Archive for June, 2007

Baby SWAT

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

 

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The photo above shows Rock Island, Illinois SWAT team member Dytanya Robinson, who's teaching a youngster the basics of tearing down a private citizen's door. Her appearance at the local elementary school came courtesy of funding from the DARE program. The article's lede:

The kids sat in Frances Willard Elementary School's library Thursday morning, waiting for their teacher.

She arrived about 9:10 a.m., dressed in all black, including a black face mask. "Sorry I'm late," Rock Island Police Officer Dytanya Robinson told the Junior Police Academy class. "I've already been working two raids … I've been sweating in this hot suit since 6 a.m."

Two SWAT raids before 9am, on one day, in a city of 40,000, that had all of two murders in 2005.

Back to Atlanta

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Another three narcotics officers have been suspended from APD. But it isn’t clear that any of them were involved in the Kathryn Johnston shooting.

The good news is that this means the investigation is looking at broader problems within the city’s narcotics policing. The bad (but not surprising) news is, it appears the corruption goes pretty deep.

Reflections on a Neighborhood Watch Meeting

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Recently I have discovered a renewed interest in left libertarian and anarchist concepts of community solidarity. My interests lie in finding ways to build community relationships and institutions that devolve important decisions to the interpersonal, neighborly level - rather than counting on government bureaucrats and politicians to fix all our problems. I believe that this reliance on an outside force to manage us - a top-down, progressive-era holdover - has damaged what was once a bottom-up, dynamic consensus. This breakdown in neighborliness is partially responsible for many of our present social ills, and reflects the dark side of the centralized, managerial State that so many Americans seem to want.

Inviting cops into our neighborhoods should be a last resort, because law enforcement professionals view everybody - not just the elements you find undesirable - as a potential criminal. They write traffic tickets; they harass citizens; they conduct reckless raids against innocent citizens; the list just goes on. Residents should be very careful when inviting outsiders - such as police officers - to make decisions on how the neighborhood’s business should be conducted. Ideally, cops should be called only as an alternative to a neighborhood resident employing force himself in self-defense, and only in reaction to a particular threat.

Maybe there was once a time when police officers lived in the neighborhoods they patrolled, knew everybody by name and whose kid was whose, and exercised a form of reasonable discretion (even if that discretion was poisoned by racism, classism, etc.). Maybe they policed on the basis of what was best for the community rather than maximizing their arrest statistics to secure federal funding. Those times, however, are no more: police are intervening in neighborhoods more and more, with less and less of a sense of statutory limitation, and a growing sense of entitlement to dictate to people the most mundane details of their lives. This dependence on such authoritarian elements is surely brought about by the increasing atomization and isolation of residents, who cannot look to the community to realize their values. When neighbors are strangers, there isn’t even the opportunity to establish an authentic sense of shared interests or common concerns, let alone the true security situation.

The Show Pony

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Last week I posted about this recent case in Oregon, in which the narcs — bullies by profession and liars by trade — decided to seize some evidence of drug sales between consenting adults, without a warrant, by ramming a car and then stealing it off the street:

In a strongly worded order last year, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley tossed out evidence seized from a car driven by Ascencion Alverez-Tejeda, charged with three felony counts of distributing cocaine and methamphetamine in Eastern Washington for a Mexican drug ring.

On June 8, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Whaley, ruling that the search was legal but expressing reservations about the ruse used by the region’s Drug Enforcement Agency.

The case includes grand jury testimony that DEA agents have used similar tactics on other occasions — raising questions by judges and defense lawyers about how far law enforcement officers can go to mislead suspects and act without a warrant. The DEA, which waited three days after the seizure to get a search warrant, is defending the conduct of its agents.

In his April 2006 order, Whaley said the DEA engaged in shocking and outrageous conduct and committed criminal acts against Alverez-Tejeda, 35, who was living in Irrigon, Ore., and Diana Maria Volerio-Perez, his 30-year old girlfriend, when they were detained and searched without a warrant on Dec. 18, 2004.

In that incident, DEA agents staged a car accident near Redmond, Ore., ran a truck into the car Alverez-Tejeda was driving, pretended to be Deschutes County Sheriff’s deputies and drove off at high speed in Alverez-Tejeda’s car while falsely telling him it had just been randomly stolen.

As a result of the bogus theft of their car, the couple became victims of a crime, Whaley said.

The agents’ actions violated the Fourth Amendment and so tainted the case that drug evidence — two kilograms of cocaine and three pounds of methamphetamine — later found in the car should be suppressed, Whaley said.

U.S. Attorney James McDevitt filed an appeal on May 5, 2006, which stayed the case until the ruling earlier this month.

Now that the 9th Circuit has overturned Whaley’s order, a trial for Alverez-Tejeda will be scheduled.

Karen Dorn Steele and Kevin Graman, The Spokesman-Review (2007-06-18): Appeals court upholds DEA ruse

The Spokesman-Review story has a lot more on the details of the case. I mention it here, though, because it alerted me to this:

In oral arguments in Seattle in April, a three-judge panel of 9th Circuit judges peppered U.S. Attorney Russell Smoot of Spokane with questions as he argued that the agents’ tactics were reasonable.

This is the Keystone Cops case, said 9th District Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, calling the agents’ ruse a hairbrained scheme.

But Kozinski, writing for the panel, said the ruse was not unconstitutional.

The agents’ actions were reasonable in light of their vital interest in seizing the drugs and not exposing their investigation, Kozinski wrote.

Karen Dorn Steele and Kevin Graman, The Spokesman-Review (2007-06-18): Appeals court upholds DEA ruse

Please note that the author of the majority opinion here is Judge Alex Kozinski. When he’s not busy writing opinions giving the narcs King’s X to cause auto collisions, impersonate local police officers, use their assistance to collision victims as a pretext for stealing cars, and all without a warrant of any kind, Judge Kozinski gives interviews to Reason magazine, who described him, not so long ago, as one of the most libertarian judges in the country.

Were you counting on the courts to uphold even minimal protections for civil liberties? Don’t.

Another Isolated Incident

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Near Durnago, Colorado:

Law-enforcement officers raided the wrong house and forced a 77-year-old La Plata County woman on oxygen to the ground last week in search of methamphetamine.

The raid occurred about 11 a.m. June 8, as Virginia Herrick was settling in to watch "The Price is Right." She heard a rustling outside her mobile home in Durango West I and looked out to see several men with gas masks and bulletproof vests, she said.

Herrick went to the back door to have a look.

"I thought there was a gas leak or something," she said.

But before reaching the door, La Plata County Sheriff's deputies shouted "search warrant, search warrant" and barged in with guns drawn, she said. They ordered Herrick to the ground and began searching the home.

"They didn't give me a chance to ask for a search warrant or see a search warrant or anything," she said in a phone interview Thursday. "I'm not about to argue with those big old guys, especially when they've got guns and those big old sledgehammers."

They'd been investigating the trailer next door for a month, but still managed to hit the wrong home.

Herrick's son, David Herrick, said investigators surveilled the neighbor's house before the raid, and it was extremely unprofessional to enter the wrong house.

"There is a big difference between 74 and 82," he said, referring to the house numbers.

What's more, Herrick doesn't understand why his 77-year-old mother was handcuffed.

"Why they thought it was necessary to handcuff her and put her on the floor I don't know," he said. "And then they had to ask her what the address was."

Law enforcement

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who pose no serious threat to anyone. People who complain about this kind of rough handling are treated like trash, as if any level of intimidation and violence whatsoever were obviously legitimate, and the victims are to blame for provoking whatever they get. Cops in America are also professional liars. They lie to obtain confessions; they lie to obtain consent for searches; they lie to intimidate; they lie to lull people into a false sense of security. They also lie repeatedly and extensively to carry on investigations, which is constantly necessary in the effort to enforce drug laws: since the so-called crime of selling and using drugs involves only willing parties, there’s no victim to file a complaint, so narcs have to lie and pose and infiltrate in order to even discover where drugs are being sold and by whom.

In La Pine, Oregon, here is how the DEA and the local narcs recently worked together to seize evidence from two people for a federal drug case without identifying themselves as cops, affording any opportunity to consult a lawyer, or even going so far as to get a warrant or talk to a judge.

On December 18, 2004, Ascension Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend were stopped at a traffic light near La Pine Oregon, and when the light turned green, the car in front of them stalled. Alverez-Tejeda stopped in time but a pickup truck behind him rear-ended him. When he got out to look at his bumper, the police showed up and arrested the truck driver for drinking and driving. The cops then convinced Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend to go to a nearby parking lot, ordered them out of their car and into in the back of the cop car for processing. While they were in the cruiser, a person jumped in their car and took off. The cops ordered the pair out and set off in full pursuit up the road. A few minutes later, the stolen car comes flying back down the road with the police cruiser in pursuit. The pursuing officer returns alone with the woman’s purse, telling the duo that the carjacker thrown it out the car window and escaped. The woman is so upset she hurls and the police put the distraught couple up in a motel.

But it was all a set up worthy of David Mamet. DEA agents were tracking a drug gang and had bought drugs out of the car months earlier, though not when Alverez-Tejeda was there. Using wiretaps and surveillance, the DEA learned that Alverez-Tejeda was using the leader’s car to transport illicit drugs. The agents then decided to stage something, perhaps even a carjacking, in order to seize the drugs without tipping off the conspirators. They never consulted a judge, but every person in the story, other than Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend, was a cop of some sort.

Once they got the car, the agents got a search warrant without telling the judge about the caper and seized cocaine and methamphetamines, as well as property belonging to Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend.

Ryan Singel, Wired Blogs (2007-06-08): Appeals Court Rules Cops Can Steal Cars and Lie to Victims To Conduct a Warrantless Search

And here’s what happened when they took this evidence to court:

The government indicted Alverez-Tejeda but the district court in Washington found that the caper violated the Fourth Amendment, thus making the drugs inadmissable in court. The government appealed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision Friday, finding that this police escapade was legal since the cops had probable cause already to seize and search the car, thanks to the vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment created by the courts during the War on Drugs. Therefore, the court found, the police are allowed much latitude in how they seize the car and arrest the driver. The tap was considered only a minimal use of force, and the fake chase wasn’t considered to have put any civilians lives in danger.

The government here certainly had important reasons for employing this unusual procedure in seizing the car. First, the agents wanted to stop the drugs before they reached their ultimate destination — a patently important goal. Second, they wanted to protect the anonymity of the ongoing investigation — another vital objective.

Ryan Singel, Wired Blogs (2007-06-08): Appeals Court Rules Cops Can Steal Cars and Lie to Victims To Conduct a Warrantless Search

To recap, two people who did absolutely nothing to violate anyone else’s rights or hurt anyone against their will, had their car rammed and then stolen. The narcs knew about the deliberate ramming and the theft but they lied about them—because, after all, they ordered them. They used this lie to seize property and obtain evidence without giving their victims any chance to assert their rights (since they were lied to, they had no idea that a search or seizure was even taking place), and without obtaining a warrant or submitting to judicial oversight of any kind. The narcs feel that they need to be able to do this kind of thing in order to do their jobs effectively, since snitch anonymity, which actually has nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with systematically lying about who they are and what they do, is an essential tool in their efforts to lock harmless people in cages for the next several years of their lives. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, meanwhile, stands by and smilingly waves them on, once again under the excuse of necessity.

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary.

Edmund Burke (1757): A Vindication of Natural Society

So who are the real criminals here?

Dr. Anarchy’s Dictionary: Femapsychosis

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Femapsychosis, n. - a personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, narcissism, and an acute break from reality in the face of natural disasters. A femapsychotic often believes that he or she is the only one who is capable of saving thousands or even millions of people, and cannot conceive that anyone would not want or would not need his or her help. They create and fixate on plans, believing that the only way to help any individual person in a disaster area is to create and enforce a one-size-fits-all plan to cover every person affected. This fixation can become violent, sometimes leading to roadblocks and preemptive attacks on anyone who intends to offer help to individual victims of the disaster outside the scope of the plan.

For a case study, see the remarks by Ron, John, Jammer, and Dan T., in a Hit and Run thread on Kansas Mutual Aid and the Greensburg relief efforts, for example: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Scalia’s New Professionalism

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Remember Steven Blackman? He’s the man whose home Ft. Worth police raided last summer. His house was destroyed. They broke down his door, and fired four rounds of tear gas into the house. They also weirdly slashed the tires on his truck. Fortunately, he wasn’t home at the time, or he could well be dead. The cops had the wrong address, of course. They commenced the raid due to a mistaken, uncorroborated tip from an informant (but don’t worry, this almost never happens).

Well, the reviews and reports have been written. So what about all that professionalism, all those checks and balances, all that new police accountability Justice Scalia assured us was taking place all over the country in his opinion in the Hudson case?

One officer was suspended for five days. And last week, that suspension was reduced to one day.

Note also that the man police were actually looking for was wanted for possession of an illicit drug. Not distribution. They used tear gas bombs, a SWAT team, broke down the back door, and slashed the wrong guy’s tires trying to arrest someone for possession.

Keep that in mind too next time defenders of these tactics say they’re only used to go after the big-time dealers.

And Another One

Friday, June 8th, 2007

New York City:

Cops in New York City are accused of wrongly breaking into a local man's home this month, holding him at gunpoint, then stealing $2,000 from a jacket.

The May 9 incident was a result of a raid in which the police officers were given faulty information, the New York Daily News reported Sunday.

"They didn't tell me what they were looking for or why they were here," said Alisaleh Moshad Ali, 50, the Yemeni immigrant whose house was broken into. "They just told me to get on the floor."

The police later apologized, after finding that they were at the wrong address. However, Ali and his wife, Leslie, 30, have not received any explanation for the $2,000 Ali says went missing from his jacket, which was in a closet.

Police argue Ali left the house for 30 minutes after the incident, leaving someone else the opportunity to steal the money since the door was reportedly broken.

The Daily News reported the police department has been receiving an increased number of complaints involving raids on the wrong homes.

As this Metafilter post points out, that's six botched raids in the last five weeks. That we know of.

Last September, civil rights attorney Joel Berger and I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about how New York City officials have reneged on their promises to reform the way drug raids are executed after the 2003 wrong-door raid that resulted in the death of 57-year-old Alberta Spruill. Looks like they've not only not learned much, but the problem is getting worse. There are some pretty striking similarities between Spruill's death and that of Kathryn Johnston. I hope Atlanta learns better than New York. I have my doubts.

Meanwhile, the family of Sal Culosi tells me that the Justice Department has found no criminal civil rights violations in the SWAT shooting of the 37-year old Virginia optometrist, who was under investigation for gambling on football with friends. While I understand the finding, it's still frustrating when combined with the fact that no state criminal charges will be filed, either. If a non-police citizen of Virginia pointed a loaded weapon at a fellow citizen which resulted in an accidental discharge and death, he'd almost certainly face charges, at least of some sort of criminal negligence. This police officer got a short suspension, and will keep his job.

The Culosi family is moving forward with a civil suit.

Another Isolated Incident

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Another botched, wrong-door drug raid. This one's got it all. Terrified immigrants who don't speak English, a roughed-up pregnant woman, a man kicked in the groin, another woman with a heart condition, flashbang grenades, and assurances from the cops that this kind of thing happens "not very often." Fortunately no one was killed. Only terrified.

The police never contacted the landlord of the residence to verify. And when they raided the "right" address, the place was empty.