Posts Tagged ‘swat’
by Robert Corry, Huffington Post
It is 5:00 a.m. on a cold dark Colorado morning. Twenty-five SWAT team officers, clad in black helmets, body armor, wielding assault weapons, large clear shields, and heavy iron battering rams, surround a quiet residential home, shatter the front door, and throw flash-bang grenades and tear gas inside.
The team of 25 militarized cops stream into the house, screaming obscenities, shattering the terrified childrens’ sleep and jarring the scared parents awake. The SWAT team then literally destroys the home and the furniture within, slashing couches, overturning bookcases, throwing possessions all over the floor, carting the crying children off to Social Services or foster care, and throwing the parents to the ground at gunpoint, handcuffing them painfully before carting them off to the police station.
The SWAT team then locates its target: a couple dozen three-foot high cannabis plants in a modest indoor basement garden, and a pound or so of dried plant matter, some lights, some fertilizer, and a few books on how to grow marijuana.
This is not an extreme example. This scene literally happens every day in America, a nation that loudly professes that it is a “free” country, but that leads the globe in per capita incarceration of its own people, a rate that exceeds those of human rights leaders such as North Korea, China, and Iran, due mostly to the war on drugs.
And this scene embodies America’s war on marijuana. A government this large, this powerful, this intrusive, this belligerent, is necessary to fight this modern-day prohibition against a simple herb thatapproximately half of the American adult population has consumed at some point in their lives. There are so many reasons this must change:
The war on marijuana costs us money. The direct costs to local, state, and federal governments are staggering and exceed a trillion dollars. Police, prosecutors, probation officers, judges, courts, jailers, prison guards, and defense lawyers form a massive prison-industrial complex that distracts limited resources away from our failing economy and other more important priorities. The indirect costs to the economy, though more difficult to quantify, are probably higher in the form of people removed from their families and their jobs, the opportunity costs of distracted police and jammed courts too busy to adjudicate important criminal and civil cases. We also lose out on the benefits of industrial hemp, which has no recreational effect but which could be an extremely useful crop for American farmers and industry.
And all of this money has been wasted — accomplishing, like so many other heavy-handed government programs, the precise opposite result of that which was intended. Even the U.S. government’s drug czar (it is appropriate that this government position is named after an imperial Russian tyrant), Gil Kerlikowski, admits that the 40-year experiment with drug prohibition has been an abject failure.
Decades of drug prohibition has not accomplished a single of its goals. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As our governments at all levels pour more lawyers, guns, and money into this militarized marijuana prohibition, people still obtain it — easily — and supply and demand is totally uninterrupted on a macro scale; one dealer falls, another pops up. Under Einstein’s definition, our government is literally insane.
The war on marijuana is alien to the principles of a free nation founded on the principles of limited government and personal responsibility. The negative impact of marijuana prohibition laws far outstrip the negative impact of the substance itself, which is one of the few things on Earth that has no practical lethal dose, it is basically harmless.
Humans in all cultures have used the cannabis plant since the dawn of history for medicinal, spiritual, industrial, and recreational purposes; only in the 20th century did it occur to any government to prohibit it. Thomas Jefferson and other founders grew cannabis on their plantations. The Declaration of Independence is written on hemp paper. Even Genesis 1:29 confirms that God gave man every seed-bearing plant on the Earth. God giveth, government taketh.
The history of American marijuana prohibition and “reefer madness” shows that its practical and legal basis is a house of cards. An outgrowth of alcohol prohibition which arose in roughly the same era,marijuana prohibition was born out of racially-charged fears of Mexicans and blacks.
For the American government to prohibit the cannabis plant, that government must declare war on its own principles. Such a prohibition then contributes to overall erosion in the general population’s respect for the rule of law, because the aggressive enforcement of this law touches so many people and makes the law itself — not just marijuana laws, but all laws and law enforcement officials — a joke.
The body armor-clad government stormtroopers are necessary to prosecute the war on marijuana. That level of expensive and intrusive force is necessary if cannabis, widely used and widely accepted, is to be prohibited from our private homes and lives. But perhaps the best brief against prohibition is the fact that marijuana is widely available to prisoners in America’s prisons and jails. Prisons and jails are the most tightly regulated, highly government-controlled locations in the world. If the government cannot keep marijuana outside of these places, can anyone seriously argue prohibition is enforceable in the general population?
The war on marijuana, like alcohol prohibition before it, creates and fuels the criminal underclass, organized crime, and domestic and foreign drug cartels. It is basic Economics 101: where there is a demand, a supply will be created to meet it, period. Human demand for marijuana, like alcohol, has lasted thousands of years, and will never go away. Leading economists like Milton Friedman have long seen the drug war as an economically-bankrupt policy.
If marijuana were legalized and taxed, violent drug cartels would lose the principal source of their income. Marijuana ought to be treated like a more dangerous substance: alcohol, available at the corner liquor store, and taxed and regulated. How many Mexican drug cartels smuggle beer over the border? Ban it, and you would see many. Create a regulated legal market for it, and the drug cartels are not involved.
It is literally easier for American schoolchildren to obtain marijuana than beer.
That is because the government has created the black market in marijuana, making it more accessible to children. There is no black market in beer. It is relatively cheap and easy to obtain, for adults, but difficult for children. Prohibition increases childrens’ attraction to marijuana; the “forbidden fruit” is always sweeter.
For all of these reasons and many more, Americans have now passed the critical 50 percent threshold in support for legalization of marijuana. (These polls typically understate support, as many Americans are understandably reluctant to admit to using or supporting marijuana to an anonymous telephone surveyor.) Even conservative televangelist Pat Robertson recently acknowledged that marijuana ought to be legal.
It is long past time for politicians at all levels to end this bankrupt policy of Prohibition, and stop breaking down the doors of Americans who only want to possess a harmless plant in the comfort of their own homes.
Paul Foy, Associated Press
A Utah police officer who died in a shootout that wounded five colleagues and the suspect had long-dreamed of a life in law enforcement, despite the risks of the job, family members said.
Ogden officer Jared Francom died early Thursday at a hospital, hours after he and a team of bulletproof vest-wearing officers rapped on the door of a small, red-brick Ogden house to serve a search warrant in a drug investigation.
When no one responded, the officers burst inside only to meet a hail of gunfire, authorities say.
“Jared died doing what he loved,” brother Travis Francom said. “He worried at times, for his safety. I don’t think so much for himself, but for his family, his two little girls and his wife … but I don’t think he was ever afraid.”
When it was over Wednesday night, a seven-year veteran officer was dead and five other officers were injured, some critically. The suspect, an Army veteran whose estranged father said suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and may have been self-medicating with marijuana, was injured.
Now, as the city tries to grapple with the outburst of violence and the loss of one of its officers, investigators are trying to determine how the raid as part of a drug investigation could have gone so terribly wrong.
“It’s a very, very sad day,” an emotional Ogden Police Chief Wayne Tarwater said Thursday.
About 400 people, including officers in uniform from across Utah, attended a candlelight vigil to honor Francom at an outdoor amphitheater Thursday evening. A moment of silence was observed, and a slide show of Francom and his fellow officers wounded in the shooting was shown.
Francom’s wife of seven years, Erin, stood on stage and fought back tears during the short program. The couple has two daughters, ages 5 and 3.
Police declined to reveal details of the shooting besides a general timeline, citing the ongoing investigation.
They would not say, for instance, whether the shootout took place entirely inside the home or spilled out into the yard, how many shots were fired and how many guns were recovered.
There will be several investigations, including one by Ogden police and another outside probe by prosecutors.
Among the questions that authorities will try to answer was whether the officers, in the chaotic moments upon entering the house, may have inadvertently fired on each other.
Police said the warrant was based on information about possible drug activity, but would not say what officers were specifically looking for inside Matthew David Stewart’s home, which sits across the street from a Mormon church meeting house.
Stewart, 37, was in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, authorities said. He does not have an attorney yet.
Utah court records show Stewart’s criminal history includes only a 2005 conviction for a class B misdemeanor traffic violation — operating a vehicle without insurance. A judge found him guilty after a bench trial and ordered him to pay a $350 fine.
State officials also placed a pair of tax liens on Stewart last August.
Stewart served in the Army from July 1994 to December 1998, spending a year based in Fort Bragg, N.C., and nearly three years stationed in Germany, Army records show.
He held a post as a communications equipment specialist, earning an Army Achievement Medal and a National Defense Service Medal. Both are given for completing active service, although they don’t indicate exceptional acts of valor.
Stewart’s father, Michael Stewart, said his son works a night shift at a local Walmart and may have been sleeping when police arrived.
“When they kicked in the door, he probably felt threatened,” said Michael Stewart, who has been estranged from his son for more than a year, but keeps track of him through his two other sons.
The elder Stewart said his son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and may have been treating it with small amounts of pot. He said he believes his son may have been growing the weed himself.
He said he didn’t believe his son owned any automatic weapons and that the family is upset by what happened. “This is my son’s problem and we’re grieving for him and all of the officers,” Michael Stewart said. “I’m dead sick about it.”
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said it wasn’t yet clear what charges Stewart might face once the shooting investigation concludes.
“But it appears right now, with the information we have, that we have an aggravated murder as well as a number of other attempted aggravated murders,” Smith said, choking back tears.
Aggravated murder is a capital crime and, if convicted, Stewart could face the death penalty.
By midday Thursday, more than 1,000 friends and strangers had expressed their support and gratitude for Francom and his family on a memorial Facebook page with prayers, poems and other message. Some posters swapped out their profile pictures for a black logo with a blue stripe representing fallen officers.
Francom’s three brothers held a short news conference just before Thursday’s vigil, lauding him as an “awesome man,” who loved adventure and was an example of service and dedication.
“From early childhood, Jared was determined to serve in law enforcement. He was dedicated to his fellow officers and to the public that he served,’ Travis Francom said. “He was a great father, husband, brother, son and friend and he’ll be greatly missed.”
Travis Francom also thanked the community for the outpouring of support shown for the family and asked for continued prayers for the other officers.
“In addition we encourage everyone to remember the family of the suspect as they have a long road ahead of them as well,” he said. “I’m sure this must be a difficult time for them.”
Authorities said the conditions of the other officers ranged from serious to critical. They are Ogden officers Shawn Grogan, Kasey Burrell and Michael Rounkles, Weber County sheriff’s Sgt. Nate Hutchinson and Roy officer Jason VanderWarf.
Kevin Burrell, Kasey Burrell’s father, said his son was shot in the head. A seven-year veteran of the police force, the younger Burrell was sedated but appears to be improving, his father said.
On Wednesday, witnesses said they heard three quick pops followed by a two- to three-minute pause, then lots of gunfire and officers yelling at someone to “put your hands up,” in the backyard.
Outside Stewart’s house on Thursday armed SWAT officers clothed in camouflage remained on guard as police continued their search of the property. The yard was taped off and dotted with numbered evidence markers.
Residents said they were shocked to hear there was any drug activity in the area or a shootout on their street.
by Janey Urquhart, The Aspen Times
“It’s certainly a lot more risky business than I intended to get into,” said the owner of Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness near Basalt, who asked not to be named. “Yes, I’m worried, but I have confidence we’re going to be OK.
“In the state of Colorado, we’ve been regulated a lot more than in other states. I think they’re going to leave most of us alone as long as we’re complying with state law.”
Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness first opened in the Aspen Business Center before relocating to a location outside of Basalt early this year. It’s one of a handful of medical marijuana businesses that operate in unincorporated Pitkin County and complies only with state laws. The county declined to regulate medical marijuana at the advice of county attorney John Ely.
Regulations had been drawn up and were ready for formal review when he advised county commissioners to drop the whole thing last summer.
“I don’t think the county should be in the position of abetting the violation of federal law,” Ely told commissioners in June, when they subsequently voted to reject the proposed rules. Ely was scheduled to update commissioners on the state’s medical marijuana regulations behind closed doors last week; the conversation is now scheduled Tuesday instead. He said he wants to update commissioners on the status of state law but isn’t advocating any change in the county’s course of action.
Last summer, he advised commissioners that the county should not ask its employees to issue licenses to marijuana businesses and enforce zoning laws related to medical marijuana because it puts them in a position of potential criminal liability.
Operators themselves, however, remain caught in the quandary of engaging in a business that violates federal law but is permitted under state law. There are 667 retail shops, or dispensaries, 926 cultivation operations and 246 infused-product manufacturers operating under Colorado law, according to figures from the state Revenue Department. The state is one of 16, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical use.
“Yeah, it’s a little nerve-racking,” Billy Miller, a partner in L.E.A.F., said of the potential federal crackdown in Colorado. L.E.A.F. was one of the first Aspen dispensaries to open when the industry exploded in Colorado in 2009. Its parent company also operates two growing facilities, both located in unincorporated Garfield County.
L.E.A.F. was recently inspected by a state official with the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division in a routine check for compliance, Miller said. Operators face daunting paperwork and filing requirements.
“There’s quite a bit of administrative work to the business right now,” he said.
Lauren Maytin, an Aspen attorney who advises more than a dozen marijuana businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley as well as others around the state, believes the feds will target blatant violators, not operators who are working diligently to follow the letter of Colorado law.
“You’re within 1,000 feet of a school, you’re in trouble,” she said. Large-scale growers could also draw scrutiny, she predicted.
“Quite frankly, they could come in and arrest everybody,” Maytin said. “If they’re not going to do that, then they’re looking for something.”
February 2010, the Columbia Police Department in Columbia, Missouri, raided a Columbia residence on the basis of a confidential informant’s testimony and marijuana residue found through a trash pull. The confidential informant was never identified, and the SWAT raid occurred without any pre-raid intelligence or surveillance, 8 days after the search warrant had been signed. A video was made of the raid for training purposes, and released to the public in May 2010, sparking an international response as the video immediately went viral. The video shows Columbia SWAT entering the residence at night and immediately shooting the family pets, then manhandling the family inside as they cleared the house. Only a minuscule amount of marijuana was found, and the target of the raid, Jon Whitworth, was charged with felony child endangerment.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted summary judgement to dismiss the civil rights suit (raised under 42 U.S.C. § 1983) of Jonathan Whitworth, Brittany Whitworth, and their son. The civil rights claim stems from a February 2010 Columbia, Missouri SWAT raid that went viral when police footage was obtained by the Columbia Tribune.
At issue in the motion for summary judgement was whether the police officers’ discretionary behavior was reasonable, in the context of the situation, and whether it violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would be aware (Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982), Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)).
Such motions, under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, are to be looked at in the most favorable light to the non-movant (Whitworth).
In reality, law enforcement is afforded such favorable light, via judicial imaginings of what might have been reasonable, that “qualified immunity provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335 (1986)
It is no surprise that Judge Laughrey was able to rationalize a context in which it might have been reasonable for an officer to kick Jonathan Whitworth in the head while he lay face down, unarmed, before a fully armed SWAT tactical unit.
“Thus, even if Hendrick indeed kicked Whitworth, a single kick to force swift compliance with an order, and to deter hesitation incompliance with future orders from a dangerous suspect, would be objectively reasonable in this context. It is also uncontested that Whitworth suffered no injury from this contact except pain.” Whitworth v. Bolinger
In the execution of the warrant, a paramilitary SWAT team entered the Whitworth’s family home. Police fired seven shots while in the Whitworth home. Both of the Whitworth family dogs were shot. One of the dogs was killed. The couple’s seven year old child was witness to the raid. Jonathan Whitworth was kicked in the head. Brittany Whitworth and her child were directed at gun point. As a result of the the raid, the police were able to find some drug paraphernalia and a small amount of cannabis. The police, initially, charged the Whitworths with child endangerment.
“The Court agrees that ideally officers would execute search warrants without pointing a gun at women and children not suspected of committing a crime. On the other hand, where officers are aware that a dangerous suspect and two large dogs are on the property, a reasonable officer could, in the heat of the moment, rely on such tactics to prod individuals to move swiftly through a potentially dangerous situation. This is especially true, where shouting and gun-pointing occurred as Mrs. Whitworth and P.M. stepped over Mr.Whitworth–who was lying on the floor–and the danger of resistance by any of the Whitworths was arguably at its highest. In this context, the behavior alleged by the Whitworths did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. The SWAT officers are thus entitled to qualified immunity on this claim.” Whitworth v. Bolinger
This is entirely consistent with scores of cases wherein citizens were plainly wronged and yet can find no corrective, civil recourse.
In 2010, Radley Balko described the false arrest and failed civil suit of Brian Kelly. The ordeal is as instructive as it is scary.
“When Rogers returned from writing a ticket, he noticed Kelly’s camera. Rogers demanded Kelly turn the camera off and hand it over to him. Kelly complied.
Rogers then returned to his car and called John Birbeck, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County. Rogers asked Birbeck if Kelly’s recording violated Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law. Birbeck incorrectly told him it did. Rogers then called in back-up officers and placed Kelly under arrest. During the arrest, Rogers “bumped” (the term Kelly used in his lawsuit) Kelly, causing a staple from a rugby injury to rupture, causing Kelly’s leg to bleed. Kelly spent the night (27 hours) in jail. He was eventually charged with a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed would later tell the Patriot-News that while he sympathized with Kelly not being aware that what he did was illegal, and that he might (graciously!) allow Kelly to plead to a misdemeanor, “Obviously, ignorance of the law is no defense.”
Here’s the problem: Freed was the one who was ignorant of the law. So was Birbeck. And so was Rogers. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that recording on-duty public officials is not a violation of the state’s wiretapping law because public officials have no legitimate expectation of privacy while they’re on the job. The order for Kelly to stop videotaping was illegal. So was Kelly’s arrest and his incarceration. Freed eventually dropped all charges.
Kelly filed a civil rights lawsuit against Rogers and the town of Carlisle. In May of last year, Federal District Court Judge Yvette Kane dismissed Kelly’s suit. The reason? As a police officer, Rogers is protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. In order to even get his case in front of a jury, Kelly has to show that Rogers (a) violated Kelly’s civil rights, and (b) the rights Rogers violated have been clearly established. Even if Kelly can meet those two burdens, he must also show that Roger’s actions in violating Kelly’s rights were unreasonable.
So it isn’t enough that the police are wrong about the law. They have to be very obviously wrong for you to collect any damages from a wrongful arrest.”
Kelly’s civil suit (Kelly v. Borough Of Carlisle) claimed that the arrest had violated his rights guaranteed by the First and Fourth Amendments. Upon dismissal by summary judgement, Kelly appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly’s First Amendment claim was rejected. All claims against the Borough of Carlisle were rejected. The summary judgement on Kelly’s Fourth Amendment claim was vacated and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Third Circuit’s analysis. The remand instructed,
“that police officer who relies in good faith on a prosecutor’s legal opinion that the arrest is warranted under the law is presumptively entitled to qualified immunity from Fourth Amendment claims premised on a lack of probable cause. That reliance must itself be objectively reasonable, however, because “a wave of the prosecutor’s wand cannot magically transform an unreasonable probable cause determination into a reasonable one.” Accordingly, a plaintiff may rebut this presumption by showing that, under all the factual and legal circumstances surrounding the arrest, a reasonable officer would not have relied on the prosecutor’s advice.”
In analyzing the holding, Harvard Law Review noted,
“The Third Circuit had previously allocated the burdens of production reasonably: once the plaintiff established a prima facie case of wrongful arrest, the court required the police officer defendant to show probable cause, and it required the defendant to prove his or her qualified immunity defense. This arrangement accommodated the plaintiff’s limited right to pretrial discovery and the officer’s information advantage regarding the plaintiff’s arrest. The court’s opinion in Kelly will upset this sensible allocation in cases in which the police officer has consulted with a prosecutor: the plaintiff will now have the burden of showing that the officer was objectively unreasonable in following the advice. Kelly is representative of the plaintiffs on whom this burden will fall. He was neither committing nor about to commit a crime. A police officer nonetheless arrested him, and he went to jail. Because the arrest was made without probable cause, it violated Kelly’s Fourth Amendment right. Moreover, the law was clearly established in the relevant jurisdiction that the officer’s basis for arresting Kelly did not constitute probable cause. Thus, a reasonable officer would have known that he was violating Kelly’s rights. Yet, solely because a prosecutor confirmed the police officer’s inaccurate interpretation of the law, Kelly (and similarly situated civil rights plaintiffs) will now be required to produce evidence to rebut the judicially mandated inference that the police officer’s violation of his clearly established constitutional right was objectively reasonable. This presumption is unlikely to increase legal consultation; instead, it will allow courts to relieve law enforcement officers of their responsibility to exercise independent professional judgment and will decrease the likelihood that constitutional violations will be redressed.”
Qualified immunity has become so expansive that it frequently fails to correct these constitutional violations.
Simultaneously, law enforcement is increasingly funded by separate revenue streams that are not directly answerable to local voter intent. Big money is coming in from asset forfeitures and federal law enforcement grants. Each dollar acquired outside of the legislative appropriation model is one less piece of control that the citizenry wield. The funds are not enough to ignore the citizenry, but we do see prioritization that is substantially at odds with voter intent.
The Whitworth warrant was predicated on unnamed sources that claimed Jonathan Whitworth was a major cannabis dealer. That was more than five years after Columbia, Missouri passed a proposition to make the enforcement of cannabis the lowest priority by law enforcement. The measure passed by a 61% to 39% vote.
An estimated 130-150 SWAT raids occur everyday in the United States. That is some 40,000-50,000 paramilitary operations every year.
We are simultaneously escalating domestic paramilitary activity, increasing immunity from prosecution, and ceding budgetary control.