|From: TimF||7/12/2019 2:45:18 PM|
|Florida Sheriff Deputy Arrested After Planting Drugs on Innocent People|
Reason uncovered body camera footage of the officer lying about a roadside field test for drugs.
A former Florida sheriff's deputy was arrested Wednesday for planting drugs and falsely arresting at least 10 people, including one case where Reason obtained body camera footage showing him lying about the results of roadside field test.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced yesterday that, following a months-long investigation, former Jackson County sheriff's deputy Zach Wester had been arrested and charged with 52 felony crimes, including racketeering, false imprisonment, fabricating evidence, and drug possession.
In a stunning 30-page affidavit, the FDLE laid out how Wester kept unmarked bags of marijuana and methamphetamines in the trunk of his patrol car, manipulated his body cam footage, planted drugs in people's cars, and falsified arrest reports to railroad innocent people under the color of law. His victims, many of whom had prior records or were working to stay sober, had their lives upended. One man lost custody of his daughter.
"There is no question that Wester's crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail," Chris Williams, the FDLE's assistant special agent in charge, said in a press release.
The Jackson County sheriff suspended Wester last August; it fired him after body camera footage, first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, appeared to show him planting a baggie of methamphetamines in the car of Teresa Odom. After Wester's credibility was destroyed, the local state attorney's office dismissed more than 100 criminal cases where he was the primary or sole officer, and a judge vacated eight more criminal convictions.
Reason then filed a public records request for body camera video from those dismissed cases. We uncovered footage of Wester falsely arresting another person, Florida resident Steve Vann.
Wester pulled over Vann on April 17, 2018, for allegedly crossing over the center line. Although the body camera footage mysteriously starts in the middle of the traffic stop, it shows Wester rummaging through Vann's car before appearing to find a small plastic bag.
"Honesty is going to go a long way with me," Wester tells Vann, holding up the baggie. "Have you ever seen this before?"
"No, no what is that?" Vann says. "Where'd you get that?"
"The center console," Wester says as he walks back to his patrol car to perform a roadside test of the baggie for methamphetamines.
"There ain't no way, man," a distraught Vann says. "Oh my God, you gotta be fucking kidding me."
The field test that Wester used is supposed to turn bright blue almost immediately to indicate a positive result for methamphetamines or MDMA, but it instead turned a muddled red, despite Wester continuing to shake it for several moments.
Nevertheless, Vann can be heard saying "blue" on the video as he stares at it. He then walks back to inform Vann, who by then is in tears, that the test came back presumptive positive for methamphetamine.
Vann was subsequently charged with possession of methamphetamines and paraphernalia, but state prosecutors later dropped those charges as part of a review of more than 250 cases that Wester was involved with.
Wester, on the other hand, now faces charges of false imprisonment, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of methamphetamine, fabricating evidence, perjury, and official misconduct.
Things turned out worse for some of Wester's other victims, such as Benjamin Bowling. In October 2017, Bowling and a woman were driving to a store to buy diapers when Wester pulled them over for allegedly having inoperable tag lights and swerving over the center line. Wester said he smelled marijuana, and the woman gave him permission to search the car.
As in other cases, Wester reported that he discovered three small baggies that tested positive for methamphetamines. Although he reported that his body camera was active during the stop, investigators found no footage of it. The FDLE describes what happened next:
At the time, the Department of Children and Families had awarded Bowling custody of his daughter, and he consistently submitted to drug testing. Bowling was adamant he had been clean since was released from prison for a DUI conviction. Furthermore, Bowling voluntarily took a drug test after he was arrested and it was negative. Bowling contacted the Sheriff's Office and requested that the drugs were tested for DNA and fingerprints. Bowling also requested the body camera video but never received it. Bowling lost custody of his daughter because of the arrest.After Wester was suspended, internal affairs investigators searched Wester's patrol car and found two plastic containers hidden in his black tactical gloves. One contained an unused test kit with methamphetamines already in it. The other contained a small plastic baggie that also tested positive for meth. Investigators also found unlabeled evidence bags with marijuana and meth in the trunk, as well as dozens of pieces of drug paraphernalia.
Before joining the Jackson County Sheriff's Office in 2016, Wester was fired from his previous job at the Liberty County Sheriff's Office for inappropriate relations with women, the Tallahassee Democrat revealed.
In addition to criminal charges, there are also several federal civil rights lawsuits pending against Wester and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.
The prosecutor who first flagged some of Wester's suspicious cases has since quit the state attorney's office and filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint against her former employer, saying she was "ostracized and ignored" after bringing Wester's misconduct to light.
One question that has yet to be answered is why Wester framed people.
"You're never certain of the ways of the heart of man," State Attorney William Eddins of the 1st Judicial Circuit said in a news conference Wednesday. "We have some ideas and some theories, and we've talked about that a lot. But I do not feel that it would be appropriate to go into it in any detail at this time."
The FDLE's investigation into Wester is still ongoing.
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|From: TimF||8/18/2019 11:17:02 AM|
|Maryland Court Rules Marijuana Odor Not Enough To Search A Person|
It turns out that in Maryland, reeking of marijuana is not sufficient probable cause for police to arrest and search a person.
In a unanimous ruling earlier this week, the state's Court of Appeals determined two police officers violated a man's Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unreasonable warrantless search of his person, after police found him in a car that smelled like pot.
"In the post-decriminalization era, the mere odor of marijuana coupled with possession of what is clearly less than ten grams of marijuana, absent other circumstances, does not grant officers probable cause to effectuate an arrest and conduct a search," court documents state...
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|From: TimF||8/29/2019 2:37:40 PM|
|A Man Spent 82 Days in Jail on Meth Charges. The Meth Was Actually Honey.|
Government incompetence made an innocent man spend months in jail and lose both of his jobs.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||9/25/2019 11:33:28 AM|
|The cannabis banking bill isn’t just about banks |
It’s also about repairing damage from the “war on drugs.”
By MAKADA HENRY-NICKIE, JOHN HUDAK and AARON KLEIN
09/25/2019 04:59 AM EDT
This week, Congress finally began to act on the nation’s first stand-alone cannabis reform legislation. The SAFE Banking Act, as it’s known, seeks to provide protections to financial institutions that work with state-licensed cannabis businesses, extending them the same protections afforded other businesses. The House is expected to vote this week and signs are growing that the Senate may soon consider it as well.
While the law—like most—is imperfect, it addresses a serious problem: A lack of access to banking by cannabis-related businesses means many operate in a cash-only environment, which has serious consequences including increased violent crime, higher costs and reduced access to financial data for law enforcement.
But there is a potentially more far-reaching aspect of this bill, one that may not be immediately obvious: The opportunity to ameliorate the effects of the “war on drugs” on communities of color. This is an important step, one that lawmakers shouldn’t underestimate.
The cannabis industry, like many others, is dominated by owners of a similar profile: white, male and wealthy. Many historical and economic reasons explain this, but in the cannabis industry, it is magnified. Because traditional avenues of capital for business development (i.e., small-business loans, home equity lines of credit, etc.) are cut off for cannabis entrepreneurs because of a lack of access to banking, individuals seeking to open a cannabis business must either raise funds among their own network of investors, fund the business with their own existing capital, or a combination of the two.
Women and racial minorities face well-documented barriers in accessing investment dollars, in part because the ability to fund one’s own business depends largely on preexisting wealth. Increasing access to traditional financial products increases opportunity for potential minority and women cannabis entrepreneurs to enter the space.
Another beneficiary of expanded opportunities are minority-depository institutions or MDIs — financial institutions recognized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., as predominantly serving minority communities. America has 149 MDIs and many credit unions and community development financial institutions focused on underserved communities. MDIs arose from a combination of factors, including America’s history of institutional and economic racism and legal impediments against large commercial banking that lasted well into the 1990s. MDIs remain important sources of capital and banking access for minority communities.
MDIs are generally community-oriented banks, far smaller than large regional or national banks. Community banks have an important comparative economic advantage, understanding local communities, having relationships with local businesses, and providing services for people and industries that larger financial institutions do not serve. According to a recent report, the majority of small-business credit available to minorities flows throw MDIs. This is the good side of relationship banking — it can be a tool for the democratization of access to credit and a reminder that it has been previously used as a tool to concentrate and deny opportunities.
Some opposed to SAFE have argued that legislation is not needed given that banking involvement in cannabis-related business has grown steadily over the past five years. In 2019, 633 banking intuitions reported financial activities involving marijuana-related business activity, a near doubling since 2014. Yet, many financial institutions, especially large banks, are so concerned about risk and reputation that they frequently de-bank people or businesses with even tangential relationships to state licensed cannabis. Typically, the only banks providing services are community banks and credit unions, and that coverage is incomplete and inconsistent.
The passage of SAFE is not likely to cause large financial institutions to open their doors suddenly to cannabis-related businesses. The legislation does not change the federal status of cannabis nor does it directly reduce the major reporting requirements (such as Suspicious Activity Reports) that drive up costs and increase the potential for regulatory fines. Larger financial institutions will likely continue to shy away from serving cannabis businesses, although it will likely reduce those banks’ concerns about secondary providers who serve cannabis businesses (e.g. architects, landlords, accountants).
What is likely to happen from SAFE’s passage is more community banks and credit unions deciding to serve marijuana businesses. This should lower costs, increase security, make the cannabis black market even less appealing, and create new customers for community banks, credit unions and MDIs.
The legislation would also begin a broader conversation on how to increase opportunities within communities targeted by the drug war. Part of that conversation must involve a key source of funding for small-business financing: the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) and 504 loan programs, both of which account for a substantial portion of community banks’ small-business lending portfolios. SBA’s 7(a) program is a critical source of credit for small businesses that “cannot be obtained elsewhere,” and serves as a key credit resource for minority-owned businesses. While SAFE is a step toward unlocking the banking sector for the cannabis industry, legislative action or executive guidance that expands access to SBA programs will increase opportunities among a diverse group of cannabis businesses, especially minority-owned enterprises.
Another challenge involves institutionalized rules and norms that still undermine the ability of people of color and women to have access to financial products in the same way and at the same rate as others. The ability of financial institutions to cite risk in the cannabis industry when it conveniences them and ignore it when it does not, allows racism and gender bias to continue.
In an effort to address these challenges, SAFE requires banking regulators to issue an annual report to Congress on diversity and inclusion in cannabis banking services and instructs the Government Accountability Office to study “barriers to marketplace entry … and the access to financial services for potential and existing minority-owned and women-owned cannabis related legitimate businesses.” These reports empower regulators and Congress to continue the conversation about justice and inclusion for minorities and women and identify additional ways to address the biases that exist within the American economy and its banking system.
SAFE addresses real and growing problems, even if incrementally. Its passage will not entirely fix the challenges that cannabis businesses face accessing financial services. Nor will it fully reverse institutionalized racism in American finance and commerce.
But the cannabis industry is growing rapidly and facing substantial problems working with the banking and financial sectors. Congressional action that reduces the risks associated with an un-banked industry is progress that can take a first step toward facilitating opportunities for a diverse group of prospective entrepreneurs, including those targeted by the decadeslong war on drugs.
This incremental progress is something that both parties should support. Rejecting the SAFE Banking Act because it does not solve the entire problem will only make problems worse in the short and long terms.
Makada Henry-Nickie is a David M. Rubenstein fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. John Hudak is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. Aaron Klein is a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution.
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