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Law Enforcement Officials Who Have Lost Their Jobs For Questioning The War On Drugs

Michael Komorn


Law enforcement officials who have lost their jobs forquestioning the war on drugs


The article in the link below is in today's New YorkTimes.




Apparently, Border Patrol agents who speak what is on their minds,will be out of a job.


December 2, 2011


Police Officers FindThat Dissent on Drug Laws May Come With a Price




PHOENIX — BorderPatrol agents pursue smugglers one moment and sit around in boredom the next.It was during one of the lulls that Bryan Gonzalez, a young agent, made somecomments to a colleague that cost him his career.


Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in hisgreen-and-white Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the internationalboundary when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about thefrustrations of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledgessaying, the drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease. Hethen brought up an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition thatfavors ending the war on drugs.


Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy forillegal immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrolheadquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letterarrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to corecharacteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication andesprit de corps.”


After his dismissal, Mr. Gonzalez joined a group even moreexclusive than the Border Patrol: law enforcement officials who have lost theirjobs for questioning the war on drugs and are fighting back in the courts.


In Arizona, Joe Miller, a probation officer in Mohave County,near the California border, filed suit last month in Federal District Courtafter he was dismissed for adding his name to a letter by Law EnforcementAgainst Prohibition, which is based in Medford, Mass., and known as LEAP,expressing support for the decriminalization of marijuana.



“More and more members of the law enforcement community arespeaking out against failed drug policies, and they don’t give up their rightto share their insight and engage in this important debate simply because theyreceive government paychecks,” said Daniel Pochoda, the legal director for theAmerican Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which is handling the Miller case.


Mr. Miller was one of 32 members of LEAP who signed theletter, which expressed support for a California ballot measure that failedlast year that would have permitted recreational marijuana use. Most of thesigners were retired members of law enforcement agencies, who can speak theirminds without fear of action by their bosses. But Mr. Miller and a handful ofothers who were still on the job — including the district attorney for HumboldtCounty in California and the Oakland city attorney — signed, too.


LEAP has seen its membership increase significantly from thetime it was founded in 2002 by five disillusioned officers. It now has ane-mail list of 48,000, and its members include 145 judges, prosecutors, policeofficers, prison guards and other law enforcement officials, most of themretired, who speak on the group’s behalf.


“No one wants to be fired and have to fight for their job incourt,” said Neill Franklin, a retired police officer who is LEAP’s executivedirector. “So most officers are reluctant to sign on board. But we do have somebrave souls.”


Mr. Miller was accused of not making clear that he wasspeaking for himself and not the probation department while advocating thedecriminalization of cannabis. His lawsuit, though, points out that the letterhe signed said at the bottom, “All agency affiliations are listed foridentification purposes only.”


He was also accused of dishonesty for denying that he hadgiven approval for his name to appear on the LEAP letter. In the lawsuit, Mr.Miller said that his wife had given approval without his knowledge, using hise-mail address, but that he had later supported her.


Kip Anderson, the court administrator for the Superior Courtin Mohave County, said there was no desire to limit Mr. Miller’s politicalviews.


“This isn’t about legalization,” Mr. Anderson said. “We’renot taking a stand on that. We just didn’t want people to think he was speakingon behalf of the probation department.”


Mr. Miller, who is also a retired police officer and Marine,lost an appeal of his dismissal before a hearing officer. But when hisapplication for unemployment benefits was turned down, he appealed that andwon. An administrative law judge found that Mr. Miller had not been dishonestwith his bosses and that the disclaimer on the letter was sufficient.



In the case of Mr. Gonzalez, the fired Border Patrol agent,he had not joined LEAP but had expressed sympathy with the group’s cause. “Itdidn’t make sense to me why marijuana is illegal,” he said. “To see that thousandsof people are dying, some of whom I know, makes you want to look for a change.”


Since his firing, Mr. Gonzalez, who filed suit in federalcourt in Texas in January, has worked as a construction worker, a bouncer and ayard worker. He has also gone back to school, where he is considering a lawdegree.


“I don’t want to work at a place that says I can’t think,”said Mr. Gonzalez, who grew up in El Paso, just across the border from CiudadJuárez, which has experienced some of the worst bloodshed in Mexico.


The Justice Department, which is defending the BorderPatrol, has sought to have the case thrown out. Mr. Gonzalez lost adiscrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment OpportunityCommission, which sided with his supervisors’ view that they had lost trustthat he would uphold the law.


Those challenging their dismissals are buoyed by the case ofJonathan Wender, who was fired as a police sergeant in Mountlake Terrace,Wash., in 2005, partly as a result of his support for the decriminalization ofmarijuana. Mr. Wender won a settlement of $815,000 as well as his old job back.But he retired from the department and took up teaching at the University ofWashington, where one of his courses is “Drugs and Society.”


Among those not yet ready to publicly urge the legalizationof drugs is a veteran Texas police officer who quietly supports LEAP and spokeon the condition that he not be identified. “We all know the drug war is a badjoke,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we also know that you’ll neverget promoted if you’re seen as soft on drugs.”


Mr. Franklin, the LEAP official, said it was natural thatthose on the front lines of enforcing drug laws would have strong views onthem, either way. It was the death of a colleague at the hands of a drug dealerin 2000 that prompted Mr. Franklin, a veteran officer, to begin questioning thenation’s drug policies. Some of his colleagues, though, hit the streets evenmore aggressively, he said.


Mr. Franklin said he got calls all the time from colleaguesskeptical about the drug laws as they are written but unwilling to speak out —yet.


“I was speaking to a guy with the Maryland State Police thispast Saturday, and he’s about to retire in January and he’s still reluctant tojoin us until he leaves,” Mr. Franklin said. “He wants to have a good lastcouple of months, without any hassle.”









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