A plane crash in Colorado took the lives of one current and one former law enforcement officer on Friday. Pueblo County Sheriff’s Captain Leide DeFusco and retired Pueblo police captain John Barger were both in the plane when it crashed in the San Isabel National Forest. Barger, who was flying the plane, has been described as an experienced pilot and a flying enthusiast. Contact with the plane was lost at about 9:30 a.m., while the wreck was found around 7:00 p.m., and the precise cause of the crash is still under investigation. The crash site, in Custer County, was in rough terrain and difficult for rescue crews to access.
Whatever the immediate cause of the crash, however, our failed marijuana policies certainly played a part. The sheriff’s office reports that the two were searching for marijuana plants that day. Marijuana grow sites in the Wet Mountains had been raided just weeks earlier, and the two men were looking for suspected additional sites nearby. Flying low over unfamiliar terrain to look for hidden cannabis plants is one of many drug war tactics that put officers in unnecessary danger. This includes not only the hazards of low-altitude flying, but the threat of violence from marijuana growers.
Planes on anti-drug missions have certainly been shot down in the past, presumably by those involved in the illicit drug trade in attempts to defend their investments, and illicit marijuana growers on public land are “typically armed” and connected with organized crime, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.
Perhaps the police should focus on more serious crimes, so that instead of trying to find plants hidden in the mountains, they could simply interview victims and witnesses to track down perpetrators, without resorting to such adventurous spy tactics. If private, peaceful activity like growing marijuana were outside the definition of crime, unfortunate incidents like this would not occur, nor would there be an incentive for dangerous criminals to operate on public lands far from prying eyes.