Pubdate: Thu, 30 Dec 1999
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 1999 The Denver Post
Contact:  1560 Broadway, Denver, CO 80202
Fax: (303) 820.1502
Authors: Ari Armstrong and Dave Kopel
Note: Ari Armstrong is a senior fellow and Dave Kopel is research director 
at the Independence Institute of Golden. Kopel is a former New York City 


It seems the ends justifies any means in the "war on drugs" these days, 
even if that means civil rights are trampled and innocent people killed.

The mental gyrations law officials and politicians engage in to support 
their draconian drug policies are crazy. Take, for instance, the case of 
Golden doctor James Metzger, whose $40,000 Lexus was taken by the Drug 
Enforcement Agency in April because the agency thought Metzger might have 
illegally filled drug prescriptions.

Metzger had not been charged at the time his car was taken, much less 
convicted of criminal acts. But Metzger used his car to drive to the 
pharmacy, which was enough for the DEA to charge the car itself with 
committing a crime in order to confiscate it for the agency's own benefit.

Forfeiture laws that allow inanimate objects to be charged with a crime are 
just a convenient technique for pushing that pesky Fourth Amendment out of 
the way so that law officials can take people's property without even 
filing criminal charges, much less having to prove a case in court.

But the case of the criminal Lexus is trivial, compared with the Sept. 29 
killing of Ismael Mena by a Denver SWAT team. Mena was a 45-year-old father 
of nine. Based on information from a drug informant, the police obtained a 
"no-knock" entry warrant, busted into Mena's home without announcement, and 
shot Mena dead, riddling his body with eight bullets.

Months after the killing, Denver police aren't even sure they had the right 
address. No illegal drugs were found in Mena's home or body, and Mena's 
family and neighbors swear he was an honest, law-abiding man.

Unfortunately, drug informants are often unreliable. In drug cases, 
"confidential informants" are almost always drug dealers or drug addicts; 
the addicts get money to feed their habit by supplying police accusations 
against other people.

In the past, the police would be required to independently corroborate 
accusations. But in the 1980s, the U.S. and Colorado Supreme Courts 
eliminated the requirement that police corroborate accusations before 
getting a search warrant.

With no more evidence than an anonymous poison-pen letter, or the claims of 
a drunk, the police can now smash into your home in the middle of the 
night, wearing masks and waving submachine guns. And if you mistakenly 
believe the unannounced invaders pointing guns at your children are 
gangsters or burglars out to attack your family, you might tell your spouse 
to dial 911 while you hold off the invaders with your firearm.

And then, the invaders will kill you, like they did Ismael Mena. Like they 
did Donald Scott, a California millionaire whose mansion was targeted for a 
midnight raid because of deliberately fabricated claims that he was growing 
marijuana on his ranch.

Just because you are unarmed and offer no resistance, though, is no 
guarantee that you'll live. Just ask the family of Scott Bryant, who was 
shot dead by no-knock raiders in a trailer park in Wisconsin.

Just ask the family of the late Rev. Acelyne Williams -- a 70-year-old drug 
counselor who died of a heart attack after masked men broke into his Boston 
apartment, chased him into his bedroom, shoved him to the floor and pointed 
guns at his head while screaming at him. The masked men were from Boston 
police's drug squad, and had targeted Williams' apartment solely because of 
what a drunk "confidential informant" told them.

The problem is not the split-second decisions that individual police 
officers make during a raid.

The problem is pandering politicians and irresponsible judges who set the 
stage for these tragedies, by sacrificing constitutional safeguards on the 
altar of the drug war.

In 1998, Colorado State Sen. Jim Congrove (a former undercover narcotics 
police detective) offered legislation to impose some regulation on no-knock 
raids, but the bill was shot down by lobbying from the District Attorneys 

While the objective of a "drug free' society is as far away as ever, the 
drug war is making America an unfree society. It doesn't matter whether 
you're a rich white man in California who doesn't use drugs, a black 
minister in Boston who doesn't use drugs, or a Hispanic father of nine in 
Denver who doesn't use drugs. There is nothing you can do to keep yourself 
safe from the drug war.
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