"It was a great mistake to put routine drug offenses into the federal courts." — Antonin Scalia
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to you as a wife and mother of two young daughters, whose 34-year old husband, Matthew Davies, faces 10 years or more in federal prison for providing medical marijuana to sick people in California, even though he complied with state law concerning medicinal cannabis. My questions to you are simple:
- What has my husband done that would justify the federal government forcing my young daughters to grow up without a father?
- How can your Administration ignore the will of the California people and prosecute this good, law-abiding man for doing exactly what state law permits?
The Houston Chronicle reports that the owner of a very small Texas trucking company had one of his trucks commandeered by the DEA, with whom one of his drivers was secretly corroborating, to haul marijuana from the border in an undercover drug enforcement operation. The owner, Craig Patty, says that the truck was taken and used without his knowledge or consent.
Unfortunately, Mr. Patty now no longer has a driver or a truck:
Commandeered by one of his drivers, who was secretly working with federal agents, the truck had been hauling marijuana from the border as part of an undercover operation. And without Patty’s knowledge, the Drug Enforcement Administration was paying his driver, Lawrence Chapa, to use the truck to bust traffickers.
At least 17 hours before that early morning phone call, Chapa was shot dead in front of more than a dozen law enforcement officers - all of them taken by surprise by hijackers trying to steal the red Kenworth T600 truck and its load of pot.
It’s been eight months since the incident, and Patty has yet to receive compensation. His insurance company unfortunately doesn’t cover “DEA drug trafficking violence” on his policy, and the government has yet to make him whole:
In documents shared with the Houston Chronicle, he is demanding that the DEA pay $133,532 in repairs and lost wages over the bullet-sprayed truck, and $1.3 million more for the damage to himself and his family, who fear retaliation by a drug cartel over the bungled narcotics sting.
So not only has the DEA done a significant amount of damage to Patty’s business assets, they’ve also made him and his family accessories to an undercover drug operation that may put their lives at risk. It’s not hard to understand why Patty would be frustrated under the circumstances:
"How am I — a small businessman, father of three, American Joe from Texas — supposed to make a claim against a federal agency that has conveniently shrouded itself behind a red, white and blue cloak of confidentiality and secrecy?"
Answer: you do the best you can, Mr. Patty. And you hope and pray that somebody in a government office somewhere decides that you deserve to be made whole. Unfortunately, these things don’t always work out for the best.
h/t Simple Justice
The “government” in question is California. Strike one for competitive federalism.
Just build a bigger fence. Surely the drug cartels won’t know what to do with themselves if you build it so high they can’t possibly go OVER it!
Except, you know, go under it.
Imagine you are the mother and/or father of two daughters, 14 and 11. You live in a trailer. You are not rich, but you do the best you can for your kids. You keep a roof over their heads, and try to keep them from going hungry, and keep them out of trouble.
Now imagine the following occurs:
On the morning of January 20, 2007, Plaintiffs Thomas and Rosalie Avina and their daughters were asleep in their mobile home. At approximately 7:00 a.m., DEA Agents approached the front door of the home. The agents banged loudly on the front door and yelled “police.” They waited briefly and then used a battering ram to break through the front door. The agents then entered the Avinas’ home with their guns drawn. Upon entering the Avina home, the agents first encountered Thomas and Rosalie Avina. Thomas was standing in an area between the living room and his bedroom, and Rosalie was lying on a couch in the living room. One of the agents approached Thomas and told Thomas to “get down on the [fuck]ing ground.” Thomas told the agent that he was “making a mistake.” After hearing Thomas’s response, another agent “forcefully pushed” Thomas to the ground, pointed his gun at Thomas’s face, and told Thomas, “Don’t you [fuck]ing move.” Both Thomas and Rosalie were placed in handcuffs. When Rosalie noticed agents approach the rooms of her daughters, Rosalie screamed at the agents, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”
You then watch these men with guns charge into your 14-year old daughter’s bedroom, scream at her to “get down on the fucking ground” and they handcuff her. They then proceed to do the same to your 11-year old, who at first disobeys the cops because she’s fucking terrified:
At the time of the search, eleven-year-old B.S.A. was asleep in her room. Agents entered B.S.A.’s room with their guns drawn. The agents yelled at B.S.A. to “[g]et down on the f[uck]ing ground.” B.S.A. initially refused to get down on the ground because she was “frozen in fear.” The agents then pulled eleven-year-old B.S.A. to the ground and handcuffed her. After the agents handcuffed B.S.A., the agents pointed their guns at eleven-year-old B.S.A.’s head “like they were going to shoot [her].” The agents then picked up B.S.A. and moved her to B.F.A.’s room.
And now the big finish:
Sometime later, agents moved B.S.A. and B.F.A. into the living room, with their hands still cuffed behind their backs. At this point, eleven-year-old B.S.A. began to cry because she could not find her father. At some point, B.S.A. noticed her father lying on the floor. According to B.S.A., the agents unhandcuffed her about thirty minutes after they first entered her bedroom.
The agents searched the Avina home for approximately two hours. At approximately 9:00 a.m., agents left the Avina home.
But wait! There’s a punchline to the whole ordeal. It’s hilarious, really:
On January 19, 2007, DEA Agents obtained a search warrant for the mobile home located at 1601 Drew Road, space #14, in Seeley, California. At the time the warrant was issued, DEA Agents believed that a vehicle belonging to suspected drug trafficker Luis Alvarez was registered at the Avina residence. After executing the search warrant on January 20, 2007, the agents discovered they had inadvertently written down a license number of a vehicle belonging to Thomas Avina instead of a vehicle belonging to Luis Alvarez.
Yet another example of Scalia’s “New Professionalism” in action.
If someone hits you with their vehicle while you’re crossing the street, they are liable, whether directly or through their insurance company, for paying your medical bills. If during your stay in the hospital afterwards, a doctor makes a mistake and writes the wrong number on a prescription for pain medication, and you get hurt as a result of their mistake, they are liable to you for medical malpractice. If during settlement negotiations, your lawyer screws up and writes the wrong number in a settlement agreement, they are liable to you for legal malpractice.
But if a DEA agent storms into the wrong house, pushes you on the ground, points guns at your children, and traumatizes your family by invading the sanctity of your home in the most violent way possible, you have all your work ahead of your to hold them accountable. Even if they admit they screwed up. Even if they admit they had the wrong house. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the police made a horrible mistake. It doesn’t matter that you are undeniably a victim. It doesn’t matter that you got roughed up, or that your children were forced to grow up early after having assault rifles pointed at their face, and being man-handled at a young age by heavily armed and armored Drug Enforcement Agents.
No. All that matters is we get these drugs off the streets.
Because we need to protect our children. From the drugs.
This case, in its own way, was a small victory. The Ninth Circuit reversed the federal district court’s order granting the DEA’s motion for summary judgment, in which the district court judge found that the force used against the children in this case was constitutionally “reasonable.” But the Ninth Circuit did not rule in favor of the Avinas. They simply said that they have a right to have their day in court.
That’s what it takes to get justice when law enforcement officials make a mistake. Only after paying what likely amounted to thousands of dollars in legal fees required to investigate, research, search for expert witnesses, curate evidence, and develop a trial strategy that will convince a panel of jurors that innocent people deserve to be compensated when law enforcement officials raid the wrong house, rough up innocent people, and point guns at your 14 and 11-year old daughters’s heads. And then, only after having your case dismissed on summary judgment, and appealing to the intermediate court, do you maybe get a shot at accountability. You’ve got to fight your ass off for every inch of ground you get in court. And even if you manage to get through the courthouse doors, you’ve still got all your work ahead of you at trial.
It shouldn’t be this hard. But it usually is. And given the current make-up of the Supreme Court, it’s not likely to get better anytime soon.
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