In another example of drug war excess, officers raided and vandalized the home of Beach Park, Illinois resident Paul Brown on Friday afternoon of last week. The apparent impetus for the raid was a mysterious package delivered to the house 10 minutes earlier. Brown’s son-in-law, Wilmer Aries, received the package and noted that it was not addressed to any of the house’s residents. Instead, it bore the name “Oscar” and an unfamiliar last name.
Brown, a 58-year-old architect, explained that the officers with the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group broke down his front door in the no-knock raid, handcuffed him, and pointed a gun at his face. “The garage door was open. They could have just walked in,” he said. “They didn’t have to crash the front door down.”
Although the officers seized the package, claiming it contained marijuana, their two-hour ransacking of the house, including ripping out insulation from the basement walls, uncovered no evidence to incriminate anyone in the house and led to no arrests. “They were upset they didn’t find anything. When I asked them who was going to pay for the door they basically said, ‘Not us’,” said Brown, who noted the door on his luxury home was valued at $3,000 some 12 years ago and the lock set was another $130 from Home Depot.
Brown even noted that the officers, far from apologizing for their mistake, seemed to be congratulating each other on the operation with high fives and fist-bumps. His subsequent calls to the MEG were not returned, nor were calls from news outlets. He has hired a lawyer to file a civil suit and explains that he and his 77-year-old mother-in-law were particularly shaken by the incident. “She’s afraid to even take a nap on the couch now,” he said. “I can hardly sleep. It changes your frame of mind.” His lawyer, Christopher Cohen, characterized the Browns as “innocent bystanders in the war on drugs.”
As Reason.com notes, this is not the first time a wrongful no-knock raid was carried out in the U.S. based simply on the delivery of a package of marijuana. In 2008, the home of Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, was raided by a SWAT team and his two dogs fatally shot. The mayor complained, leading to an investigation, but as the raid was ultimately ruled legitimate, this will likely not be the last such incident.
Earlier this month, a story came out about a series of raids carried out in a Tuscon, Arizona neighborhood that were part of a marijuana trafficking investigation. There was sketchy information at first, but what was certain was that a 26-year-old father and ex-Marine who served two tours in Iraq was dead after suffering at least 60 gunshot wounds at the hands of the Pima County SWAT team.
This kind of overwhelming force is inappropriate for enforcing marijuana prohibition in almost any context, but there could be extenuating circumstances that justified its use, such as the fact that the victim, Jose Guerena, was armed, and the allegation that he threatened officers. At least, that is what the Pima County Sheriff's Department is trying to make everyone think.
Soon after the incident, the media started looking into the facts of the case, and the story of what happened that morning looked less and less believable. In an article for the Huffington Post, Radley Balko investigates the circumstances surrounding Jose Guerena's death, and the efforts by the police to hinder any such investigation. Here is an excerpt, but please take the time to read the entire article here.
Perhaps we will at some point see convincing evidence that Dupnik and Storie are right -- that Jose Guerena was in fact a drug dealer and violent criminal who dressed up like a cop to rob rival drug dealers and innocent citizens of Pima County. But at this point, all we have is a dead father and veteran, a violent series of raids that make little sense, and a police agency that over the last three weeks has put out incorrect information, insisted that it would be dangerous to release any further information, and, at the same time, allowed a police representative to release information favorable to the department.
It is high time the public holds people in powerful positions accountable for their abuses, and not allow them to quiet us with the argument that their actions are in our own best interests.
Update: New information, courtesy of Radley Balko.
Here is the video of the raid:
If you are one of the many people that showed your friends, co-workers, and family the video of Columbia, Mo. SWAT officers raiding the home of Jonathan Whitworth and shooting his dogs immediately after kicking in the door, then you helped make a real difference for the people of Columbia and elsewhere.
According to Ken Burton, police chief of Columbia, the public outcry that followed the release and viral spread of this disturbing video forced his department to make major changes to the way in which it uses its SWAT teams. The direct result of this has been that “dynamic entry” of the sort that led to the tragic events in the video has not been used for drug enforcement once in 2011!
This is a wonderful example of how information-sharing and public pressure can have a direct impact on the unjust and violent policies of the war on drugs. We have the power to change things for the better, and we have to use it. Simply sharing videos is not enough, however. We need to consistently engage anyone and everyone on the issues arising from the prohibition of marijuana, and keep doing so until the truth is impossible to ignore. This is a good start!
In the latest development in the quest for justice in Columbia, Missouri, Jonathan Whitworth and family are suing the officers responsible for a botched February SWAT raid that endangered their lives and resulted in the death of one of their dogs.
This story received national attention when a video was released showing the police entering the home in what they call a “dynamic entry” and immediately opening fire, killing one dog and injuring another. After enormous pressure from the media and activist community, the Columbia Police Chief agreed to revise the city’s SWAT guidelines to prevent further incidents.
Unfortunately, the officers involved were never disciplined for their dangerous behavior, and both the chief and police review board found that they had acted appropriately. While this family will have to suffer the lasting pain of losing a pet and the trauma of a violent intrusion in their lives, the paramilitary thugs that terrorized them, over a gram of marijuana and a pipe, suffered no consequences whatsoever.
Let’s hope the judge hearing this case feels differently.
Just in case you haven’t seen the video, this is what the officers are being sued for:
In the aftermath of the recently release video showing a family terrorized and their pets shot by a SWAT team in Columbia, Missouri, that city's police chief is now saying he supports efforts to change marijuana laws so officers will no longer need to spend time and resources enforcing them.
During a press conference yesterday, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton went out of his way to state his support for ending marijuana prohibition.
"I applaud your efforts," he told a reporter who asked about campaigns to change marijuana laws. "If we could get out of the business [of going after marijuana offenders], I think there would be a lot of police officers that would be happy to do that."
After reviewing the results of a four-month internal investigation, the chief announced that his officers acted appropriately during the February SWAT raid that resulted in the death of a dog and endangered a young child.
Columbia police are currently updating their policies to hopefully prevent further incidents, but the decision to use extreme force in executing a warrant for marijuana possession has been widely criticized as being contrary to city law. Columbia passed a law in 2004 making marijuana violations the lowest law enforcement priority. Unfortunately, as the chief points out, state laws can still interfere with officers' abilities to go after real criminals.
Chief Burton also acknowledged that violence surrounding marijuana is often associated with the illegal market created by prohibition, and not the drug itself. "Crimes do occur because of marijuana," he said. "And you may make the argument that it's because it's not legal, and you may be right."
And if there was any lingering doubt about the sincerity of his remarks, the chief even gave a big thumbs up to the cameras.
Well, a big thumbs up to you too, chief. Hopefully, you won't have to worry about enforcing irrational marijuana laws for much longer.
Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has stated on many occasions that his vocabulary does not include the word “legalization.” Now today, we learn that our nation’s top drug warrior doesn’t know the meaning of the word “prohibition” either.
Sadly, I’m not making this up.
In an online video interview today with the Washington Post, Kerlikowske says the Obama administration is “very much opposed” to taxing and regulating marijuana because—get this—he says the taxes paid on alcohol do not make up for the “criminal justice, health care, [and] social costs” of alcohol consumption. Oh, and he just assumes taxes on marijuana wouldn’t either, though he doesn’t bother to mention the billions of dollars we could save on law enforcement, prison, judicial and environmental costs by calling for an end to the futile and unwinnable war the government wages against our country’s largest cash crop and the millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans who use it.
This bizarre answer prompts Post editor Fred Hiatt, the interviewer, to ask an obvious question: “So … are you looking at the prohibition of alcohol?”
The drug czar chuckles. “No,” he says, “we’re not exploring prohibition.”
Actually, Mr. Kerlikowske, you’re enforcing prohibition (defined as a “law, order or decree that forbids something”). It’s the same prohibition—on marijuana—that the federal government has kept intact for more than 70 years, despite its undeniable failure to meet any of its stated goals, and of which you are now the chief overseer.
Your prohibition, Mr. Kerlikowske, leads to the arrest of more than 750,000 Americans every year, all for mere possession of a substance that is demonstrably safer than alcohol, the very notion of (again) prohibiting you yourself find laughable. Marijuana prohibition, meanwhile, has deprived countless sick people of potentially live-saving medicine, endangered peaceful families in terrorizing and unnecessary SWAT raids that murder their pets, and killed more than 22,000 people in Mexico in less than four years of prohibition-fueled violence.
There’s nothing funny about prohibition, Mr. Kerlikowske. You might want to stop laughing, pick up a dictionary, and think long and hard about what it means.
The brutal methods used by SWAT teams throughout the country are not news in the war on drugs. This steady militarization of our police forces in the pursuit of drug seizures has largely gone unnoticed in the press until recently, when some high-profile incidents highlighted some of the uglier tactics used when raiding potential drug dens.
Two such cases were those of Tarika Wilson, who was killed while holding her baby, and Cheye Calvo, the mayor of a small Maryland town who had his home raided and two black Labradors killed by local SWAT because a package of marijuana was sent to his house without his knowledge.
A similar incident occurred on Feb. 11 in Columbia Missouri, resulting in the death of one dog and the shooting of another during a raid on the home of Jonathan Whitworth, who police suspected of selling marijuana. Police stormed into his house and immediately opened fire on the dogs, before they realized that there was a 7-year-old child in the house. A grinder, a pipe, and a small amount of marijuana were found, but no evidence of distribution.
Watch the video below, keeping in mind that police later tried to charge Whitworth with child endangerment, as if having a little marijuana in the home is more dangerous to a child's wellbeing than storming into their house with automatic weapons and killing their dogs.
Spokesperson Officer Jessie Haden defended the decision to commence the raid without verifying who was in the home by saying, “If you let too much time go by, then the drugs are not there.” Well they weren’t. But no one paid too much attention until the video surfaced that showed the raid in detail. Now people are paying attention.
It’s a little sad that it requires graphic video of dogs yelping as they die and a child being rushed out the door to get people to ask questions about something that happens all too often in every state in this country because of the government's war on marijuana.