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First Drug War Death of the Year

[Editor's Note: For the past two years, we have been tracking all reported deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement activity in the US, including the border. We continue to do so this year. If you have information about a death we haven't included, please contact us. Remember, we are only tallying those deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement -- for an example of a close call that didn't make the list, see the latter part of the article below.]

Well, that didn't take long. A Tampa, Florida, man was shot and killed by undercover police officers during a drug sting last Wednesday night. Robert Early Gary, Jr., 31, becomes the first person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement activities this year.

According to our tally, 55 people died in US domestic drug law enforcement operations in 2011 and 63 last year. Read our report on last year's toll here.

Police told the Tampa Bay Tribune Gary was shot and killed by an undercover deputy who was buying drugs when Gary tried to rob him of the money he was carrying. Sheriff's Colonel Donna Lusczynski said the two began fighting and fell down a stairwell. The deputy lost his handgun in the struggle, and as the men fought for the weapon, it discharged several times.

Two backup deputies were nearby. Lusczynski said the deputies told Gary to drop the gun, and when he failed to comply, they shot him.

"They saw the deputy in a fight for his life and they shot the suspect," she said.

The undercover deputy, who remains unnamed, was injured, but not shot. He was evaluated and released at a local hospital Wednesday night.

People at the scene and Gary's relatives took issue with the police account.

"There was no reason to shoot him down," said his stepfather, Dallas Gillyard, outside a nearby home where a crowd of people had gathered. "Was it because of his previous record or the color of his skin?" Gillyard asked.

Gillyard accused the police of lying about what happened. "He wasn't going to rob anybody," Gillyard said. "If he would do anything, he would give you something. If you're going to tell a lie, tell me elephants fly, too," Gillyard said. "Every time (police) kill somebody, it's justified."

In an earlier account, WTSP TV reported that residents of the area, a poor, mixed race neighborhood known colloquially as "Suitcase City," said the killing was just the latest incident of racial profiling in a neighborhood where police harass residents constantly.

"This is a deliberate act. You don't shoot someone six or seven times. It's just not right. It's uncalled for," said one witness.

The three deputies involved have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, which is standard practice when a deputy discharges a weapon.

Five days earlier, police in Philadelphia shot and killed a North Philly man in an incident with distinct drug prohibition overtones even though it doesn't qualify for our tally of killings directly related to drug law enforcement.

According to Philadelphia police, they were investigating an armed robbery when they encountered Darrell Banks, 47, who they said matched the description of the suspect. Banks allegedly took off running, and police claim he pointed at object at them when they tried to stop him. An officer shot him once; he died a short time later at Temple University hospital.

Police didn't find a weapon, but said they recovered "a small amount of drugs" at the scene, which could explain why Banks, who had a previous record that included drug charges, was trying to avoid them.

"He had no gun on him," said Terra Banks, his niece. "He had his cell phone!" She told NBC 10 News he left behind 10 children and six grandchildren. "We want justice," said Terra. "We want the cop who did this to be brought to justice!"

The Philadelphia police Internal Affairs unit is currently investigating the shooting.

In both Tampa and Philadelphia, the dead persons were black males. Black males were also disproportionately represented among the tally of drug war deaths in 2011 and 2012.

Tampa, FL
United States

Who Was Killed in America's Drug War Last Year? [FEATURE]

For the past two years, Drug War Chronicle has been tracking all the US deaths directly attributable to domestic drug law enforcement, including the border. You can view the 2011 deaths here and the 2012 deaths here.Soon, we will hand our findings out to criminal justice and other professionals and then issue a report seeking to identify ways to reduce the toll. In the meantime, we can look at the raw numbers from last year and identify some trends.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wendell-allen-200px.jpg
A New Orleans police officer was indicted for killing Wendell Allen during a drug raid in March. (family photo)
Before we begin, though, it's important to note our resource and data limitations, as well as explaining what gets included and what doesn't. We depended largely on Google news alerts for "officer shoots" or "officer kills" and their variations (trooper shoots, deputy shoots, police shoot, etc.) We can't claim that the list is exhaustive -- some initial reports never mention drugs, although they were involved; some others may have slid through the cracks. (Our tally includes several cases where people collapsed and died during or immediately after being arrested; the drug link became apparent only weeks or months later when toxicology reports came back. We could have missed others.)

We also used fairly tight criteria for inclusion. These deaths had to have occurred during drug law enforcement activities. That means people whose deaths may be at least partially blamed more broadly on drug prohibition (overdoses, AIDS and Hepatitis C victims, for example) are not included. Neither are the deaths of people who may have been embittered by previous drug law enforcement operations who later decide to go out in a blaze of glory, nor the deaths of their victims.

It's only people who died because of drug law enforcement. And even that is something of a grey area. One example is traffic stops. Although they ostensibly are aimed at public safety, drug law enforcement is at least a secondary consideration and, sometimes, as in the case of "pretextual stops," the primary consideration, so we include those deaths when it looks appropriate. Another close call was the case of a Michigan father accused of smoking marijuana and reported to Child Protective Services by police. He was shot and killed in a confrontation with police over that issue. We included him even though it was not directly drug law enforcement that got him killed, but the enforcement of child custody orders related to marijuana use. It could be argued either way whether he should not have been included; we decided to include him.

Because we are a small nonprofit with limited resources, we have been unable to follow-up on many of the cases. Every law enforcement-related death is investigated, but those findings are too often unpublished, and we (I) simply lack the resources to track down the results of those investigations. That leaves a lot of questions unanswered -- and some law enforcement agencies and their personnel, and maybe some others, off the hook.

We attempted to provide the date, name, age, race, and gender of each victim, but were unable to do so in every case. We also categorized the type of enforcement activity (search warrant service, traffic stops, undercover buy operations, suspicious activity reports, etc.), whether the victim was armed with a firearm, whether he brandished it, and whether he shot it, as well as whether there was another type of weapon involved (vehicle, knife, sword, etc.) and whether the victim was resisting arrest or attempting to flee. Again, we didn't get all the information in every case.

Here's what we found:

In 2012, 63 people died in the course of US domestic drug law enforcement operations, or one about every six days. Eight of the dead were law enforcement officers; 55 were civilians.

Law Enforcement Deaths

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/officer-victor-soto-velez.jpg
Officer Victor Soto-Velez was ambushed in Camuy, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in June.
Law enforcement deaths began and ended the year. The first drug war death, on January 4, was that of Ogden, Utah, police officer Jared Francom, who was serving on the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force when he was shot and killed during a "knock and enter" SWAT-style raid on a suspected marijuana grower. Five other officers were also shot and wounded, as was the homeowner, Matthew Stewart, who is now charged with his killing and faces a death sentence if convicted.

The last drug war death of the year, on December 14, was that of Memphis police officer Martoiya Lang, who was shot and killed serving a "drug-related search warrant" as part of an organized crime task force. Another officer was wounded, and the shooter, Trevino Williams, has been charged with murder. The homeowner was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

In between Francom and Lang, six other officers perished fighting the drug war. In February, Clay County (Florida) Sheriff's Detective David White was killed in a shootout at a meth lab that also left the suspect dead. In April, Greenland, New Hampshire, Police Chief Michael Maloney was shot in killed in a drug raid that also left four officers wounded. In that case, the shooter and a woman companion were later found dead inside the burnt out home.

In June, Puerto Rican narcotics officer Victor Soto Velez was shot and killed in an ambush as he sat in his car. Less than two months later, Puerto Rican police officer Wilfredo Ramos Nieves was shot and killed as he participated in a drug raid. The shooter was wounded and arrested, and faces murder charges.

Interdicting drugs at the border also proved hazardous. In October, Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie was shot and killed in a friendly fire incident as he and other Border Patrol agents rushed to investigate a tripped sensor near the line. And early last month, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed when a Mexican marijuana smuggling boat rammed his off the Southern California coast. Charges are pending against the smugglers.

Civilian Deaths

Civilian deaths came in three categories: accidental, suicide, and shot by police. Of the 55 civilians who died during drug law enforcement operations, 43 were shot by police. One man committed suicide in a police car, one man committed suicide in his bedroom as police approached, and a man and a woman died in the aftermath of the Greenland, New Hampshire, drug raid mentioned above, either in a mutual suicide pact or as a murder-suicide.

Five people died in police custody after ingesting packages of drugs. They either choked to death or died of drug overdoses. One man died after falling from a balcony while fleeing from police. One man died in an auto accident fleeing police. One Louisville woman, Stephanie Melson, died when the vehicle she was driving was hit by a drug suspect fleeing police in a high-speed chase on city streets.

The Drug War and the Second Amendment

Americans love their guns, and people involved with drugs are no different. Of the 43 people shot and killed by police, 21 were in possession of firearms, and in two cases, it was not clear if they were armed or not. Of those 21, 17 brandished a weapon, or displayed it in a threatening manner. But only 10 people killed by police actually fired their weapon. Merely having a firearm increased the perceived danger to police and the danger of being killed by them.

In a handful of cases, police shot and killed people they thought were going for guns. Jacksonville, Florida, police shot and killed Davinian Williams after he made a "furtive movement" with his hands after being pulled over for driving in a "high drug activity area." A month later, police in Miami shot and killed Sergio Javier Azcuy after stopping the vehicle in which he was a passenger during a cocaine rip-off sting. They saw "a dark shiny object" in his hand. It was a cell phone. There are more examples in the list.

Several people were shot and killed as they confronted police with weapons in their own homes. Some may have been dangerous felons, some may have been homeowners who grabbed a gun when they heard someone breaking into their homes. The most likely case of the latter is that of an unnamed 66-year-old Georgia woman shot and killed by a local drug task doing a "no knock" drug raid at her home. In another case from Georgia, David John Thomas Hammett, 60, was shot and killed when police encountered him in a darkened hallway in his home holding "a black shiny object." It was a can of pepper spray. Neither victim appears to have been the target of police, but they're still dead.

Police have reason to be wary of guns. Of the eight law enforcement officers killed enforcing the drug laws last year, seven were killed by gunfire. But at least 22 unarmed civilians were shot and killed by police, and at least four more were killed despite not having brandished their weapons.

It's Not Just Guns; It's Cars, Too

In at least seven cases, police shot and killed people after their vehicles rammed police cars or as they dragged police officers down the street. It is difficult to believe that all of these people wanted to injure or kill police officers. Many if not most were probably just trying to escape. But police don't seem inclined to guess (which might be understandable if you're being dragged by a moving car.)

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/danielle-willard-200px.jpg
Danielle Misha Willard, a relapsed heroin user, was shot by West Valley, UT police in a parking lot in November. (facebook.com)
Race and Gender

Getting killed in the drug war is mostly a guy thing. Of the 63 people killed, only six were women, including one police officer. One was the Georgia homeowner, another was the Louisville woman driver hit by a fleeing suspect, a third was the unnamed woman who died in the Greenland, New Hampshire raid. Other than the Memphis police officer, only two women were killed because of their drug-related activities.

Getting killed in the drug war is mostly a minority thing too. Of the 55 dead civilians, we do not have a racial identification on eight. Of the remaining 47, 23 were black, 14 were Hispanic, nine were white, and one was Asian. Roughly three out four drug war deaths were of minority members, a figure grossly disproportionate to their share of the population.

Bringing Police to Justice

Many drug war deaths go unnoticed and un-mourned. Others draw protests from friends and family members. Few stir up public outrage, and fewer yet end up with action being taken against police shooters. Of the 55 civilians who died during drug law enforcement activities, charges have been filed against the police shooters in only two particularly egregious cases. Both cases have generated significant public protest.

One is the case of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old black teenager from the Bronx. Graham was chased into his own apartment by undercover NYPD officers conducting drug busts on the street nearby. He ran into his bathroom, where he was apparently trying to flush drugs down the toilet, and was shot and killed by the police officer who followed him there. Graham was unarmed, police have conceded. A small amount of pot was found floating in the toilet bowl. Now, NYPD Officer Richard Haste, the shooter, has been indicted on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, with trial set for this coming spring.

The other case is that of Wendell Allen, 20, a black New Orleans resident. Allen was shot and killed when he appeared on the staircase of a home that was being raided for marijuana sales by New Orleans police. He was unarmed and was not holding anything that could be mistaken for a weapon. Officer Jason Colclough, the shooter, was indicted on manslaughter charges in August after he refused a plea bargain on a negligent homicide charge. When he will go to trial is unclear.

Criminal prosecutions of police shooters, even in egregious cases, is rare. Winning a conviction is even less unlikely. When Lima, Ohio, police officer Joe Chavalia shot and killed unarmed Tanika Wilson, 26, and wounded the baby she was holding in her arms during a SWAT drug raid in 2008, he was the rare police officer to be indicted. But he walked at trial

It doesn't usually work out that way when the tables are turned. Ask Corey Maye, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for killing a police officer who mistakenly entered his duplex during a drug raid even though he argued credibly that he thought police were burglars and he acted in self defense. It took 10 years before Maye was able to first get his death sentence reduced to life, then get his charges reduced to manslaughter, allowing him to leave prison.

Or ask Ryan Frederick, who is currently sitting in prison in Virginia after being convicted of manslaughter in the 2008 death of Chesapeake Det. Jarrod Shivers. Three days after a police informant burglarized Frederick's home, Shivers led a a SWAT team on a no-knock raid. Frederick shot through the door as Shivers attempted to break through it, killing him. He argued that he was acting in self-defense, not knowing what home invaders were on the other side of the door, but in prison he sits.

Both the Graham and the Allen cases came early in the year. Late in 2012, two more cases that would appear to call out for criminal prosecutions of police occurred. No charges have been filed against police so far in either case.

On October 25, undocumented Guatemalan immigrants Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar were shot and killed by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who shot from a helicopter at the pickup truck carrying them as it fled from an attempted traffic stop. Texas authorities said they thought the truck was carrying drugs, but it wasn't -- it was carrying undocumented Guatemalan immigrants who had just crossed the border. Authorities said they sought to disable the truck because it was "traveling at reckless speeds, endangering the public." But the truck was traveling down a dirt road surrounded by grassy fields in an unpopulated area. The Guatemalan consulate and the ACLU of Texas are among those calling for an investigation, and police use of force experts from around the country pronounced themselves stunned at the Texas policy of shooting at vehicles from helicopters. Stay tuned.

Two weeks later, undercover police in West Valley, Utah, shot and killed Danielle Misha Leonard, 21, in the parking lot of an apartment building. Leonard, a native of Vancouver, Washington, had been addicted to heroin and went to Utah to seek treatment. Perhaps it didn't take. Police have been extremely slow to release details on her killing, but she appears to have been unarmed. An undercover police vehicle had boxed her SUV into a parking spot, and the windshield and both side windows had been shattered by gunfire. Later in November, in their latest sparse information release on the case, police said only that she had been shot twice in the head and that they had been attempting to contact her in a drug investigation. Friends and family have set up a Justice for Danielle Willard Facebook page to press for action.

Now, it's a new year, and nobody has been killed in the drug war so far. But this is only day two.

Memphis Officer, Dallas Man Killed in Separate Drug War Incidents

A Memphis police officer was shot and killed early last Friday morning during a marijuana raid, and, hours later, a Dallas man was shot and killed by police investigating a drug complaint. Memphis Police Officer Martoiya Lang and the as yet unidentified Dallas man become the 62nd and 63rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Memphis, according to the Associated Press, Lang was part of an organized crime unit serving a "drug-related search warrant" when a person in the house opened fire, striking Lang and Officer William Vrooman. Lang died of her injuries, while Vrooman, who was struck multiple times, was in stable condition at a local hospital.

Police returned fire, critically wounding the shooter, who was later identified as Treveno Campbell, 21. He has now been charged with one count of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. A second man in the house, Willie Braddock, 26, was charged with possession of marijuana and intent to distribute.

In Dallas, according to KDFW Fox 4 News, police had received a complaint about drug activity at an Oak Cliff apartment complex and pulled over two men in a "suspicious" vehicle in the apartment parking lot. Police said a fight broke out between one of the men and an officer, and when that man pulled out a gun, a police officer opened fire and killed him.

Police have not released the names of any of the parties involved.

The dead man in Dallas was later identified as Kenny Ellis, 30.

Georgia Police Kill Armed Man During Marijuana Bust

Police officers in Buford, Georgia, shot and killed a man who refused to drop his weapon after they encountered him as they investigated a report of marijuana smoking last Tuesday night. Jose Antonio Hernandez-Gonzalez, 20, becomes the 61st person to die so far this year in US domestic drug enforcement operations.

According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, citing police sources, Gwinnett County police arrived at a North Alexander Street apartment complex following a report of "several people smoking marijuana." They found five people in the parking lot and an officer began to frisk an adult Hispanic male, later identified as Hernandez-Gonzalez. He reportedly "pulled away" from the officer, drew a handgun, and held it to his own head.

"During this time officers continuously ordered Hernandez to put down his weapon and Hernandez made verbal refusals," police spokesman Lt. Jake Smith said. "Hernandez told officers that he would not put down the gun, and that they would have to shoot him.

After an attempt to subdue him with a taser failed (one prong failed to penetrate his clothing), four officers opened fire, killing him on the spot.

In addition to the loaded .357 revolver Hernandez-Gonzales was holding, police also found a loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at his feet and several baggies of marijuana in his pockets.

The four officers involved in the shooting have been placed on routine administrative leave while the department's "deadly force investigation team" reviews the shooting.

It was unclear if any of the other men with Hernandez-Gonzalez were detained, but a bystander was arrested for disorderly conduct several hours later for "cursing loudly in the parking lot… for an extended period of time," Smith said.

Buford, GA
United States

Ohio Cop Kills One in Undercover Bust Gone Bad

Cincinnati Police undercover officers shot and killed one man and wounded another during a drug buy gone bad Wednesday night. Montez Oneal, 19, becomes the 59th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to WKRC TV 12 News, acting Police Chief James Whalen said Friday Oneal was driving a car that drove away from two undercover officers who attempted to pull it over after buying heroin from the three men inside. Oneal's vehicle eventually drove into a dead end, when he allegedly put the car in reverse and slammed into the unmarked car carrying the undercover officers. Another Cincinnati police officer in a patrol car then pulled his cruiser beside Oneal's car to try to box him in.

At that point, according to Whalen, one of the men then jumped out of the vehicle, pointed a weapon at the uniformed officer, then fled as the officer fired on him. Whalen said police did not think that suspect had been hit. He remains at large.

Then, Oneal stepped halfway out of his car and fired at the uniformed officer with a .45 caliber handgun. The officer returned fire, striking Oneal multiple times. He died at the scene. A third man in the vehicle, Robert Matthews, 23, who was the target of the investigation, was in the back seat. He was wounded when the officer fired on Oneal, then treated at a local hospital and jailed.

The police shooter, Officer Orlando Smith, has been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation into the shooting.

Cincinnati, OH
United States

Another Trio of Drug War Deaths

Colorado and Washington may have legalized marijuana, but the drug war continues apace. We here record two more deaths in the name of drug prohibition. The two who died in separate incidents become the 57th and 58th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

In Cartersville, Georgia, an as yet unidentified 66-year-old woman was shot and killed in her home by drug task force members executing a search warrant there, according to local press reports. Police said members of the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force were executing the search warrant after dusk last Thursday evening when they encountered an "armed assailant" and opened fire.

A member of the woman's family said police entered with a "no-knock" warrant, meaning they were allowed to legally burst into the home without notifying the residents beforehand.

Police said the two shooters have been placed on administrative leave pending an inquiry by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"That was my aunt and she has never ever hurt anyone," wrote someone identifying herself as Tina Bunn in the comments section of the article linked to above. "She had a heart like no one I ever seen, but her being shot by cops, I don't even know what to say, but what is our world coming to today? You will be so missed and we will think about you every day. I hope your afterlife is what you thought it would be, and say hi to all our family that left before you, and one day we will all be back together. RIP and God be with us to help us with this pain of saying good bye."

"This was a good woman, had a heart of gold that lived alone with her two dogs!" added a commenter identified only as Brandon. "She didn't deserve to be shot down like that! She had to be scared and couldn't have known what was going on! I hope the police officers that pulled the triggers feel real good and powerful about what they did! We will always love and miss you, Miss Jean! RIP."

In Tucson, Arizona, Vladimir Cardenas, 23, was shot and killed by a Pima County deputy sheriff during a traffic stop Friday as he traveled with drugs and weapons in his car, according to a Pima County Sheriff's Department press release. Police said a deputy pulled over Cardenas' vehicle in north Tucson, and while the two men talked, Cardenas pointed a gun at the deputy, who then shot him. He died soon after at a local hospital.

The deputy who shot Cardenas was identified as Nicholas Norris. He has been placed on routine administrative leave while the shooting is probed.

As part of the investigation conducted at the scene Friday night, detectives with the Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Division obtained a search warrant for Cardenas' vehicle. They found different types of drugs, drug paraphernalia, and a variety of weapons. Cardenas was also wanted on a misdemeanor warrant from Tucson.
 

Utah Undercover Cops Kill Woman Heroin User

Undercover police officers in West Valley, Utah, shot and killed a relapsed heroin user in the parking lot of an apartment building last Friday afternoon. Police have yet to confirm that it was a drug investigation, but all signs point to it. Danielle Misha Willard, 21, becomes the 56th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Danielle Misha Willard (facebook.com)
Because police have been slow to release information, the circumstances of the killing remain somewhat murky. But according to Fox 13 TV, police said two undercover officers were involved, and one received minor injuries, although not from gunfire. The officers were on the scene "trying to contact someone regarding an investigation, but the nature of that investigation hasn't been officially disclosed."

"We want to complete the investigation before any specific details are announced," said West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell. "It's in our best interest and everyone's best interest to collect all details before any specific statement is made."

According to the Deseret News
, a gray SUV belonging to Willard was parking in a parking stall and a red SUV was parked directly behind it. The driver's side of the red vehicle was wedged against the back of the gray SUV , in what appears to have been an effort to block it from leaving, but police said the red vehicle was not a police vehicle.

Willard's body was on the ground nearby. The front windshield of her vehicle had what appeared to be two bullet holes, and both the driver's side and the passenger's side windows also appeared to be shattered.

Police have not said if Willard was the subject of their investigation, whether there was an exchange of gunfire, or whether the young woman was armed.

Her mother, Melissa Kennedy, told Fox 13 Willard had been addicted to heroin and had gone to Salt Lake City to undergo drug treatment, but had recently relapsed.

"Danielle struggled with heroin, she tried many times to get away from it. She tried by herself. I went through with her for a couple weeks. She went through three facilities, the last one in Utah," said Kennedy, Danielle’s mother. It sounds like drugs were involved because undercover cops were there," she added.

While Willard may have been using heroin, she was not likely to have been armed, her mother said.

"My daughter has never carried a weapon in her life. She's about 100 pounds soaking wet," Kennedy said. "How can she be so scary that someone feels like they have to shoot her?"

Police said they would release more information Monday, but failed to do so.

West Valley, UT
United States

Texas Trooper Fires on Fleeing Truck, "Drug Load," Two Dead

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper in a helicopter opened fire on a fleeing pick-up truck suspected of carrying a "drug load" last Thursday, but the truck wasn't carrying drugs -- it was instead carrying undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, and two of them were killed in the shooting. Marco Antonio Castro and Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar become the 54th and 55th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman Tom Vinger said the incident began when Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens attempted to pull over the truck, which they thought was hauling drugs. When the driver refused to stop, the game wardens called DPS for help.

"During the pursuit, the vehicle appeared to have a typical 'covered' drug load in the bed of the truck," Vinger said. "DPS aircraft joined the pursuit of the suspected drug load, which was traveling at reckless speeds, endangering the public. A DPS trooper discharged his firearm from the helicopter to disable the vehicle."

The truck swerved, then came to halt after a tire was punctured. No drugs were found in it, but it was carrying nine Guatemalan nationals, one of whom was wounded by gunfire in addition to the two who were killed.

Guatemalan consul in McAllen, Texas, Alba Caceres said all the men had traveled together from the city of San Martin Jilotepeque in Chimaltenango, paying $2,000 each to get to the US-Mexico border and another $3,000 to be transported to the interior US. Most were headed to New Jersey. The group had crossed the Rio Grande River Thursday morning and walked six hours through the scrub before meeting up with the pick-up truck, Caceres said.

"We need a serious and big investigation into this case because I cannot understand why DPS made the decision to shoot them," she said. "I have never seen something similar to this."

After talking with survivors, Caceres later told the Associated Press the men told her the tarp covering them in the bed of the pick-up blew off the truck during the chase, leaving them clearly visible from the air.

"These statements taken from the survivors leave me outraged," she said. "I can't conceive how a police officer fires at unarmed humans. These are people from humble origins that even at first glance do not look like hardened criminals."

Caceres wasn't alone in demanding an investigation. Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas also joined the call.

"What we know so far raises disturbing questions," Burke said. "Why is a state game warden involved in enforcement of federal immigration law? Why is a game warden in dangerous high-speed pursuit of people who were suspected of nothing more than a civil offense? And where's the 'public safety' when a trooper in a helicopter opens fire on unarmed persons in a vehicle on a public road?"

Earlier this year, DPS Director Steve McCraw said the use of armed sharpshooters on helicopters patrolling the border region was necessary to secure the safety of law enforcement.

"That's what our aerial assets are doing, and we need to protect those aerial assets and in doing so, we put a sniper on those," he said of armed helicopter agents. "And we're really not apologetic about it. We've got an obligation to protect our men and women when we're trying to protect Texas."

According to DPS policy, lethal force is can be used when the officer or someone else is at "substantial risk of death or bodily injury." Troopers can shoot at vehicles either when deadly force is justified or when it is "for the sole purpose and intent of disabling a vehicle." When shooting at a vehicle, the policy warns, "there may be a risk of harm to occupants of the suspect vehicle who may not be involved, or involved to a lesser extent, with the actions of the suspect creating the threat."

Police use of force experts were stunned by the DPS policies. Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who has studied police pursuits at departments across the country said he'd "never heard of" law enforcement agencies allowing officers to shoot at vehicles from helicopters.

"There's a trend to restrict officers from shooting at vehicles at all," Alpert said. "It's not an efficient or effective policy to let officers shoot from vehicles, and certainly not from a helicopter."

Manuel Zamora of the Center for Security Studies at Angelo State University said some departments had begun training in the use of special weapons in situations where criminals could  kill or injure others. If a trooper "can see someone would be fatally injured or wounded, then they would probably be justified in using deadly force," Zamora said.

But in the Thursday killing, the truck was traveling down an unpaved road surrounded by grass fields in a sparsely populated area. The only people fatally injured or wounded were those who came under fire from the as yet unnamed trooper.

La Joya, TX
United States

Two More Drug War Deaths Last Week

A Louisville, Kentucky, woman was killed in a high-speed chase as police pursued a drug suspect last Tuesday and a St. Paul, Minnesota, man was shot and killed by police officers trying to arrest him on crack cocaine charges that same day. Stephanie Melson, 31, and Victor Gaddy, 41, become the 52nd and 53rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to Louisville Courier-Journal, Melson was driving in her vehicle in West Louisville when it was struck by a pickup driven by a man later identified as Joseph Johnson, 63, who was being pursued by up to a half-dozen marked and unmarked police cruisers at high speed.

While Louisville police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley wouldn't initially confirm that a high-speed chase had taken place, she did say the incident began as a drug investigation. Detectives were investigating at 40th Street and Broadway when a pick-up fled the scene. Police pursued it several blocks before it ran a stop sign and collided with Melson's vehicle.

"They still have to review the in-car video," Smiley said. "They still have to interview the officers as well as the guy who's in the hospital [Johnson, the suspect]."

But eyewitness Nita Gardner told the Louisville Courier-Journal she was sitting on her front porch with a friend one house away from the intersection where the accident occurred when they saw Melson's car approach the intersection. At that point, she said, they heard sirens, "and at the same time, the truck just came and smashed her. He rammed her, which pushed her car all the way four houses down and she flipped," Gardner said.

Gardner said she blamed police for Melson's death. "If the police were not chasing that man, he wouldn't have did that. I don't think he woke up to say, 'I'm going to kill this woman," she said. "The truck came fast first, but the police car was right behind him -- not a second behind him, like right behind him," with five or six unmarked cars also following, she said.

Kerry King, the father of Melson's three children, told the Courier-Journal the next day that he held Johnson responsible for her death, but also the police.

"Just as the man who ran into her is responsible, the Louisville police department shares a responsibility too," said King. "These streets aren't that wide. They don't need to be flying through here. It's sickening and it needs to stop."

Police charged Johnson with murder in Melson's death. He is also charged with fleeing police, disregarding a traffic control device, two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and receiving stolen property. Police said they found large amounts of cocaine in his vehicle and more cocaine and guns at his home.

Louisville police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said last Wednesday that the department's Professional Standards Unit would review whether officers complied with policies on pursuits. Those policies say police "must weigh the immediate danger or the potential danger to the public, should the suspect be allowed to remain at large, against the danger or potential danger created by the pursuit itself."

"Every pursuit is always evaluated to see what could have been done differently," Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, undercover Minneapolis police had enlisted the help of St. Paul police to stop Gaddy, whom they had been informed was delivering crack cocaine. When unmarked police cars boxed in Gaddy's vehicle, police said he rammed into the police cars in front of and behind him.

Gaddy "accelerated rapidly toward one of the police vehicles, striking it and nearly pinning a St. Paul police officer between the suspect vehicle and the police vehicle," then reversed and rammed another vehicle, police said. "Several officers were in harm's way while the driver of the suspect vehicle appeared to use his car as a weapon," leading officers to shoot him.

But Gaddy's nephew, Terrence Wilson, 20, who was a passenger in the car and whom police have charged with drug possession, disputes the police account, his attorney said.

"He thinks the police murdered his uncle and doesn't think his uncle was doing anything aggressive to police," attorney Bruce Wenger said. "The police felt threatened, apparently, by his (Gaddy's) driving, but my client has said his uncle was not using his car as a weapon as the police have indicated."

Gaddy had a long criminal history with several drug convictions and was known as a crack supplier by Minneapolis police. They found nearly an ounce of crack in and around his vehicle after the shooting.

His older sister, Rayela Gaddy, told the Pioneer Press said she wouldn't "paint some pretty picture" of him but said he wasn't a "menace" as police portrayed him. "A lot of people do things they shouldn't do, but as far as being a 41-year-old man who is executed in the middle of the street, who is unarmed, who is in his car -- whatever kind of person he was, it didn't justify killing him," she said.

Gaddy said she didn't think her brother would try to escape police or ram their cars. "I think he knew the procedure," she said of his having being arrested before. She added that the family would pursue justice for her brother in the courts.

Georgia Man Holding Pepper Spray Killed in Drug Raid

Georgia police executing a drug search warrant shot and killed the 60-year-old home owner holding a canister of pepper spray of during a confrontation last Wednesday. Daniel John Thomas Hammett becomes the 51st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to the Paulding County Sheriff's Office, agents with the Haralson Paulding Narcotics Task Force had been investigating the home's occupants for selling drugs and had made several drug purchases, as well as getting complaints from neighbors.

Sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Ashley Henson said before the shooting, officers knocked on the door of the residence in Hiram and announced who they were. They then entered the home -- although Henson didn't make clear how they did so -- and encountered Hammett in a darkened hallway.

"It was very dark because the windows in the front portion of the residence had been covered and were blacked out," Henson said. "When agents first made contact with Hammett, they instructed him to show his hands and he initially did not comply. Hammett then raised his hands up in an aggressive manner while he was holding a black shiny object which was pointed toward agents," Henson said.

"It was then that agents opened fire on Mr. Hammett, fatally striking him once," Henson explained. "It was later determined that Hammett had raised a canister of pepper spray toward the agents."

Hammett was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he died later that afternoon.

Hammett's son Clyde challenged the police version of events in an interview with WSB TV later that same day. His father was arthritic and unarmed, and there was nothing in his hands or next to him after he fell to the floor, he said. Clyde Hammett also said there would be no drugs found at the house.

"They killed him. They killed an innocent man and that's all there is to say to it," Clyde Hammett said. "They say he was armed. They can search all they want, there's no guns in that house."

Cpl. Henson said evidence related to drug trafficking was later found in the home, but didn't specifiy exactly what had been found.

The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending the results of a review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Hiram, GA
United States

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