Pubdate: Thu, 27 Mar 2008
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2008 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Anne Blythe, Staff Writer
Cited: Durham Police Department
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


Trafficking Counts Filed Against a Duke Student Are Dismissed in a 
Package Delivery Bust

DURHAM - A prosecutor has tossed out marijuana trafficking charges 
against a Duke University student, prompting criticism from a defense 
lawyer that police are doing their business backward.

Bill Thomas, a lawyer called in to help two Duke students facing drug 
charges, said he feared police were rushing to arrest first and 
waiting to conduct their investigations later.

"The power to arrest someone is a tremendous power," Thomas said 
Wednesday. "But with that power goes a tremendous responsibility to 
conduct a full and complete investigation. You investigate first, and 
you arrest after the investigation."

The most recent case to draw a rebuke from Thomas involved Eric 
Halperin, a senior honors student at Duke. Charges against him were 
dropped early this week.

Police had intercepted a package at a DHL delivery service station 
with 27 pounds of marijuana addressed to the off-campus fraternity 
house where Halperin lived.

As part of an undercover operation, an investigator posted a note on 
the fraternity house door. The note mentioned an attempt to deliver 
the package, according to court documents, and gave a phone number to call.

Halperin, according to his attorney, called the number. The 
undercover officer, according to court documents, said the package 
was addressed to a woman at that address.

Halperin, according to Thomas, said no one by that name lived at that 
address. But the package was delivered Feb. 27.

Shortly after that, Halperin was sitting on his couch next to the 
unopened package when a special police enforcement team rushed in 
with guns raised.

"He was handcuffed at gunpoint, strip-searched, taken to jail and 
placed under a $25,000 secured bond for a crime he did not commit," 
Thomas said. "Sadly, this is the third innocent Duke student who has 
had their good name tarnished for a crime they clearly did not participate in."

Jim Dornfried, the assistant district attorney who dismissed the 
charges against Halperin, said that he thought police had sufficient 
cause to levy the charges but evidence obtained after the arrest cast 
doubt on the case.

Dornfried said the State Bureau of Investigation had been called in 
to look into the evidence -- evidence that could incriminate someone else.

An SBI investigator assigned to the case declined to comment when 
contacted several weeks ago. The DHL hub is not in Durham County.

The incident was the third of its kind in the past 11 months in which 
a Duke student was accused of trafficking drugs contained in a 
package intercepted from DHL, an express shipper with offices around the world.

"Whenever you have the drugs being delivered through a courier these 
are difficult cases to prove," Dornfried said.

In April 2007, Dornfried dismissed charges against Duke student Ryan 
Williams Packer after determining there was not enough evidence to 
proceed with police charges accusing him of trafficking 17 pounds of marijuana.

Thomas represented a female student who was taken to the police 
station at the same time, but she was not charged.

Thomas said he had hoped there would be procedural changes in the 
police department after the rush to prosecute in the Duke lacrosse 
case pointed out flaws with investigations.

"This case demonstrates without question that there's no change to 
investigative procedures," Thomas said. "I'm hopeful the new 
leadership will change that, but I see no indication of that occurring." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake