Drug War Produces Bullies In Blue

Drugs are evil, but the fact that they can be so easily flushed down the toilet, moved, or placed in unexpected places without being noticed means that criminalizing them has created other problems. One problem:  it is too easy to get rid of evidence, which puts pressure on law enforcement to erode Fourth Amendment protections. Another problem is it is so easy to plant evidence.

Collinsville, Illinois is small town outside St. Louis. If you ever stay overnight there in a hotel, unless something changes, it is possible that you will have drugs smeared on your car—enough so that drug dog can pick up the scent. If you then were to get stopped by a cop for any reason, and he happened to have a K-9 with him, you could get in deep trouble.

If this sounds strange, similar things have already happened. People get stopped for no reason at all, the police officer tells you a story about how he caught you “weaving” or doing something else on the road, and he finds an excuse to use a drug dog.

That is exactly what happened to Terrance Huff. He and his friend went to the Saint Louis Science Center to see a Star Trek display. The next day, Huff’s fortieth birthday, he drove back home but was pulled over by Officer Michael Reichert. Eventually, after creating a story about “weaving” on the road as a pretext for searching the vehicle, and then inventing another story about Huff’s friend seeming “real nervous,” Reichert told Huff that he was always concerned about drug traffickers. He tried to coerce Reichert into allowing him to search his vehicle by promising he would overlook “small amounts.” On the other hand, if Huff didn’t give permission, and Reichert’s dog smelled drugs, then drugs of any amount would result in an arrest. Huff knew he didn’t have any drugs and stood his ground. The cop claimed his dog did smell drugs (without any obvious response; drug dogs now communicate by telepathy with their masters). The resultant search found nothing. Reichert insisted the dog found marijuana “shavings” under the front and back seats, but there weren’t even back seats in the vehicle. Whatever Reichert claimed seemed aimed at justifying the search. He didn’t claim it was a basis for an arrest.

Huff did a great job of keeping his composure throughout the ordeal. But he then sued and, after much work, pried loose the videotape from the Collinsville Police Station. He also had his lawyer depose Reichert. Under questioning Reichert said he “trained” dogs by smearing drugs on cars and seeing if the dog would detect the scent. Where did these vehicles come from? Reichert said he sometimes used hotel parking lots in Collinsville, without the owner’s knowledge or consent.

So if you spent the night in Collinsville, and then ran into some other cop down the highway fishing for “drug traffickers” you could have a much worse day than Huff did.

I happened to work a night shift in Belleville, IL and learned that, in both Illinois and Missouri, driving home between two and four A.M. was like having a flashing sign on the car roof that says, “Please, stop me on some pretext and see what you can find.” I can’t afford a lawyer. I think there are many people who simply put up with the harassment because trying to do something about it will only cost more time and money.

But people should not be randomly stopped because some cop (in this case, one with a criminal record for lying in a drug case) wants to see if he can catch a drug trafficker. This is banana republic culture and it needs to stop.

The use of drugs on strange cars is even more outrageous. Not only does it threaten the innocent, but it also seems to violate basic evidence rules. As a public defender told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the practice brings the sanctity of the evidence locker into question.”

“I know of no authority that allows a police officer to take evidence out of the vault to do this… It raises serious questions that we need to look at, and we’re looking at them, believe me. We’re quite curious about where this stuff came from, accounting for it, what he does (with the drugs) when he’s done… If he’s taking evidence from a case I’m handling and putting it back like it was never touched … that raises serious issues.”

Below are the two videos Huff posted. The first one is over fifteen minutes but it is worth the time.