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by Peter Moskos

August 20, 2010

L.V. F-Up

Now I wasn't there, but as I understand it...

A pothead and occasional seller in Las Vegas, let's call him "Vegas Cole," is sitting with his pregnant fiance on a Friday night watching TV. Police bust down the door and shoot and kill him.

Just another day in the drug war, right? Police did find a small amount a weed, a digital scale, and $702 in cash. So what's the problem?

Vegas Cole was unarmed, no guns were found, and his fiance says the money was rent money. Rent money? Yeah, right. I've heard that one before. But you know what I never saw from a drug dealer? A receipt. The fiance actually had a receipt for half the money. From a pawn shop. She pawned her jewelry a few days earlier for $305. Oh. I guess they had money troubles.

The Las Vegas Journal Review says:
[Vegas] Cole, 21, was unarmed when he was killed by a single rifle round fired by Detective Bryan Yant, who a week before the raid swore under oath that Cole had a "lengthy criminal history of narcotics sales, trafficking and possession charges" in Houston and Los Angeles.

But [Vegas] Cole's record in his native California was limited to a conviction for misdemeanor unlawful taking of a vehicle. He probably never even visited Houston.

Investigators might have confused him with another Trevon Cole [let's call him, Texas Trevon]-- one with a different middle name who is seven years older, at least three inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter, records show. That [Texas] Trevon Cole has several marijuana-related arrests in Houston, all misdemeanors
So Yant wasn't too good at dotting the I's and crossing the T's. It's an understandably mistake, right? Just seven years, three inches, 100 pounds, and a different middle name? Seriously, how can a professional police officer confuse these guys. What in the world do these two black men have in common? ...Oh.

So Yant is investigating Vegas Cole because he thinks he's Texas Trevon, who is supposedly is a big-time dealer, but actually isn't. It gets better (Or I guess you could say worse... if you're some party pooper who care about dead people). According to the affidavit:
Undercover detectives had bought ... a total of 1.8 ounces for $840
$465 an ounce for Nevada ditch weed?! Are you f*cking kidding me? The officers were offering perhaps a ten-times markup to buy grass that is barely criminal to possess in Nevada? 1.8 ounces weighs less than 1/4 cup of sugar.

Also, says Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle, according to the warrant:
when police wanted to make a big score -- $400 worth -- ... they had to reschedule because Cole didn't have that much on hand.
This borders on entrapment. You offer me $400 an ounce for any old shit and I just might make a few calls and go into business. And I got a job. Vegas Cole's pregnant fiance was hawking her jewelry to make ends meet!

Well, Cole is still a criminal, right? Nobody forced this man to accept the offer of easy money law enforcement dangled in front of him. And who knows, maybe neighbors were complaining. And policing is dangerous work. It's not like Yant, who wrote the warrant and pulled the trigger, has a record of being trigger happy or anything. Oh, wait. This is the third police-involved shootings for Yant. Two of them fatal. There is good news. At least for Yant. Of the past 200 fatal police-involved shootings in Vegas--a rate of killing about 50% higher than the NYPD--only one has been found to be criminally bad.


Richard P. said...

This is why I, like some Americans, don't trust cops. This is why they shouldn't have the discretion you so value. This is why a few months ago when the ruling on the confession came down I was so mad. As Kevin Kelly says and many Behavioral Economists/Psychologists confirm, the default matters. Why not make the default for cops killing people a trial? Let the jury decide. That little nudge would make cops think a bit harder about pulling the trigger or even going into a situation where violence might erupt.

Even if the average cop is an above average human being, the lowest percentile is going to be pretty bad. Add on to that Union and institutional protections and you get a goddamn movie script. I think I saw this one: Brooklyn's Finest?

Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

Nothing compared to the Bisard case out of Indy now.

Tom said...

Maybe I'm uncharitable, but how hard is it to pocket the difference of an "overpayment"?

Jeff N said...

I've read stories where cops get away with shooting unarmed suspects because of 'furtive movements' in the past.

But it seems in this case the DA is going after the cops, so it will be interesting to watch.


And to make this case even more interesting.

"On one occasion, captured by hidden cameras set up by Langley Productions, the same company that produces the show "Cops," Cannon asked Cole to sell him cocaine"

Dana King said...

He shot Cole with a rifle? How close were they? Do Vegas police routinely do close quarters, indoor arrests with rifles?

PCM said...

Oh, Dana! Your naïveté and hope give me faith in this cruel, cold world.

Its a very fair question but those days are all but over.

Unfortunately, police routinely do close quarters indoor arrests with rifles. That's after busting down the door with a battering ram and raiding the house commando style. And it's all in the name of the War on the Drugs.

And that's even though 98% of all warrants could be safely executed by putting a cop out back, and having three more cops knock on the front door.

See Radley Balko's "Overkill" for more on this.

Anonymous said...

Serious question: when was the last time the NYPD's tactical guys shot the wrong person during a warrant? Now yes, they did give an old lady a heart attack from using a stun grenade back in 2003 or thereabouts, so now they almost never use stun grenades anymore. So back to the question: when did they shoot an unarmed person? I can't recall a single incident on something like 20 years or more, or ever, for that matter. Maybe the problem is not with these tactical guys, per se, but with their training. Just a thought.

PCM said...

I think you're right. At least partially.

But given the fact that some police departments don't seem to have adequate training, perhaps they shouldn't be encouraged with federal war-on-drug money to arm a SWAT team.

Statistically tac raids are pretty safe. And the NYPD has a better track record than most. In fact, the NYPD has a good track record. And the NYPD does a much better job making sure it's the right door and the right person and so on. The problem isn't with the NYPD.

But to say that the NYPD does it right (or better than others) ignores all the other police department, many of whom do not do it right.

To say there's a problem with the militarization of police is not to say that big cities don't need a tactical team.

The problem is much more in small cities, where these units, quite frankly, don't have enough to do. So they start serving warrants.

Just because a tac team doesn't kill people very often doesn't mean it's the right way to serve a warrant.

How many times has the wrong person been shot simply by uniformed officers knocking a door? And amazing, at least from my experience, simply knocking on the door works more often than not. Or leads to the person turning himself in.

Perhaps serving a warrant simply isn't as dangerous as some police think. And if that is true, than perhaps there's a better way for civilian law enforcement to apprehend criminals than busting down doors, shooting dogs, and scaring the hell out of neighbors, kids, and whomever else might be in the house.

Nothing says police state like police busting down doors of a private homes and dismissing lives as collateral damage. So, if you're going to bust down a door, goddamn it better be the right door and a dangerous person who couldn't have been apprehended any other way!

Home raids should be last resort, not default.

Winston Smith said...

PCM, the cops love to do raids. Let's face it, lots of cops are assholes and these raids give them the excuse to run wild. Look at a recent court case in Toronto for some insight:


Police search methods come under fire

A couch, slashed and smouldering, lay upended in the tiny backyard, while inside the home household possessions were strewn on the floor after dresser drawers were dumped, shelves cleared and closets emptied.

.. Justice Michael Code criticized the Toronto police officers who had executed that search warrant and concluded they had caused “deliberate and unnecessary damage” to the contents of the Driftwood Ave. townhouse unit. ...

All this for a grand total of 33g of narcotics. The judge acquitted the defendants because he wasn't convinced the drugs were theres - me neither, I give 50/50 odds they were planted after the cops came up empty. Of course nothing will come of it because the home owners are just project niggers. But as the G20 showed us the cops are getting much more bold, so in effect, we are all niggers now.

Except in Quebec. The cops fun was ruined by a dealer who thought he was being robbed and killed one cop and wounded another. He was acquitted of murder at trial and now he and the city are suing each other.


Such a waste of bullshit.

Johnny Law said...

"How many times has the wrong person been shot simply by uniformed officers knocking a door? And amazing, at least from my experience, simply knocking on the door works more often than not. Or leads to the person turning himself in."

The problem is that with a narcotics warrant, it is too easy for someone to flush the dope. To be honest, evidence preservation is the main reason such tactics are used. When I was a narc, it was SOP to use a dynamic SWAT style entry for any narcotics warrant. Even with a fast moving entry, folks are still able to dispose of stuff.

I remember several times where my evidence went down the toilet even though we rammed the door and went through the house at a fast speed.

I admit that sometimes I felt pretty silly using those tactics on everyone though. It often seemed like overkill.

PCM said...

Good points, Johnny Law. But yes, overkill. And all for the war on drugs.

And I understand all the legal reasons... but doesn't anyone else see a bit of irony in working so hard to preserve something that will be destroyed? It's like a medical checkup before an execution.

All for the stupid war on drugs.