Sep 1 2013

Goodbye Officer Friendly – Hello ‘Warrior Cop’

Dr. Q

By Rick Holmes

Eurie Stamps was just one innocent victim of the militarization of local police

Just after midnight on Jan. 5, 2011, Framingham police smashed through two doors of Eurie Stamps’ home, threw a flash-bang grenade through a broken window and invaded. Stamps, a 68-year-old grandfather, was in his bedroom in his pajamas, watching sports on TV.

The assault on the modest home played out like a military raid. Within seconds, an officer had Stamps face-down on the floor, his M4 assault carbine inches away from his back, the safety switch turned off. Investigators later concluded that the officer stumbled over Stamps and his gun went off. Within seconds, he was dead.

Stamps was suspected of no crime; no guns were found in the home. Framingham police were serving a search warrant related to a non-violent drug offense. They captured their target, Stamps’ stepson, on the street outside the home before the raid was launched. They launched it anyway.

Friends called the retired transit worker a “gentle giant” and “a stand-up guy.” He left behind a large family, including 12 grandchildren.

The killing of Eurie Stamps Sr. wasn’t a mistake, and it wasn’t a tragedy. It was a symptom of what has happened to America’s police forces since government started declaring war on domestic crimes.

There are as many as 50,000 SWAT raids like that every year, according to academic studies, and very few of them involve hostage situations or violent threats for which SWAT teams were supposedly created. The vast majority of SWAT deployments are for serving warrants in non-violent drug cases, though the military tactics have also been used to break up charity poker and to bust bars for underage drinking.

Stamps is one of at least 50 innocent people killed in SWAT raids targeting non-violent consensual crimes like drugs and gambling, journalist Radley Balko says. All were killed when police, who are supposed to prevent violence, instead applied lethal force to situations where no violence was threatened.

We’ve become so used to these raids that it’s easy to forget that, not long ago, the idea of local police smashing down the door of a quiet house in the middle of the night was unthinkable. The principle that a citizen’s home was his castle, safe from unannounced raids by government agents, predates the Declaration of Independence.

Before Richard Nixon declared “war on crime,” followed by presidential declarations of war on drugs and war on terror, there was a clear distinction drawn between cops and soldiers. Police dressed in blue, with badge numbers or name tags identifying individual officers. They carried billy clubs and revolvers, weapons appropriate for walking beats on neighborhood streets.

SWAT teams today dress in black, with body armor and sometimes masks. It’s no wonder that when they crash into homes in the middle of the night, yelling obscenities and pointing guns at people – and often shooting family dogs, Balko reports – they are sometimes assumed to be criminal gangs.

Framingham’s SWAT team, like many, dresses in jungle camouflage, matching the camo paint on their military-issue armored personnel carrier. It’s a uniform I’ve never understood. Do they plan to hide out in the jungles of Massachusetts? Who would they be hiding from?

These fashion statements come with new laws, new tactics and a new attitude. Goodbye Officer Friendly. Hello “Warrior Cop.”

In his new book, “The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” Balko shows how this transformation took place. A procession of politicians exploited fears sparked by rising crime in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Compliant judges upheld new laws authorizing “no-knock raids” and forced entry warrants. Federal grants encouraged the flow of military hardware to local police departments. Asset forfeiture laws giving a portion of assets seized from criminal suspects to local police made it more profitable to spend police resources chasing drug dealers than those who commit violence or property crimes.

There were no paramilitary police units before 1969, when the first SWAT team was created in Los Angeles. Now they are everywhere. Balko estimates that 80 percent of communities with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 have SWAT teams.

And if you’ve got a SWAT team, and a warehouse full of military equipment – local police now get grants to purchase helicopters, tanks, even bayonets – you might as well use them. So the Framingham SWAT team showed up at the Stamps house in full battle gear, nearly two dozen officers, with paramedics and firefighters along for the ride. They smashed the doors with government-issue battering rams. They threw a flash-bang grenade into the apartment to scare every living thing into submission.

Winding back the policies encouraging militarization will be tough, Balko writes, but even more troubling is the mindset that has come with it. Police recruitment videos and popular culture celebrate breaking down doors and blowing things up. Police policies and rhetoric give force protection a higher priority than citizens’ rights.

Crime rates have fallen dramatically in the last 20 years, not because of aggressive police tactics – drug use, the main target of those tactics, has not noticeably declined – but in spite of them. But the militarization continues, and it is now being pushed by defense contractors and what Balko calls a growing “police-industrial complex.”

But there is hope. A new generation of political leaders is challenging the war on drugs and the mass incarceration model for criminal justice. They should all read Balko’s book, and begin an overdue discussion of the difference between a civilian police force and an army of occupation.

Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at [email protected]

This article was originally published by The MetroWest Daily News. It has been republished under a Creative Commons license per MetroWest Daily News policy.


Aug 17 2013

Watertown cop who stole ID to get prescription drugs pleads guilty

Dr. Q

Boston.com reports:

A retired Watertown police officer faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after he pleaded guilty today in federal court to stealing an ID while on the force and using it to get oxycodone and other prescription drugs, according to United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office.

Joseph Deignan, 58, of Framingham was convicted today at his plea hearing of unlawful possession of a controlled substance by fraud and fraud in connection with identification documents, according to a statement from Ortiz’s office. Judge Douglas P. Woodlock set Deignan’s sentencing for 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15.

Federal authorities said that before Deignan retired from the police force in February 2012, he stole a driver’s license from an individual while working as a traffic supervisor for the Watertown Police Department in 2010 and used it to forge prescriptions for oxycodone and other drugs in the victim’s name.

Deignan forged over 100 prescriptions using various doctors’ information since May 2010, and used the stolen ID to fill the scripts, authorities said.

According to an affidavit obtained from the US Attorney’s office in March, Deignan traveled to at least three different CVS pharmacies to fill the prescriptions, including ones located in Framingham and Marlborough.

According to the affidavit, a Framingham CVS pharmacist alerted the authorities of possible prescription fraud in November. Deignan was arrested in early December at a CVS pharmacy in Marlborough after employees were informed of the situation by police, according to the affidavit.

When he was arrested, Deignan allegedly told Marlborough officers that he was addicted to pain medication, and had been for some time, according to the affidavit.


Aug 16 2013

Medford police officer indicted for trying to cover up evidence in shooting case

Dr. Q

A Medford police officer has been indicted on two counts of witness intimidation after allegedly working to cover up evidence in a shooting investigation. WickedLocal.com reports:

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced today that two men have been indicted on murder charges in connection with a Stoneham double shooting that killed one man and injured another, and that a local police officer has been indicted on charges in connection with lying to investigators during the homicide investigation.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, Jessie Williams, 24, of Medford, and Eugene Tate, 19, of Malden, were indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury on charges of murder, armed assault with intent to murder, armed assault in a dwelling, assault with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery, and illegal possession of a firearm.

An arraignment in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn has not yet been scheduled.

Williams and Tate were arrested last month and subsequently charged with murder, armed assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, armed robbery and illegal possession of a firearm. Each pleaded not guilty at their arraignment in Woburn District Court a week after the murder took place, and Judge Timothy Gailey ordered both suspects held without bail.

Williams and Tate are accused of shooting two men at a home garage off Micah’s Pond Way in Stoneham, just after midnight on July 3.

Police were dispatched at 12:19 a.m. to investigate gunshots and found Joseph Puopolo, 27, suffering from bullet wounds to the chest and wrist. He was pronounced dead shortly after at the Leahy Clinic.

The second victim, described only as a 28-year-old man, suffered a broken rib when he was shot in the abdomen.

“We allege that these two defendants murdered Joseph Puopolo and wounded a second victim during an attempted robbery,” Ryan said in a post-arraignment statement last month. “This was a senseless crime and our thoughts and prayers remain with the victim’s family during this difficult time.”

Stoneham Police and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the District Attorney’s Office launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the July 3 incident. The investigation revealed that the 28-year-old victim arranged to sell drugs to the two defendants through known associates. Puopolo was a friend of the 28-year-old victim and happened to be present in his home on that evening.

According to police, Puopolo was not associated with any alleged drug transaction. It is alleged that Williams and Tate entered the home shortly after midnight to complete a drug deal. When they entered the home, the two defendants allegedly drew handguns, demanded drugs and money, and then shot Puopolo and the 28-year-old victim.

The local officer who was also indicted on Aug. 15 was Miguel Lopez, 53, of Stoneham, who is said to be a member of the Medford Police Department. He was indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury on two counts of witness intimidation.

“These are very serious allegations that a law enforcement official acted to conceal evidence and hinder a police investigation into a double shooting that left one man dead,” Ryan said. “This alleged conduct compromises the integrity of our criminal justice system and we will fully prosecute any one who attempts to interfere with an investigation.”

When reached for comment, the Medford Police Department referred all calls to the District Attorney’s Office.

As part of the investigation following the July 3 shooting, State Police interviewed Lopez, who lives at 6 Micah’s Pond Way in Stoneham along with the 28-year-old victim. It is alleged that during the course of the interview Lopez lied to police and that in an attempt to cover up a reported drug deal that allegedly led to the double shooting, Lopez removed evidence from the home.

An arraignment date in Middlesex Superior Court for Lopez has also not yet been scheduled.


Aug 16 2013

Ludlow police lieutenant charged with stealing drugs from evidence locker

Dr. Q

The Republican reports:

Ludlow Police Lt. Thomas F. Foye was at work Thursday morning when investigators found cocaine in his right front uniform pocket after he was seen searching evidence bags in the locked narcotics locker at the police station, according to court records.

Foye, 49, of Valley View Drive, denied charges of cocaine possession and larceny of a drug at his arraignment Thursday afternoon in Palmer District Court.

Judge Patricia T. Poehler ordered Foye to turn in all his firearms, as well as his license to carry a firearm, to the Ludlow Police Department. She also ordered him to remain drug free, undergo a substance abuse evaluation and to submit to random drug screens, as conditions of his release.

Wearing a white undershirt, Foye said little during the arraignment. The details of the charges against Foye were not read in court. His attorney was David K. Chivers, who was appointed for bail only. Foye will return to court on Oct. 1 for a pretrial conference.

Assistant Attorney General Marina Moriarty is prosecuting the case. She said the bail was agreed to by Chivers. Poehler told Foye that because this is a drug-related case, he is entitled to request an exam to determine if he is a drug dependent person.

Poehler told Foye he must keep the Probation Department aware of where he is living and not commit a crime, as additional conditions of his release. The charges were brought by state police.

After his arraignment, Foye was whisked away in an unmarked police cruiser. He left out the back door, apparently to avoid the media waiting for his exit outside.

Foye, a longtime police officer, recently was named a provisional lieutenant, and was formerly a sergeant in the detective bureau. He previously also worked as the department’s D.A.R.E. officer – a role in which he was charged with teaching students in grades 2, 4, 5 and 7 about the dangers of drug use.

Foye’s more recent history at the department includes an incident in which a suspect in a drug case allegedly went to his home to intimidate him for his role in the investigation.

The suspect was convicted in January of 2012 on a range of charges, including possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was convicted trespassing, intimidation of a witness, and resisting arrest for the incident at Foye’s home, during which he threatened to “get even” with Foye from jail and then chest-bumped him, leading to a scuffle.

Last year, Foye participated in a forum at Ludlow High School where he warned parents and residents about the growing danger of prescription drug abuse. He said the drug problem in Ludlow is the worst he has seen in the 25 years he has been working for the Police Department.

Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni said Thursday it is too early for him to tell if Foye’s arrest will have any collateral effects on any current or recent prosecutions involving the Ludlow Police Department.

Mastroianni said his office will evaluate any possible ways Foye’s arrest might affect prosecutions as more facts are gathered about the situation which led to the arrest.

Check the full article here for details about how he was allegedly caught.


Aug 9 2013

Radley Balko on the Militarization of Police

Dr. Q

Definitely check out Rise of the Warrior Cop. I pre-ordered this book and read through it in a few sittings. It’s a brilliant and infuriating book that I can’t recommend enough. Also worth checking out is Radley Balko’s old report Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America which can be read online for free. And check here for Radley Balko on police militarization in Boston.


Jul 3 2013

State police kill drug suspect during raid

Dr. Q

The Telegram & Gazette reports that State Police killed a drug suspect during a raid in Orange this morning.

State troopers fatally shot an armed man on Mechanic Street early this morning when he confronted troopers during a drug raid, according to state police.

The shooting happened around 5 a.m. in a second-floor apartment at 18 Mechanic St.

Members of the state police Special Tactical Operations Team were attempting to search the apartment as part of a drug investigation into the alleged sale of Oxycodone and Percocet. Police said they had a warrant.

According to state police, the unidentified 23-year-old victim was known to have weapons. Authorities said they used the tactical team because of the possibility the target of the warrant would be armed.

State police have not publicly identified the man, a resident of the apartment..

An unidentified 25-year-old woman who also lived in the apartment – also a subject of the drug investigation – suffered an eye injury and is being treated at a local hospital.

This makes no sense. If the man was known to be armed, why would police break into his home at 5 in the morning? It’s almost as if the police wanted him to think they were burglars so he would grab his gun and they’d have an excuse to shoot.

Radley Balko, who has written extensively about so-called “no-knock” drug raids observes the following in his book Overkill:

[P]olice typically serve [no-knock] warrants just before dawn, or in the hours just before sunrise. They enter the residence unannounced or with very little notice. The subjects of these raids, then, are woken from deep sleep, and their waking thoughts are confronted with the prospect that their homes are being invaded. Their first reaction is almost certainly alarm, fear, and a feeling of peril. Disorienting devices like flashbang grenades only compound the confusion.

It isn’t difficult to see why a gun owner’s first instinct upon waking to a raid would be to disregard whatever the intruders may be screaming at him and reach for a weapon to defend himself. This is particularly true of someone with a history of violence or engaged in a criminal enterprise like drug dealing. But it’s also true of a law-abiding homeowner who legally owns guns for the purpose of defending his home and family.

When Whitey Bulger was arrested, the FBI didn’t kick down his door because they knew he was armed and dangerous. Instead, they used a ruse to lure him out of his apartment, then arrested him without incident.

The State Police could have done someone similar or they could have just waited for the man to leave his house before arresting him. Instead, they chose to kick in his door and now he’s dead because of it.

According to the Telegram, “The incident is under investigation by state police and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.” Why is it that the State Police are allowed to investigate themselves when they kill someone?

I’ll try to post updates about this case as soon as more information becomes available.

Update (same day as original post):

For people who are unfamiliar with what these raids are like, I just wanted to include a couple videos. These are not videos of the raid in Orange, but they should give you some perspective. These videos are incredibly disturbing, so I wouldn’t watch them if you’re squeamish.

Utah police kill man for holding a golf club while breaking into his home at night (I’ve written about this raid before here):

Missouri police shoot man’s dogs, terrorize his family, and arrest him on marijuana charges after breaking into his home at night: