Bungled Police Raids

This week, UK police apologize to the family of an unarmed man shot dead in a bungled police raid; NORML reports the 2002 US marijuana arrest statistics; the city of New York pays $1.6 million to the family of a woman killed in yet another bungled drug raid; and the Winnipeg press reports that Canadian youth are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco.

October 26 -- The UK Observer reports: The family of an unarmed man shot dead by police at point-blank range in a bungled drugs raid will receive a formal apology this week, more than five years after the killing. The Chief Constable of Sussex, Ken Jones, will travel to Liverpool on Thursday to apologize to relatives of James Ashley, who was killed by a police marksman at his flat in St Leonards, near Hastings, in January 1998.

Ashley was naked in bed with his girlfriend when a four-man armed response team stormed his flat at 4:00 a.m. on Jan. 15, 1998, after a tip-off about a haul of drugs. Police intelligence suggested that Ashley was a potentially armed and dangerous drug dealer. Only a small amount of cannabis and an air pistol were found.

October 28 -- The National Organization for Marijuana Laws (NORML) reports: Police arrested an estimated 697,082 persons for marijuana violations in 2002, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report, released yesterday afternoon. The total is among the highest ever recorded by the FBI, and comprised nearly half of all drug arrests in the United States.

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Keith Stroup, Executive Director of NORML, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 45 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that should be dedicated toward combating serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."

Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88 percent -- some 613,986 Americans -- were charged with possession only. The remaining 83,095 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses -- even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

October 29 -- The Detroit Free Press reports: The City of New York agreed to pay $1.6 million Tuesday in the case of a Harlem woman who died of a heart attack after police threw a stun grenade into her apartment during a bungled drug raid last May, officials said.

During the raid, police handcuffed Alberta Spruill, 57, to a chair, when she had a heart attack. She died within an hour; her death was ruled a homicide.

A wanted drug dealer lived in the same building but had been arrested by a different police unit four days earlier.

October 30 -- The Winnipeg Free Press reports: Canadian teens are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco, a national survey says.

A poll of 1,250 12-to-19-year-olds suggests that getting high is once again "mainstream," says a Health Canada representative. The results suggest that is the greatest cannabis use among young people in the last 25 years.

Health Canada gave a preliminary report of its findings last week to a House of Commons committee holding hearings on a bill that would decriminalize marijuana, but stiffen penalties against grow operations.

"Research we have conducted on 12-to 19-year-olds shows us that marijuana has gone mainstream and is well integrated into teen lifestyle," reported Linda Dabros, a special adviser to Health Canada's director general of drug strategy.

Fifty-four per cent of 15-to 19-year-olds said they had smoked marijuana more than once. When 12-to 14-year-olds were added to the mix, however, the overall numbers dropped to 34 per cent. Cigarette smoking, on the other hand, continues to decline among young people, with the latest national figures showing that 22 per cent of teens light up regularly.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

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