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November 2003
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In an alternate universe…

President George W. Bush, at the recent dedication of the St. Mary and Jane House – a faith-based center for herbal therapy:

“Well, it’s an unimaginable honor to be the President during this time of this country. It means what these words say, for starters. The great inalienable rights of our country. We’re […]

Tragedy

Hundreds Attend Slain Boy’s Funeral

Daesean Hill was only 8 years old, but he was eulogized in a packed East New York funeral home Saturday as a “shining light” who could leave a legacy of hope by helping to eradicate the plague of drugs and gun violence… Daesean, known affectionately as “Dae Dae,” was […]

John Hirko case continues

Patrick Dickinson of Allentown, PA has been keeping me informed about the civil lawsuit currently underway regarding the wrongful death of John Hirko (one of my Drug War Victims). Selections from the local papers give a taste of the trial’s progress:
From last week’s Morning Call:

Firearms expert Anthony Paul told a federal jury that Hirko was lying on the floor or attempting to rise from a seated or kneeling position when he was killed. No more than two of the 11 shots may have come when Hirko was in another position, according to Paul.

His conclusions appear to be consistent with the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. John Shane, who said this week that Hirko was crawling, crouching, bending over or lying on the floor when police shot him.

Lawyer John Karoly Jr., representing Hirko’s family, fiancee and landlord, called Paul to testify during the wrongful death and civil rights trial in Allentown.

Karoly has accused police of illegally shooting Hirko and accidentally setting fire to his home while trying to enter it to search for drugs. The two sides disagree about whether Hirko was armed.

Paul spent most of his career with the Philadelphia and Los Angeles police departments as an expert in firearms and ballistics. He said he usually testifies for police.

Paul told the jury that partly due to right arm injuries from the gunshots, Hirko could not have held a gun and pointed it at police.

The defense then countered with evidence that officers had been properly trained in the use of their weapons (from the Express Times):

Engle cited another general order stating that officers cannot use “special weapons” unless they are certified and demonstrate proficiency in the use of a particular special weapon. Engle said Officer Joe Riedy, who became a sergeant in 2000, was trained and certified to use a flash-bang grenade and an MP5 submachine gun.

Riedy shot Hirko at least 10 times with an MP5 and tossed the flash-bang grenade into Hirko’s house. Five months after the fatal raid, state Attorney General Mike Fisher concluded the homicide was justifiable because Hirko fired a gun first, but Karoly insists Hirko was unarmed.

Saunders said the Bethlehem Police Department should have had specific rules on the use of flash-bang grenades, which are used to disorient suspects. Saunders also said the general order on special weapons was vague and didn’t regulate the use of flash-bang grenades.

“It’s like calling a Great Dane a dog, but not all dogs are Great Danes,” Saunders said to Engle. “The emergency-response team was not regulated and controlled. Nothing you showed would change my opinion.”

Saunders said the SWAT-team raid was not necessary because Hirko’s house wasn’t fortified, Hirko didn’t have a history of violence and he didn’t possess an automatic weapon. He also said the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies recommends that police use a bullhorn or telephone before conducting a high-risk search by storming into a residence.

Karoly is representing Hirko’s parents, his fiance and the owner of 629 Christian St. The claims in their lawsuit include wrongful death, negligence, recklessness and the violation of Constitutional rights.

Kristin Fodi, who lived with Hirko and was engaged to him, barely escaped the fire on April 23, 1997. Saunders said police inappropriately detained Fodi for six hours after the raid, and he said “it was totally improper not to record” Fodi’s statements to police when interrogated.

“A citizen was dead,” Saunders said. “You record everything, and you don’t wait for a dressed rehearsal.”

The trial got sidetracked slightly when a juror was dismissed for not paying attention (she had trouble staying alert during testimony).
But now, it looks like it’ll be heating up. In yesterday’s Morning Call:

A federal judge set up a dramatic courtroom confrontation for Monday by ruling that a Bethlehem police officer can testify against fellow officers in the John Hirko Jr. trial.

Lt. Wilfred Williams will testify that, before the deadly Hirko raid, he warned top police supervisors that they should not promote Kirby Williams to head the team that later raided Hirko’s home, a lawyer said in court Friday.

Wilfred Williams told Eugene Learn, who was about to become the police commissioner, that someone would get hurt or killed if Kirby Williams was promoted, according to lawyer John Karoly Jr.

”Precisely what Mr. Williams predicted would happen, happened,” Karoly said.

Williams also will tell the federal jury that one officer on the 1997 drug raid told him afterward that ”we really ___ up,” according to Karoly, who will be calling Williams as a witness

I was curious as to how the trial is playing in the local community – whether there’s a sense of outrage or… Patrick responds:

Well to be honest it’s getting good newspaper coverage and that’s about it. You do not see much in the letters to the editors about this subject, it would seem people are uninterested. I told my wife I felt like going down an picketing or something in front of the courthouse, but of course she gave me one of those “looks”. I just said to her there is no reason they could not do the same thing to us. I guess some people don’t really get it. Time I guess, and pain.

A new novel to check out…

I haven’t read this new book by Ayelet Waldman yet, but it’s high on my wish list, and the reviews have been outstanding. Waldman is a former public defender and author of the popular Mommy Track mystery series.
According to the Review in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Some defense attorneys burn out because they come to believe they are doing little more than hastening criminals back onto the street.

Author Ayelet Waldman, a former federal public defender in Los Angeles, had the opposite problem: She got tired of seeing “innocents” taking the fall in America’s war on drugs.
“I thought I would be seeing kingpins going to jail, but the kingpins negotiate deals and go to jail for very little time,” Waldman says. “It’s the people who are on the lowest rungs on the ladder, and so have no information to sell, who go to prison for a long time — the guy who carries the box or the woman who takes a phone message.”
Lawmakers who set up the rules of engagement for America’s “war on drugs” instituted stiff mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of trafficking in illegal substances, so that a judge or jury can’t try to single out a particular defendant for more lenient treatment.
“After a while, I thought, I can’t do this anymore,” she says. “Rapists, pedophiles get out of jail sooner than my clients would. I wasn’t helping anything funneling these people through the system.”
In Daughter’s Keeper, Waldman follows one young woman, Olivia Goodman, whose undocumented Mexican lover, Jorge Rodriguez, thinks a quick drug deal or two will provide him with enough money to get established in the United States.
Jorge doesn’t realize that the acquaintance who proposed he get involved with selling drugs in the first place is an informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Jorge is arrested, and in order to reduce his own sentence, he tells DEA agents that Olivia was also involved.
Olivia had tried to dissuade Jorge from selling drugs, but because she was in the car when he went to pick up the drugs and she conveyed a phone message about the deal, she faces 10 years in prison.

Welcome Cannabis Culture

A warm and belated welcome to all the visitors from Cannabis Culture Magazine Online which was nice enough to provide a link to this site while I was busy this past week. Check them out.

Illinois limits use of drug-sniffing dogs

Chicago Tribune: Court bars drug-dog use in traffic stops: ‘Hunch’ doesn’t validate search

a contentious 4-3 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police cannot use drug-detection dogs to sniff vehicles during routine traffic stops. Before police summon a dog, they must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is carrying drugs, not […]

Drug Policy Reformer enters Senate race in California

Judge Gray, a Drug-War Foe, Will Run for Senate: Now a libertarian, the longtime advocate of legalization will challenge Boxer in 2004. This is extraordinary news. Gray is the author of “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs” – a […]

Catching up

While I’ve been busy doing a musical and other fun stuff, a lot’s been happening in the drug war. Some of this will be old news to some of you, but these are a few stories I felt important to include. For more review of events in the past week, be sure to check […]

Horrible new bill to be proposed by Mark Souder

This critical alert from Drug Policy Alliance (Thanks to Richard Lake).

Now, just before Congress goes out of session, one of the country’s harshest drug war extremists, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), is about to introduce some of the scariest legislation we’ve seen this year. Rep. Souder’s bill increases penalties for many drug offenses […]

Alaska Appeals Court Refuses to Overturn Decision Allowing Personal Pot Possession

Couple more days before I have time for regular posting again, but I wanted to alert you to this development (via TalkLeft).