Pubdate: Thu, 05 Dec 2002
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2002 The Register-Guard
Author: Rebecca Nolan, The Register-Guard
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


The sound of heavy machinery, exploding grenades and blaring
announcements cracked the early morning silence.

Neighbors looked out their windows Oct. 17 to see an armored truck
rolling down the street. They saw at least 45 officers armed with
shotguns and assault rifles entering a trio of houses, standing guard
at alleyways and blocking traffic lanes.

Officers wouldn't explain to startled residents what was going

Police pulled four people - including a nude woman and another woman
wearing only underpants and a T-shirt - from their beds and kept them
in handcuffs in a room of one of the houses for several hours. One
woman reported that an officer covered her head with a black fabric
bag and removed it only when she agreed to cooperate.

Neighbors later learned that officers had served a search warrant at
three adjacent houses near West Fifth Avenue and Adams Street, where
police suspected people were growing marijuana.

The raid sparked immediate outrage among more than a dozen neighbors
and friends of the property owners and in recent weeks has become a
rallying point for community organizers. The fact that police found no
marijuana plants or weapons has only angered neighbors further.

The Whiteaker Community Council dedicated a meeting last month to
discussing the raid and plans to issue a formal statement condemning
the way the operation was carried out, council President Majeska
Seese-Green said. She and three other residents took their case to the
Eugene Police Commission, where they questioned the wisdom and safety
of such raids.

"It was completely inappropriate to have that kind of militaristic
action there," Seese-Green said. "We don't want it to happen in
Whiteaker again, or in any other neighborhood."

The criticism has prompted police to explain their tactics and to try
to address neighbors' concerns before the Police Commission, but they
say their approach that morning wasn't much different, except in
magnitude, than other drug raids they regularly conduct.

Although no one tracks the exact number of drug-related search
warrants served in Lane County each year, the Interagency Narcotics
Task Force averages about one search warrant a week. The task force is
made up of officers from Lane County police agencies and assisted in
the Fifth Avenue raid.

Add in busts by other county police agencies and state police and the
tally creeps close to a hundred drug warrants served a year.

In the Whiteaker case, the complexity of the properties, which
included the houses, an inhabited garage and a couple of outbuildings,
increased the risk and dictated how many officers participated and the
kind of weapons used, said Eugene police Lt. Tom Turner, head of the
Metro SWAT team.

Strong tactics are sometimes necessary in the nationwide battle
against a violent drug trade as officers become targets of criminals
bent on protecting their profits, said Capt. Steve Swenson, in charge
of special operations for Eugene police.

And although police sympathize with residents who have complained that
the Fifth Avenue raid resembled a military invasion, they aren't
willing to sacrifice officer safety to stave off criticism, he said.

"We rely on the element of surprise and speed," Swenson said. "The
third element is an overwhelming display of force when you come
through the door.

"It sounds bad, but it prevents problems. We don't know who we're
dealing with when we go through the door."

Making A Strong Presence

Marcella Monroe, 41, and Tam Davage, 35, own the three houses searched
that day. The married couple, well-known and well-liked by their
neighbors, became suspects after an August raid turned up more than
500 marijuana plants at a friend's home in Portland, according to
court documents.

After a two-month investigation, members of the Eugene police Rapid
Deployment Unit requested and received a warrant Oct. 16 from Lane
County Circuit Judge Eveleen Henry allowing the search of the houses
at 464 Adams St., 909 W. Fifth Ave. and 923 W. Fifth Ave., their
outbuildings and cars.

The unit assembled a team of officers from the Interagency Narcotics
Enforcement Team, the Metro SWAT team, the Springfield SWAT team and
the Portland Police Bureau.

They took advantage of a National Guard counterdrug program that lends
out armored vehicles for transporting officers to drug-related searches.

They tossed flash-bang grenades to distract the people inside the
houses, and they announced their arrival over the armored vehicle's
public address system as they converged on the neighborhood about 6:30
a.m. An ambulance waited nearby, a routine precaution in case someone
gets hurt.

The officers jumped from the armored truck and other vehicles and
fanned out through the properties. They didn't stop to knock, but
forced open doors and wrestled the people inside to the ground. One
officer briefly placed a black hood over Monroe's head.

The four people involved said they were frightened for their lives,
intimidated by police and shocked by the sudden chaos in their homes.

"They came in here and scared everyone to death," Monroe said. "They
trashed our houses and accused us of a crime that they have no
evidence for. They found no seeds, no pot, not one single plant - nothing."

Inside the houses, police discovered several high-powered fans,
fluorescent lights, plastic sheeting, timers, potting soil,
fertilizer, plant food, sandwich bags, a scale, 24 electrical outlets
and a shop vacuum that contained a trace of marijuana leaves,
according to the affidavit filed in support of the search warrant. All
are evidence of a well-organized marijuana growing operation that had
recently been dismantled, police spokeswoman Pam Olshanski said.

Police gave Monroe and Davage tickets for felony manufacture of a
controlled substance. Because most people jailed on nonviolent charges
are soon released to make room for more dangerous offenders, Eugene
police often write tickets to people who are cooperative, Olshanski

One of the couple's tenants was cited for possessing less than an
ounce of marijuana, a misdemeanor. Police said they found marijuana
residue in pipes and baggies inside the house he rents. He will appear
in court next week.

More than a month after the raid, no formal charges have been filed
against Davage or Monroe in Lane County Circuit Court. Police have
returned the items they seized.

The case remains under investigation and won't go to the grand jury
for indictment unless investigators gather additional information or
evidence, according to the county district attorney's office. The
district attorney can wait up to three years to file charges, after
which the statute of limitations expires and the case dies.

Monroe and Davage have denied all of the allegations and repeatedly
said that they don't use drugs and have never grown marijuana.

The items listed on police evidence forms weren't part of a growing
lab, they said, but were used in Davage's jewelry-making shop,
Monroe's landscaping businesses and renovation work being done on two
of the houses, damaged by trees toppled in last February's windstorm.

concerns at the January meeting of the city's Neighborhood Advisory

Some in the police department find the complaints ironic, particularly
since the Rapid Deployment Unit, which spearheaded the investigation
and Fifth Avenue raid, originally was created to combat drug use,
violence and prostitution in the neighborhood.

"Now, certain people want to decide what kind of cases they do,"
Thoming of the Interagency Narcotics Task Force said.

But, he said, "Society at large wants us to do this, and the community
at large wants us to do this." 
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