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Another Handful of Summer Drug War Deaths

The August 19 death of a black St. Louis teenager shot by police executing a drugs and guns search warrant got national attention and sparked local protests, but it was by no means the only drug war-related death in recent weeks.

At least five people have died in the drug war in the past month, bringing the number of people to die in the drug war so far this year is up to 42.

Most of those deaths went largely unremarked (except for the killing of a Memphis police officer, which sparked predictable outrage), but the killing of black teenager Mansur Ball-Bey by a white St. Louis police officer drew both protests and national concern as yet another example of police violence against black men. The fact that it happened in St. Louis, just minutes away from Ferguson, Missouri, where the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police a year ago sparked violent protests and helped lead to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, only heightened attention.

According to Reuters, police were executing a search warrant for drugs and guns at a residence when two young men fled out the back door of the home. Police said Ball-Bey, 18, turned and pointed a gun at them, and officers then fired four times, killing him.

Police said Ball-Bey's gun was stolen and that they recovered crack cocaine at the scene.

Local residents didn't buy the police account, and dozens of people quickly blocked a nearby intersection, where police arrested three people. Later that evening, more protesters gathered, with some throwing rocks at police and police responding with tear gas. The protests have continued.

An autopsy showing that Ball-Bey was shot in the back has led to more distrust and suspicion, even though police have offered an explanation, saying that officers were in different locations, and that when Ball-Bey turned toward one officer, he turned away from another one who fired. The killing remains under investigation and intense public scrutiny.

Even though police and investigating prosecutors may be able to justify Ball-Bey's death -- he had a gun, he pointed it at police -- the race of the victim and the shooter made the killing especially combustible. Other drug war deaths deserve similar scrutiny, but they rarely get it. Most of the time there is merely the initial report of the death, typically based on police comments or press releases, then… nothing.

Not all drug war deaths come at the hands of the police -- sometimes, though rarely, they are the victims -- and not all drug war deaths are homicides. Some are accidents. But the bottom line with these drug war deaths is that they would not have happened if we had a more enlightened response to drugs. These are people who have been sacrificed on the altar of drug prohibition.

Here are the others who died in the drug war in the past month:

  • In Midland, Texas, a teenage mother died on July 29 after swallowing four grams of methamphetamine during a traffic stop in a bid to protect her boyfriend, the father of her infant son. According to News West 9, Sandy Brooke Franklin, 18, and Zane Paul O'Neal, 22, were pulled over by Midland Police, and O'Neal, who was on probation, told her to swallow the drugs. She did, but ended up going to jail anyway over two traffic warrants. While in jail, she did not reveal that she had swallowed the drugs, but 36 hours later, guards noticed she was unwell. Only then did she admit ingesting the meth, but it was too late -- she died in the hospital.
  • In Memphis, a Memphis police officer was shot and killed after interrupting a small-time marijuana deal on August 1. Officer Sean Bolton had approached a parked vehicle, when a passenger got out and fought with Bolton, then shot him. Police later found 1.7 grams of marijuana and a set of scales in the car. Police said they normally wouldn't even arrest someone for that tiny amount of pot, but the accused shooter, Tremaine Wilbourne, was on parole and likely would have been jailed.
  • Near Chinook Pass, Washington, a state trooper died on August 6 while investigating a reported marijuana grow. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, Detective Brent Hanger, 47, an undercover agent on a statewide drug task force was following a tip near the mile-high pass when he "suffered a medical condition and died." He had complained of chest pains and shortness of breath before collapsing. No word on whether they ever found that pot garden.
  • In Hobbs, New Mexico, a fugitive drug suspect was shot and killed by Lea County Drug Task Force officers on August 12. According to the Hobbs News-Sun, William "Wild Bill" Smith had been on the run since a drug raid the previous week and was killed after a high-speed chase. He was a passenger in the vehicle. A week later, the New Mexico State Police provided an update on the case, which added little information except to say that "a firearm was located in the immediate area of Mr. Smith." The State Police said the investigation was ongoing.
  • In North East, Maryland, a man on probation with a history of drug offenses and drugs in his vehicle was shot and killed as he struggled with a state trooper on August 21. According to Baltimore's CBS Local News, Charles Hall, 30, was in a Walmart parking lot when he was spotted by the trooper, who attempted to place him under arrest. "… The man refused to submit, resisted, and a physical altercation began between the wanted person and the trooper. This actually moved to the driver's side of the suspect's vehicle, a physical struggle was going on, the suspect was able to get his key into the ignition, get the vehicle started," Maryland State Police spokesperson Greg Shipley explained. "So the trooper during this struggle as the vehicle was accelerating fired his department issued pistol and fatally wounded this individual." AlterNet ran a story on this incident last week that included video of Hall's wife screaming "He wasn't fucking armed!" in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Since Drug War Chronicle started tracking these deaths in 2011, they have averaged about one a week or 50 a year. But this year, we're already up to 42.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More jail guards in trouble, a DEA agent gets popped for child porn, and a Mississippi cop gets fired after getting caught in a major marijuana deal. Let's get to it:

In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a Hattiesburg police officer was fired last Wednesday amid allegations he is a target of a state and federal drug investigation. Officer Thomas Wheeler got canned after he was caught making a 600-pound marijuana deal earlier this month. Wheeler has yet to be charged, and his case will likely go before a grand jury in October.

In McAllen, Texas, a DEA special agent was arrested last Friday on child porn charges. Special Agent James Patrick Burke had been the subject of a February raid in which FBI agents seized his laptop and discovered he was viewing and downloading child pornography. It's not clear exactly what he's been charged with, but he's now on administrative leave from the DEA.

In Mobile, Alabama, a Mobile County jail guard was arrested Tuesday for allegedly selling drugs. David John Black Jr. is charged with four counts of distribution of marijuana, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The Mobile County Sheriff's Office said there was no evidence he was dealing drugs at the jail.

In Memphis, four Shelby County jail deputies pleaded guilty last Thursday to trying to smuggle prescription drugs into the jail. Torriano Vaughn, Brian Grammer, Anthony Thomas and Marcus Green had participated in a scheme to smuggle what they thought were OxyContin pills into Shelby County Jail on multiple occasions between May and December 2014. But it was a sting, and the four have now pleaded guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute. They're looking at up to 20 years.

Chronicle AM: First Las Vegas MedMJ Shop, Peru Restarting Drug Plane Shootdowns, More (8/21/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe moves toward legal marijuana, Oakland's effort to back the Harborside dispensary gets shot down in federal court, Peru wants to shoot down drug planes again, both major Kentucky governor candidates want to drug test welfare recipients, and more.

Peru claims a ton a day of cocaine is being flown out of the country. (gob.es)
Marijuana Policy

California NAACP Files Legalization Initiative. The civil rights group has filed the Community Act to Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis, the latest addition to the growing list of legalization initiatives filed in the state. Reports are that the initiative is not designed to compete with the still long-awaited proposal from ReformCA, of which the California NAACP is a member, but to submit model language in support of the broader effort. The initiative would legalize up to an ounce and allow personal grows of up to 25 square feet, as well as allow marijuana commerce.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe Votes to Legalize Marijuana on Reservation. Tribal members overwhelmingly approved two advisory questions on whether the tribe should legalize marijuana on its reservation. Recreational marijuana was approved 677 to 499, while medical marijuana was approved 899 to 275. The matter now goes to the tribal legislature, which, given the vote, will likely approve ordinances allowing for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rejects City of Oakland Lawsuit Backing Harborside Dispensary. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Oakland's lawsuit against the Justice Department and the Northern California US Attorney's office. The city had argued that closing the dispensary would deprive it of tax revenues and increase crime by creating a black market for marijuana. Then-US Attorney Melinda Haag moved in 2012 to seize Harborside, claiming it violated federal law by selling medical marijuana. The case continues even though the Justice Department has since said it generally wouldn't interfere with state marijuana laws.

First Las Vegas Dispensary Set to Open Monday. A spokesman for Euphoria Wellness said Thursday the dispensary had won final state and county approvals this week and would open for business Monday. It will be the first dispensary in Clark County. The first dispensary in the state opened last month in the Reno suburb of Sparks.

Drug Testing

Both Major Kentucky Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Do Welfare Drug Testing. Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway has joined Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin in calling for drug testing of some welfare recipients. "I don't want to see our tax dollars going to support drug addiction," Conway, the Democratic front-runner, said Thursday. But Conway called for suspicion-based drug testing, while Bevins called for random testing, and Conway rejects drug testing Medicare recipients, while Bevins is for it.

International

Peruvian Congress Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The Congress voted unanimously Thursday to allow military planes to shoot down suspected drug flights. Drug-fighting President Ollanta Humala is expected to sign the bill. Peru claims a ton of cocaine a day is flown to Bolivia. Peru used to shoot down drug planes, but stopped after one of its pilots in a CIA-run program shot down a small plane carrying US missionaries, killing US citizen Roni Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity.

Russia Threatens to Ban Wikipedia Over Drug "How To" Entry. Russia's online censor, Roskomnadzor, says it will ban the entire website from Russia unless it removes or blocks access to an article about how to make a marijuana preparation. The censor has also recently gone after Reddit and YouTube over similar postings. Click on the link for more.

Canada's NDP Would Decriminalize Marijuana "Right Away." New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair said Thursday that "the NDP's position is decriminalization the moment we form a government" and that "it's something we can do right away." The NDP is leading most polls in the elections set for October. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have called for outright legalization, but they're polling third, behind the Conservatives, who have taken a hard line opposing any moves at drug liberalization.

Dusseldorf Moves Forward on Legal Marijuana Sales Plan. Councilors in the German city Wednesday approved a pilot project to sell marijuana to adults. The move was a joint effort by the three parties that form the city's governing coalition, the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats, and the Greens. A similar move is afoot in Berlin, Germany's largest city, where councilors in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district applied for a marijuana license in June.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A DARE cop gets popped for ripping off the program, another jail guard goes down, a federal cop gets busted after his meth lab explodes, and more. Let's get to it:

In Opelousas, Louisiana, a St. Landry Parish jail guard was arrested last Thursday after he confessed to smuggling drugs and cell phones into the jail. Deputy Christopher Lazard confessing to introducing contraband on at least five separate occasions. He is charged with malfeasance in office and introduction of contraband into a jail.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, a former Brown County sheriff's deputy and a DARE volunteer were arrested last Thursday on charges they stole money from the drug education program. Former DARE officer Kevin Vanden Heuvel faces two counts of theft by an employee and two counts of misconduct in office, while former DARE volunteer Early Fuller is charged with being a party to theft and obstructing an officer. The pair stole money meant for the program by handing out fake parking passes at Lambeau Field and pocketing the money.

In Honolulu, a Honolulu police officer was arrested last Thursday during a drug raid on a home in McCully. Alan Ahn, a nine-year veteran of the force, had earlier been arrested on July 13 on domestic violence charges, but those charges had been dropped when his girlfriend, who was the victim, refused to cooperate. He and the girlfriend were sleeping together when the SWAT team raided the residence. Both were arrested for numerous drug offenses, but neither has been officially charged.

In Memphis, a Memphis police officer was arrested last Thursday by the West Tennessee Drug Task Force in a reverse sting. Officer Joshua McCann, 34, was busted trying to buy 38 hydrocodone tablets from an undercover officer. When he was arrested, police found a digital scale containing drug residue, a bullet proof vest, and a loaded handgun in his vehicle. He is charged with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance with intent to sell, possession of a handgun during the commission of a dangerous felony and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In Washington, DC, a former federal police officer was arrested Monday with trying to cook meth at work after the federal lab he was guarding exploded. Christopher Bartley worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, but resigned his position a day after the explosion. He is charged with one count of attempting to manufacture meth.

Chronicle AM: Utah SWAT Raids Almost All Drugs, Bolivia Reduces Coca Growing (Again), More (8/18/2015)

A Wisconsin tribe may legalize marijuana, Ohio foes line up against the legalization initiative there, more Washington state dispensaries will be forced to close, a Utah SWAT reporting law shows what those squads are up to -- and it isn't hostage situations or "active shooters" -- Bolivia coca growing down, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had a few choice words for US drug policy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Foes Get Organized. Business, children's advocacy, parents, religious groups, and other groups organizing to defeat the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization initiative have formed an opposition organization, No on 3. Some are opposing it because of its limitations on who could grow commercial marijuana; others, like the Ohio Children's Hospital Association, have more traditional plaints: "The legalization of marijuana in Ohio at this time and the way issue three proposes would set too dangerous of a precedent and put at risk the other three million kids in the state," said Nick Lashutka, president of the association.

Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe to Vote on Legalizing Marijuana. The Menominee, one of the poorest tribes in the country, are set to vote this week on whether to legalize and sell marijuana. The move comes after the state rejected the tribe's plan to build a casino in Kenosha. The Menominee say they are interested in marijuana to "Explore all opportunities to diversify the tribe's economy, create jobs, and provide revenue to the tribe necessary to fund health, education, social, law enforcement and and other important services."

Medical Marijuana

Most Tacoma Dispensaries to Be Shut Down. The city council this week decided to shut down most of the city's 60 unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries have 45 days to close. After passage of Senate Bill 5052, which essentially folds the medical marijuana system into the recreational marijuana system, dispensaries and collective gardens will have to get licenses from the state beginning next July 1 or shut their doors.

Heroin and Opioids

Massachusetts Officials Want to Jack Up Penalties for Fentanyl. State Attorney General Martha Healey joined legislators and law enforcement officials at a press conference Tuesday to press for legislation that would double prison sentences for people caught in possession of more than 10 grams of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. People caught with large amounts of heroin face up to 30 years, but under a lacuna in state law, people caught with large amounts of synthetic opioids can only be charged with possession with intent to distribute, with a maximum sentence of 10 years. "By criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl, we will give police and law enforcement the tools they need to get this deadly drug off the streets and out of the hands of those struggling with addiction," Healey said. Some 1,200 people died of drug overdoses in the state last year, and another 312 in the first quarter of this year. [Ed: Why 10 years isn't more than enough for almost any law enforcement purpose, especially in a time of mass incarceration when that type of sentencing is coming under increasing criticism from across the political aisle, is not clear. How sad that a Democrat and former civil rights official in a liberal state is campaigning for longer sentences.]

Law Enforcement

Utah SWAT Reporting Law Shows Overwhelming Majority of Deployments Were for Drug Raids. Utah passed a SWAT reporting law last year, and now the first numbers are in. They show that SWAT teams were deployed nearly twice a day (559 reported incidents, with 25% of agencies failing to report) and, most startlingly, 83% of all SWAT deployments were to serve search warrants for drug offenses. Two-thirds (65%) of the drug raid SWAT deployments either "no-knock" or "knock and announce" raids where police force entry into homes without giving residents a chance to just let them in. Much more at the link.

International

Bolivia Coca Production Falls for Fourth Straight Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced Monday that the amount of land devoted to coca production dropped by 11% last year, continuing a trend that has seen land devoted to coca drop by more than a third since 2010. President Evo Morales touted his government's approach as more effective than the US-led war on drugs. "Eradication and fighting a war on drugs with military bases is not the solution, as we've seen in some Andean countries, where there are US officials waging the war on drugs," he said. He was referring to the world's two largest coca and cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, where eradication efforts have provoked sometimes bloody strife.

Chronicle AM: WY MedMJ Init Underway, DOJ Investigating Police Killing of SC Teen, More (8/14/2015)

CBD cannabis oil goes on sale in England, a medical marijuana initiative is getting underway in Wyoming, the Justice Department will look into the police killing of teenager Zach Hammond in a small-time marijuana bust, and more.

The DOJ will investigate the police killing of Zachary Hammond during a small-time marijuana bust. (Hammond family)
Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Expansion Bill Filed. Sarasota state Rep. Greg Steube (R) filed a bill Thursday that would expand the state's CBC cannabis oil program. The measure, House Bill 63, would lower barriers to entry for would-be medical marijuana growers and manufacturers, particularly by removing limits on the number of manufacturers.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Signature-Gathering Campaign Getting Underway. An initiative campaign led by Wyoming NORML is getting underway this weekend. The group is set to unveil the initiative this weekend. They will need to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

New Psychoactive Substances

Vermont Lawmakers Add 75 New Drugs to State's List of Controlled Substances. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules Thursday approved an amendment to the state's law on controlled substances that adds 75 new substances to the list. Most of them are synthetic cannabinoids, but the list also includes aceto-fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Will Investigate Killing of South Carolina Teen in Pot Bust. The Justice Department announced Wednesday night that it will investigate the killing of Zachary Hammond, 19, who was shot and killed by a Seneca police officer on July 26. Hammond was the driver of a vehicle whose passenger was targeted by police for selling small amounts of marijuana. Police claimed he threatened them by driving toward an officer, but Hammond's family says autopsy results show he was shot through the driver's side window from behind, suggesting that the officer was not in danger.

International

First Legal CBD Cannabis Oil Goes on Sale in England. A London and Kent-based company has begun distributing "Charlotte's Web" cannabis oil in England. Authorities had approved such sales last month.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Carolina cop already in prison for stealing pain pills is now charged with marijuana trafficking, a Texas narc gets probation for stealing and using drug dog training drugs, and another prison guard goes down. Just another week of drug war-related law enforcement corruption. Let's get to it:

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a former New Hanover County Sheriff's Office narcotics officer was charged last Thursday with marijuana trafficking and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Joseph Antoine LeBlanc, 43, is already doing more than four years in prison after pleading guilty last October to more than a hundred counts of stealing evidence -- prescription pain pills -- and forging court orders to obtain more from local pharmacies. The new charges arise from a pot stash found on his property after he was already jailed.

In Princeton, Kentucky, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday after a tip to the State Police led to a drug dog search of his car, which in turn led to the discovery of four packages of marijuana and prescriptions. A later search of his residence turned up three more bags of weed. Officer Geoffrey Nettesheim was arrested and jailed on as yet unspecified charges.

In Fort Worth, Texas, a former Grapevine K-9 officer was sentenced last Friday to five years' probation for stealing and consuming drugs used for training drug dogs. Danny Macchio, 50, had reported that someone had broken into his official patrol/K-9 vehicle while parked at his Fort Worth home and stolen a case of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, along with a personal handgun. Grapevine police began an internal investigation and required Macchio to take a drug test, but his family reported him missing the next day. After being found in the Panhandle, he confessed that his vehicle hadn't been robbed and that he taken and used the drugs himself. He was originally charged with misuse of government property and abuse of official capacity, but a Tarrant County grand jury also indicted him on a charge of evidence tampering, and that's what he copped to.

Chronicle AM: Judge Throws Out More Philly Cases, India Shiva Pilgrims Toke Up, More (8/7/15)

An Oregon congressman calls for down-scheduling marijuana, an Oklahoma US senator wants to punish tribes that allow marijuana, Boston's first dispensary is likely coming soon, drug hair-testing for truck drivers edges closer, and more.

Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage to the Ganges are taking full advantage of wild cannabis on the way. (wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Earl Blumenauer Calls for Rescheduling or Descheduling Marijuana. The Oregon Democratic congressman sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday urging her to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to reflect science and the government's position on this issue." Blumenauer added that "It is clear to the American people, scientists and researchers that marijuana should not be categorized as a Schedule I drug."

Oklahoma Senator Files Bill to Punish Tribes That Allow Pot. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has filed a bill that would cut all federal funds for any Indian tribes or tribal organizations that allow the cultivation, manufacture, or distribution of marijuana on their reservations. The Justice Department earlier this year gave tribes the go ahead to get into the marijuana business if they wanted. Lankford's bill, the KIDS (Keeping Out Illegal Drugs) ACT, is not yet available on the congressional website, but can be viewed here.

Medical Marijuana

First Boston Dispensary Could Open Soon. Patriot Care Corporation has received tentative approval from zoning board officials to open the first dispensary in the city, despite some opposition from locals. After twice delaying a decision, the Zoning Board of Appeals decided Tuesday to grant Patriot Care conditional approval. The state's first dispensary opened in June in Salem.

Drug Testing

Federal Advisory Board Recommends Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMSHA) Drug Testing Advisory Board has recommended that hair testing be approved as an alternative drug screening technique for truck drivers and other "safety-sensitive" federal workers. The recommendation now goes to the head of SAMSHA, and if she approves it, it would then go to the Department of Health and Human Services. Hair drug testing detects drug use for much longer periods of time than urine or blood testing.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Judge Throws Out 158 More Convictions Linked to Corrupt Narcs. Philly's dirty narcs may have managed to avoid criminal convictions for their misdeeds, but their actions continue to reverberate through the city's criminal justice system. A city judge today threw out 158 more criminal convictions linked to the narcs, bringing the total of vacated convictions involving the seven officers to 560, and more are on the way. More than 135 civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the city as a result of cases involving the seven narcotics officers.

International

Indian Shiva Devotees on Pilgrimage Enjoying Roadside Cannabis. Shiva devotees on the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage route toward the Ganges are staying high on overgrowths of cannabis along the roads. The devotees are big smokers: "Without weed, the yatra remains incomplete," said one. "It brings me closer to Bhole Baba," said another. "Its usage also helps one cover long distances from Haridwar to Meerut on foot, as it keeps the body's energy intact," he added. State officials are supposed to eradicate wild cannabis growth, but are having a hard time: "It has grown almost everywhere. How do we destroy it?" asked one official who declined to be named. Another said that eradication is so ineffective it ought to be decriminalized.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

We have a Philadelphia twofer this week, an Indiana cop who killed himself after getting busted stealing pain pills, an Oklahoma K9 cop popped for stealing dope, another jail guard in trouble, and more.

In Michigan City, Indiana, a Michigan City police officer was arrested last Tuesday for possession of a "legend drug" without a prescription and two counts of official misconduct. Four days later, Officer Robert Grant committed suicide. He had served 12 years with the department.

In Checotah, Oklahoma, a Checotah K9 officer was arrested last Friday after drugs went missing. Officer Matthew Benton LeMasters, 35, went down after the police chief asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the missing drugs a month ago. He's charged with obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

In San Antonio, a Bexar County detention deputy was arrested last Friday after an undercover investigation showed he had provided drugs and other contraband to inmates at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center that morning. Deputy Termaine Elliot, 22, is now charged with bribery and possession of a controlled substance in a correctional facility. Both are felonies with sentences of to 20 years.

In Troy, New York, a former Watervliet police officer was arrested Tuesday as one of 20 alleged members of a Troy-based drug trafficking ring. Nicholas Pontore, 29, is accused of providing protection from the ring and regularly buying cocaine from one of its members, sometimes in uniform while on duty. Police seized more than a kilo of cocaine, more than 100 bags of heroin, and $100,000 in cash during the bust. It's not clear what the exact charges against Pastore are.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police narcotics officer was found guilty last Friday of stealing cash from a drug dealer's Lexus. Gerold Gibson, 45, went down in a sting. The Lexus didn't belong to a drug dealer and it had hidden cameras put there as part of a police "integrity test." The jury convicted him of theft by deception, receiving stolen property, theft by failing to make required disposition of funds, obstruction of the administration of law, and tampering with evidence.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police narcotics officer was sentenced last Thursday to 3 ½ years in federal prison for crimes he admitted participating in while a member of the Narcotics Field Unit. Jeffrey Walker testified against six of his former colleagues, but they were acquitted, so it looks like the one who came clean is the only one going to the slammer. Although they failed to win a conviction in the larger case, federal prosecutors still said Walker was a "credible witness" and the sentencing judge agreed. He granted a downward departure from sentencing guidelines that called for nine to 11 years.

Memphis Cop Killed After Interrupting $20 Marijuana Deal

The Memphis police officer who was shot and killed last Saturday night died after approaching a vehicle and interrupting an apparent marijuana transaction. Officer Sean Bolton was shot in the head during the incident and died that same evening.

Officer Bolton becomes the 37th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. All the others are civilians, except for a pair of Mississippi police officers killed in April in a traffic stop turned drug search.

At a Sunday press conference, Memphis Police Chief Toney Armstrong said Officer Bolton saw a vehicle parked illegally, pulled in front of it, and turned on his spotlight. As Bolton approached, a passenger got out and fought with Bolton, then shot him.

"After inventorying the suspect vehicle, it was found that Officer Bolton apparently interrupted some sort of drug transaction," Armstrong said, noting that police found a digital scale and 1.7 grams of marijuana. "We're talking about less than 2 grams of marijuana. We're talking about a misdemeanor citation. We probably would not have even transported for that."

That such a seemingly petty offense resulted in an officer's death galled the police chief.

"You gun down, you murder a police officer, for less than two grams of marijuana," he said. "You literally destroy a family. Look at the impact this has had on this department, this community, this city, for less than two grams of marijuana."

But for someone on parole, getting caught with even a little weed could have serious consequences. The man who police have identified as the suspect, 29-year-old Tremaine Wilbourn, was on parole after serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. Now he's back behind bars, awaiting trial for murder.

Memphis, TN
United States

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