Drug Bust “Mistake” Costs Another Life

Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999
Subject: Drug Bust “Mistake” Costs Another Life

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #151 December 28. 1999

Drug Bust “Mistake” Costs Another Life




DrugSense FOCUS Alert #151 December 28. 1999

Colorado resident Ismael Mena was killed in September by police who
burst into his home looking for drugs. In the aftermath of the all too
familiar tragedy, no drugs were found in the house. Colorado
newspapers finally focused some attention on the story this month, but
few reporters have put the incident into its proper perspective like
Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen. In an excellent column (reprinted
below) Quillen demonstrates why Mena’s death was the result of
dangerous policy, not a simple “mistake.” For more details on the
killing of Mena, see http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v99/n1375/a05.html?34592

Quillen also notes that if more politicians were as brave and honest
as New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, then maybe the madness of drug
prohibition would end. Unfortunately, some recent reports indicate
that Gov. Johnson is becoming frustrated by his opponents’ refusal to
accept the most basic facts about the failure of the drug war (see

Professional drug warriors cannot put a positive spin on Ismael Mena’s
death, nor can they manipulate any “facts” to justify it. Please write
a letter to the Denver Post to thank Quillen for his insights and to
notify editors that the only way to prevent another tragic death like
Mena’s is to end the drug war. Please also consider sending an email
or letter to Gov. Johnson to encourage him to continue his battle even
if the drug warriors never learn how to participate in a fair fight.

Thanks for your effort and support.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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Source: Denver Post (CO)

Contact: letters@denverpost.com


Please send a message of encouragement to New Mexico Governor Gary
Johnson to thank him for all he’s done so far, but also to remind him
that he must keep up the fight to stop the killing of innocent people
like Mena. Contact information for the governor is available at


Pubdate: Sun, 26 Dec 1999
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 1999 The Denver Post
Contact: letters@denverpost.com
Address: 1560 Broadway, Denver, CO 80202
Fax: (303) 820.1502
Website: http://www.denverpost.com/
Forum: http://www.denverpost.com/voice/voice.htm
Author: Ed Quillen, Denver Post columnist
Note: Ed Quillen of Salida is a former newspaper editor whose column appears
Tuesdays and Sundays.


Dec. 26 – Let us suppose that a gang of drug dealers had broken into
a house, surprised an occupant who tried to defend himself, and then
shot him dead.

There would be an outcry that the death penalty wasn’t nearly harsh
enough for such scum.

But when the police do it, it’s just an accident – some of that
unavoidable collateral damage in the all-important War on Drugs – and
if there’s any outcry, it hasn’t been loud enough to notice. Nobody’s
marching in the street.

Last September, Denver police served a “no-knock” warrant at the home
of Ismael Mena, who ended up dead by police bullets. Many have noted
that no drugs were found in the house, as if that would have been an
excuse for killing Mena.

Start with the rationale for a “no-knock” warrant. The theory is
that if the police act in a polite and civil way, and ring the door
bell and announce their presence, then the miscreants inside might
flush the drugs down the toilet before answering the door.

Since the excuse for much enforcement is “to get the drugs off the
street,” it would seem that a “yes-knock” warrant would serve that
purpose just as well. Drugs in the sewer certainly aren’t on the street.

Then there’s the matter of the police going to the wrong address. I
saw that once, and then heard the cop call me a liar.

It happened in early 1974, when I was in college in Greeley. Among my
other duties at the campus paper was covering the police department,
and we had a decent working relationship.

A friend, Tom Hopkins, had applied at the Greeley Police Department
and listed me as a reference. One afternoon, as I was sitting in my
second-floor apartment, I heard noises next door, looked out the
window, and saw a Greeley cop going around that house, beating on
every door he could find.

A couple of days later, I was in the police station, checking the
blotter, when that cop appeared and said he’d like to talk to me.
Invitations like that can lead to trouble if refused, so I agreed.

He asked me about Tom, and without stretching the truth unduly, I told
him Tom was a decent and upstanding citizen. Then the cop asked me
why I hadn’t answered my door a couple of days ago when he’d come to
check on Tom’s reference – I didn’t have a phone at the time.

“You went to the wrong house,” I said. “I saw you next door, and I
wondered what was going on.”

“No I didn’t,” he said. “You’re wrong.”

We looked at the address Tom had given them for me, and it was the
correct address. The cop had indeed gone to the wrong address.
Although I was sorely tempted, I did not push the issue, lest I
jeopardize Tom’s job application, and he may have owed me money at the
time so that it was in my interest for him to be gainfully employed.

Everybody makes mistakes. On a regular warrant, if the police show up
at the wrong house, whoever answers the door can gently show them the
street number on the mailbox, accept their apology if they bother to
offer one and return to normal life. On a no-knock, those safeguards
don’t happen.

From what I read, most no-knock warrants are used in the War on
Drugs, and its rationale is getting mighty thin as this millennium
ends. The main argument is that we have to control certain
substances, or else young people will use them and ruin their lives.

Granted, there are addictive substances that make you stupid, but the
principal of these is alcohol, and you’d think America would have
learned the lesson after Prohibition failed.

But the question is: Does youthful use necessarily lead to a life of
dissipation? If the answer is negative, then what’s the point of the
War on Drugs?

That’s why Texas Gov. George W. Bush remains coy about his youthful
adventures. If he were to say “Yeah, I did some stupid things, but I
got over it, and so will most other people,” the entire Drug-War
Industrial Complex would fund some other candidate, one who could be
relied upon to tell the customary lies and keep the funds flowing.

There aren’t many rays of sunshine amid all these frauds and
deceptions, but one glows just to the south of us.

New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson hasn’t just admitted to “youthful
experimentation.” A few months ago, he flat-out said he smoked a lot
of pot and snorted cocaine. Without the benefit of prison or therapy
from William Bennett, he went on to a successful business and
political career.

The good news for the coming election year is that there’s one honest
Republican governor in the country. The bad news is that he’s not the
one that Republicans want to nominate for the presidency.

Ed Quillen of Salida is a former newspaper editor whose column appears
Tuesdays and Sundays.



To the editor of the Denver Post:

Thank you for printing Ed Quillen’s excellent column on yet another
tragedy in our counterproductive war on drugs (“New Mexico’s Ray of
Sunshine Amid the Usual Gloom” Dec. 26). That a father like Ismael
Mena should lose his life because someone told police they obtained
$20 worth of crack at Mena’s house is obscene. The circumstances
surrounding this incident should be a wake-up call to every American,
even if they (like Mena) have nothing to do with illegal drugs.

If anyone but a gang of police burst into a private residence,
terrorized the inhabitants with paramilitary tactics, shot one
resident to death, tore the interior apart and then held another
residents captive, it would be national news. Imagine the non-stop
coverage and breast-beating if high school students had committed an
act half as brutal. Legislators would be tripping over themselves to
punish someone. But, in terms of the drug war, Mena’s death and his
family’s terror are just bit more collateral damage.

If more citizens don’t express outrage over this tragedy and the whole
devastating war on drugs, they can’t expect much reaction when the
anti-drug squad kicks in their door some dark night. As the Mena story
illustrates, innocence is no protection in such a situation.

Stephen Young

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