LA Times: Marijuana Can’t Kill, But Marijuana Prohibition Can

Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999
Subject: LA Times: Marijuana Can’t Kill, But Marijuana Prohibition Can

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 123 August 31,1999
LA Times: Marijuana Can’t Kill, but Marijuana Prohibition Can



DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 123 August 31,1999
LA Times: Marijuana Can’t Kill, but Marijuana Prohibition Can

Most drug policy reform supporters are aware marijuana has no lethal
dose. Marijuana prohibition, on the other hand, can be quite deadly. A
heartbreaking reminder came last week as the Los Angeles Times
reported on a late night “drug raid” that killed a grandfather who had
nothing to do with drugs. The police shot 65-year-old Mario Paz to
death in front of his wife. Showing great compassion for the family’s
loss, police confiscated Paz’s life savings and dragged family members
to the police station for hours of interrogation.

If there was ever a story that embodied all the horror the drug war
can unleash on innocent people, this is it. Please write a letter to
the Los Angeles Times thanking them for covering this important story,
and urging the paper’s continued pursuit of the harsh truth about drug
war injustice.

Thanks for your effort and support.


Don’t Think About it Just DO It!


Phone, fax etc.)

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This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.


Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)



Please note: At this time, the following is the most recent coverage
in the LA Times. For other stories with different details, search using “Paz” as a key word.

Pubdate: Sat, 28 Aug 1999
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Los Angeles Times.
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Author: Anne-Marie O’Connor, Times Staff Writer
Note: Times staff writers Peter Y. Hong and Tina Daunt contributed to this


The El Monte Police Department has no evidence that anyone in the
family of Mario Paz–a 65-year-old man fatally shot in the back by an
El Monte officer during a search of his home Aug. 9–was involved in
drug trafficking, nor did officers when they shot their way into the
house in the nighttime raid, a senior police official said.

El Monte Assistant Police Chief Bill Ankeny said he was unsure if his
department’s narcotics unit even knew whether the family was living at
the Compton home when it was raided by the SWAT team. He said the
team of up to 20 officers–who shot the front and back doors open as
the family slept–was looking for evidence that could be used in a
case against Chino drug suspect Marcos Beltran Lizarraga, who had been
released on bail the morning of the raid.

“We didn’t have information of the Paz family being involved in
narcotics trafficking,” Ankeny said in an interview Thursday. “To my
knowledge, right now, we don’t have any information that the Paz
family was dealing in narcotics. To our knowledge they were not.”

Ankeny said El Monte police asked for the warrant to search the home
after some phone bills, Department of Motor Vehicles records and other
mail bearing the family’s address was found among Beltran’s
possessions. The family says Beltran lived next door in the 1980s and
persuaded Paz, a father of six and grandfather of 14, to let him
receive mail at the Paz home.

Paz was shot to death in the back in full view of his wife, Maria
Luisa, by an officer who entered their bedroom during the raid.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating
the killing as an officer-involved shooting, has provided three
different explanations for why Paz was shot, though sheriff’s
investigators interviewed the family and the SWAT officers intensively
after the shooting.

The first explanation, given in a statement read to the news media
until as recently as Monday, was that El Monte officers believed Paz
to be armed. The second, offered Wednesday by sheriff’s homicide
investigator Lt. Marilyn Baker, was that the officer who shot Paz
thought he saw him reaching for his gun–a suggestion hotly disputed
by the family. The current explanation, in a statement dated Thursday
at 1:30 p.m., is that Paz was shot when he began to reach for a nearby
drawer where police say they found guns.

Baker was not available Friday and could not be reached to clarify the
changes in the explanations.

Sheriff’s spokesman David Halm said he was not familiar with the
details of the probe, but “sometimes as an investigation progresses,
things are learned that differ slightly from the original

El Monte police reported finding three pistols–two of them, they say,
in a drawer on the floor near Paz–and a .22-caliber rifle in the
home. The weapons were seized as evidence. The rifle and the third
pistol were found in the corner of the bedroom, the Sheriff’s
Department bulletin said Thursday.

“I personally think that four weapons are a lot for one person to have
next to the bed,” Baker said. “If you had one, would you keep it next
to your bed? Probably. But four?”

The family said Mario Paz, who came to the United States as part of
the bracero agricultural labor program in the 1950s, kept firearms
safely stored away in a dresser drawer to protect the family in the
high-crime neighborhood. They adamantly rejected the suggestion that
he would have turned a gun on a police officer–or that their family
is anything but hard-working and law-abiding.

“My father’s name means peace, and he stood for that,” said Maria
Derain, who works for a lithographer, during a news conference at the
Paz home Friday. She said the shooting has “taken someone who was
dearest to me.”

Brian Dunn, an attorney for Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.’s firm who is
representing the family in a planned lawsuit against El Monte police,
criticized the agency for linking the family to a suspected drug trafficker.

“What the El Monte Police Department has not told you,” he said at the
news conference, “is that Mario Paz has never been suspected of
committing a criminal act.”

El Monte Assistant Chief Ankeny said the officers believed there might
be armed people at the Paz address because they had found three
high-powered rifles in a search of another home linked to Beltran.
The warrant said officers also found $75,000 and 400 pounds of
marijuana at two other homes linked to Beltran.

Ankeny said police went to the Paz home–where no drugs were
found–“in furtherance of their narcotics investigation case” against

“I don’t know whether they expected to find the Paz family living
there or not,” Ankeny said. “I don’t even know if they expected to
contact the family when they went in. I don’t know if [the Pazes]
were owning or renting. [The officers] were looking for evidence of
narcotics trafficking–drugs, or money from sales. But when we
search, we don’t always find what we expect.”

Ankeny said he “can’t say absolutely that the [Pazes] were not
involved in narcotics trafficking. To our knowledge they were not.
But all that has to come out with the continuing investigation.”

El Monte police also seized $10,000 in cash at the Paz home, which the
sheriff’s investigators say was taken as evidence. El Monte officers
initially said they would try to have the cash forfeited in a civil
procedure as ill-gotten gains, but Ankeny backed off from that
position late Thursday. The family has described the money as their
life savings.

“That’s usually the way it goes–[authorities] would file a civil
action to try to have the money forfeited,” Ankeny said. But “if they
can’t develop information that the proceeds of the money was [from]
narcotics trafficking, it will be given back to the family.
[Authorities are] not going to proceed unless they have evidence.”

Ankeny said he had “the greatest sympathy for the family and their
loss. Loss of life is a tragedy.”

Another officer probing the shooting, sheriff’s homicide investigator
Susan Coleman, said that the El Monte police warrant to search the
Compton home had been legally obtained and that police “made the
proper commands and announcements. It’s not out of the ordinary. You
don’t know all of the reasons they went into that house.”


Reading the excellent reporting done by the Los Angeles Times on the
killing of Mario Paz has been a very disturbing experience. That a man
should lose his life because police want to rid world of nontoxic
plant is obscene. The circumstances surrounding this incident should
be a wake-up call to every American, even if they (like Paz) have
nothing to do with illegal drugs.

If anyone but a gang of police shot the locks off the door of a
private home, burst in, terrorized a family with paramilitary tactics,
shot the patriarch to death, took the family’s life savings, abducted
the remaining family members and held them against their will, it
would certainly 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, Paz’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 Paz story
illustrates, being innocent is no protection in such a situation.

Stephen Young

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