more significance to the neighbors’ testimony than merely whether or not Frederick should have heard an announcement, though that’s obviously important. The state made Frederick out to be a big-time drug dealer. Police informant Steven Wright said he bought marijuana from Frederick dozens of times over just a few months. That’s dozens of drug deals from just one guy. Yet the police affidavit notes that surveillance on Frederick’s home showed no unusual activity. And Frederick’s neighbors—people who you’d think would want a hardened, drug-dealing, cop-killing neighbor out of their community—have not only defended him in the media, they’ve testified in his defense at his trial.
• The Virginian-Pilot’s John Hopkins has done a splendid job covering this case. I’ve rarely seen a local reporter cover a botched raid so well. Hopkins refused to take police statements about the raid at face value. He did his own reporting, and uncovered some significant flaws in the case. At the start of the trial, Special Prosecutor Paul Ebert put Hopkins on his witness list, which effectively barred Hopkins from the courtroom, which meant he could no longer report on the case. But Ebert never called Hopkins to testify. Sneaky way to get a good reporter off your butt.
• The person who could shed the most light on the truth in this case never testified. That would be Renaldo Turnbull, the informant/burglar that Hopkins and I interviewed. That he didn’t testify isn’t surprising. He wouldn’t have been helpful to either side. The state would have to deal with his revelations to Hopkins and I that the police were encouraging their informants to illegally break into homes to collect probable cause. Once the judge ruled before the trial that the search warrant for Frederick’s home was valid, Frederikc’s attorneys no longer had much of a reason to bring up Turnbull’s allegations. They would have had to deal with a guy who’s still facing a host of his own criminal charges, and is at the mercy of the state. There’s also obviously a huge risk to the defense in going after the integrity of the police, particularly the integrity of the cop your client admits to shooting.
If there’s ever an outside investigation of the issues that have surfaced in this case (and there really should be), Turnbull ought to be the first person investigators speak to, and the first to whom they grant immunity.
• Frederick’s biggest problem is that in the interviews he gave with police shortly after the raid, he misled them about growing marijuana. I could be mistaken, but from what I can tell, he didn’t out and out lie—he said there were no marijuana plants in his home at the time fo the raid, and there weren’t. But he neglected to say he had plants before the break-in by the police informant three nights earlier.
It’s not difficult to believe that Frederick both legitimately feared for his life the night of the raid (fearing, perhaps, that informant Steven Wright and friends had come to harm him), and realized that if he admitted in those interrogations to both killing a cop and growing marijuana, his days were numbered.
Of course, Frederick wasn’t obligated to talk to the police at all that night. And he certainly wasn’t obligated to implicate himself. But that he did talk but then wasn’t forthcoming about growing marijuana will almost certainly hurt his credibility with the jury.
• Oddly, at the same time, the recordings of those police interrogations could also save Frederick. They clearly show a frightened, nervous, confused man, who weeps and vomits when he contemplates that he’s just taken another life. They don’t depict the enraged, calculating cop killer prosecutors tried to make Frederick out to be.
• Yesterday, the judge decided to allow the jury to consider lesser charges for Frederick, including first and second degree murder, and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The prosecution consented to adding the lesser charges.
On the one hand, this would seem to show that the prosecution isn’t all that confident in its case (which, if true, would be one of the few signs of intelligence they’ve shown in two weeks). On the other hand, allowing for lesser charges also gives the jury the option of holding Frederick culpable for (a) growing marijuana, and (b) killing a law enforcement officer who had come to his home because of that marijuana, while at the same time giving them the sense that they’re punishing the police for poor procedure, and the prosecutors for their insulting performance in court.
If I had to make a prediction, I’d say the jury convicts on both the drug and gun charge, and convicts Frederick of some sort of manslaughter. The state didn’t prove distribution (their only evidence that Frederick grew the marijuana for anything other than personal use was testimony from their lying informant), but I could see the jury wanting to punish Frederick for lying to the police. A murder charge in Virginia requires proof of malice, and the only evidence the state offered of malice, again, came from informants with criminal records who were shown at trial to be repeated liars. Frederick’s taped interrogations, on the other hand, clearly show remorse.
Whatever the jury decides, this is an ugly tragedy all around. And entirely preventable. Amazing how paternalism can so quickly manifest itself as bloodshed. The last couple of weeks have embodied so many of the insidious elements of the drug war, from the home invasions to the informant tips and shoddy police investigations to the jailhouse snitch testimony and the chilling, horrifying feeling that with one life ended and another effectively ruined, we’ve been through all of this before. And it’s just a matter of time before we go through it all again.
Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty (who has thus far proven to be a reliable (if not always accurate) defender of the Chesapeake Police Department) today outdoes herself, cracking jokes fat jokes because Ryan Frederick has gained 60 pounds while isolated in jail for the past year:
What’s cooking at the Chesapeake city jail?
Spectators couldn’t help but wonder about that last week as they gawked at Ryan Frederick during his capital murder trial.
I mean, how often does an inmate pack on about 60 pounds behind bars?
Comparing photos of the skinny soft-drink delivery guy who was arrested a year ago to the chipmunk-cheeked defendant in the too-small suit was a lot like looking at before-and-after photos from a Jenny Craig ad.
Ha! A dead cop, crappy police work, prosecutorial misconduct, and a likely innocent man putting on weight because he’s been confined to a small jail cell for more than a year while waiting to see if he’ll be spending the rest of his life in prison–that’s comedy gold!
There is apparently a point behind Dougherty’s fat jokes, though it’s a pretty ridiculous one.
On Thursday, prosecutors tried to focus attention on Frederick’s weight, hinting that the beefy 29-year-old might have kept thin in the past by abusing drugs that cause weight loss. The prosecution posed hypothetical questions to an expert witness about whether cessation of methamphetamines or cocaine might result in rapid weight gain.
You know what else could cause weight gain? Spending 23 hours per day in 9 by 12 foot cell–for more than a year.
Dougherty’s next sentence assumes her readers are absolute idiots:
He said his overeating is stress-related, yet conceded that stress on the night of the shooting caused him to vomit several times.
Yes, that’s quite the contradiction, Ms. Dougherty. Clearly, Frederick isn’t lying about gaining weight. And as we saw and heard in yesterday’s videos, he isn’t lying about vomiting during his police interrogations on the night of the raid. So I guess Dougherty’s implication here is that Frederick is lying about why he gained wait–that he wasn’t stressed about spending the rest of life in prison or remorse for ending Shivers’ life. Rather, he was just feasting on vending machine food in celebration and satisfaction at his kill. Oh, and he can’t help but himself now that his appetite is no longer suppressed by all the cocaine and/or meth he was taking (an accusation for which there is zero evidence, other than the preposterous link to Frederick’s weight gain).
I hate to waste words explaining the obvious, but Dougherty apparently requires it. We react differently to different stressors. It’s not at all difficult to see how the immediate stress and adrenalin rush that would come with having just having your home raided and realizing you’d just killed a cop might cause one to vomit while, later, the stress and monotony of wasting away in a jail cell for a year while awaiting your fate might cause one to seek comfort in food that tastes good.
I actually hadn’t read about this line of questioning from the prosecution in the trial coverage, but it’s typically galling and outrageous.
“You’re not exactly wasting away from regret and remorse now, are you?” snapped prosecutor James Willett, who then flashed an image of skinny Frederick in an orange jumpsuit on a screen. With the thin Frederick towering over the chubby one, Willett told Frederick to rise, open his jacket and turn sideways.
It’s not enough that they’re trying to railroad the guy, they have to embarrass and insult him, too.
I guess if there’s an upside to this insanity, it’s that if the law-and-order crowd has nothing left but fat jokes, they must be starting to realize just how shabby the state’s case against Frederick really is.
Here’s hoping the jury does, too.
This is the audio of the police interview with Ryan Frederick taken 30 minutes after the raid. It was played at Frederick’s trial yesterday.
Shouldn’t a prosecutor required to do even a bare bones investigation into the reliability of his witnesses?
Jailhouse informant Jamal Skeeter’s credibility took more hits at the Ryan Frederick murder trial this morning, as a defense attorney introduced about 30 letters Skeeter wrote to various authorities offering his assistance in homicides, police shootings and even the Michael Vick dogfighting investigation.
Called back to the witness stand, Skeeter didn’t deny that he’s a “professional witness.” But he denied writing some of the letters, even though acknowledging they were in his handwriting with his name on the envelope…
When Skeeter entered the courtroom, he initially refused to answer any questions, saying his safety was in jeopardy. He also tried to order the removal of the media. The judge refused and ordered him to testify.