L.A. Liberty

A Libertarian in Leftywood

Burned Babies and the Militarization of American Policing →

Police Home Invaders →

An innocent woman hid in a closet when armed strangers unexpectedly broke into her apartment. While cowering in fear, she was discovered by one of the intruders — actually a police officer raiding the wrong address — who promptly shot her in the chest after opening the closet door.

The botched raid was part of a joint narcotics investigation by the Nassau County Police Force Bureau of Special Operations (BSO), the Town of Hempstead Police Department, and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.

When officers had reason to suspect that someone was in possession of arbitrarily banned substances, a search warrant was signed by a New York judge, authorizing police to break down the suspect’s door at any time they felt appropriate without warning. The no-knock warrant was “justified by the possibility that evidence would be destroyed,” according to official documents.

The warrant left off a crucial fact. The target address was a residential property that contained 2 separate apartments. The downstairs and upstairs of the property were separated, and contained completely unrelated tenants. However, the warrant broadly (and negligently) granted police the authorization to search the entire premises without distinction — even though it included the home of a woman not suspected of any crime.

The raid team was dispatched to the property on May 13, 2010. It consisted of Officers Michael Capobianco, Carl Campbell, Joseph Grella, Dwight Blankenship, and Nassau County Police Sargent Hermann. Also present was Thomas Bidell, an investigator with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.

The men proceeded to use a battering ram to breach the door of the downstairs apartment, which belonged to the suspect of their investigation. Officers charged in with rifles and began searching the house. When they encountered an impassable staircase, one of them yelled, “Alternate breach!” and the men exited the home and proceeded with breaching the basement and upper apartment in a similar fashion.

Iyanna Davis, age 22 at the time, resided in the upper-floor apartment and was hiding in a closet after hearing the violent commotion in the downstairs living unit. She stated that she did not know the intruders were police officers and assumed the home was being targeted by criminal home invaders.

The officers had split up at this point and only Officers Capobianco and Campbell were on the upper floor searching Davis’ apartment. Versions of what happened next varied between police and the innocent tenant. The result was Officer Capobianco firing his rifle at Ms. Davis, striking her with a single bullet that traveled through her breast, abdomen, and both thighs.

Police made various claims about the shooting, including an assertion that Ms. Davis had jumped out of the closet, as well as another version that claimed she held the closet door shut as cops tried to open it from the outside, causing clumsy officer Capobianco to fall down and negligently discharge his rifle. The victim’s story, however, included her pleading for her life.

“I told them I was afraid and do not shoot me, and one officer screamed at me to put my hands above my head,” Ms. Davis said in a deposition. “That’s when I heard the shot and I felt myself sit down because the force actually knocked me back on my backside.”

The indisputable facts of the case held that Ms. Davis had nothing to do with the investigation, yet she ended up being shot while unarmed in her own home by a police officer who should never have been there. Despite this breathtaking display of negligence and incompetence, the department investigated itself and cleared its officers of any wrongdoing.

>”the department investigated itself and cleared its officers of any wrongdoing.”

Finally, after wrangling in the legal system for over 4 years, Nassau County agreed to settle with Ms. Davis to the tune of $650,000. As part of the settlement, the police internal investigation was officially sealed. According to Charles Horn, Ms. Davis’ attorney, this was to prevent its many “inaccuracies” from coming to light, which were falsely presented to convey justification for shooting an unarmed woman.

Taxpayers footed the bill, and no police officers received any sort of reprimand or termination.

Police ineptitude and corruption are practically inevitable, but they are enabled and magnified in scope by the existence of intrusive laws and widespread militaristic enforcement techniques. An end to the cruel Drug War and the overuse of no-knock raids would prevent situations like this from ever occurring.

>”Taxpayers footed the bill, and no police officers received any sort of reprimand or termination.”

Per usual.

How Cops Steal Millions →

Texas law enforcement are continuing to enrich themselves using a little-known legal doctrine known as civil forfeiture, according to a new series of investigative reports. Under civil forfeiture, property can be forfeited even if its owner has never been charged with a crime. In these proceedings, accused criminals have more rights than innocent owners and the government sues the property, not its owner. These cases can be so baffling, one Texas Supreme Court Justice recently compared civil forfeiture to Alice in Wonderland and the works of Franz Kafka. But civil forfeiture isn’t just a quirky curiosity—it’s a powerful incentive for law enforcement to take millions.

Last month, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the District Attorney’s Office in Tarrant County, Texas seized $3.5 million, plus almost 250 cars and 440 computers in fiscal year 2013, roughly equal to about 10 percent of its budget. Of the property seized, almost $845,000 was spent on salaries for 16 employees at the office. By comparison, only $53,000 went to “six nonprofits that benefit victims or prosecution efforts.” The county’s narcotics unit spent an even greater proportion of forfeiture funds on salaries. Last year, the unit seized $666,427 in cash and used $426,058 to pay salaries.

Even more property was forfeited by participating in a federal program known as “equitable sharing.” By partnering with a federal agency, local and state law enforcement can keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from a forfeited property. Incredibly, police can collaborate even if doing so would circumvent their own states’ protections for property owners. …

In Texas, law enforcement can keep up to 90 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property. That clearly affects police priorities and provides an incentive to pursue cases rich in assets. In another article, the Star-Telegram delved into the forfeiture battle that ensued after law enforcement busted a low-level drug ring at Texas Christian University (TCU). Police arrested twenty-three people for selling marijuana, pills and other controlled substances. Most of those arrested were TCU students, including four members of the football team. No one went to prison; they got probation, deferred adjudication or the charges were dismissed. Others received punishments as low as $300 in court costs.

Yet by using civil forfeiture, police seized over $300,000 worth of property from the students, including 15 cars, trucks and SUVs valued at more than $250,000; over $46,000 in cash; and over $17,000 from laptops, iPads, iPhones and the like. As the paper noted, “The items were seized before formal charges were filed and months before any convictions.” But according to an after-action report issued by the Fort Worth Police Department, the drugs seized in the investigation only had an estimated street value of $29,000. So the property seized was worth far more than the drugs that were actually taken off the streets.

Civil forfeiture creates a “perverse incentive” and “skews law enforcement priorities,” noted Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “It’s one of the worst stepchildren of the war on some drugs.”

Among the TCU cases, cash and electronic devices were typically forfeited to the state. As for the cars, some students were able to retrieve them, but only after months of waiting and negotiations. One student paid $7,500 in an “economic agreement” with Tarrant County to retrieve his Cadillac Escalade. Another person sent $17,500 to the county’s narcotics unit to get back his Ford F-150.

Across the state, pursuing forfeiture cases related to cannabis has generated millions for Texas police. Between 2002 and 2012, the federal government processed $64.3 million in cash and other valuables in civil and criminal marijuana forfeitures in Texas. According to the Wall Street Journal, that amount is the fourth highest in the nation.

No-knock SWAT raid leaves Texas father dead, family traumatized

Gun-wielding, black-suited law enforcers busted into a home with a battering ram, terrifying everyone inside and leaving one man dead. Newly released helmet-cam video of the incident shows in graphic detail how this violent no-knock raid produced yet another casualty in the vicious War on Drugs.

The raid took place on May 16th, 2013. So-called “Zero Tolerance Officers” from the Fort Worth Police Department staged raid on a suspected “drug house” with the intent of rounding up and imprisoning people for getting high without government permission. Police sought and received permission from Tarrant County Magistrate Cheyenne Minick to break into the home with no warning in order to surprise everyone inside.

As the video shows, sometime after 3:35 p.m., men in helmets and black uniforms sprinted through the yard with shotguns and pistols already drawn. A cop with a large steel battering ram instantly went to the front door and smashed it in without hesitation. From a first-person perspective, the video shows cops running into the home, aggressively screaming and aiming guns.

In a video obtained by WFAA, an officer holding a shotgun literally sweeps his barrel past everyone he sees in the living room. First a large man sleeping on the couch, then a tiny female child dressed in blue, a woman in purple, and three men seated at a round table.

“When they came in, they had their weapons drawn like we were members of a drug cartel,” a woman who was in the house told the Star-Telegraph.

Cops aim guns at Jermaine Darden. (Source: WFAA)

After sufficiently terrifying everyone with the surprise assault, officers proceeded to force everyone to lie face down on the floor in handcuffs.

Jermaine “DJ” Darden, 34, who had been startled awake by the intrusion, received particular attention from police. Darden, a large man who weighed over 300 pounds, was having physical difficulties after being forced to the ground with several officers on top of him. He was physically unable to breathe in that position due to his asthma condition, heart disease, and the weight of the police officers.

“They physically pulled him off the couch because, like I said, he was asleep,” explained his mother, Donna Randle,to CBS-DFW. “They pulled him off the couch and they tried to put him on his stomach. He can’t breathe on his stomach. He don’t even lie on the bed on his stomach.”

Officers characterized his futile struggle to breathe as being “met with resistance.” At least five officers piled on top of him, exacerbating his breathing problem.

A mass of inhumanity smothers Jermaine Darden.  (Source: WFAA)

Video also shows Mr. Darden being tasered at least twice — not because officers feared for their safety, but as a compliance tool. His body was painted with red laser dots, before a pop was heard as the sharp prongs of the device were thrust into his flesh. Sixteen seconds later, police jolted him again. Each jolt lasted for 5 seconds.

Witnesses said he was not resisting at all, only trying to breathe.

“He had his hands behind his back the whole time. But me and about five other people were hollering the whole time, ‘He cannot breathe like that. Please handcuff him on his side,’” said Randle. “But they ignored us and Tased him.”

Officers successfully handcuffed Mr. Darden, and eventually propped his limp body up into the sitting position. But he didn’t have long to live.

An officer forcefully props up Jermaine Darden's lifeless body. (Source: WFAA)

A witness, Cliff Crippen, said he saw paramedics bring Mr. Darden into the front yard to attempt to revive him.

“They were pounding on his chest and squeezing on an air bag,” said Crippen, 29. “I saw his arm fall limp and a police officer place it back on his chest, and I thought to myself, ‘He’s dead.’”

Crippen commented on the lack of urgency to reach the hospital: “They sat in the ambulance about 10 minutes before it moved. And then it rolled away, no lights, no sirens.”

Jermaine “DJ” Darden was pronounced dead at the hospital. He left behind a wife and 2 teenage sons. He was found him with nothing illegal in his possession.

Jermaine Darden and family.

It took months for the medical examiner to declare an official cause of death. While some expected the death to be a homicide, it was instead announced that Mr. Darden died of “natural causes.” No culpability was placed on the officers’ use of force or the multiple electrical shocks. Officially, it was just a coincidence that he died during the raid.

No, he didn’t die of natural causes, because if that’s the case, he would have [already] been dead,” his mother said. “They gave him a heart attack. They put him into a heart attack.”

Presented with a dismissive explanation for Darden’s death, a grand jury predictably let off the sole unnamed police officer who was reviewed for criminal liability.

The rivers of blood spilled in such senseless situations provides us with the most compelling and personal reason to end the violent Drug War. None of this would have the chance to happen if the government wasn’t fixated on micromanaging people’s personal decisions, sending enforcers who are prepared to kill or be killed in the name of senseless prohibition laws. (See more Drug War casualties covered by Police State USA).

Note in the video how the media, as is typical, peddles the police’s spin. 

At one point, the “reporter” quotes the police report that claims Darden was “actively resisting officers,” and then, as proof, he shows a two second clip of Darden and says “You can see him struggling with police here.” Of course„ that “struggling” is merely his attempts to survive.

This Just Smells Bad →

You can just smell the freedom.

Obama's 'Third Way' Looks a Lot Like the War on Drugs →

The Court and the Castle Doctrine →

[A]fter an extremely slow start using his clemency powers, the president has issued criteria for jailed nonviolent drug offenders to be eligible. More than 18,000 prisoners have applied, but the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an amendment in May preventing the use of federal funds for screening applications.

— 

Matt Welch (via letterstomycountry)

A response to the quote above from laliberty:

The blue #politics tag caught my eye here before I read the actual quote. I thought “what could reason’s Matt Welch have said to make it through the partisan censors at the #politics tag?”. Then I read it and realized it was all about showing Obama as some good guy and Republicans as obstructionists… and it all made perfect sense. 

Let’s not forget that, as noted in the Welch piece linked to above (in fact, earlier in the very paragraph this quote was strategically extracted from), (1) “Obama’s Justice Department raided more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush’s ever dreamed of, while the president himself literally laughed out loud at the prospect of legalization for recreational use,” (2) the president has the power to pardon criminals and, as one presidential candidate once promised, pardoning non-violent drug offenders is something that can be done from the oval office, and (3) even if he didn’t have such power, Obama has repeatedly shown his willingness to circumvent Congress whenever it suits him and has flaunted such willingness repeatedly (he’s “got a pen,” remember?). That republicans have blocked funds is ultimately a tiny road block, since (as I understand it) there is nothing stopping the administration from redirecting DOJ resources and directives away from those many aforementioned drug raids, away from further federally prosecuting drug offenders, and toward screening applications - or, instead, doing their own due process. Indeed, that Holder and the ACLU have asked for applications is an extra step that only serves to push accountability away from the president - after all, what is the DOJ for? Furthermore, as president, that makes him de facto head of his party. For years, his party had control of both houses while he was in office. Indeed, it was under these circumstances that Obamacare was able to be crammed through the Senate without a single Republican vote. Since presidential clemency ultimately does nothing to change unjust drug laws or set president, that would have been the opportune time to make real changes to laws that punish the peaceful consumption of plants by consenting adults. Then again, they wouldn’t have been able to blame Republicans if it didn’t pass.

Forgive me if I’m not so eager to declare Obama as some righteous drug war liberator.

LTMC: I think your suspicions about the intention behind this “strategically extracted” quote are a bit misplaced.

First, some of your skepticism appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the clemency process.  The process for securing a pardon begins with a Petition for Clemency, Commutation, or Pardon, which is submitted to the DOJ.  It’s not an “extra step” to push accountability away from the President.  It’s a step that has always been a part of the process.

Second, it’s true that the White House can unilaterally redirect funding from different Agencies to give affect to its enforcement priorities.  However, this power is subordinate to Congress’s power to place express restrictions of funding to Executive Agencies.  Congress’s ability to limit the use of federal funds by other branches is the main historic tool by which Congress can limit executive power.”  Congress can tell the President how an Executive Agency must spend its money, or whether it can spend money at all.  So the amendment that was passed in the House is not merely a small roadblock.  The amendment banned the use of federal funds to expand the number of staff attorneys at the Office of the Pardon Attorney so they could process more clemency applications in a shorter amount of time.  This has the direct effect of causing  prisoners who are eligible under the new clemency guidelines to rot in jail for longer periods of time than they would otherwise have to.  So yes, the Republicans deserve to be criticized for this. If Obama looks better by comparison on this particular issue, it’s because he made a good drug policy decision for a change.

Third, regarding editing of this quote: I pulled this quote from Matt Welch’s piece because it was a point of information that I thought was relevant for anyone concerned with drug policy.  I edited the quote because the other information in that paragraph wasn’t relevant to the issue of Executive Clemency.  To be honest, I also don’t know how anyone could look at this quote and think it was clipped to make Obama look good.  The quote begins with: "after an extremely slow start using his clemency powers[.]"  That’s not a flattering lead.  If I was trying to make Obama look like a "righteous drug war liberator," I would have clipped that opening sentence, so there wasn’t even a suggestion of failure on Obama’s part. 

I have no interest in making Obama look good.  I’ve criticized his administration countless times—including for the previous conspicuous absence of Drug War pardons, and his position on Drug Prohibition generally.  I’ve taken heat from the liberal side of Tumblr on numerous occasions for stuff I’ve written about the guy—including when I suggested that Ron Paul was a better Presidential candidate on numerous issues that most self-identifying liberals claim to care about.  Perhaps the editor who selected this quote promoted it because they thought it made Obama look good in comparison to the GOP-led House.  But that’s certainly not the primary reason I pulled the quote from Welch’s article.

(via letterstomycountry)

As to your first point: my understanding is that petitioning is merely one form (albeit the primary form) in which clemency may be granted, but that the president nonetheless retains the power to grant clemency irrespective of a submitted petition. This is what I was referring to with regards to putting the various lawyers in the DOJ to work.

As to your second point: yes, of course, the republicans deserve to be criticized for this. But that does nothing to the fact that (1) this amendment was passed half-way through Obama’s fifth year in office. (2) while he may not hire additional staff he can still use existing staff for this purpose instead of, as I noted, “redirecting DOJ resources and directives away from those many aforementioned drug raids, away from further federally prosecuting drug offenders, and toward screening applications - or, instead, doing their own due process.” The Office of the Pardon Attorney, after all, is still in tact and there’s nothing stopping said office from slogging through those petitions. (3) again as noted, Obama has shown his willingness to circumvent congress when it suits him. That he doesn’t for this shows that he prefers to have republicans be convenient foils. Obama’s “good drug policy position” is meaningless if he doesn’t actually follow through with some good drug policy action.

Third point: I considered it “strategically extracted” because I feel the full bit would not have been as flattering of Obama, who deserves no flattery in this regard. I, personally, feel the full bit would have made for a more complete quote. And yes, I have no doubt that is exactly the reason the editor promoted your post, which is why I noted it.

And I do consider you the most fair of the left-bloggers here - far less prone to partisanship than your fellow #politics editors. I give you credit for this. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how utterly useless and uninteresting the #politics tag generally is when it simply amounts to a partisan echo chamber. Be honest: when has anything from reason (much less more “hard-core” libertarian sites) been promoted to #politics in the last two-three years by anyone other than you? For your cohorts to have promoted something, of course it had to be commenting on the simple right-left divide… and unfavorably for the right. More complex commentary doesn’t generally make the cut.

(via letterstomycountry)

[A]fter an extremely slow start using his clemency powers, the president has issued criteria for jailed nonviolent drug offenders to be eligible. More than 18,000 prisoners have applied, but the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an amendment in May preventing the use of federal funds for screening applications.

— 

Matt Welch (via letterstomycountry)

The blue #politics tag caught my eye here before I read the actual quote. I thought “what could reason’s Matt Welch have said to make it through the partisan censors at the #politics tag?”. Then I read it and realized it was all about showing Obama as some good guy and Republicans as obstructionists… and it all made perfect sense. 

Let’s not forget that, (1) as noted in the Welch piece linked to above (in fact, earlier in the very paragraph this quote was strategically extracted from), “Obama’s Justice Department raided more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush’s ever dreamed of, while the president himself literally laughed out loud at the prospect of legalization for recreational use,” (2) the president has the power to pardon criminals and, as one presidential candidate once promised, pardoning non-violent drug offenders is something that can be done from the oval office, and (3) even if he didn’t have such power, Obama has repeatedly shown his willingness to circumvent Congress whenever it suits him and has flaunted such willingness repeatedly (he’s “got a pen,” remember?). That republicans have blocked funds is ultimately a tiny road block, since (as I understand it) there is nothing stopping the administration from redirecting DOJ resources and directives away from those many aforementioned drug raids, away from further federally prosecuting drug offenders, and toward screening applications - or, instead, doing their own due process. Indeed, that Holder and the ACLU have asked for applications is an extra step that only serves to push accountability away from the president - after all, what is the DOJ for? Furthermore, as president, that makes him de facto head of his party. For years, his party had control of both houses while he was in office. Indeed, it was under these circumstances that Obamacare was able to be crammed through the Senate without a single Republican vote. Since presidential clemency ultimately does nothing to change unjust drug laws or set president, that would have been the opportune time to make real changes to laws that punish the peaceful consumption of plants by consenting adults. Then again, they wouldn’t have been able to blame Republicans if it didn’t pass.

Forgive me if I’m not so eager to declare Obama as some righteous drug war liberator.

Obama is to the right of Texas on pot legalization →

Here is just one example of the Obama administration’s reefer madness:

Robert Duncan, who managed marijuana-growing for a collective of Northern California medical marijuana dispensaries, surrendered to federal prison Monday, where he will serve a two-year sentence.

Speaking to HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill outside Mendota Federal Correctional Institution near Fresno, Calif., just minutes before he surrendered, Duncan said he was “frustrated” his incarceration would cost taxpayers upwards of $100,000.

"It’s constantly in the news how much we’re pouring into our prison system," Duncan said. "There’s momentum for change, and the change isn’t happening."

Duncan, an employee of the collective, received a modest salary for his work and sought legal advice before taking the job to ensure he would comply with state law. Although California voters legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes more than 17 years ago, the plant remains illegal under federal law, and the grow house was raided by U.S. authorities.

Despite indications from the Obama administration that the federal government wouldn’t intervene with state-sanctioned marijuana operations, Duncan was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with manufacturing pot. After spending more than $30,000 in legal fees, he took a plea deal that resulted in his sentence.

Hill asked Duncan if he had anything to say to President Barack Obama about his situation.

"It’s a lot bigger than me," Duncan replied. "There’s a lot more people affected by this. It’s not too late to do something different and to take bigger steps in the direction that the United States wants us to go. There’s no need to send people in this situation to prison. Do what the people want you to do."

Recent polls indicate that 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. Moreover, eight out of 10 Americans are in favor of using cannabis for medicinal purposes, and nearly three out of four support a fine-only penalty for recreational users.


Obama’s defenders say he privately favors pot legalization, but can’t say that publically because the American public would be outraged. And these are hisdefenders. Here is a poll result from one of America’s more conservative states:
If the results of recent polls are correct, it seems that Texas residents want what other states have: legalization. A poll conducted by The University of Texas and the Texas Tribune showed that 77 percent of registered voters in Texas believe in some form of legalization. Of that, 28 percent would agree only to medical legalization, while 49 percent are in favor of blanket legalization.
Kids today can’t understand why old folks had a problem with gay marriage. I couldn’t understand how old folks had a problem with interracial marriage. My grandparents couldn’t understand why Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Each generation has its blind spots. The next generation will be amazed that Obama enforced the medical marijuana laws even more vigorously than George Bush.

It’s the kind of issue that causes giggles among the “very serious people” at places like the New York Times and WaPo. They don’t personally know any families that have been destroyed because mom went to prison for violating pot laws. They just remember their college days—and none of their college friends went to prison for hosting pot parties. They don’t know any of the 800,000 people arrested for violating pot laws each year. Better to focus on the “real issues,” like one possible deserter being swapped for some Taliban leaders. Or the top 1% making too much money.

Three more botched drug raids →

Nothing Changes: In Bill de Blasio's New York, Cops Still Making Petty Marijuana Arrests →

This Is Your Home On The War On Drugs

States of Incarceration: World Incarceration Rates If Every U.S. State Were A Country →

This is pretty incredible.

If every U.S. state and territory (and D.C.) were treated as a country of its own, and charted against all other countries based on the number of incarcerated per every 100,000 residents, we see “that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world.” (!!!!) 

Of the top 57, only 7 are NOT U.S. states or Puerto Rico or D.C.: Cuba, Rwanda, Russia, El Salvador, Azerbaijan, Panama, and Thailand.

What “Land of the Free”?

Officers threw a flashbang grenade in my son's crib -- and left a hole in his chest. It gets worse →

How do people accept this as a matter of course? How can people still support the war on drugs? How can people be comfortable with the police’s ability to (and penchant for) initiating dangerous, militaristic raids in situations in which there is literally no credible danger to anyone? Why do people support this heartless monopolization of force?

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