Monday, August 27, 2007

Stop Abusing Snitchin': The government's morally dubious use of drug informants

(800 times a day in the US, SWAT teams break down someone's door, usually for minor drug offenses. The Pentagon sells surplus equipment to law enforcement, hence our militarized police. Read on. Apologies for the length of this important article from Mr. Balko needs to hear about Berrien County.)

Late last month, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the death of the Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old Atlanta woman killed by police during a November 2006 drug raid on her home.

Johnston died when she mistook a team of narcotics officers for criminal intruders. When the police broke down her door, she met them with an old pistol. They opened fire, and killed her.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the entire chain of events up to and shortly after Johnston's death were beset with lies, planted evidence, and cover-up on the part of the narcotics cops. They fabricated an imaginary informant to get the search warrant for Ms. Johnston's home. They planted evidence on a convicted felon, arrested him, then let him off in exchange for his tip—which he made up from whole cloth—that they'd find drugs in Ms. Johnston's house.

When they realized their mistake, they then tried to portray an innocent old woman as a drug dealer. They planted marijuana in Ms. Johnston's basement while she lay handcuffed and bleeding on the floor.

More investigation revealed that this kind of behavior wasn't aberrant, but common among narcotics officers in the Atlanta Police Department. Police Chief Richard Pennington eventually dismissed or reassigned the entire narcotics division of the APD.

What came out at the hearings investigating Kathryn Johnston's death was even more disturbing.

In one eye-popping exchange, two congressmen—one Democrat and one Republican—confronted Wayne Murphy, the assistant director of the FBI Directorate of Intelligence about the way the FBI uses drug informants. Rep. Dan Lundgren, R-Calif., and Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., told Murphy they were troubled by reports that the FBI had looked the other way while some of its drug informants participated in violent crimes, and that the agency then failed to notify local authorities, leaving many of those crimes unsolved.

Lundgren and Delahunt said they were also troubled by reports that in order to protect the identity of its informants, the FBI had withheld exculpatory evidence from criminal trials, resulting in innocent people going to prison.

This is worth repeating. The FBI has determined that in some cases, it's better to let innocent people be assaulted, murdered, or wrongly sent to prison than to halt a drug investigation involving one of its confidential informants.

Could Murphy assure the U.S. Congress, Delahunt and Lundgren asked, that the FBI has since instituted policies to ensure that kind of thing never happens again?

Murphy hemmed and hawed, but ultimately said that he could not make any such assurance. That in itself should have been huge news.

Shortly after the Johnston hearings concluded, another informant scandal emerged.

Jarrell Bray, a longtime informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration's Cleveland field office, admitted that with the cooperation of DEA agent Lee Lucas, he had repeatedly lied in court to secure the convictions of innocent people. Bray said he and Lucas fabricated evidence, falsely accused people who had done nothing wrong, then concocted bogus testimony to secure their convictions.

Bray's admission could result in dozens of overturned convictions.

There's nothing new about any of this. The problems with the use and abuse of drug informants have been known for years. Policymakers have just decided it's more important to keep up a brave front in the drug war than admit to the shortcomings. Bogus testimony from drug informants has led to wrongful arrest and/or incarceration of innocent people in Dallas, Texas; Hearne, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; and Church Point, La.; to list just a handful of the more egregious examples.

In fact, more than 12 years ago, the National Law Journal ran a three-part series on the issue of drug informants. The magazine reviewed more than a thousand search warrants in four cities. It found widespread abuse with respect to the use of informants, and issued an urgent warning that "there is little or no oversight of the informant system," and that as a result, "the nation's system of justice is in danger."

Not much has changed.

The article was spurred by the case of Donald Carlson, a San Diego businessman who was nearly killed in 1992 after an informant's faulty tip led police to raid his home. Like Kathryn Johnston, Carlson thought the police were criminal intruders, and fired at them in defense of his home as they broke down his door. He was shot several times in the back, and spent six weeks in intensive care.

As in Atlanta, a subsequent investigation revealed severe deficiencies in the use of informants for drug crimes. The informant in Carlson's case was later convicted on 25 counts of lying to federal law enforcement officials.

In fact, Johnston and Carlson aren't the only ones. Bad informants have led to mistaken drug raids all over the country. Many of these raids have resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including Harlem's Alberta Spruill, Denver's Ismael Mena, Houston's Pedro Navarro, and Albuquerque's Ralph Garrison.

Dave Doddridge is a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and a former narcotics officer. He's now a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former cops who have come out against the drug war. Doddridge says what happened in Atlanta isn't at all uncommon, and shouldn't be mistaken for a few rogue police officers acting out of line.

"There's tremendous pressure to 'climb the ladder' after you make a drug bust," he says, referring to the practice of getting one drug offender to give up information on his suppliers and superiors. "You want to get up that ladder before word hits the street, and the guys you're after know that you're on to them. That leads to the temptation to take shortcuts," he says. "What happened in Atlanta goes on all over the country."

These sorts of police tactics would be morally dubious if they were being used to fight terrorism, or to ensure national security. But they grow more absurd—and more intolerable—when you consider the ultimate end, here. None of this deception, corruption, and abuse is being employed to catch sleeper Al-Qaeda cells, or to catch murderers or serial killers or pedophiles. It's being used to stop people from getting high.

Radley Balko is a senior editor for reason. This article originally appeared at

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Michael Shuman

Two points I'd like to make: all communities need elected police oversight boards with subpoena power. There are very few of these in the US, as existing city and county
hierarchies will not allow them for obvious reasons. Citizens would have to become active for boards like this to come to fruition. Racial profiling and arrests in general decrease where they have been in place.

Secondly, and on a different subject, Michael Shuman is the premier American author, lecturer, and thinker on the following: see the book review below. Progressive communities are following his suggestions, apparently with successful results. Google his name for all kinds of information, and info on his other books. Using his principles, towns and cities can come to life again.

A Highly Important Book for Any Concerned Citizen
This book cuts through all of the conventional public discussions on the economy and society to make a clear, convincing case for reviving local communities. Pundits, politicians, and intellectuals are always bemoaning the collapse of "community," but their analyses are usually coiled around morality, or the need for "better education," or some equally superficial issue. But as Shuman points out, all the civic involvement and moral uprightness in the world is useless if our towns and cities are being held hostage by globe-trotting corporations and ultra-mobile capital. "Community" is only possible if people control their own lives; and this is possible only when there are thriving, viable local economies. This is not a book that calls for a complete retreat from the global forces that are shaping our world -- that option is impossible with the current levels of technology. But what Shuman does outline is a way for communities to reestablish a balance between the local and the national/global, in the areas of production, finance, and government. And unlike many other books, which never get past the critique to make any positive prescriptions, this one is brimming with concrete proposals. It also has the most extensive list of groups, organizations, and resources that I have seen in the area of decentralized economics and community self-reliance. This is a must-read.

Friday, August 17, 2007


It is very important for you to come and show your
support for Rev. Pinkney on Friday, August 24th. The
rally will start at noon at the corner of Riverview
and Main at the Michigan Works Building, Benton Harbor.
We will proceed from there to the Berrien County Courthouse
for the hearing at 1 PM.

If you don’t think this affects you, think again! What
happens in one corrupt courtroom affects everyone in
the U.S. because of the legal precedence set there. If
they can get away with denying Rev. Pinkney due
process and having an uncontaminated jury of his
peers, then your court system can do it to you and
your loved ones. Stand up for your rights while we
still have them!

In Pinkney's case, he's facing fines and court
costs of $10,000.00 and has been under house arrest
wearing a tether since March 21. His is an unprecedented
case in recent Michigan history involving "voter fraud", racial
discrimination, and intimidation against a political prisoner -
not unlike what occurred in the 1950's South. BH even had
a cross burning in June.

Midwest civil rights activists and people who seek justice
are needed to step forward to be observers of the institutional racism
which has become the norm in the Berrien County Courthouse.

Reserve September 21st, same time and place for a
second hearing.

1940 Union St.
Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Boycott Whirlpool,
and it's subsidiaries:

Gladiator GarageWorks
Magic Chef
Eslabon de Lujo

NON-Whirlpool brands:
Frigidaire, General Electric, LG, Samsung, Viking, Subzero, Dacor, some Kenmore, Electrolux, etc.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


In our attempts to attract media attention, we have been told over and over that it’s a local story [ho- ho- ho]. The mainstream media is not allowed to report on any story implicating the ruling class on account of media ownership, the vast connecting wealthy elite and business networks that are relentlessly usurping the social contract. This story, the real nitty-gritty, presents so many important toes to be trampled upon. It’s hard to know where to begin.

Rev Pinkney’s troubles were brewed in the same kettle as the Jean Klock Park fight. The area’s insularity is particularly alarming because it is not a result of geography. Where we might excuse middle -of -nowhere places their anachronisms and vanities on account of their remoteness, the ruling class of this place is well traveled and connected. It’s as Jim Crow as any Mississippi backwater. It hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1932. Need I continue.

The same people who have worked to hollow out protection for American manufactering, labor and the environment now claim to be concerned for
American jobs. They also insist that the only way to increase employment security for the elite is to chant the services economy mantra while destroying priceless public land, thus enriching the already rich with benefits to the hoi polloi down line somewhere.

Here are the known players involved in the public private heist of Jean Klock Park: Whirlpool Corporation, a Fortune 500 Company, which has a domestic workforce of 23,000 and an overseas workforce is 45,000; LR Development which is a subsidiary of the following entities; National City, Bank OF Cleveland, Jack Nicklaus Design Group, and others including the Benton Harbor
city commissioners and city manager, and the STATE OF MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR Jennifer Granholm.

The media might as well print marketing brochures for Harbor Shores in lieu of their reporting. One free lance reporter has written informative articles, but she has been refuted in every other article about the take over which repeat chapter and verse the propaganda spewed by the developer.

As to the lease of Jean Klock Park between Harbor Shores and the city, the developer will pay the city of Benton Harbor $ 30,000 per year rent on a 35 year [renewable] lease for over 530 acres of pristine land. The lease was executed sometime in December 2006 or January 2007. The park will be destroyed and the golf course imposed on the terrain. No matter that Michigan and Florida are two of the most over built states according to golf industry statistics, in regards to golf courses. BUT this isn`t about GOLF, it’s about a gated community consuming a public park and taking over a city or rather stealing a city.

Geoff Field, the city’s outside counsel, drafted the lease. John Cameron who soon after joined Field’s law firm originally sat on the other side of the table representing Harbor Shores. Also, according to Field’s own statements to the Michigan DNR Trust Fund Board, he represented the local Chamber of Commerce, called Cornerstone Alliance, a partner in the Harbor Shores development consortium, at the same time he negotiated and drafted the aformentioned settlement agreement.

To ice the cake, the lease provides that the developer can use it’s leasehold interest as collateral. Legally, the holder of this mortgage can’t ever foreclose or liquidate the underlying assets. So, who would float a collateralized loan where the collateral is off limits ? Whirlpool Corporation would ! Why not? When the golf course fails, Harbor shores can renegotiate the lease with hapless and hopeless Benton Harbor, while Whirlpool becomes the de facto owner of the land.

Why? The fix is in. That will become obvious. The well-off have not been afflicted by this proposal. They and/or their friends stand to benefit. So bombs away and to hell with the grubby public and the residents of Benton Harbor.

1940 Union St.
Benton Harbor, MI 49022