Category: General Drug War


Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

From Michigan Live:

Members of a local family said they are upset after eight BAYANET officers broke open their front door Monday night, ransacking the home to seize marijuana, cash and property.

Pot supporters, some from outside of Saginaw County, responded to offer support to the family.

Richard Markva, 42, lives in the home with his children, Tyler Markva, 17, Brittney Markva, 22, and Brittney’s 2-year-old daughter, Areigha.

Brittney Markva said she was sleeping and awoke as Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team officers used a battering ram to knock down the front door.

An officer with a rifle drawn led the team of officers through the front door, Tyler Markva said. He was put on the ground and handcuffed while the officers searched the home.

They were looking for drugs and had a warrant, searching the home to find marijuana in a few locations, totaling about 22 grams, Brittney Markva said, along with two digital scales and a pipe.

The officers seized the marijuana and about $1,000 cash Brittney Markva had in her purse and took her safety deposit box information, seizing about $3,000 she had at a bank. They also took a lease agreement and documents related to a new business that she was working to open in Bay City.

A BAYANET official confirmed that the agency executed a search warrant for narcotics at the Saginaw township home but could not comment further on the ongoing investigation.

She said she earned the money legally with a steady job, and she declined to share where she works.

Fortunately, the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team doesn’t get a free pass in the media or from informed Michiganders (Michiganities?):

Charmie Gholson of Ann Arbor, founder of Michigan Moms United to end the War on Drugs, also came to the Saginaw Township home Tuesday.

Gholson is against asset forfeiture and believes law enforcement agencies target individuals with assets for raids.

Gholson thinks asset forfeiture should come only after a conviction. She was at the home to speak with the family and offer support and guidance.

I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Charmie Gholson for a while now on forfeiture issues; she is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and founder of Michigan Moms United to End the War on Drugs.

VA Judge: Sheriff’s Slush Fund Isn’t Criminal, but Bribery Is

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

By Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Last August, a Middlesex County (VA) grand jury returned 25 felony indictments against disgraced Sheriff Guy Abbott over use of his asset forfeiture fund. The indictments included:

Indictments handed down last week by a Middlesex special grand jury allege Sheriff Guy Abbott procured an inflatable boat, two other boats and a vehicle, obtained undisclosed sums of money in an asset forfeiture fund and misused county credit cards, all of which he accessed by virtue of his position as the top law enforcement officer in the county, according to the indictments…

Between 2003 and 2008, Abbott is also accused of using his office to obtain a 1985 Volvo, a Boston Whaler boat, a 1982 Privateer boat and a 1993 Nova Marine inflatable boat, according to the indictments.

Other counts accuse him of misusing various public funds and Visa and Mastercard credit cards over an eight-year period dating back to his first year in office, according to the indictments. Some of the money was in an account in which assets seized for forfeiture are held.

Abbott’s trial on these allegations concluded on August 15th in front of Middlesex Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan. However, Sheridan only convicted Abbott on two charges of bribing his employees; three charges were dropped by prosecutors, and the other twenty charges were thrown out by Judge Sheridan. It appears that Judge Sheridan gave Abbott substantial leeway in determining whether or not the dismissed charges indicated criminal activity; in throwing out some of the charges, Judge Sheridan indicated “…the money spent by Abbott out of an asset forfeiture fund could be viewed as related to law enforcement purposes.” Indeed, there was some testimony from both Abbott and state officials to that purpose:
Debra Turck, who coordinated the asset forfeiture program for the Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) for 8.5 years, testified that those funds are to be used “strictly for law enforcement purposes.”
Prosecutor Dion argued that Abbott had the asset forfeiture fund pay for numerous meals that were not related to law enforcement.
Under questioning by Dion, Turck gave an example of where food and beverages expenditures were permitted, such as if they were part of a comprehensive package at a hotel that was hosting law enforcement training. “We want it to be official training” as opposed to a meeting, she said.
Turck said food bought at a meeting where law enforcement operations were discussed was not a permitted expense. “The bottom line is, it has to be for law enforcement purposes.”
Turck said “memorials” that are not “extravagant,” and award plaques were permitted expenditures.
In 2009 Middlesex Treasurer Betty Bray, who controls dispersement of money from the asset forfeiture account, sought advice from DCJS on Abbott’s request to use asset forfeiture funds for a Christmas party. “They are not for social events,” Turck testified.
After that, Abbott ceased meal purchases, said Abbott’s attorney, Craig Cooley.
Under cross examination by Cooley, Turck said the asset forfeiture “guidelines were general in nature. We rely on localities to use their best judgment.”
Turck said that food bought at a multi-jurisdictional drug task force meeting at an Urbanna restaurant to discuss law enforcement plans was “one of those gray areas” where asset forfeiture funds could possibly be spent.
There were other “gray areas,” Turck said, including food purchased when it was related to a stakeout or while serving in a disaster emergency, or as part of graduation ceremony from a law enforcement academy, among other situations.
Under questioning by Cooley, Turck admitted that DCJS did not notify Abbott of incorrect expenditures.
Cooley argued that the legislature did not establish the guidelines, but directed that a board set up an audit procedure to ensure compliance.
Abbott testified that all items purchased through the asset forfeiture account and through his office were related to law enforcement. Regarding a $1,389 Visa credit card bill from 2002 that was paid from the asset forfeiture account, Abbott said, “It was for law enforcement purposes, because I’d have marked it otherwise if it wasn’t.”
Whether or not Judge Sheridan’s decision was legally “correct”, Virginians should be very troubled that the laws regulating asset forfeiture funds are “general in nature” and do not contain any sensible restrictions or oversight. Indeed, the idea of providing law enforcement with salary, bonuses, and entertainment out of funds that do not emanate from legislative appropriation or have robust civilian oversight is anathema to the notion of democratic accountability. Indeed, the Institute for Justice has rated Virginia’s forfeiture laws “D-“:

Virginia’s civil forfeiture laws utterly fail to protect property owners. The government must prove, only by a preponderance of the evidence, that property is related to a crime and subject to forfeiture. In turn, property owners bear the burden of proof for innocent owner claims, effectively making them guilty until proven innocent. Moreover, law enforcement enjoys 100 percent of the proceeds from civil forfeiture. Initially, 90 percent of the receipts go directly to law enforcement agencies that participated in a forfeiture. Thereafter, 10 percent goes to the Department of Criminal Justice Services to be used to promote law enforcement activities. Virginia’s broad laws have enabled the commonwealth to receive, on average, more than $7.2 million per year in forfeiture revenue between 1996 and 2007.

Some readers might remember Sheriff Abbott’s tenure as a drug warrior in Middlesex included several instances where innocent civilians were victimized by Abbott’s SWAT team:

The Middlesex County prosecutor has asked Sheriff Guy L. Abbott to explain a drug bust that went awry when armed deputies burst into the wrong home and ordered a 50-year-old woman to the floor.

“We moved out of Richmond to get away from this stuff,” said Estelle Newcomb as she described the Oct. 26 incident that has left her shaken and dismayed.

“I can understand them trying to clean up” the county of drug traffickers, she said, “but, my God, leave innocent people alone!”

The Sheriff’s Department drug unit rebounded from its misstep the next night and raided its intended target, a trailer about 200 yards from Newcomb’s mobile home.

The police made two arrests there and confiscated a half pound of marijuana they valued at $2,800.

But, by last week, the mistake had become the talk of the county, which was no small feat considering many residents were preoccuppied with preparations for the 40,000 people expected at the Urbanna Oyster Festival, which ended yesterday.

“I’ve heard a lot of grumbling about it,” said Fred Crittenden, a long-time member of the Board of Supervisors.

Worse yet for Abbott, it didn’t take a very long memory to recall a similar snafu in July. That time, the local drug task force made headlines when authorities in a helicopter thought they had landed in a Middlesex County marijuana patch only to find tomato plants and one very frightened gardener.

“The National Guard pilot called that, but I’ll take the blame for it,” Abbot said of the summer miscue.

According to Virginia’s online court records system, Guy Abbott is named as the defendant in a civil suit over the Newcomb raid, which is pending.

Florida Deputy Uses Spidey-Sense to Establish Probable Cause

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Last May, Sarasota, Florida Sheriff’s Deputy Dominic Fornal followed Joseph McNeal’s Jaguar out of a parking lot, then pulled McNeal over. The reason? Dep. Fornal claimed he could smell marijuana coming from the car. Even though the car was traveling at 35 mph. And the windows were up. Oh, and there was no marijuana in the car. Fornal did arrest McNeal and charge him with a DUI, though, even though McNeal’s BAC was about half the legal limit.

Fornal’s dash cam and wireless microphone clearly show McNeal, denying the search. More deputies arrived. They brought in a drug dog, which miraculously didn’t alert. They searched the car anyway, based solely on Dep. Fornal’s obvious olfactory gifts. He must have some bloodhound in him.

It was a thorough search. They went through all the stuff McNeal and his girlfriend had in the car. They made McNeal take off his shoes and socks. They made him turn the socks inside out.  They ripped up the interior of McNeal’s car. They pulled down trim and fabric lining. They found nothing. They then brought in another dog. They searched a second, third, and fourth time. Still no sign of the drugs that beckoned Dep. Fornal’s nose like a fresh chess pie cooling on the neighbor’s windowsill. For some reason, Dep. Fornal then turned off his wireless microphone. Shortly thereafter—we’re a good 90 minutes into the stop, now—another deputy miraculously found a single burnt marijuana cigarette in the trunk. They had missed it during all of those prior searches. They must have been distracted by Dep. Fornal’s live mic. I mean, that’s the only explanation I can imagine.

The state’s attorney later dropped all charges against McNeal. Once he was released, McNeal was free to pick up his car, which the deputies had graciously left in a muddy field. They didn’t bother repairing the damage.

And what about Fornal?

Fornal’s supervisor, Maj. Kevin Kenney, described that search as “going a little too far,” though overall, he stands by the deputy’s actions that night. Kenney said his deputy operated entirely within department policy.

Everyone together, now: Then there’s something wrong with your goddamned policy.

On the plus side, that admission could help McNeal establish “pattern or practice” in his inevitable lawsuit.

But don’t think the sheriff’s department didn’t learn anything from all of this. In fact, they learned a pretty darned important lesson about how to prevent an embarrassing incident like this from happening again:

Fornal will no longer have a camera in his car.


Eric Sterling on Marijuana Legalization and America’s International Treaty Obligations

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

If you do not know who Eric Sterling is, permit me to excerpt his bio:

Mr. Sterling was Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary from 1979 until 1989. On the staff of the Subcommittee on Crime, (Rep. William J. Hughes (D-NJ), Chairman), he was responsible for drug enforcement, gun control, money laundering, organized crime, pornography, terrorism, corrections, and military assistance to law enforcement, among many issues. He was a principal aide in developing the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, and other laws. He has traveled to South America, Europe and many parts of the United States to examine the crime and drug problems first hand. In the 96th Congress, he worked on comprehensively rewriting the Federal Criminal Code. Mr. Sterling was honored by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

In other words, when Eric Sterling says anything about justice system or drug policy reform, it is probably worth your time. In this case, I wanted to discuss Sterling’s recent analysis of marijuana legalization and America’s international treaty obligations. This is a pertinent topic as Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon will all be voting on marijuana legalization initiatives this fall and a conflict with federal law is inevitable (and some would argue that it is already here). In any case, here is Sterling: has a very thoughtful article by three members of the New York City Bar Association’s Drugs and the Law Committee on the way international treaties impact efforts to legalize marijuana in the U.S.

The U.S. has signed the Single Convention on Narcotics (1961) and Article VI of the U.S. Constitution provides that federal law and treaties are the “supreme Law of the Land.” The various states are governed by these treaties, and thus limit the ability of any state to legalize marijuana. This is certain to become an issue in the summer and fall of 2012 as the voters of Washington State, Colorado and Oregon consider initiatives to legalize marijuana. If one or more of these pass, these international treaties will be a factor in how the federal government responds.

The authors — Heather J. Haase, Esq., Nicolas Eyle, and Joshua Schrimpf, Esq. — note that the international consensus behind these treaties is being shaken.

A major change in the traditional protocol of the treaties — don’t rock the boat — is coming from Bolivia. When Bolivia (and Peru) acceded to the Single Convention (what we in the U.S. call ratifying the treaty), they agreed to ban their long-time practices of coca chewing and drinking coca tea after 25 years (Article 49.2(e), Single Convention of Narcotics). Since 1987, they have not been in compliance.

A couple of years ago, Bolivia rewrote its constitution and decided to try to change the requirement that it disapprove of coca use. (Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, came to political prominence as the leader of the union of coca growers!).

Bolivia tried to get the U.N.’s Commission on Narcotics Drugs to change the prohibition on coca use, unsuccessfully.

Now Bolivia is using different approach which is to “withdraw” from the treaty (called “denunciation,” Article 46, Single Convention on Narcotics) and then joining the treaty again (“accession,” Article 40) but with reservations (Article 50.3). The reservation can be rejected if it is objected to by one-third of the countries that are party to the Single Convention within twelve months after a country notified the U.N. Secretary General it wants a reservation. That means that one-third of the 183 nations (“parties”) have to object.

This type of strategy is outlined in chapter 6 in the excellent book by Robin Room, Benedict Fischer, Wayne Hall, Simon Lenton and Peter Reuter, Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, (Oxford U. Press, 2010).

Moving beyond the strictures of the Single Convention on Narcotics is a worthwhile goal. I am reminded of that line from Keynes:

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

Eapen Thampy

Kansas City PD SWAT Propaganda

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Eapen Thampy

“We Need a Drug Dog So We Can Seize More Property and Raise More Money”

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

WMUF 104.7 FM in Henry, Tennessee, reports:

Henry, Tenn.- At the Henry Mayor and Board of Alderman meeting on Tuesday, board members decided to allow police chief David Andrews to institute a K9 program for the Henry Police Department.

Andrews told board members that the city is missing out on possible revenues that a K9 would bring. He said when you make traffic stops and the driver refuses to allow a search, their hands are tied. If a drug dog alerts on a vehicle, its gives officers probable cause to search a vehicle for drugs or illegal proceeds from drugs. More drug arrests and drug, cash, and vehicle seizures lead to more revenues coming in for the police department and city.

Andrews said the military has a drug dog program and he could get a dog for the city at no upfront cost. The dogs are usually labs and are very gentle, and come trained as drug dogs. Andrews said four hours per week of training is required but the officers will work that into their regular hours. The dog would stay at the officers residence at night and any monies for food, water, and vet care would come from the drug fund.

The board of alderman also approved to allow city recorder Sonya Clayton to call in Jessica Lucas for some part time help in the office whenever needed.
Mayor Joe Qualls said the workload on Clayton has become very heavy and some part time help is needed certain days of the month and to allow backup for sickness and vacation for the city recorder.

Lucas has worked with the city part time before, and was called in a couple of weeks ago when they really needed some help. Lucas never quit or was terminated, but the new budget never allowed for the part time help so she didn’t come back on a regular basis.

The part time help will be at the city recorder’s discretion, brining her in an average of a couple days per week and training her on court paperwork, water bills, deposits, and all aspects of the office. This will be part time, temporary help for the rest of this budget year. It would be up to the city whether or not to budget it again once the new budget year starts next July.

The Institute for Justice reports that Tennessee’s asset forfeiture law rates a “D”:

Tennessee has broad civil forfeiture laws that fail to protect the rights of property owners. There, the government must establish by only a preponderance of the evidence that property is related to a crime and subject to forfeiture. Tennessee also effectively presumes owners are guilty, as the property owner bears the burden of proof for innocent owner claims. And, while it cannot be used to supplement salaries, local drug enforcement nonetheless keeps 100 percent of property forfeited, and there is no requirement to collect or report data on the use of forfeiture or its proceeds in Tennessee.



Turns out there previously has been misuse of forfeited vehicles, cash, and drugs by law enforcement in Henry County:

A state comptroller’s special investigation of West Tennessee’s 24th Judicial Drug Task Force turned up instances of theft by the agency’s administrative assistant and jail trustees smoking seized crack cocaine.

It also reveals that District Attorney General Hansel McCadams and Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew had a penchant for using a confiscated BMW Z-3 car for their personal use.

The examination of drug task force operations was conducted by the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit with aid from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Auditors said items from drug seizures were stolen or misused with a task force administrative assistant and her ex-husband admitting to taking drugs and other seized items, including utility trailers and a flat-screen television, from the task force.

The report from the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit said McCadams and other directors of the task force were lax in reviewing the agency’s operations. The task force itself didn’t have adequate record-keeping or inventory management practices.

Auditors said they found a group of jail trustees on a work detail had access to seized items without sufficient supervision. Because of that, the report says, some trustees gained access to drug case files, smoked crack cocaine and marijuana while at the Drug Task Force headquarters and stole cash, old coins and other equipment.

According to auditors, McCadams sometimes used a variety of confiscated equipment including a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a golf cart, a go cart, a four-wheeler and a trailer for his personal use. He flew on Drug Task Force airplanes and a helicopter on non-official business, according to the report.

Hat Tip: Orin Kerr at Volokh.

If There is Only One Thing You Watch Today, Make it This Al-Jazeera Report on the Drug War in Baltimore

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Eapen Thampy


The election of the first black US president offered hope to millions of African Americans across the country. But have four years of an Obama presidency seen positive change for black communities in the US’ inner cities? Fault Lines’ Sebastian Walker spends time with those on the front lines of the failed drug war to understand some fundamental dynamics of race, poverty, incarceration and economic truths in the US in an election year.

Hat Tip: Tom Angell, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

The Return of the General Warrant?

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

The Daily Report has details:

Murray County Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran has resigned, ending a judicial ethics investigation that included the judge’s practice of distributing pre-signed, blank arrest and search warrants to local law enforcement officers.

Cochran resigned effective 5 p.m. Wednesday, his attorney, Christopher Townley, said Thursday. The resignation was delivered to Governor Nathan Deal, who accepted it Thursday morning. Cochran’s departure comes just two weeks after his re-election to a third term.

Cochran agreed never to seek or hold judicial office again, according to a consent order the JQC posted on its website Thursday.

The JQC’s public report said its investigation focused on “whether the judge pre-signed blank arrest warrants for completion by law enforcement officers while he was absent from office.” The report also said the inquiry included “whether the judge allowed the prestige of his office to advance his private interests.”

JQC director Jeffrey Davis would not elaborate on how the judge may have misused his office to advance his private interests. “The matters we investigated, many of which have been made public, are those matters which are referred to in the reported disposition,” he said. “That’s about as specific as I can get.”

Two women have told the Daily Report and the JQC that Cochran sought sexual favors from them. One woman, Angela Garmley, and her attorney, former Georgia legislator McCracken Poston, have said that Cochran asked Garmley to become his mistress in return for a favorable ruling against several people against whom she had sworn out criminal warrants. A second woman who previously had sought help from the judge in a criminal matter told the Daily Report that Cochran had crudely propositioned her last year.

Townley said Cochran’s decision to step down from an office he has held for eight years was not related to the sexual harassment allegations. “He’s just furious” about those complaints, Townley said.

Cochran’s two-sentence resignation letter to the governor offered no explanation for his decision but simply his thanks “to the people of Georgia and Murray County for allowing me to serve.”

In a written statement Townley forwarded to the Daily Report, Cochran said, “I accept full responsibility for the warrants that were pre-signed. This is SOLELY the reason for my resignation.”

Makes one wonder what a more through and public investigation would turn up. I have heard of cases where judges accepted asset forfeiture kickbacks from local law enforcement for similar services…did Cochran have a similar payday?

“Treating Drug Abuse as a Public Health Issue, Not a Crime” Forum and Panel Discussion in Chicago on Monday (8/20)

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

From the Chicago Consortium for Community Engagement:

Title: Treating Drug Abuse as a Public Health Issue, Not a Crime
Location: John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County 1901 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, IL (Cafeteria: Lower Level)
Description: Treating Drug Abuse as a Public Health Issue, Not a Crime Forum and Panel Discussion

When & Where
Monday, August 20, 2012, 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County
1901 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, Il (Cafeteria: Lower Level)
(Free parking in the hospital garage at Polk and Wood St. – enter at Polk St. entrance)

The epidemic of mass incarceration in America has resulted in what Professor Michelle Alexander describes in her book, The New Jim Crow, as a permanent under class or
“caste” of second class citizens. Over half of the more than 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. are there as a result of drug convictions, 80% for drug use and possession.
This event will explore what has been learned since the declaration of the “War on Drugs,” examining the political framework, the challenges to our community, and
critically, alternatives to the current criminalization of those with drug addictions.

You should attend if you are:
◊ A medical professional with a desire to understand the link between the drug war and the issue of mass incarceration and ways to begin to reverse this humanitarian disaster
◊ A public servant who wants to see new possibilities amidst the challenges of drug abuse in our communities
◊ A community activist/organizer who is looking to grow your understanding of the systemic challenges, and build alliances with like-minded organizations
◊ A citizen who believes in a just society and are willing to work for it

5:30 p.m – 6:00 p.m – Registration & Refreshments
6:00 p.m. – Panel Discussion and Q&A: Welcome by the Honorable Toni Preckwinkle,
Cook County Board President; Moderated by Dr. Terry Mason, CMO, CCHHS; Keynote by Ethan Nadelmann, J.D., Ph.D., Exec. Dir., Drug Policy Alliance. Panelists: Major Neill Franklin, Exec. Dir., Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; Dr. Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., physician, Cook County Jail; Pamela Rodriguez, Illinois President, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC); and Tio Hardiman, Illinois Director, CeaseFire.

Registration is helpful, though not mandatory: Call 773-966-1500
x2354 or email,, with your name, telephone number and email address. Questions? Contact Patricia Simples, M.D. 312-864-7513.
Start Time: 17:30
Date: 2012-08-20
End Time: 20:00

This sounds like an all-star panel featuring some of the most serious speakers in drug policy reform. As Tyler Cowen might say, this is “self-recommending”.

Hat Tip: Shaleen Title

Eapen Thampy


Collateral Damage of a Drug War

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

There is a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research titled “Collateral Damage of a Drug War: The May 11 Killings in Ahuas and the Impact of the U.S. War on Drugs in La Moskitia, Honduras” by Annie Bird and Alexander Main. From the introduction:

 In the early morning hours of May 11, 2012, residents of the peaceful indigenous community of Ahuas in northeastern Honduras awoke to the sound of low flying helicopters circling above the nearby Patuca River.  Shortly afterwards, bursts of automatic gunfire were heard.  Later that morning the Honduran National Police announced that they had killed two drug traffickers in the course of a counternarcotics operation that had recovered hundreds of kilos of cocaine.  However, it soon emerged that local residents of Ahuas had a very different story to tell.  Four innocent boat passengers, they said, had been killed by security agents: two women, one 14-year-old boy and one 21-year-old man.  Four other passengers had been injured by gunfire, three of them critically.  Men speaking English and identified as U.S. nationals were among the security agents who descended from the helicopters and attacked and threatened members of the community.  Three months have now passed since the May 11 incident.  Investigations by human rights defenders confirmed many of the claims made by Ahuas residents.

In their preliminary reports they clearly identified the four Miskitu people who had died and were able to confirm that those individuals, along with the other passengers present on the same boat, had legitimate reasons for being where they were, when they were.  Local officials from the region and media reports  – including in-depth articles published by the Associated Press and the  New York Times – offered similar accounts to those described by the human rights defenders.

However, senior Honduran government officials have continued to maintain that the security agents fired in self-defense and have suggested that the boat and its occupants were part of a drug trafficking mission.  U.S. government spokespersons have acknowledged the presence of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents during the operation but have stated that they played “a supportive role only.”  Meanwhile, a Honduran government investigation of the incident appears to be seriously delayed and flawed, while the victims of the incident and their families languish without assistance or justice.

In late July of 2012, analysts from Rights Action and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) visited the Honduran capital and the region where the incident took place – the Department of Gracias a Dios  – in order to collect detailed information connected to this incident from surviving victims and other eyewitnesses, Honduran state and local officials and U.S. officials.

This report summarizes and analyzes the extensive testimony and other information obtained during the visit.  It presents detailed narratives of the sequence of events on May 11 and provides detailed background profiles on the boat passengers who were fired upon as well as on key witnesses.  It also describes the region and context in which the shooting incident occurred, in order to better understand its impact on the local community.  Finally, it offers a series of key findings and formulates recommendations of next steps to be taken in order to ensure that justice is achieved in this case and that measures are taken  – both by Honduran and U.S. policymakers  – to avoid the recurrence of future tragic incidents of this nature.

Eapen Thampy

Narco Violence Can’t Be Quarantined: What Have We Wrought?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

By Jamie Haase, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

In September 2006, Mexico’s president-elect, Felipe Calderon, was anxiously waiting for December to roll around. His soon-to-be Christmas gift would come in the form of taking the reins from President Vicente Fox and launching an all-out offensive against the country’s drug cartels. But until then, his hands were tied, and he could only watch as drug traffickers continued to shred his country apart.

Calderon’s home state of Michoacán was especially under siege at the time. During that same month of September, members of La Familia Michoacán had entered a small-town nightclub and rolled the severed heads of five of their rivals onto the dance floor, marking the beginning of Mexico’s Decapitation Era. La Familia was laying claim to the region, yet Calderon could do nothing but wait as the calendar days slowly went by.

Today, six years and 60,000 deaths later, new president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto finds himself in the same boat Calderon once occupied. With Mexico’s current reputation for violence and with tourism revenues tanking more and more each day, surely plans are in motion for deploying a new strategy this time around. With so much carnage in such little time, what more is needed to prove that the laws of supply and demand cannot be broken?

I might be taking a different tone if the violence had at least stalled during Calderon’s administration, but all indications suggest it hasn’t even peaked yet. So far, 2012 is on track to be the deadliest year yet, and there are no signs of the savagery slowing down anytime soon, as is illustrated by the decapitations of seven family members (including four young children) just this past weekend in Veracruz.

While war rages in Mexico, Americans continue to turn their heads from it. As a former special agent with the feds who worked along the Rio Grande, one of my main goals now as a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is to help reverse the apathy with which Americans regard the violence across our southern border. Much of our shared territory with Mexico is desolate, rugged, unforgiving and unsecured. With the most vicious killers imaginable freely crossing the 2,000-mile-long boundary daily, America has become littered with runaway criminals as a result of the drug war. And choosing not to recognize this migration won’t diminish the reality of the lasting effects it will have for us here in the United States.

A question I’m often asked is how legalizing drugs, especially marijuana, will change any of this. My response is that it’s the very illicitness of the drug trade that’s responsible for creating these criminals. Without the profitability from trafficking drugs, cartels would be largely nonexistent, and Mexico would have far fewer chainsaw-toting psychos cutting people up for a living. Of course, other organized crime activities like kidnapping and extortion won’t be eliminated overnight (as I’m often reminded), but with drugs and the profits they bring off the table, law enforcement could reckon with these crimes much more efficiently.

In my mid-thirties now, after having grown up in the FBI-and DEA-infested town of Quantico, Virginia, it seems like only yesterday when violence from the Colombian cocaine trade ruled the day. Miami’s cocaine cowboy era was a little before my time, but I certainly recall seeing the fall of Pablo Escobar and his relentless Medellin Cartel, only to watch the rise of the more diplomatic Cali Cartel soon thereafter. My original federal employer, the U.S. Customs Service, would later be instrumental in dismantling the Cali Cartel (via interdiction efforts like Operation Cornerstone in South Florida and the Caribbean). But foolishly targeting Colombian traffickers only opened the door for Mexican traffickers, and moved this unwinnable war even closer to our home front.

An historic interview explaining this shift in drug supply from South America to Mexico took place this week at the notorious Altiplano prison. Miguel Felix Gallardo, often referred to as Mexico’s original El Padrino, or Godfather, answered questions about the history of the drug trade (along with the futilities of policing against it). Gallardo was the primary founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, and upon his arrest in 1989, the organization splintered into the rival cartels witnessed in Mexico today. Several present day capos like Joaquin Guzman and the Beltran Leyva brothers honed their skills under the tutelage of El Padrino.

Until drug policy in the United States changes, all we can do is sit back and watch as spillover violence continues to seep across our border. Since polls show that a majority of Americans are now onboard with regulating marijuana like we currently regulate alcohol, I personally believe that’s where the most immediate efforts for drug reform need to be made. If we can get cannabis legalized and regulated, it will not only take much of the wind from the cartels’ sails, but it will also deplete their bank accounts by at least half. From my experience speaking on behalf of LEAP, I know there is a widespread misconception about just how valuable marijuana is to drug traffickers south of the border. But marijuana smuggling made the cartels what they are today, and the crop will forever be their numero uno cash cow. Harder drugs are just the icing on the cake.

Later this week, I plan to post more about the misconceptions surrounding Mexican “brick weed,” along with details of the cat-and-mouse games being played out right now along the Southwest border.

Exposing the Drug War’s Horrors in Mexico and the U.S.

Monday, August 13th, 2012

By Jamie Haase, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

As a former criminal investigator for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Laredo, Texas, I witnessed firsthand the many horrors the drug war brings to communities on both sides of the border. Eventually, my sense of the drug war’s inability to end drug use and my knowledge of the harm it causes convinced me to resign from my post. I have since joined LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former law enforcement officials who, knowing the war on drugs better than anybody, have dedicated their lives to ending it.

Radley has graciously allowed LEAP to blog about our work to end drug prohibition all this month. This week, I step in to fill the tremendous shoes of former DEA intelligence analyst Sean Dunagan, last week’s LEAP blogger, whose posts on how the DEA made the drug war worse rather than better, the government’s own admissions that the drug war creates violence and how the drug war has affected modern policing are definitely worth a read if you haven’t already checked them out.

We’ll also be sending updates about Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s Caravan for Peace, a cross-country journey of drug war victims, their families and representatives of more than 100 domestic organizations that are currently traveling through the U.S. to draw attention to the violence the drug war creates in Mexico and here at home. There will be events in many cities between San Diego and Washington, D.C., and LEAP speakers will be on board the whole way, escorting the caravan in style in our own specially designed anti-prohibition LEAP-mobile, which is almost worth the trip in its own right:

It’s time we as a nation had a serious conversation about ending the drug war, and who better to get it started than people like myself and Dunagan who started out as believers? It took us years of seeing the violence, the injustice, the futility firsthand to be convinced of the failures of this war. If we can convince people to support ending prohibition without them having to personally see the carnage many of us law enforcers have witnessed first-hand, we’ll have done our job.

Stay tuned for more blog posts from me this week and other LEAPers throughout the month.

The Drug War and Modern Policing

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

By Sean Dunagan, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

The war on drugs has claimed innumerable victims.  The tens of thousands killed in Mexico, the half a million incarcerated here for nonviolent drug offenses, the taxpayers who have funded it all to the tune of a trillion dollars.  But one of the greatest victims of the drug war is law enforcement itself.

I don’t mean the bloated bureaucracy of DEA or the robber barons of the prison-industrial complex.  I mean the foundations of civilian law enforcement.

The profound and deleterious effects of drug prohibition on civilian policing are evident in a number of ways.  Not long ago– in most of our lifetimes, even– police officers wore blue or white dress shirts, black slacks, and a tie to work.  Today, they most closely resemble soldiers.  This is not a change in fashion, but in mission.  SWAT teams, once found only in large cities and deployed only in extraordinary circumstances, are now active in 90 percent of municipalities with populations greater than 50,000.  The number of paramilitary raids by police in this country has grown from a few thousand in the 1980s to more than 50,000 last year.  The average cop on the street has gone from carrying a .38 revolver, to a 9mm, to a .40 caliber with laser sights (and, often, magazines that would be illegal for an average citizen to even own).

This change in tools and tactics is a direct consequence of a policy that makes criminals out of the roughly 23 million Americans who use drugs.  As Radley put it, “Dress cops up as soldiers, give them military equipment, train them in military tactics, tell them they’re fighting a ‘war,’ and the consequences are predictable.”  Indeed, they are.

One of the consequences has been erosion in public confidence in law enforcement.  Rolling tanks through cities and raiding family homes in the middle of the night didn’t win many hearts and minds in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, and it’s been equally unsuccessful here.  This is particularly true in the black community, where one in 15 children have a parent in jail.

A visible manifestation of this distrust is the “no snitching” movement, which even the Partnership for a Drug Free America acknowledges to be rooted in the drug war:

The no-snitching campaign is partly a response to the proliferation of informers, which in turn is a result of the war on drugs. Police routinely turn minor drug offenders into informers to try to catch bigger dealers: about one in three drug prosecutions involves the use of informants, who typically get reduced sentences in exchange for their cooperation. “If a dealer needs to make a deal, he’ll tell on his mother,” said Pittsburgh Police Department Commander Maurita Bryan. “It may not be right, but it’s all we have.”

The impact on the ability of law enforcement to do its job is clear.  In 1965, police solved 91 percent of murders.  Even in the late 1960s, after the Miranda decision and amid significant social turmoil, the clearance rate remained above 85 percent.  It has fallen steadily since the launch of the drug war, and now stands below 65 percent.

The effects of the drug war have also made the job of policing more dangerous.  In the 1960s, an average of 155 officers died in the line of duty each year.  In the ten years following the 1973 launch of the drug war, that average jumped to 221—a 43 percent increase.  Of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation, but it’s worth noting that the same dynamic occurred during alcohol prohibition.  In the 13 years preceding Prohibition, the average was 117 law enforcement deaths a year; during Prohibition, it more than doubled to 240.  Following repeal, it fell again to 148.

The modern theory of policing in a free society traces its history to Robert Peel, the former British Home Secretary and Prime Minister who established London’s Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.  His guiding vision for the department was codified in what became known as the 9 “Peelian Principles” of policing (though it’s not clear whether he personally compiled the list).  They are worth posting in their entirety:

1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.

3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

5. Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Law enforcement is a demanding and often thankless career.  Every day, officers perform selfless acts of bravery and heroism that save lives and bring comfort to victims.  Certainly, there are still law enforcement officers who execute their duties in conformity with Peel’s principles.  My father, a retired police chief, was one.  Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’s leadership and membership are full of them.  But as our civilian police agencies grow increasingly militarized, their numbers are thinning.

The drug war has, indeed, claimed innumerable victims.  We should all be fearful that Robert Peel’s vision will be among them.

Asset Seizure and Forfeiture – The State’s (Often Wrong) Rationale for Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

By Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Charles B. Frye, Attorney at Law in Houston, Texas, has written an excellent discussion on the government’s fallacious rationales for seizing cash during traffic stops at the Americans for Forfeiture Reform blog. I excerpt this portion and encourage you to read and share the rest:

What are the risks of transporting large sums of cash when you’re traveling?  Obviously, you could get robbed or get involved in an accident and lose the money.  Your car could catch on fire while you’re buying gas and your currency could go up in smoke.  A number of bad things could happen if you carry a large amount of cash on you when you travel.  But, one risk that many folks never consider is that a law enforcement officer could decide to seize your cash,even if you are not committing a crime and the officer cannot show any reason to believe that you have committed a crime.

If you’ve never had a law enforcement officer stop you for a traffic violation and then ask for your “consent” to search your vehicle, you probably find it difficult to believe that you or any other “law abiding citizen” could become embroiled in a criminal case or a forfeiture lawsuitjust because you happen to be carrying a large amount of currency.  But, it can, and does, happen.

One Texas Court of Appeals case, Deschenes v. State, 253 S.W.3d 374 (Tex.App.‑Amarillo 2008, pet. ref.), catalogued the various ways that the State tries to justify a seizure and later forfeiture of a large amount of currency discovered after a traffic stop.  Justice Pirtle wrote in the majority opinion in Deschenes listing twenty two arguments the State advanced to justify the seizure:

“Here, the evidence tending to establish a connection between the money and some unnamed criminal activity amounts to mere conjecture. In support of a nexus between Appellant’s $17,620 and some unidentified “criminal activity,” the State points to profiling characteristics and a positive alert by a narcotics dog: (1) Appellant opened the passenger door to speak to the officer, handed him his wallet when asked for his license, and exited on the passenger side at the officer’s request; (2) car had energy drinks and fast food wrappers on the floorboard giving it a “lived‑in” look; (3) he could not give his uncle’s exact address in San Diego; (4) he was traveling east to west on Interstate 40;[9] (5) he was nervous throughout the encounter; (6) he stared at his vehicle rather than maintaining eye contact when answering one of Esqueda’s questions; (7) he denied carrying a large sum of cash; (8) he was in possession of scales; (9) he avoided showing Esqueda [the investigating officer] the money; (10) the money was in a plastic bag; (11) it was a large amount of money; (12) the money was divided into bundles and wrapped with rubber bands; (13) he had an empty suitcase; (14) he denied having any drugs in his vehicle; (15) he stated he was going to Las Vegas; (16) he failed to produce “documentation” for the money; (17) a narcotics dog alerted to the money and the large empty suitcase; (18) an odor of narcotics on the empty suitcase; (19) the close proximity of the cash to the empty suitcase that presumably contained narcotics at one time; (20) an odor of narcotics on the cash; (21) the money was enough to purchase a felony amount of narcotics; (22) money from drug trafficking travels east to west.”

“Child Snatchers” and Asset Forfeiture in Butte County, CA

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

By Eapen Thampy, cross-posted at Americans for Forfeiture Reform (AFR on Facebook).

Journalist Angela Bacca has a recent article in Skunk Magazine titled “Child Snatchers: How a small Northern California County has manipulated medical marijuana laws and made a lucrative business out of kidnapping children”. I’m excerpting the section where Bacca discusses both the role of asset forfeiture and the predatory use of Child Protective Services by Butte County government (and where yours truly is quoted):

Since the passage of Prop 215 in 1996 small Northern California counties like Butte have been reaping the profits of the gray areas presented in the discrepancy between local and federal marijuana laws, predatory asset forfeiture policy and a failing school system.

Nearly 20% of Butte’s population lives below the Federal poverty line, more than twice the state’s rate and significantly higher than the national average. The cashstrapped school system is notoriously poor and many in the area have not completed a high school education. While the entire state is facing major slashes to the budget, Butte is no exception.

Since the recession began in 2008, the Butte County Board of Supervisors have been forthcoming about their anger, particularly in their fiscal reports, at the state for cutting funding and are scrambling to find additional sources of revenue. Schools and roads in Butte County have lost their upkeep and a once surplus budget in 2008 threatens to be a $2 million deficit by the end of fiscal year 2012, a staggering number for a county population of only 200,000, many of which are not permanent residents but students at nearby Chico State University.

Butte and its surrounding counties have seemingly found the answer to their budget woes. They have manufactured a crisis—the public menace of small, private marijuana farms in remote communities—in order to apply for Federal funding to address it. The system has become so corrupted that the county governmental agencies now work together in symbiotic collusion to exploit legal, compliant marijuana growers.

“Butte County law enforcement have closed their budget gap in part through the revenue generated by the seizure of property,” says Eapen Thampy, Executive Director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, “With this incentive structure driving the priorities of Butte County law enforcement, it is no surprise that citizens find themselves victimized by the aggressive tactics of their own public agencies.”

Butte County has the last remaining narcotics task force north of Sacramento, the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force (BINTF). BINTF has become such a reliable source of revenue that the police, judicial and child protective services have morphed into a parasite, feeding off is own constituency for profit. Amid tight budget woes, last year Butte County purchased a $200,000 armored vehicle complete with turret and battering rams.

According to Thampy, police or task force officers who work these types of raids are able to increase their hourly salary through hazard Pay, overtime or holiday benefits—doubling or tripling their normal hourly rate. For local law enforcement in these small counties a marijuana raid could be as good as a holiday bonus.

Last year, the state eliminated the Campaign to Eradicate Marijuana Production (CAMP), which led exploratory helicopter flights throughout the forests in the northern part of the state to scout of marijuana gardens. CAMP had been in existence since President Nixon escalated the War on Drugs in the 1970s.

Butte County, however, applied for and received Federal funding for BINTF with the original mission of combating rampant methamphetamine production and use in the area. Marijuana proved to be not only more profitable, but a far easier target with the legality of medical marijuana.

Using BINTF helicopters, which fly overhead seven days a week, suspected marijuana grows are mapped out using Google Earth. BINTF, in cooperation with the County Sheriff, perform what they refer to as “compliance checks,” more commonly known in the area as “knock and talks.” They approach properties, private or otherwise, and politely gain entry from growers eager to appease them and evade raid and arrest. Often but not in every case, warrants are issued thereafter and the garden is raided and any property of value is seized and the value distributed through the seizing agencies and often the Federal Department of Justice, through a program called Equitable Sharing.

Furthermore, this particular county has found a way to even make child removal profitable during medical marijuana raids.

“Child Protective Services (CPS) – known as Children’s Services in Butte County—operates under a veil of secrecy and privilege,” states Meredith J. Cooper a journalist with the Chico News and Review. In 2010 she authored an article exposing the corruption and financial incentive in child removal in Butte County.

Cooper’s article goes further, outlining information cited from the Federal Grant’s Wire, Adoption Incentives program. For every foster child-adoption the county receives $4,000 in federal grants, a number that doubles to $8,000 if the child is then adopted after the age of 9. Children who remain in CPS custody represent a federal revenue stream for the county, so much so that Butte ranks #1 in the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform’s rate-of-removal index. Nearly 37% of impoverished children in the county are taken into protective custody in Butte County every year—more so than even the more notoriously dangerous and densely populated parts of the state like Oakland, Stockton and Los Angeles.