On the most profound level, all drug law enforcement is an inexcusable intrusion on the privacy of citizens. There is no compelling moral or ethical justification for allowing agents of the state to arrest and imprison citizens for what they put in their bodies, or for selling to consenting adults what they choose to put in their bodies. That said, the least citizens of a democracy should expect is that if police are going to enforce the drug laws, they do it in a lawful manner. Instead, we are confronted with a reality in which police corruption, misuse of power, and abuse in the drug war is widespread.
As editor of the Drug War Chronicle, each week I compile a list of the week’s corrupt cops stories. In 2006, there were more than 300 entries, but those were police officers corrupted by the profits of prohibition; then there’s police abuse and thuggish behavior, police raids gone bad (although we only hear about those when the cops mistakenly hit an innocent victim – as if being a drug user means it’s okay for the cops to beat you up and destroy your property), and just simple police stupidity. This list contains some of the most egregious law enforcement misbehaviors in enforcing drug laws. Are the ones listed the worst of the worst? Well, it’s subjective, but these are my chosen Top 10 Worst for 2006.
As you read, keep in mind: these are cases where the cops got caught – meaning that corruption and abuse is much more widespread, as it mostly goes unreported. (After all, “who polices the police?”) Let’s take a look at how prohibition has created monsters out of law enformcent.
1 The Colorado Correctional Complex at Buena Vista
Authorities at this Colorado state prison suspected that inmate Brian Willert had swallowed bags of heroin and they wanted the evidence. The prison typically uses stays in “dry cells” (with no sink or toilet) when inmates are suspected of swallowing contraband, and most stays are for less than 24 hours but they kept Willert shackled to a chair for five days, and strip-searched and cavity-searched him 17 times even though he was under the constant watch of a guard. On day four, Willert ‘s drug test turned positive for what turned out to be methamphetamine, suggesting a bag had broken open, but prison officials didn’t immediately seek medical assistance – they charged him with drug possession. A US District Court judge was so appalled by the prison’s behavior that he threw out the evidence in a July ruling. “It is difficult for the court to imagine a more intrusive procedure,” said Judge Joe Barton. [Defendant] was watched every minute for over five days. He was not permitted to meet the basic human need to lie down and sleep.” The judge also pointedly wondered, what was the point of the repeated strip-searches, seeing as they served no security purpose? The Colorado Department of Corrections said it would investigate whether any employees had done anything wrong. No word
on that yet.
2 Tennessee’s Cocke County Sheriff Department
At least eight Cocke County sheriff’s deputies have been arrested on corruption charges in an ongoing FBI investigation named “Rose Thorn.” Among them are former Deputy Larry Dodgin, who got eight years in prison in February after being arrested trying to buy $60,000 worth of cocaine from an undercover FBI agent. Dodgin helped bring down his boss Chief Deputy Patrick Taylor and Taylor’s brother by involving them in a deal to buy stolen merchandise. Both have pleaded guilty to theft charges. In May 2006, former Deputy Christopher Smith got probation for his role in a theft after he and Dodgin stopped a car and stole $4,815 in cash, and drugs. Prosecutors asked for a sentence far beyond federal sentencing guidelines for Taylor, as his theft charges were only the tip of the iceberg. According to them, he was also involved in schemes, extortion, protection rackets, cockfighting, ripping off drug dealers, and tolerating drug use among department insiders. Taylor is the nephew of former Sheriff DC Ramsey, who resigned under pressure in the same federal corruption probe that brought down his nephew. Overall, “Rose Thorn” has netted at least 178 charges and has led to the closure of brothels, cockfighting pits, and a video amusement company.
3 Mississippi’s Horn Lake Police Department Tactica Apprehension Containment Team
It was just business as usual when the small-town department’s Tactical Apprehension Containment Team (TACT) broke down the door of a suspected methamphetamine lab at 4:00am on March 22. But it was the wrong house, and the gung-ho SWAT-style cops didn’t find any illegal drugs – they found a couple in their eighties named Arthur and Lillie Bostock, both of whom ended up at the hospital: she with a dislocated shoulder, and he with a bruised rib. Chagrined, Horn Lake police explained there were two houses on the lot and they hit the wrong one; but they had little to say about what happened to the Bostocks. Police Chief Darryl Whaley was apologetic, but backed up his officers. “Obviously, a mistake was made and it was regrettable,” said Chief Darryl Whaley “But I stand by my officers. I think they acted properly.” That didn’t go over too well with some neighbors. “I don’t think they had enough information, and I think they should have got their facts together, not broken in a house and beat up somebody,” Cheryl Miller told WREG-TV News Channel 3 in Memphis. The chief’s apology was insufficient, she said. “If you don’t think before you react and you beat up old people, I don’t think you belong in that job as a policeman.”
4 US Department of Homeland Security Immigration & Customs Enforcement Miami Office
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supposed to secure the borders and keep the country safe, but ICE’s Miami office believes part of its mission is to keep America bong-free. In April, ICE agents decided the most important thing they had to do was raid five South Florida head shops, seizing more than 5,500 bongs and pipes worth more than $250,000, as well as rolling papers and stash containers designed to look like commercial products such as women’s lipstick tubes and pagers. The raids were the latest in “Operation Up in Smoke”, a continuing ICE Miami initiative launched in December 2003 “to go after businesses that illegally import, manufacture, and distribute drug paraphernalia in South Florida.” It remains unclear why Immigration has assigned itself the mission of enforcing domestic paraphernalia manufacturing and distribution offenses. Nonetheless, since the initiative began ICE special agents have served about 25 Federal search warrants and seized more than 85,000 items valued at more than $2 million, as the agency publicly boasted. While no arrests have been made, stores have been put out of business. More search and seizure warrants are coming, ICE said, commenting that enforcing drug paraphernalia laws “is a top priority for ICE.”
5 Atlanta Police Department Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler
One December evening, Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston – a very elderly woman so afraid of violent crime in her Atlanta neighborhood she rarely ventured outside – heard a violent commotion as three intruders tried to kick down her door. She picked up an old pistol she owned and opened fire as the intruders burst in and wounded two of them. The intruders, Atlanta undercover narcotics officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were executing a “no-knock” search warrant for drugs, and returned fire, killing Johnston. The search warrant alleged that a “confidential informant” had bought $50 worth of crack from a man named “Sam” at that residence, and that the no-knock warrant was needed for the element of surprise because “Sam” had surveillance cameras. But there was no “Sam,” no surveillance cameras, and no crack – only the elderly Mrs. Johnston, with just enough marijuana for one joint. Even worse for the cops, the informant told Federal investigators he had never been to that address prior to the incident, and that the cops asked him to lie after the raid went down. In January, Officer Junnier confirmed that account, tellingFfederal investigators the buy never happened. At press time, Departmental, State, and Federal investigations are ongoing, but Kathyrn Johnston is dead.
6 Virginia’s Henry County Sheriff’s Department
On November 2, Henry County Sheriff Harold Cassell and 13 of his deputies were indicted on federal charges – including racketeering, conspiracy, weapons offenses, narcotics distribution, obstruction of justice, and perjury – after the Feds came crashing in on their criminal operation. Cassell is charged only with covering up for his crooked deputies, who allegedly stole seized guns, cocaine, marijuana, ketamine, steroids, and “date rape drugs” to resell them, then attempted to hide their proceeds – thus setting up money laundering charges. At least one deputy, Bradley Scott Martin, had pleaded guilty by press time.
7 Baltimore’s Police Department
Troubles in the Baltimore Police Department that began in 2005 multiplied in 2006. In January, the department had to suspend one of its specialized flying squads known as “flex units” after squad member Officer Jemini Jones was arrested on charges he busted a 22-year-old female for pot, took her to the Southwest Baltimore station house, and forced her to have sex in order to win her freedom. The girl was then given bags of marijuana and released, according to police affidavits. Two other officers are also charged with rape in that case for standing around and watching without intervening. In a subsequent search of the squad’s offices, police found cocaine and marijuana in officers’ lockers, and police affidavits say officers in the squad planted drugs to make arrests. In May, Jones was indicted on a second rape charge and awaits trial. A month earlier, Baltimore City Police Officer Walter Jackson-Hill, 35, was arrested on charges he took bribes from a drug suspect in return for failing to appear at the man’s criminal trial. Jackson Hill awaits trial. That same month, former Baltimore Police Detectives William King and Antonio Murray were convicted on multiple Federal drug sales conspiracy charges and charges of carrying a weapon during a robbery. This was after a trial in which prosecutors convinced the jury the pair used their guns, badges, and unmarked cars to steal drugs and money from dealers. They then provided heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to their stable of snitches to sell on the streets then split the proceeds with the detectives. The pair shocked the courthouse when they testified they routinely supplied informants with drugs to sell and took money from informant-dealers who thought they were sharing their profits. In June, King was sentenced to 315 years (to be followed by four years of “conditional release”!) and Murray to 139 years. In August, the police department was forced to disband one of its “flex units” for the second time that year: the Southeast-side unit, which was supposed to quickly respond to violent crime, but most of its arrests were for drugs and nuisance cases. Department officials also said its officers were suspected of lying in charging documents, mostly those involving drug arrests.
8 Michigan’s Flint Police Department
Flint Police thought they had a brilliant idea when they burst into a nightclub after apparently observing a few drug sales in or near the club during a March 2005 rave. Incredibly, police strip-searched and cavity-searched everyone in the building. They found drugs or paraphernalia on only 23 of the 117 people present, then charged the 94 others with “frequenting a drug house”, a misdemeanor usually applied to crack-house denizens. But in October 2006, a Michigan circuit court judge slapped the department’s hand by throwing out the charges because police lacked probable cause to arrest people merely for being in the club. “The District Court erred in finding probable cause to arrest these defendants,” Judge Joseph Farah wrote in his decision. “To allow to stand the arrests of these 94 defendants would be to allow lumping together people who had been at the club for five minutes or five hours, people who never stopped dancing with those who sat next to a drug deal, people who sat at a table facing the wall with those in the middle of the mischief, and charge those dissimilarly present individuals with equal awareness and knowledge of wrongdoing.” It’s back to the drawing board for the Flint Police Department, and quite possibly back to court – this time to defend itself from threatened civil rights lawsuits from those it hassled.
9 Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Frank Melton
A former cable television executive who entered public life as Mississippi’s “drug czar” in 2002, African-American Mayor Frank Melton’s cowboy-style drug war antics quickly got him noticed. He ran illegal drug checkpoints in urban neighborhoods and participated in arrests (even though he was not a law officer) until real law enforcement officials told him to knock it off. The following year he again made waves when, apparently as obsessed with methamphetamine as any trailer-park speed cook, he vowed to use unconstitutional means to catch home-lab operators – including raids without warrants and forbidding them to return to the neighborhood, which even he conceded was illegal. Melton continued his cantankerous ways after being elected mayor of Jackson in 2005, kicking off his term with a three-day crime sweep “just to let people know we’re out there” as he put it at the time, complete with him wearing a police commando uniform and riding around in the Jackson Police Mobile Command Unit. Those periodic sweeps continued throughout his tenure, including one that netted dozens of truant school children in December 2005. But in September, Melton stepped too far over the line when he and his police bodyguards, along with some teenage boys living at his house, attacked a “crack-house” without a search warrant or any probable cause. Melton and his wrecking crew smashed the front of unsuspecting Evans Welch’s rental home with sledgehammers, knocking down part of the front wall. There was no evidence of cocaine trafficking, but Welch was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. He has since been released from jail and the charges dropped, but now Melton faces six felony counts related to the attack and faces up to 50 years in prison.
10 The Memphis Police Department
At least 19 Memphis police officers have been arrested so far in an ongoing corruption investigation known as “Tarnished Blue”. Officers Antoine Owens and Alexander Johnson were indicted in August 2006, accused of joining former officer Arthur Sease in setting up drug deals then swooping in with uniformed officers to detain the drug dealers and steal their drugs, cash, and jewelry. The following month, Officer Ted Williams was charged with robbing drug dealers, and Officer Terrance Harris was charged with selling cocaine. He came to the Feds’ attention when the IRS reported he had assets far in excess of his reported income: he owned a fast food restaurant, a suburban home, a 2003 Hummer, a 2001 Corvette, and still managed to deposit $132,297 in the bank three times in 2004. Reserve Memphis Police Officer Andrew Hunt pleaded guilty to robbing drug dealers of cash, cocaine, and personal belongings. He could face up to life in prison, but that’s unlikely since he has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, who warn more indictments could be coming. Prosecuters said Hunt was part of “a gang of corrupt uniformed officers” who ripped off at least 20 drug dealers. And these guys were really sleazy: in one case, Hunt stole drugs, cash, and a $15,000 watch from one dealer, and told him he could buy his drugs back from them for $9,500 – when the dealer came up with the cash, Hunt took the money and kept the drugs.
• Phillip Smith works for the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet). If you would like more information about DRCNet or the Drug War Chronicle, please visit www.StopTheDrugWar.org