The Worst Cops of 2005

The US generates an estimated $60 billion a year in profits from the illegal drug trade. For US law enforcement, the war on drugs generates a bumper crop of bad apples. Literally hundreds of drug fighters, tempted by easy money or turned mean by fear or frustration, are arrested on corruption or abuse charges each year ? and those are just the ones who are dumb, unlucky, or brazen enough to get caught.
People with law enforcement backgrounds understand this all too well. ?Nobody knows how widespread it is, but it is clearly extensive,? said 26-year New Jersey State Police veteran Jack Cole, who retired as a Detective Lieutenant after a career that included a dozen years as an undercover narcotics officer. ?Every two or three decades every major city has another major corruption scandal, and it?s just gotten worse and worse with the war on drugs. We?ve created a monster,? he said.

Since retiring, Cole helped found a group of police professionals, ?Law Enforcement Against Prohibition?, whose aim is to protect police by ending the war on drugs and allowing them to return to their traditional role: to serve and protect.

?The war on drugs has produced abundant opportunities for police officers to engage in all kinds of misconduct, from seizing property and converting it to their own use, to engaging in drug sales, to expanding their markets through the use of violence,? agreed former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper. ?I?ve seen everything from stealing a kid?s joint to criminal homicides committed by police officers hungry for the obscene profits generated by drug prohibition. Another enabling factor is that few victims of police misconduct in drug trafficking will come forward and complain.?

Plenty of people would agree with Cole and Stamper that the war on drugs is inherently corrupt and abusive. There is something about brutalizing pot smokers, jailing people for what they choose to ingest, seizing the property of drug offenders, and creating a culture of informants, a machinery of assemblyline justice and a veritable gulag of a prison system that carries the stench of a profound moral corruption.

But we?re not talking here about the day-to-day evils of the American war on drugs. Instead, we are looking at American police who are rotten, even by the rules of the rotten drug law game. The distinction here parallels one used in Catholic ?just war? doctrine. For a war to be just, it must not only be fought for just reasons, it must also be fought by just means. With this rogues gallery, we set aside the question of the justness of drug prohibition and look only at those cops who couldn?t even play by their own rules.

There are plenty to choose from. Week after week, reports dribble in from the wire services or air for 30 seconds on local TV news shows. A drugdealing cop here, a police chief taking payoffs from dealers there, a Border Patrol officer turning a blind eye somewhere, a drug task force partying with the loot over here, soldiers carrying cocaine back from South America, and on and on and on. It is only rarely that this endemic corruption and brutality becomes national news, as was the case with the notorious Rampart scandal in Los Angeles, where drug police terrorized an entire neighborhood, stealing and selling drugs, while shooting and killing people at will (and lying about it in court so their sur viving victims got sent to prison).

It is all too easy for drug war enforcers to fall into corruption, said Cole. ?Just imagine you?re a cop. You?re doing this job and you see it?s a losing battle, and you raid a house and there?s a couple hundred thousand dollars sitting on the bed, and you have bills to pay, and no one?s watching you and you know none of it matters anyway. That?s what happens to these people.?

And it?s not just corruption. American police enforcing the drug laws kill people, and not always with good reason. The police tendency to use excessive force has always been a problem, but is now even more of one in these days of inflamed militarism and permanent ?war on terror.? The police now are more heavily militarized, armed and equipped, and ready to treat American citizens as if they were foreign terrorists.

?Those SWAT teams shouldn?t be involved in the vast majority of drug crimes,? said Cole. ?But now almost every department in the country has a SWAT team, and it?s as if you spend the money on it, you?ve got to use it. When I worked on a fugitive unit in the 1970s chasing down murderers, rapists, bank robbers and the like, we didn?t have SWAT teams and we got along just fine. Two or three detectives would handle it. But now, they want to use them for everything.?

The following list is a representative sample of some of the worst cases of drug warrelated police abuse and corruption. Because enforcing the drug laws is such a big business and the drug war so pervasive ? ranging from the beat cop going after a pot-smoker to the US military fighting drug traffic in places like Colombia and Afghanistan ? it is difficult to find commonalities other than the obvious greed and lust for power, but the 15 individuals or groups listed do show the vast scope of the drug prohibition enforcement apparatus, and the myriad ways it can go bad.

With six of the 15 coming from Texas, the Lone Star State is certainly overrepresented. It?s not that we?re picking on Texas; it?s just that with its long border with Mexico, embrace of anti-drug task forces, huge metropolises, and Wild West law enforcement traditions, there is a lot of drug war activity going on there. Or, as albino Texas bluesman Johnny Winter once sang, ?If you?re going to Texas, take your razor and your gun, because there?s so much shit in Texas, you?re bound to step in some.?

Without any further ado, we present the rogues? gallery of drug war law enforcers from 2005.

The Campbell
County Five

Five Tennessee sheriff?s deputies: William Carroll, Gerald Franklin, Shayne Green, Joshua Monday, and Gerald Webber, were fired and later imprisoned for beating, torturing, and threatening to kill a drug suspect in a two-hourlong interrogation that could have been done at Abu Ghraib. Unfortunately for the detectives, the suspect?s wife caught a good chunk of it on tape. Here?s just one excerpt: ?We?re going to take every dime you have today and if we don?t walk out of here with every piece of dope you got and every dime you got, your fucking ass is not going to make it to the jail,? Webber threatened, and it got worse. The five thuggish cops are each now doing at least five years in prison.

Cameron County Sheriff
Conrado Cantu

Cantu, whose county sits on the Texas- Mexican border at Brownsville, was arrested in June along with four others, including two sheriff?s department employees, on charges they were involved in a continuing criminal enterprise. According to the federal indictment, Cantu and his crew raked in tens of thousands of dollars in protection money from drug traffickers and illegal gambling operations. In one case, a drug dealer was told he could walk free for $50,000; in another, Cantu took $25,000 from a government informer to provide protection. Cantu pleaded guilty to numerous counts and was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison in December. He is appealing the sentence.

Itinerant Texas lawman
Tom Coleman

Coleman ignited one of the biggest scandals in US drug war history when his uncorroborated undercover work resulted in the arrests of 46 people ? most of them black ? in the small Texas town of Tulia. Coleman worked alone, didn?t take notes, didn?t make recordings, and his cases didn?t make sense ? most of those arrested were charged with powder cocaine sales when crack was the only cocaine in town ? but that didn?t stop local authorities from sending most of them to prison, some for hundred-year-plus sentences. As Coleman?s credibility came under increasing challenges, Gov. Rick Perry eventually pardoned those still in prison. Coleman was eventually tried on perjury charges, found guilty, and sentenced to probation in January 2005. The Panhandle drug task force he was working for was disbanded after other cities in the task force ended up having to make big payouts in civil lawsuits.

Dallas Police Officer
Mark Delapaz

The man at the center of the infamous 2001 Dallas ?sheetrock? scandal finally saw justice served last year. Delapaz, a narcotics officer, worked with crooked informants to send dozens of people- mostly Mexican immigrants- to prison on bogus cocaine and methamphetamine charges. The informants, who have since been imprisoned, earned as much as $200,000 by planting ?drugs? in these people?s homes or vehicles, then summoning Delapaz and his partner for the bust. But the drugs were not drugs at all ? they were simply ground up gypsum, the stuff used to make pool chalk or sheetrock. While the stain on the Dallas criminal justice system lingers, Delapaz was convicted of perjury in April and faces five years in prison.

US Border Patrol Agent
Luis Francisco Higareda

Assigned to patrol a stretch of desert on the California-Mexico border, Higareda instead decided to get in on the action. In January 2005, Higareda?s dreams turned to dust when tipped-off FBI and Department of Homeland Security agents watched him drive up to the border in his official vehicle, help load 750 pounds of pot into it, and head off into the darkness. After a 20-mile chase through the desert, Higareda surrendered to authorities. He was sentenced to five years in federal prison in December.

Staff Sgt.
Kelvin Irizarry-Melendez
Staff Sgt. Daniel Rosas
Sgt. Victor Portales
and Spc. Francisco Rosa

These four US Army soldiers stationed in Colombia to fight the drug trade were arrested in March 2005 on charges of using US military aircraft to smuggle cocaine into their home base of Ft. Bliss, Texas. In a sworn statement, Rosas confessed to hooking up with a member of the right-wing paramilitaries and enlisting the others in the scheme. The other three have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison, while Rosas is on trial now.

The Oakland Riders

Oakland Police officers Clarence Mabang, Jude Siapno, Matthew Hornung, and Frank Vasquez styled themselves ?The Riders? as they unleashed a wave of terror against West Oakland drug suspects in the summer of 2000. In two court cases, prosecutors presented abundant testimony that they kidnapped and beat up drug suspects, planted drugs, and lied about it in police reports. A second attempt to convict the Riders on criminal charges failed in April, when suburban jurors let them walk free. The city of Oakland didn?t get off so easily. It had to pay $10.9 million in damages in a class action lawsuit in 2003, and the Oakland Police Department is still recovering from the damage done.

Topeka Police Office
Thomas Pfortmiller

The Kansas narcotics officer was arrested in February on more than 100 counts of theft, perjury, forgery, misuse of public funds, and official misconduct for ripping off at least $20,000 in department drug-buy money to pay for his gambling habit and his girlfriend?s lifestyle. There?s also the matter of the nearly five pounds of speed ? worth up to $200,000 ? that went missing after he checked it out of an evidence locker. Other Topeka narcs were also involved in shenanigans, forcing prosecutors to drop dozens of drug cases. The scandal has forced a major shake-up in the Topeka Police Department. Pfortmiller pleaded guilty to 50 counts and was sentenced to 16 months in prison in April.

West Texas
prosecutor Rick Roach

The ?tough on drugs? Republican prosecutor for four largely unpopulated Texas Panhandle counties, Roach was arrested at the Gray County Courthouse in January 2005 with a briefcase filled containing cocaine, methamphetamine, and a hand gun. He was later found to be an injection meth addict who owned 35 guns, surfed web sites for child porn, and offered to pay Texas state troopers for ?off the books? cash seizures from alleged drug traffickers. In a bizarre interview with the New York Times, Roach claimed he started using meth as a sex aid and was considering applying for a patent for a Levitra-meth virility combo. He was allowed to plea bargain and got five years for being a drug addict in possession of a firearm, but has since been re-indicted by a Texas grand jury and faces more trials.

Austin Police Officer
Julie Schroeder

A patrol officer in Texas? capital city, Schroeder shot 18-year-old Daniel Rocha in the back, killing him in the June 2005 struggle. Rocha was in a vehicle pulled over by Schroeder and fellow officers on a special drug detail, but attempted to flee. During the attempt to subdue him, Shroeder said she reached for her Taser, but couldn?t find it and fearing Rocha would turn it against her and fellow officers, shot him. A small baggie containing marijuana was found near his body. Although the killing sparked angry mass protests, Scroeder was not charged in Rocha?s death, but she was fired by the Austin Police Department after an internal review.

The Sunset

This Florida police unit got word that bartender Anthony Diotaiuto, 23, was doing smalltime marijuana sales and that he had a permit to carry a weapon, so they kicked in the front door to his home in a pre -dawn raid. Police claimed they announced themselves, but the next-door neighbors who were awake, witnessed the raid said police said nothing before beating the door down. This being America, Diotaiuto grabbed his gun as yelling, masked men invaded his home in the early morning darkness, and they shot him dead. The SWAT team left with two ounces of pot, some baggies, and a set of scales. Despite angry confrontations between Diotaiuto?s friends and the Sunset city council, nothing more has come of the incident.

The Tucson 40

FBI agents posing as drug traffickers in a three-year sting operation bribed at least 40 military and law enforcement officers to carry large loads of cocaine from the Arizona border to Denver and Las Vegas. At least nine of them used official cars and uniforms to get past border checkpoints with a half-ton of cocaine. Most have already pleaded guilty and are serving prison terms. They include a former Immigration and Naturalization Service officer, an Army sergeant, a federal prison guard, five members of the Arizona Air National Guard, five state prison guards, military police, and Arizona police officers.

Valley Interagency
Narcotics Team VALIANT

This multi-agency anti-drug task force, one of the hundreds that plague the country, was shut down in March after state auditors found it had ?mishandled? evidence in more than 1,300 cases. Auditors reported that 345 seized firearms, various quantities of seized drugs, and more than $10,000 in cash had gone missing. They accused the task force of routinely destroying evidence and improperly seizing more than $15,000 from innocent people. No one involved has been indicted or arrested. Internal investigations remain pending.

California Bureau of
Narcotics Enforcement
Officer Mike Walker

While on a stakeout aimed at arresting a parole violator, Walker saw Rudy Cardenas, 43, driving by and mistook him for his target. Walker took off in hot pursuit as Cardenas fled, following him to downtown San Jose, where Cardenas jumped from his van and took off running. Walker shot him in the back as he fled, killing the unarmed man. In what is rare even for the most questionable police shootings, Walker was indicted for manslaughter. What is even more rare is for a jury to convict a law enforcement officer for such an offense… but it didn?t happen here. Walker was acquitted in December. The Cardenas family has two multi-million dollar lawsuits pending.

State Police Sgt.
Timothy White

A former spokesman for the State Police and guardian of an evidence locker, White is charged with stealing 27 pounds of cocaine and letting a friend sell it in return for splitting the profits. But he also developed a craving for the powder and was arrested after a blow-induced meltdown in January 2005 where he beat his wife with his service revolver, then stuck the gun in his own mouth and threatened to kill himself. That meltdown was the tawdry end of a coke-fueled binge full of kinky sex, wife swapping, and bisexuality. White was sentenced to two years in prison for assaulting his wife, but won a hung jury during his drug trial. Prosecutors have vowed to retry him.

?It?s a sad thing to say,? said former narc Cole, ?but there is little to be done to fix these abuses except to end drug prohibition. The temptations are so huge that anybody doing this work who has a character flaw is going to be taken over.?

Corruption and abuse threaten the very credibility of the US criminal justice system warns Norm Stamper. ?If the system is to have any credibility whatsoever, we have to acknowledge the fact that every major police scandal in recent years is traceable to the police role in drug trafficking. From New Orleans to San Diego, Los Angeles to New York, Seattle to Fargo, it?s a big, big problem. People really underestimate the extent to which the drug war has infected local law enforcement. We think of police departments as being squeaky clean and we think we?re immune, but we?re not. This is everywhere.?

? For more information about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) please visit

? Also check out The Drug Reform Coordination Network/Stop The Drug War online at or