Lawless Law Enforcement Tries To Ignore Changes In Drug War

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Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 10:47:20 -0800
From: Mark Greer <Mgreer@mapinc.org>
To: alerts@drugsense.org
Subject: ALERT: Alert #192 Lawless Law Enforcement Tries To Ignore Changes In
Drug War
Message-ID: <4.3.2.7.2.20001207104449.052a1890@mapinc.org>

Lawless Law Enforcement Tries To Ignore Changes In Drug War

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #192 Thursday December 7, 2000

As drug policy reform begin to gain popularity, it's not surprising to find
some groups that benefit from the drug war refusing to accept the changing
landscape. A couple of the most audacious of the drug war profiteers appear
to be refusing to accept the will of the U.S. Supreme Court and the will of
the people.

The Sheriff of Rolla, Mo. has announced that he will continue to operate
random drug checkpoints even though the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled
that such tactics are unconstitutional. As the excellent Kansas City Star
article explains below, It's not surprising that the Sheriff can't let go
of what has become a huge cash cow.

Elsewhere, some Oregon newspapers have reported on a narcotics task force
that has filed a lawsuit to fight state residents who voted to reform asset
forfeiture. Clearly those officials have no sense of irony, as they are
trying to claim that efforts to restrict asset forfeiture practices are
"unconstitutional."

Please write a letter to the Kansas City Star or the Oregonian to let these
lawless law enforcement officials know that their contempt for basic
justice and fairness is being observed around the world.

WRITE A LETTER TODAY

It's not what others do it's what YOU do

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suit

This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our impact
and effectiveness.

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CONTACT INFO:

Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Contact:
<mailto:letters@kcstar.com>letters@kcstar. <mailto:letters@kcstar.com>com

EXTRA CREDIT:

Please also write to the Oregonian to protest a drug task force's decision
to legally challenge a ballot initiative that would reform asset forfeiture
practices.

US: OR: Suit says approved measure is illegal
Pubdate: Dec. 2, 2000
Source: Oregonian, The (OR)
Contact: letters@news.oregonian.com

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ARTICLE

US MO: Rolla-Area Sheriff Says He'll Continue Drug Checkpoints
URL: US MO: Rolla-Area Sheriff Says He'll Continue Drug Checkpoints
Newshawk: Mark Greer
Pubdate: Sun, 3 Dec 2000
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2000 The Kansas City Star
Contact: letters@kcstar.com
Address: 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108
Feedback: http://www.kansascity.com/Discussion/
Website: KC Breaking News, Sports & Crime | The Kansas City Star
Author: Karen Dillon, The Kansas City Star
Related: US MO: Critics Question Phelps County Sheriff's Drug
US MO: Justices' Ruling Against Drug Checkpoints Will Affect Missouri
ROLLA-AREA SHERIFF SAYS HE'LL CONTINUE DRUG CHECKPOINTS

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court last week outlawed roadblocks to check
for drugs, the Phelps County Sheriff's Department in Rolla, Mo., apparently
plans to continue checkpoints on Interstate 44.

Sheriff Don Blankenship said last week in a Rolla newspaper article that he
would continue the checkpoints, which have been so frequent that critics
call him the "Sheriff of I-44."

The ruling "shouldn't affect us because we have a different type of
checkpoint" from the one the Supreme Court addressed, Blankenship was
quoted as saying.

Blankenship also said in the article that the U.S. attorney's office agreed
with his interpretation.

He did not return telephone calls from a reporter over the past week.
Blankenship's decision runs counter to actions taken by several law
enforcement organizations.

The Missouri Highway Patrol said last week troopers would no longer conduct
checkpoints and state Attorney General Jay Nixon agreed with that decision,
a spokesman for Nixon said.

The Missouri Sheriffs Association sent notices about the ruling to sheriffs
in the state, and Executive Director James L. Vermeersch said he was
planning to talk with Blankenship after hearing about his decision.

The Missouri Police Chiefs Association has advised police agencies to stop
the checkpoints while the ruling is being researched. However, Terri
Dougherty, executive assistant to U.S. Attorney Audrey Fleissig in the
Eastern District in St. Louis, confirmed it was her office that advised
Blankenship he could continue the roadblocks. She declined further comment.

Blankenship did not attend a Phelps County Commission meeting Thursday.
Commissioners had wanted to discuss the high court ruling with him, the
presiding commissioner said.

The American Civil Liberties Union branch in St. Louis will address the
Phelps County action, an official said. Attorneys for the ACLU in
Indianapolis won the Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday.

"We certainly intend to share with the sheriff our view with how the
Supreme Court decision applies to his checkpoints and encourage him to stop
them," said Matt LeMieux, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

"Even if the Justice Department gave him the go-ahead, I don't think it
changes the fact that the practice appears to conflict with the U.S.
Supreme Court ruling."

In the 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Indianapolis' use of
checkpoints -- intended to catch drug criminals -- was an unreasonable
search and seizure that violated the Fourth Amendment. According to the
ruling, it is the purpose of a checkpoint that determines whether it is
constitutional.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor distinguished drug checkpoints from sobriety
roadblocks.

The sobriety roadblocks, O'Connor wrote, protect the public from an
"immediate, vehicle-bound threat to life and limb."

But drug checkpoints are attempts to find evidence that a crime occurred
and thus serve only law enforcement's need for crime control, she wrote.

In Indianapolis, the checkpoints were staged like sobriety checkpoints,
with police and drug-sniffing dogs stopping each vehicle along a thoroughfare.

Law enforcement officers in Phelps County and other locations in Missouri
say they commonly use deception to create the necessary suspicion to be
able to search cars.

The officers set up a sign just before a highway exit that warns a drug
checkpoint is ahead. However, the checkpoint is actually at the end of the
exit.

Motorists, especially those from out of state, who take the exit appear to
be avoiding the checkpoint, Blankenship said in a previous interview with
The Star. Those drivers have created reasonable suspicion to be stopped and
possibly searched, especially if they cannot explain why they took the
exit, Blankenship said.

Because his officers have a reason to suspect each vehicle they search,
that makes the Phelps County checkpoints different from Indianapolis,
Blankenship told the Rolla newspaper. But the ACLU's LeMieux said the
purpose of the checkpoints is no different from Indianapolis.

"If the purpose is to find evidence of a crime then it is
unconstitutional," LeMieux said. "It is quite clear that the purpose of the
Phelps County checkpoints is to find criminal evidence -- drugs in this case."

The Star reported in October that Blankenship, who was running for
re-election, was criticized by opponents and others for spending so much
time on Interstate 44 conducting the checkpoints instead of patrolling the
county.

The critics also said Blankenship's checkpoints stemmed from the benefit
his office received from the cash and property his deputies seized.

Blankenship said that the checkpoints, which he ran at least twice a week,
were valuable in the war on drugs and had no effect on other crime control.

Blankenship said his deputies had taken thousands of pounds of illegal
narcotics off the interstate.

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SAMPLE LETTER

To the editor of the Kansas City Star:

Thanks to Karen Dillon for all the work she has done to expose asset
forfeiture practices.

I thought the efforts of law enforcement to hold onto forfeited assets
despite state law to the contrary was outrageous enough, but now we learn
that the Phelps County Sheriff's Department in Rolla feels it does not need
to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court decision banning random drug checkpoints
("Rolla-Area Sheriff Says He'll Continue Drug Checkpoints," Dec.3).

In some ways, it is possible to sympathize with law enforcement officials
who have been given the impossible task of creating a "drug-free America."
Since illegal drug users often don't look any different from other
citizens, the obvious response is to put everyone under suspicion. And
since politicians have made this into a holy war, it's not surprising that
some police think any tactics are fair game, and that they deserve to get a
cut of the black market windfall being generated by drug prohibition.

However, this dependence on forfeiture money is eroding law enforcement's
respect for the law itself, and the general public. Police should not
decide which laws they will enforce (and which court decisions they will
abide) based on their own financial self-interest. We should end the drug
war and allow police to determine priorities based on public safety, not
their own economic bottom line.

Stephen Young

IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone number

Please note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it
at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the
same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work.
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Prepared by Stephen Young - http://home.att.net/~theyoungfamily
Focus Alert Specialist




Mark Greer
Executive Director
DrugSense
MGreer@mapinc.org

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