Drug War Victims

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Our drug war results in staggeringly tragic losses. Drugs, when abused, can be dangerous, but they are not nearly as lethal as the drug war itself.

In addition to the blights of an imprisoned population, lost rights, broken families, and economic waste, people are dying in this war. No, these are not deaths from drugs, but from prohibition.

It is important to realize that the vast majority of deaths in the drug war simply would not happen without prohibition. When drug dealers fight it out over territory and they or their neighbors are killed in the process, it is a sympton of prohibition, much as when we suffered the scourge of alcohol prohibition many years ago. Prohibition makes violence profitable.

When drug users overdose from tainted drugs, it is the result of prohibition. When they die from overdoses because they were afraid to seek help, it is the result of prohibition.

Increasingly, people are dying because of the tactics of the drug war. Military operations are being conducted on our soil, and collateral damage is inevitable.

When drug task forces dressed in black batter in doors without knocking or announcing themselves, the danger to citizens and police alike is enormous. Sometimes the greatest danger is to (or from) the innocent citizen that understandably believes that they are experiencing a home invasion, and rushes to defend their family and property.

Every now and then, a death happens that is particularly grotesque — that points out the horrific folly of our actions. This page presents some of those deaths.

Many are purely innocent victims of the war — bystanders who have been mowed down by military drug war tactics gone berserk, and by government agencies’ greedy pursuit of the glory and financial gain of drug busts. In other cases, the victim is guilty of something, but their punishment does not fit the crime.

All the victims have two things in common:

  • Their death was a result of drug prohibition, and the dangerous tactics used in the drug war, and
  • They didn’t deserve to die.

As you look at those who have died in the war on drugs, remember one thing: There has never been a single recorded case of anyone dying from an overdose of marijuana.


Thanks to Human Rights and the Drug War, Drug Policy Forum of Florida, Veils of Justice, Larry Seguin, Larry Stevens, Thomas Hillgardner, Steve Young, the folks at Media Awareness Project (MAP) and all the others who have sent in tips and articles.
The date of each victim is a link to one of the sources I used for the information. In some cases, multiples sources were used, but I picked one link.
I consider this to be a page in process. As I researched this information, I was amazed at the number of additional victims I found that have been documented, and I intend to add more. Unfortunately, I also expect that new victims will crowd the page. If you have additions or corrections, please let me know:

I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy. You can only punish. I warn you that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys everyone it touches — its upholders as well as its defiers.
– Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee (Inherit the Wind)



Overkill


John Adams

64 years old
Lebanon, Tennessee
October, 2000
Shot to death during a SWAT drug raid while watching TV. The house didn’t match the description on the warrant.
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Rev. Jonathan Ayers

28 years old
Toccoa, Georgia
September, 2009
After meeting with a parishioner who was under surveillance by drug cops, the pastor went to a Convenience store ATM. Coming out, he was confronted by men waving guns. He didn’t know they were undercover cops, and was shot to death while driving off, fearing for his life.

Xavier Bennett

8 years old
Atlanta, Georgia
November, 1991
Xavier was accidentally shot to death by officers in a pre-dawn drug raid during a gunfight with one of Xavier’s relatives.
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Delbert Bonnar

57 years old
Belpre, Ohio
October, 1998
Shot 8 times by police in drug raid. They were looking for his son.
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Veronica Bowers

35 years old

Charity Bowers

7 months old
In the air over Peru
April, 2001
As part of a long-standing arrangement to stop drug shipments, U.S. government tracking provided the information for the Peruvian Air Force to mistakenly shoot down a Cessna plane carrying missionaries. Killed in the incident were Roni Bowers, a missionary with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and her daughter, Charity. In 2008, a new report surfaced indicating widespread problems with the shoot-down program that had been withheld from Congress by the CIA.
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Rudolfo “Rudy” Cardenas

43 years old
San Jose, California
February, 2004
Rudy was a father of five who was passing by a house targeted by narcotics officers attempting to serve a parole violation warrant and the police mistakenly thought he was the one they were there to arrest. They chased Cardenas, and he fled, apparently afraid of them (they were not uniformed). Cardenas was shot multiple times in the back.

Dorothy Duckett, 78, told the Mercury News she looked out her fifth-floor window after hearing one gunshot and saw Cardenas pleading for his life. “I watched him running with his hands in the air. He kept saying, ‘Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot,'” Duckett said. “He had absolutely nothing in his hands.”

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Jose Colon

20 years old
Suffolk, New York
April, 2002
Jose was outside the house where he had come to repay a $20 debt, when a drug raid on the house commenced. He was shot in the head by SWAT.
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Troy Davis

25 years old
North Richland Hills, Texas
December, 1999
During a no-knock raid to find some marijuana plants he was growing, he was shot to death in his living room. There are disputed accounts regarding whether he had a gun.
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Anthony Andrew Diotaiuto

23 years old
Sunrise, Florida
August, 2005
Anthony worked two jobs to help pay for the house he lived in with his mother. He had permit for a concealed weapon because of the areas he traveled through for his night job. Sunrise police claimed that he had sold some marijuana, and because they knew he had a legal gun, decided to use SWAT. Neighbors claim that the police did not identify themselves. Police first claimed that Anthony pointed his gun at them, and later changed their story. Regardless, Anthony was dead with 10 bullets in him, and the police found 2 ounces of marijuana. Article.
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Annie Rae Dixon

84 years old
Tyler, Texas
January, 1993
Bedridden with pneumonia during a drug raid. Officer kicked open her bedroom door and accidentally shot her.
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Patrick Dorismond

26 years old
New York, New York
March, 2000
Patrick was a security guard who wanted to become a policeman. He was off-duty and unarmed when he went out with friends. Standing on the street looking for a taxi, he was approached by undercover police who asked to buy some marijuana from him. Patrick was offended by the request (he didn’t use drugs), and a scuffle ensued. Dorismond was then shot to death by the police.
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Shirley Dorsey

56 years old
Placerville, California
April, 1991
Rather than being compelled to testify against her 70-year-old boyfriend (Byron Stamate) for cultivating the medicinal cannabis she depended upon to help control her crippling back pain, Shirley Dorsey committed suicide.  She saw it as the only way to prevent the forfeiture of their home and property. Despite her suicide, Stamate was sentenced to 9 months prison, and his home, cottage, and $177,000 life savings were seized.
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Juan Mendoza Fernandez

60 years old
Dallas, Texas
September, 2000
Police found a variety of drugs when they raided the Fernandez’ home. However, Juan apparently believed he was the victim of burglars during the raid, and was shot while trying to protect his 11-year-old granddaughter. He and his wife had been married 36 years and had four children and 13 grandchildren.
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Curt Ferryman

24 years old
Jacksonville, Florida
August, 2000
Undercover agents were attempting to arrest Ferryman, who was in his car and unarmed. A DEA agent knocked on the car window with his gun to get the suspect’s attention, and the gun went off, killing him as he sat in the car.
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Derek Hale

25 years old
Wilmington, Delaware
November, 2006
A retired Marine Sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, was peacefully sitting on the front stoop of a house, when police in unmarked cars who had him under surveillance (believing based on his acquaintances that he might be part of a narcotics ring) pulled up and tasered him three times, causing him to go into convulsions and throw up. Because he had not gotten his hand free from his jacket quickly enough (while convulsing) an officer then shot him point blank in the chest with three .40 caliber rounds. Hale’s widow has filed a civil lawsuit.
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Willie Heard

46 years old
Osawatomie, Kansas
February, 1999
SWAT conducted a no-knock drug raid, complete with flash-bang grenades. Heard was shot to death in front of his wife and 16-year-old daughter who had cried for help. Fearing home invasion, he was holding an empty rifle. The raid was at the wrong house.
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Clayton Helriggle

23 years old
Eaton, Ohio
September, 2002
Clayton was shot to death while coming down the stairs during a suprise raid. He was carrying either a gun or a plastic cup, depending on the report. Less than an ounce of marijuana was found.
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Esequiel Hernandez

18 years old
Redford, Texas
May, 1997
Hernandez was shot and killed by a Marine sniper in camouflage who was part of a military unit conducting drug interdiction activities near the Mexican border. Esequiel was out herding his family’s goats and had taken a break to shoot at some tin cans with his antique rifle.
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John Hirko

21 years old
Pennsylvania
1997
An unarmed man with no prior offenses was shot to death in his house by a squad of masked police. In a no-knock raid, they tossed a smoke grenade in through a window, setting the house on fire. Hirko, suspected of dealing small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, was found face down on his stairway, shot in the back while fleeing the burning building. When the fire was finally put out, officers found some marijuana seeds in an unsinged plastic bag. The Town of Bethlehem settled the resulting lawsuit for $7 million+ and an agreement to reform police department procedures and training.
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Lynette Gayle Jackson

29 years old
Riverdale, Georgia
September, 2000
Shot to death in her bed by SWAT team.
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Kathyrn Johnston

88 years old
Atlanta, Georgia
November, 2006
Kathryn lived in a rough neighborhood and a relative gave her a gun for protection. When she noticed men breaking through her security bars into her house she fired a shot into the ceiling. They were narcotics officers and fired 39 shots back, killing her. The police had falsified information in order to obtain a no-knock search warrant based on incorrect information from a dealer they had framed. After killing Johnson and realizing that she was completely innocent, they planted some marijuana in the basement. Eventually their stories fell apart federal and state investigations learned the truth. Additional facts have come to light that this was not an isolated incident in the Atlanta police department.
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Officer Ron Jones

29 years old
Prentiss, Mississippi
December, 2001
Officer Jones was in the process of serving a drug warrant, based on an informant tip. While trying to enter the rear of a duplex, he broke into the wrong apartment and was shot by the resident, Corey Maye, who had no prior record and was protecting his daughter. No drugs were found. Maye was charged with capital murder, and sentenced to death.

Corey Maye was a Drug War Victim waiting to happen. Fortunately, his death sentence was eventually overturned and he was eventually released from prison.

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Eugene Mallory

80 years old
Los Angeles County, California
June, 2013
Police raided the property based on a tip and their claim that they could smell chemicals of a meth lab. 80-year-old Eugene, who was hard of hearing, did not come outside with other residents of the property and was shot six times in his bed. There was no meth lab or meth found.
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Tony Martinez

19 years old
De Valle, Texas
December, 2001
Officers conducted a drug raid on a mobile home in De Valle. Martinez, who was not the target of the raid, was asleep on the couch when the raid commenced. Hearing the front door smashed open, he sat up, and was shot to death in the chest.
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Peter McWilliams

50 years old
Laurel Canyon, California
June, 2000
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Peter was a world-famous author and an advocate of medical marijuana, not only because he believed in it in principle, but because it was keeping him alive (he had AIDS and non-Hodgkins lymphoma). After California passed a law legalizing medical marijuana, Peter helped finance the efforts of Todd McCormick to cultivate marijuana for distribution to those who needed it for medical reasons. Federal agents got wind of his involvement, and Peter was a target for his advocacy. He was arrested, and in federal court was prevented from mentioning his medical condition or California’s law. While he was on bail awaiting sentencing, the prosecutors threatened to take away his mother’s house (used for bail) if he failed a drug test, so he stopped using the marijuana which controlled his nausea from the medications and allowed him to keep them down. He was found dead on the bathroom floor, choked to death on his own vomit.
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Ismael Mena

45 years old
Denver, Colorado
September, 1999
Mena was killed when police barged into his house looking for drugs. They had the wrong address.
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Pedro Oregon Navarro

22 years old
Houston, Texas
July, 1998
Following up on a tip from a drug suspect, 6 officers crowded into a hallway outside Navarro’s bedroom. When the door opened, one officer shouted that he had a gun. Navarro’s gun was never fired, but officers fired 30 rounds, with 12 of them hitting Pedro. No drugs were found.
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Cheryl Noel

44 years old
Dunkalk, Maryland
January, 2005
Substitute Sunday School Teacher Cheryl Noel possessed a registered handgun, which she kept in her bedroom (9 years earlier, Cheryl has lost her 16-year-old stepdaughter in a shooting murder). On January 19, just before 5 am, police burst into her home using flash-bang grenade and battering ram looking for drugs. Both Cheryl and her husband were asleep in the master bedroom. Suddenly awake and fearing an armed intrusion, Cheryl grabbed her gun. Police kicked in the bedroom door and shot her 3 times.
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Mario Paz

65 years old
Compton, California
August, 1999
Mario was shot twice in the back in his bedroom during a SWAT raid looking for marijuana. No drugs were found.
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Charmene Pickering

27 years old
Brooklyn, New York
July, 2001
Charmene was a passenger in a car driven by a drug suspect. State troopers and DEA agents were in the process of arresting the driver when the trooper’s gun went off and hit Charmene in the neck, killing her. Both passenger and driver were unarmed.
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Manuel Ramirez

Stockton, California
January, 1993
At 2 am, police smashed down the door and rushed into the home of Manuel Ramirez, a retired golf course groundskeeper. Ramirez awoke, grabbed a pistol and shot and killed officer Arthur Parga before other officers killed him. Police were raiding the house based on a tip that drugs were on the premises, but they found no drugs.
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Officer Arthur P. Parga

32 years old
Stockton, California
January, 1993
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Deputy Keith Ruiz

36 years old
Travis County, Texas
February, 2001
Ruiz was a husband and father who was a veteran of numerous SWAT raids. In the process of serving a drug warrant, he was trying to break down the door to a mobile home occupied by painter Edwin Delamora, his wife, and two young children. Confused by the raid at night, Delamora yelled to his wife that they were being robbed and shot through the door, killing Ruiz.
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Donald P. Scott

61 years old
Malibu, California
October, 1992
Government agencies were interested in the property of this reclusive millionaire. A warrant was issued based on concocted “evidence” of supposed marijuana plantings, and a major raid was conducted with a 32-man assault team. Scott was shot to death in front of his wife. No drugs were found.

A later official report found: “It is the District Attorney’s opinion that the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to seize and forfeit the ranch for the government. Based in part upon the possibility of forfeiture, Spencer obtained a search warrant that was not supported by probable cause. This search warrant became Donald Scott’s death warrant.”

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Alberto Sepulveda

11 years old
Modesto, California
September, 2000
Alberto was killed by a shotgun blast to the back while following police orders and lying face down on the floor during a SWAT raid. He was a seventh-grader at Prescott Senior Elementary School.
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Isaac Singletary

80 years old
Jacksonville, Florida
January, 2007
Isaac lived in a rough neighborhood and often brought out his gun to chase off drug dealers. So when he saw a couple of low-lifes conducting transactions on his lawn, he came out with it again and told them to get off his property. Except they were undercover narcotics officers so they shot him. Isaac managed to get a shot or two off in response, but the officers were able to finish him off.
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Gary Shepherd

45 years old
Broadhead, Kentucky
August, 1993
When a Kentucky drug task force came to uproot his marijuana plants in August 1993, pot-grower and Vietnam vet Gary Shepherd told them, “You will have to kill me first,” took out his rifle and sat down on his front porch.  That evening he was shot dead in front of his infant son.  Despite the fact that Shepherd never fired a shot and his family was pleading with authorities for negotiations, state police sharpshooters appeared from the brush without warning and opened fire when he refused to drop his rifle.
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Alberta Spruill

57 years old
Harlem, New York
May, 2003
Police, acting on a tip, forced their way into Spruill’s home, setting off flash grenades. She suffered a heart attack and died. It was the wrong address.
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Ashley Villareal

14 years old
San Antonio, Texas
February, 2003
Ashley went outside at night with a family friend to move their freshly washed car under shelter. DEA agents, interested in her father, were staking out the house, and believing that her father was driving, shot and killed Ashley. The agents did not have a warrant for her father. Read The Murder of Ashley.

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Kenneth B. Walker

39 years old
Columbus, Georgia
December, 2003
Walker and three companions were pulled over in an SUV by police in a drug investigation. No drugs or weapons were found, but Walker was shot in the head. Walker was a devoted husband and father, a respected member of his church, and a 15-year middle-management employee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Deputy David Glisson, who killed Walker, was fired three months later for failing to cooperate in an investigation into the shooting.

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Accelyne Williams

75 years old
Boston, Massachusetts
March, 1994
Accelyne was a retired Methodist Minister and substance abuse counselor. After an informant gave police a bad address, a SWAT raid was conducted on the minster’s home. The door was battered down, Williams was tackled to the floor and his hands tied behind his back. He died of a heart attack.
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Tarika Wilson

26 years old
Lima, Ohio
January, 2008
Tarika was a single mother of six. Lima police executed a SWAT raid with guns drawn to arrest her boyfriend on small-time drug dealing charges. Officer Joseph Chavalia was upstairs when the sound of the other officers shooting Wilson’s dogs downstairs startled him. He shot and killed Tarika, who was unarmed, on her knees, holding her 14-month-old son and complying with orders to get down on the floor (her son was shot twice but survived). Chavalia was cleared of any wrong-doing.
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Payton & Chase


Berwyn Heights, Maryland
July, 2008
Many, many dogs have been slaughtered in drug raids — Payton and Chase are the most famous. Prince George County SWAT, intercepting a package of marijuana addressed to Mayor Cheye Calvo’s wife Trinity, and knowing that criminals were addressing packages to innocents and intercepting them, nonetheless burst into the Mayor’s home without even enough investigation to know he was the Mayor or even notifying local police, shot the two dogs (Chase was running away from them when they killed him), and kept the Mayor and his mother-in-law handcuffed on the floor for hours in their dogs’ blood.
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While those above were victims of the tactics of the Drug War, there are many others who lost their lives as a result of this war.

Isidro Aviles

33 years old
New York
Isidro received a 23 year sentence for crack cocaine conspiracy based on $52 cash and the bargained testimony of a repeat criminal. 7 years later he died in prison of an undiagnosed and untreated illness. His mother, Teresa, works tirelessly with the November Coalition, Drop the Rock and others to change the laws and help other families shattered by the war. Read my article about this mother and her son.
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