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Happy Panther

Swat Team nation and civil-asset forfeiture

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Two pretty disturbing articles.


First the militarization of our police



The moment the assault rifles surrounded her, Angie Wong was standing in a leafy art-gallery courtyard with her boyfriend, a lawyer named Paul Kaiser. It was just past 2 A.M., in May, 2008. Wong was twenty-two years old and was dressed for an evening out, in crisp white jeans, a white top, and tall heels that made it difficult not to wobble. The couple had stopped by a regular event hosted by the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID), a red brick gallery with the aim of “turning Detroit into a model city,” and arrived to find a tipsy, jubilant scene: inside, gallerygoers were looking at art and dancing to a d.j.; outside, on the patio, several young women were goofily belting out the lyrics to “Hakuna Matata,” from “The Lion King”:
Only then did masked figures with guns storm the crowd, shouting, “Get on the fuging ground! Get down, get down!” (I document the basic details of what happened in my story, in this week’s magazine, about the police’s use and abuse of civil-asset-forfeiture laws.) Some forty Detroit police officers dressed in commando gear ordered the gallery attendees to line up on their knees, then took their car keys and confiscated their vehicles, largely on the grounds that the gallery lacked the proper permits for dancing and drinking. (More than forty cars were seized, and owners paid around a thousand dollars each to get them back.) “I was so scared,” Wong told me. At first, she thought the raid was an armed robbery. “Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Paul getting kicked in the face.” In the dimly lit security footage, the scene looks like something out of a thriller about Navy SEALs. Paul said, “I was scared for my life.”
In 1972, America conducted only a few hundred paramilitary drug raids a year, according to Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” By the early nineteen-eighties, there were three thousand a year; by 2001, Alexander notes, the annual count had skyrocketed to forty thousand. Today, even that number seems impossibly low; with one annual count of combat-style home raids hovers around eighty thousand.





This is why we have a "raid of the day" segment on HP which only covers botched raids.


Secondly, asset forfeiture.




Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country. “Be safe and keep up the good work,” the city marshal wrote to Washington, following a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband.
Outraged by their experience in Tenaha, Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson helped to launch a class-action lawsuit challenging the abuse of a legal doctrine known as civil-asset forfeiture. “Have you looked it up?” Boatright asked me when I met her this spring at Houston’s H&H Saloon, where she runs Steak Night every Monday. She was standing at a mattress-size grill outside. “It’ll blow your mind.”
The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means, and, in many states, funnel the proceeds directly into the fight against crime. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stencilled with the words “this used to be a drug dealer’s car, now it’s ours!” In Monroe, North Carolina, police recently proposed using forty-four thousand dollars in confiscated drug money to buy a surveillance drone, which might be deployed to catch fleeing suspects, conduct rescue missions, and, perhaps, seize more drug money. Hundreds of state and federal laws authorize forfeiture for cockfighting, drag racing, basement gambling, endangered-fish poaching, securities fraud, and countless other misdeeds.





Both of these trends are disturbing and go hand-in hand.


The latter is becoming a way for police forces to raise cash. Allowing police to seize assets without justification and the keep these assets is an absurd conflict of interest.


Paid both of these with the trend of harsher laws for anything and I wonder where we will be in 20 years. Post 9-11 we can label anyone a terrorist and prosecutors seem to be more and more aggressive against anyone from a bunch of kids who were framed from a Chicago terrosist attack to a young black girl who did a silly science experiment.


We throw felonies around like candy, we have a police force that is more like Army Rangers, and we reward cities for stealing from citizens.






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Just after the opening kickoff of the Arizona Cardinals' preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, Cardinals season ticket holder John Coulter wanted to take a picture. He says he asked his 15-year-old son to hold his beer cup while he did so.

Seconds later, two undercover officers with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control approached him. Coulter says they told him that what he did was illegal and that he could be arrested for it. In the end, officers escorted the father and son out of the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Officials say Coulter is lucky he was able to walk away from the situation.

"Providing alcohol to an underage person or an underage person in possession of alcohol is a Class 1 misdemeanor." said Sgt. Wesley Kuhl of the Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control. "The consequences could be up to, and this is a maximum, of two years in jail, $2,500 fine and three years probation."




For example...


Glad he didn't get a felony charge frankly

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Asset seizure has been going on for decades.  There was a report back in the mid 90s on Dateline about people who had been dispossessed of their belongings by police while traveling through the state of Louisiana. 


The 45-minute program focused on cases in which motorists were stopped, arrested, and had their property seized without evidence of drugs in their car. The program said most of the misconduct occurred along Interstate 10 in Jefferson Davis and Cameron parishes in southwestern Louisiana, and that out-of state travelers, particularly minorities, were usually targeted. Hidden cameras used to record searches and seizures showed police officers stopping the TV crew for "violations" they did not commit and asking crew members how much money they had. "Dateline" reporter John Larson spent more than a year researching abuses of the state's drug forfeiture law.


Under state law, to sue for a return of their seized assets, uncharged citizens must pay the highest bond in the nation -- 10% of the property's value or $2,500, whichever is greater. The burden of proving their innocence is on the citizens. Baton Rouge defense attorney Jim Boren, who claims that drug forfeiture corruption is statewide, said district attorneys' offices sometimes offer to return half or a third of the value of the property seized to settle the claims.






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When agents with the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force surged out of the wilderness around the remote community of Chicken wearing body armor and jackets emblazoned with POLICE in big, bold letters, local placer miners didn’t quite know what to think.


Did it really take eight armed men and a squad-size display of paramilitary force to check for dirty water? Some of the miners, who run small businesses, say they felt intimidated.


The EPA has refused to publicly explain why it used armed officers as part of what it called a “multi-jurisdictional” investigation of possible Clean Water Act violations in the area.





When in doubt, get your body armor!


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Terry Dehko owns Schott's Supermarket, a small grocery store outside Detroit. An embodiment of the American Dream, Terry has successfully run his family business with his daughter Sandy for the past three decades. But earlier this year the IRS turned their dream into a nightmare. A lawsuit they are filing today in federal court seeks to change that.
In January 2013, the federal government obtained a secret warrant and took every dollar out of the Dehko's grocery store bank account — more than $35,000 — without any warning or explanation. Only later would Terry and Sandy discover that, despite doing absolutely nothing wrong, the IRS and the U.S. Department of Justice teamed up to seize their money using an increasingly abusive tactic called civil forfeiture.



These stories are scary. Who knows what the entire backstory is.

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Upon my return from Southeast Asia when the U.S. Embassy in Saigon was closed down and the last remaining troops and personnel were evacuated, I was subsequently issued orders to Pascagoula, Mississippi to join the crew of a new ship class under construction.


A friend of mine was also issued orders and we decided to travel together from San Diego to Mississippi. Harry was from Owensboro, Kentucky and was truly one of the nicest, most genuine guys I've ever known. Harry loved his rock and roll and loved to smoke the occasional fattie, as did most of us who were in the military in the 70's. Oh yeah, I should also mention Harry is black.


We set out from San Diego in my silver 1972 Chevy Malibu, complete with black vinyl top, Crager 5-spoke mags all around, L60's on the back with a touch of lift and 70's on the front. Of course, the car had California license plates on it. Took a couple days to drive and not long before lunch on day 3 we crossed the Mississippi state line at Vicksburg, reached Jackson on I-20 and headed southeast toward Hattiesburg on SR49. Not 15 minutes on SR49 and a Mississippi trooper pulls us over on a rural stretch of road with nothing in sight. He ordered us out of the car after he approached and asked why I was giving a "N##### a ride," I gave him my license and showed him my military transfer orders, so he knew we were military. He drew his pistol on us and ordered us into the woods no more than 50 yards, took all of our cash and told us he had our names, license plate and car, and if we were to say anything, there'd surely be trouble.


The last couple hours on the road were quiet and we were scared. We never spoke a word about it to anyone for years, Harry and I ended up going in different directions both geographically and career-wise. He went back home to Kentucky and I vowed never to set foot in Mississippi again... but I was ordered back to the same base for the same reason again in 1986. That was 38 years ago... they were taking poo from us back then...



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