Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jan 2002
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Jason Spencer, American-Statesman Staff
Bookmark: (Terrorism)


Travis County narcotics officers who mistook ragweed for marijuana
when they raided a Spicewood home last May illegally held residents at
gunpoint as they ransacked the property and kicked the homeowner's
dog, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday.

If the allegations hold up, it would mark the third time in 2001 that
a raid by the Capital Area Narcotics Task Force went seriously awry. A
sheriff's deputy and an unarmed teenager died in other raids last year.

"This is the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me in my
life," said property owner Sandra Smith, 56. "I've never been in
trouble with the law. I don't even smoke cigarettes."

Sheriff Margo Frasier, whose department oversees the task force, would
not comment on the raid but issued a brief written statement.

"At the time of the incident, the sheriff's office reviewed the
actions taken by the narcotics officers at the scene and took what we
feel is appropriate action to see that a similar incident did not
occur again," the statement said.

More than a dozen officers in SWAT team uniforms and a helicopter
descended on Smith's property on Happy Valley Pathway on May 8 to
investigate whether Smith was growing marijuana, according to the
lawsuit, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project on behalf of Smith
and three tenants of her rental homes.

The officers did not have a warrant and found no drugs, said Jim
Harrington, director of the Civil Rights Project.

Smith and the other plaintiffs are seeking $35,000 each from the
county, the task force and the individual officers involved in the

Harrington called on Frasier to either disband or rein in the task

In February, Deputy Keith Ruiz was shot and killed by a man who said
he thought the officers conducting a drug raid at his Del Valle mobile
home were burglars. Edwin Delamora is charged with capital murder in
the deputy's death.

In December, seven months after the Spicewood raid, a task force
deputy shot and killed 19-year-old Antonio Martinez, who was sleeping
on a sofa when officers burst into the Del Valle home. Martinez was
not the raid's target.

"The question to the sheriff ought to be, 'Why does this task force
even exist?' " said Harrington, who described the task force's tactics
as "Rambo" style. "That sort of activity is exactly why citizens and
officers get hurt." 
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