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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: U.S. | Drug War | Police State and Prisons
New Orleans Drug Policy Update August 2016
24 min New Orleans and surrounding area drug war news for 2016. Learn about: law enforcement officers and staffers booked or sentenced on conspiracy, drug distribution, malfeasance, and theft charges in Louisiana; official opiate overdose warnings from health departments, coroners, and law enforcement around the state; mixed bag state legislative actions; effects of prohibition on public health; findings on sentencing and jailing on municipal, state, and federal levels.
From the most incarcerated city, in the most incarcerated state, in the most incarcerated country in the world, this drug policy update.
Houston Police Senior Patrol Officer Noe Juarez was convicted by a federal court in New Orleans this January for supplying high-powered weapons and other equipment to the Zeta cartel and helping them smuggle massive amounts of cocaine into Louisiana and other communities.
The FBI opened an investigation into the New Orleans DEA’s drug task force this year. Two members of the DEA Drug Task Force have been booked on conspiracy and drug distribution charges: Johnny Domingue, a former Tangipahoa sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty to state drug counts in March. Karl E. Newman, a former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office Deputy, was booked with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and abuse of office soon after. As of late July, Newman has been booked on federal charges, which are sealed. The Justice Department’s lengthy investigation into the drug task force misconduct centers on star DEA agent Chad Scott. Originally hailing from Tangipaoh Sheriff's Department, Scott amassed a reputation and impressive record after 17 years with the DEA. The most recent of the many complaints against Chad Scott over his career in Houston and New Orleans comes from Laurie White, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge. After she acquitted an accused cocaine and heroin dealer, she said that she received an 'inappropriate' email from the agent, which she found to be a form of intimidation. The scandal is expected to have far-reaching effects on federal and state drug cases, past and present, around the New Orleans area. Already the DEA changed its local policies for handling evidence and its security protocols at the agency’s Metairie office on Causeway Boulevard. Legal challenges brought by defendants in cases involving Domingue, Newman and Scott are expected to involve some of the agency’s most notable busts.
In March of this year Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office began investigating how Grand Isle police lost drugs and cash designated for police drug buys. By June three Grand Isle police department members, Capt. Tyson Gravette, 34, Lt. Elgene Gary, 74, and Officer Cameron Westbrook, 29. Gravette and Westbrook were each booked on one count of malfeasance and one count of extortion. This comes amidst allegations of evidence being tampered with and $4,000 in cash missing from a cash box, among other claims. Investigators seized police reports, 32 firearms and other evidence.
In other drug-related police misconduct, Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Maxine Trahan has been arrested and charged with felony theft. Trahan is accused of theft of $48,000 in money seized from drug busts in the parish, according to District Attorney Keith Stutes.
New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse has been outspoken about the city’s staggering rise in opiate overdose deaths. “Opiate overdoses are beating homicides. I’m very glad that homicides are down” but “I shudder to think” where ODs will go in 2-3 yrs" he said.
How many overdoses New Orleans EMS has been responding to this year?
For those who didn’t reach help in time, from January to May of 2016, Coroner Jeffrey Rouse counted 63 deaths as opiate overdose. Outsourcing the toxicology reports to confirm that number is setting him back budget-wise. The coroner’s new multimillion dollar building could house a toxicology wing, but there’s no room in the budget to hire staff or equip it.
Meanwhile law enforcement out of Rapides Parish spoke out to the Town Talk about their rising problem with heroine. From 1995 to 2012 said Lt. Kary Beebe, head of the narcotics unit, the department worked two or less heroin cases a year, in 2013 it was 7 and it has skyrocketed since. So far in 2016**, the department has worked 54 heroin cases. The Rapides Parish Coroner also noted a rise in overdose deaths at 16 as of May this year, while there were 13 in all of 2015.
In response to the rise in opiate overdoses, lawmakers are sending mixed messages to their constituents.
A 2016 law was passed that increases access to naloxone, an opiate-agonist that reverses overdose. Naloxone can now be purchased over the counter in pharmacies, distributed by standing order at community organizations who work with people who use drugs, and is legal for anyone to have on hand.
A 2014 naloxone law that urged first responders to carry naloxone has had limited effect. The Covington Police force is the first in the state to be trained in responding to opiate overdoses with naloxone, as of July 2016. In New Orleans, the Fire Department and EMS are carrying naloxone, but police are not yet.
St Charles Parish and East Baton Rouge law enforcement have been sidestepping the state’s 911 Good Samaritan Law passed in 2014, which sought to increase calls to EMS in cases of overdose. Too often people are dying because they are using alone or the people who find them are too afraid to dial 911. Jarret McCasland was convicted last fall of second-degree murder in the 2013 heroin overdose death of his 19-year-old girlfriend and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Brandon Eirick, who was initially booked by Baton Rouge police on a second-degree murder count and indicted on manslaughter charges, received a six-year prison term after pleading guilty to negligent homicide and distribution of heroin in the overdose death of Leah Hutchinson, his girlfriend. Jaime Hymel and Roderick Hackett are now facing second-degree murder charges in the death of Richard Keller, Jr of Destrehan, who Jaime had been using with on the night of his death. Noah Sharpe, 17, was booked with second-degree murder when his girlfriend Mikayla Mendoza overdosed in his Iberia home; his mother, Melissa, was booked with obstruction of justice in the case, for driving the couple to the hospital instead of calling police.
Daniel Raymond, policy director for the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition, argued arrests for murder or manslaughter of those who used heroin with overdose victims won’t help reduce the number of people dying from overdoses.
“It serves no public interest to charge that person for second-degree murder, homicide or manslaughter,” Raymond said of cases like the ones against McCasland and Eirick. “It’s not going to bring the overdose victim back, and it’s not going to do anything to prevent future overdoses — but it does send a strong message that the state of Louisiana would rather see people in overdose situations locked up than getting help.”
In May North Shore law enforcement agencies announced a progressive drug-fighting program called Operation Angel that invites those struggling with drug use to show up at any police station in St. Tammany Parish and ask for help without the fear of going to jail. Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz announced the beginning of “Operation Angel,” at a joint press conference with St. Tammany Parish saying
“We need to give these people help, and treat addiction as a disease, not a crime,” said Chief Lentz. “We would rather you spend six months in a treatment program than spend six months in jail. We want to keep you out of the criminal justice system.”
As the War on Drugs finances prosecutors’ offices, prisons, and probation departments, it demands major divestment from schools, recreation centers, housing programs, food security initiatives, medical facilities, and other entities that support public health.
"Incarceration, arrests & drug prohibition are bad for health - driving HIV, AIDS, TB, HEP C epidemics across world" says Professor Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Commisson on Drug Policy.
Indeed HIV and Hepatitis C rates are staggering in Louisiana, with Baton Rouge and New Orleans being the 1st and 4th in the U.S. for cities of highest HIV infection rates. Louisiana fails to provide basic HIV services to thousands of inmates in parish jails, endangering the health of individuals and the communities to which they return, Human Rights Watch said in a report released this March. And from a report released in 2013 by the same called “In Harm’s Way,” no city, state, or federal funds are spent on syringe access in Louisiana. The local pharmacists routinely deny purchase of syringes, despite it being totally legal for any adult to buy them. And the one above-board syringe access program in the State is open just two hours per week.
The Louisiana legislative session of 2014 featured this huge step backward: Senator Dan Claitor, D-Baton Rouge, and Representative Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie sponsored competing bills that would take a punitive approach to Louisiana’s heroin problem. The final version reflected a compromise between the bills' sponsors that includes a bump in the maximum penalty, from 50 to a virtual life sentence of 99 years, and an increase the mandatory minimum sentence from 5 to 10 years. Sadly this bill reversed a decade of work by Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge to reform drug sentencing.
In this July’s publication from the Vera Institute, “Racial Disparity in Marijuana Policing in New Orleans,” the authors report, racial disparity remains stubbornly high in the city’s
police responses to marijuana-possession offenses. Eighty-five percent of those
arrested for marijuana-related offenses (not including distribution) are black,
even though black people make up roughly 60 percent of the population. The
disparity is even greater among those arrested for felony marijuana possession:
94 percent of arrestees are black.
Fortunately, the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance earlier this year
allowing police to charge a municipal misdemeanor for what is a felony marijuana
possession under state law, enabling them to issue a summons, and lowering
penalties dramatically. But the city continues to deploy resources toward policing
marijuana possession—resources that deliver low or possibly negative public
safety returns and create some harm—while the New Orleans Police Department
struggles to respond quickly to matters of community safety. And the city is investing
those resources in a way that adversely and disproportionately impacts
According to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite's office, a Metairie doctor who allegedly both sold Oxycodone and had threatened to kill law enforcement agents was arrested this Friday, July 22. Peter Silessi, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the doctor Shannon Christopher Ceasar gave their confidential source prescriptions for controlled substances in order for Ceasar and another co-conspirator to make a profit. Ceasar allegedly had sex with the unidentified patient in exchange for drugs that the patient would later sell repeatedly. In a released statement, Polite said "rather than doing no harm as a physician, Shannon Ceasar illegally dispensed Oxycodone into a community struggling with an epidemic of opioid addiction."
In 2011 the DEA began investigating illegal street sales of oxycodone in the Bogalusa area. Agents found an unregistered cash-only clinic, which moved locations several times over the course of the investigation. Two staff members, who gave signed prescriptions for roxicodone even when physicians were not present, pleaded guilty August 3 to charges related to illegal distribution of oxycodone.
Three Louisiana men are among the record 214 federal inmates for whom the U.S. President, Barack Obama, commuted sentences this month. All three received sentences of 20 years prison time for drug law violations. The White House said the large number of commutations underscores the need for broader criminal justice reform, which has some bipartisan support but has stalled in Congress. The new sentencing rules that went into effect in 2014 lower the sentencing guideline on quantities for a range of drugs. 30 percent of those now eligible for shorter sentences were jailed on methamphetamine offenses, 27.8 percent for cocaine, 19 percent for crack, 12 percent for marijuana and 8 percent for heroin. Three-quarters of those eligible for early release are black or Hispanic, and nearly 40 percent have no prior felony record, the lowest category of criminal background.
Music credits are: Junk Punk Baby by Ouch My Face, Peruvian Cocaine by Immortal Technique featuring Diabolic Tonedeaf Poison, To all the Homies who are lost by Chelsea Rainwater featuring Thistle, Oxy Ctton by Lil Wyte featuring Lord Infamous and Crunchy Black, “Because I got hight,” by Afroman.
Thanks to nola.com reporters Greg LaROse, Jed Lipinski, Kim Chatelain, Andy Grimm, Wilborn P Nobles III, Michelle Hunter,
Advocate reporters Faimon Roberts, Jim Mustian, John Simerman, Matt SLedge, Joe gyan jr,
KPEL reporter Brandon Comeaux
The Houston Chronicle, KATC, Thanh Truong, WWL, The Dead Pelican Chad E Rogers, The Town Talk, WGNO