The War on Drugs: Framing Suspects They’re Convinced Are Guilty Anyway

I have to ask, “How many times a week does this happen?” We watched a parade of trumped up terrorism charges fail in court in the years of hysteria following 9/11. Is there also a racist foundation to the hysteria of the war on drugs? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Being a proponent of calling a permanent peace treaty to the war on drugs, it is high time we paid closer attention to these stories of false arrest and held police maniacs and zealots accountable across the nation.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

The Story: Undercover police arrested two brothers for dealing cocaine at a New York night club. The officers claimed Maximo Colon, left, and his brother Jose sold two bags of cocaine to them. – The Truth: The brothers proved their innocence — and laid the groundwork for a multimillion dollar lawsuit — with a video from the club’s security cameras. Photo: Henny Ray Abrams/AP.

Brothers Prove Cops Wrong With Video
By Tom Hays and Colleen Long / June 13, 2009

NEW YORK — When undercover detectives busted Jose and Maximo Colon last year for selling cocaine at a seedy club in Queens, there was a glaring problem: The brothers hadn’t done anything wrong.

But proclaiming innocence wasn’t going to be good enough. The Dominican immigrants needed proof.

“I sat in the jail and thought. . . how could I prove this? What could I do?” Jose, 24, recalled in Spanish during a recent interview.

As he glanced around a holding cell, the answer came to him: Security cameras. Since then, a vindicating video from the club’s cameras has spared the brothers a possible prison term, resulted in two officers’ arrest and become the basis for a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The officers, who are due back in court June 26, have pleaded not guilty, and New York Police Department officials have downplayed their case.

But the drug corruption case isn’t alone.

On May 13, another NYPD officer was arrested for plotting to invade a Manhattan apartment where he hoped to steal $900,000 in drug money. In another pending case, prosecutors in Brooklyn say officers were caught in a 2007 sting using seized drugs to reward a snitch for information. And in the Bronx, prosecutors have charged a detective with lying about a drug bust captured on a surveillance tape that contradicts her story.

Elsewhere, Philadelphia prosecutors dismissed more than a dozen drug and gun charges against a man last month when a narcotics officer was accused of making up information on search warrants.

The revelations in New York have triggered internal affairs inquiries, transfers of commanders and reviews of dozens of other arrests involving the accused officers.
Many drug defendants’ cases have been tossed out. Others have won favorable plea deals.

The misconduct “strikes at the very heart of our system of justice and erodes public confidence in our courts,” said Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Despite the fallout, authorities describe the corruption allegations as aberrations in a city where officers daily make hundreds of drugs arrests that routinely hold up in court. They also note none of the cases involved accusations of organized crews of officers using their badges to steal or extort drugs or money for personal gain — the story line of full-blown corruption scandals from bygone eras.

Peter Moskos, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, agrees the majority of narcotics officers probably are clean. But he also believes the city’s unending war on drugs will always invite corruption by some who don’t think twice about framing suspects they’re convinced are guilty anyway.

“Drugs are a dirty game,” Moskos said. “Once you realize it’s a game, then you start playing with the rules to win the game.”

Just ask the Colon brothers.

* * * * *

The brothers’ evening started much like any other.

Max’s friend worked at a bodega down the street from Delicias de Mi Tierra, where they’d sometimes drink and play pool in the evenings. This night, the pool table was closed. They instead sat at the bar. Security cameras ended up filming their every move.

The brothers barely moved from the same spot for about 90 minutes as the undercovers entered the bar and mixed with the crowd. Moments after the officers left, a backup team barged in and grabbed six men, including the brothers.

Paperwork signed by “UC 13200” — Officer Henry Tavarez — claimed that he told a patron he wanted to buy cocaine. By his account, that man responded by approaching the 28-year-old Max, who then went over to the undercover and demanded to pat him down to make sure he wasn’t wearing a wire.

Max collected $100 from Tavarez, the report said. The officer claimed to see two bags of cocaine pass through the hands of three men, including Jose, before they were given to him.

Jose was released after a court appearance. His brother was shipped off to Riker’s Island until he could make bail.

“I was scared,” Max said of his time at Rikers. “I don’t get into trouble, and here I am with real criminals.”

* * * * *

The moment Jose walked out of the holding cell, he made a beeline for Delicias and asked for a copy of the security tapes from the night they were arrested, Jan. 4, 2008.

“I knew it would be the only way to defend myself, because I knew the police would not believe me,” he said.

The owner of Delicias queued up the tapes and the two waded through an entire day’s worth of surveillance — until they found the two hours the men spent in the club that night — supposedly selling drugs.

Jose quickly got the tape to defense attorney Rochelle Berliner, a former narcotics prosecutor. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“I almost threw up,” she said. “Because I must’ve prosecuted 1,500, 2,000 drug cases. . . and all felonies. And I think back, Oh my God, I believed everything everyone told me. Maybe a handful of times did something not sound right to me. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic but I was like, sick.”

What the tape doesn’t show is striking: At no point did the brothers interact with the undercovers, nor did the brothers appear to be involved in a drug deal with anyone else. Adding insult to injury, an outside camera taped the undercovers literally dancing down the street.

Berliner handed the tape over to the District Attorney’s integrity unit. It reviewed the images more than 100 times to make sure it wasn’t doctored by the defense before deciding to drop all charges against the brothers in June.

Six months later, Officer Tavarez and Detective Stephen Anderson pleaded not guilty to drug dealing and multiple other charges that their lawyers say were overblown.

Anderson’s attorney has described him as a seasoned investigator who had no reason to make a false arrest. Tavarez, his attorney said, was a novice undercover merely along for the ride.

* * * * *

Life quickly deteriorated for Max and Jose after their arrest.

They owned a successful convenience store in Jackson Heights, but lost their license to sell tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets. The store closed a week before their case was dismissed.

“My life changed completely,” Jose said. “I had a life before, and I have a different existence now. . . Now, I’m not able to afford to live in my own house or care for my children.”

Jose has found construction work, while Max commutes two hours to Philadelphia to work at a relative’s bodega. They stay away from the old neighborhood, where they say ugly rumors about them persist.

The brothers have filed a $10 million false arrest lawsuit against the police department, the officers involved and the city.

“I’m angry because, why’d it happen to me? I know a lot of people … they don’t go the right way and they can get away with it,” Max said. “I’m young and I try to go the right way and boom, this happened to me. So I’m angry with life, too.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Source / America On Line

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4 Responses to The War on Drugs: Framing Suspects They’re Convinced Are Guilty Anyway

  1. Where there’s big money to be made, there’s corruption – be it in their ‘war’ on drugs or ‘war’ against a nation.

    So, how do we devalue these wars????

    How do we avoid temptation when the love of money drives so much of what a person does in life?

    Do we say people are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or are those places where drugs are normally sold/exchanged/bought/etc., places most of us wouldn’t patronize or be in the vicinity of that ‘spot’ to begin with.

    There are ‘crooks’ wearing badges’ crooks wearing judge’s robes – crooks wearing the suit and sporting the title ‘attorney at law’.

    It’s individual choice and responsibility to ignore the temptation of anything illegal; to avoid associating with those who might be questionable, and to live their public and social life in a way, that doesn’t become suspect – frequenting night spots where one can see the ‘low-life’ lounging around, means ‘do not enter’ – do not ‘go there’.

    Guilty by association is all too common in this era – while it’s sad, it’s something each person has to manage, and we need to take responsibility for our own actions and activities so we minimize being caught up in something such as this article talks about.

    I noticed that the people who were wrongfully arrested, weren’t attending a church service or participating in a fund drive for the needy; maybe they should have considered ‘where’ they were ‘hanging out’, and why…………

  2. richard jehn says:

    Just a little hypothetical for you, Happy. If you were falsely picked up for drug dealing in a casino, would we just attribute that to the place you chose to hang out? I am trying to say (gently I hope) that it is wise to be cautious with our moral judgements.

    It is incumbent on all of us to take responsibility for the things our government is doing in our name.

  3. Mike Hanks says:

    WWII was “the good war”. Unfortunately it was quickly forgotten that it was a war of necessity, fought against an aggressor of clearly evil intent.

    The worthy nature of the cause was soon confused with the paradigm of war itself – WWII was good therefore all war is good. War became, like a drug, the answer to everything – the cold war, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the war on poverty, the war on drugs.

    And, like a drug, as Gore Vidal describes in “The History of the National Security State”, began to fill the coffers of those who fed its fires.

    The monetization of a deceptive paradigm is the root of this tree. To figure out who planted it, we just have to look to those who enjoy its fruit.

    To lay the axe to it we have to be better supervisors of our legislative gardeners.

  4. Mariann says:

    Opportunities for official corruption within the drug war’s shady precincts are a major reason too many law enforcement officials — who know perfectly well the ridiculousness of the effort — still support prohibition.

    It’s not merely stealing and re-selling — or personally indulging in — confiscated drugs. It’s the whole system of “forfeiture and seizure” — truly a holdover from medieval days — that allows drug “suspects” property to be seized by law enforcement, sold at auction and used to buy shiny new toys — tasers and such — for the boys and girls in blue. Texas’ Department of Public Safety has millions and millions of dollars squirreled away from seizures. And here is the beauty part: YOU NEVER HAVE TO EVEN CHARGE ANYONE WITH A CRIME, MUCH LESS PROVE IT! Woo-hoo!

    As for corruption, my favorite example is still from Dallas, a few years ago. Several people were arrested by the Dallas PD in what was trumpeted as a big-time cocaine bust (btw, as I recall, all of those arrested were Mexican-American). There was a massive amount of “coke” in the evidence closet. But when the time came to prove it, guess what? There was no coke at all, only a massive amount of drywall powder! What happened? Who can say? Was there never any cocaine to begin with? Were the guys arrested coke dealers who had figured out they were being set-up and sold drywall to a narc instead of the goods? Or — as has been suggested by area newspapers — did the real thing “magically” turn into drywall while in police custody? Since the truth might harm a lot of people, it may never be known.

    Happy, are you advocating that people simply stay away from places with a “bad reputation”? Well, that is certainly one solution… except that one never knows what is the real truth without visiting that place. I have met most of my dearest, best, most lifelong friends in places I’ve been warned to stay away from (including one of the editors of the blog and at least a couple of NJP board members) — one of which was the Student Union cafe at the University of Texas! The dormitory “mother” warned all us freshmen to stay away from that evil place, a haunt of “beatniks, Negroes, and foreign students”. You can bet I made a bee-line there! Army towns used to have a lot of places blacklisted as “off limits” to GIs. During the Vietnam conflict, they tried to make GI coffeehouses started by anti-war GIs and their friends off-limits in some places. Even where not officially off limits, GIs were often told by their officers not to go to such places, the haunts of subversive commie malcontents. Should they have stayed away? Finally, for anyone to whom the life of Jesus provides inspiration, the carpenter from Nazareth hung around a lot of low-lifes and dives.

    What Would Jesus Smoke?

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