Is That Cocaine, or the Ashes of Your Baby Daughter?


Late one night last August, Jason Burnham was walking down the street in Mount Dora, Florida, when he was stopped by a local police officer, Brad Cline, who thought he "appeared intoxicated." Burnham told Cline he had taken Xanax that was prescribed for his depression after his 9-month-old daughter's accidental death in 2002. Cline asked about illegal drug use, patted Burnham down, and searched him. Then, according to a lawsuit Burnham and his wife filed last week, Cline opened a silver cross-shaped pendant that Burnham wore around his neck and dumped the contents onto the hood of his police car. According to the suit, Cline thought the pendant contained cocaine; it actually contained the ashes of Burnham's baby daughter. "Defendant Cline, after seeing that the ashes were not cocaine, wiped Plaintiff Burnham's daughter's ashes to the ground," the suit says.

Cline is no longer with the Mount Dora Police Department, but not as a result of any disciplinary action. An internal investigation concluded that the details of the ash incident–in particular, who emptied out the pendant–could not be conclusively determined. But I'm betting it wasn't the grieving father.


NEXT: The Last Hippie

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  1. And they wonder why there’s so much animosity for Law Enforcement Officers among the general public.

  2. How awful. I personally know a few people who wear ashes of a deceased loved one around their neck in decorative votive pendants. To think of the disrespect….

  3. That makes me feel sick. The father has lost twice.

  4. Every time I think we’ve reached the bottom of the drug war decency barrel, something like this comes along to prove me wrong.

  5. According to the arcticle, the police officer also “failed to follow the city’s policy in that he failed to turn on his lights and or his camera during the stop.” If there’s a question of what happened and it’s his word against the father’s, it seems like some consideration should be made of the fact that he failed to follow the procedure that would have shown what happened – a procedure that was presumably put in place to avoid just such “he said, he said” cases as this one.

  6. But Jennifer, don’t you realize that carrying ashes of a loved one means you support terrorism?

  7. Also, apparently the officer still does some work for the department – “Cline resigned to run a mortgage-brokering business but still works for the department as a reserve officer doing undercover or drug work when necessary.” So they’ve still got him working for them, and he wasn’t disciplined at all even though he clearly violated policy when he didn’t turn his camera on (assuming the suit is correct about that). All things considered, the father’s showing some impressive restraint in the amount he’s suing for – “damages in excess of $15,000 each from the city and the officer.” I would think he’d have a decent chance to really clean up against these guys.

  8. Jennifer,

    Yes, it just keeps getting worse with these guys. This is what happens when people continue to accept each justification and rationalization for why we need to give the police ever more power to “protec” us. Where’s Mona?

    As for the father, it’s even worse if the story of how the daughter died is true. The father apparently rolled over on her in his sleep and suffocated her. I can’t imagine having to live with that the rest of your life. No wonder he was depressed and carried her ashes with him.

  9. Brian–

    I well deserve my reputation as the resident pessimist here, but I still have a tiny spark of hope that eventually people will stop supporting this loathsome “war” when they realize that they CAN’T just say, “Well, I don’t use those drugs, so it won’t affect me!”

    The huge backlash we’re seeing in response to Kelo makes me hope that maybe, just maybe, there will eventually be a similar backlash to the WOD. So on the one hand I hope this continues to hurt a lot of innocent people, despite the fact that it means hoping for more despicable situations like this one.

    And I agree with J that it’s amazing the guy is only asking for $15,000. Me, I would have asked for as much money as I could, just to make them suffer. Maybe THAT will be what ends the WOD–when taxpayers are sick of shelling out all this money to pay for the actions of crooked cops.

  10. The father has my deepest sympathy. And I want to know who had the bright idea of assigning this cop to undercover work.

  11. I want to be able to like police, I really do, as law enforcement is needed for a stable Republic…but these jerks just make it impossible. I hope the cop gets hit by a bus.

  12. Focusing on random stories of unwarrented abuse and harassment is reactionary nonsense. Pro drug-war types can throw plenty of examples of people on drugs committing horrible acts in our face. Lets not sink to their level and have an intelligent policy debate instead. And it’s something the pro drug-war fiends don’t seem capable of.

  13. Is “appearing intoxicated” while walking down the street an offense that allows police to stop and search you? Is it against the law to be “intoxicated” in a public place while walking?

    Intoxicated includes alcohol correct? Should I be worried about walking around my ‘hood if I am drunk. I didn’t realize being intoxicated was an offense if I wasn’t operating some kind of vehicle/machinery. Can my home be searched if police come to my door and deem me to appear intoxicated when I answer?

  14. Does Mount Dora have problems with roving gangs of insenitive, authority-mad assholes? Because if so, I can see this cop’s talent of acting like an insensitive, authority-mad asshole being crucial for undercover work.

    Alternatively, if the major assholes in Mount Dora are the police, maybe this cop already is undercover.

  15. Cop-sters in their cop-ish way probably revere this guy as someone dedicated to the cause and willing to do what it takes to bring in the bad guys. Very sad when a person can’t tell the bad guys by their actions. No mortification here, no siree-bob.

    This perversion really has gone on for far, far too long.

  16. Some states have public intoxication statutes; some do not. Being drunk in your house would not qualify, but walking down the street drunk in a state with a PI law would be grounds for a stop, search and/or arrest.

  17. “Focusing on random stories of unwarrented abuse and harassment is reactionary nonsense.”

    It’s not if those events happen frequently and are not generally punished as they should be for a common reason, in this case the drug war. Reasonable people can certainly disagree on exactly what constitutes “frequently;” but for my money, we’re well into the “frequent” category when it comes to unpunished (or even tacitly encouraged) police abuse related to the drug war.

  18. J,

    I agree with you, but this story is excerpted because it’s sensational, not because it’s part of a trend. It’s selection is designed to provoke a sensational reaction – anger, outrage, etc.

  19. I well deserve my reputation as the resident pessimist here, but I still have a tiny spark of hope that eventually people will stop supporting this loathsome “war” when they realize that they CAN’T just say, “Well, I don’t use those drugs, so it won’t affect me!”


    Not to play the whole “I’m-more-pessimistic-than-you” game, but I don’t think you have much to hope for.

    While I am sympathetic to libertarianism, I’m enough of a realist to understand human nature. We humans love OUR freedom. We will fight, kill, die, or just send a letter to our government to protect OUR freedom. The trouble is, we don’t give a damn about the freedom of OTHERS and often come to the conclusion that the freedom OTHERS have is dangerous our myopic, self-centered world view. Thus the conservative will rant and rave about gun control, but will happily cut a check to an anti-abortion group, or stand in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic with a picture of an allegedly “aborted” fetus, or send said clinic a pipe bomb. As long as our bubble-boy lives are not endangered, humans can be quite libertarian up until something sharp comes along to pop it.

    Drugs are one of those sharp pointy objects that . True, most people who have use or used recreational drugs are not adversely affected. However, we don’t get to hear that point of view. Instead we are treated to harrowing tales of drug addiction, news stories of gang shootings over drug territory, anecdotes from reformed-hippies about the debauchery of the counter-culture, and accounts filthy non-Caucasians selling coke to our “pwecious” god-fearing Aryan, children. The government, run by a combination of bible-beating conservatives who are religiously opposed to pleasure and hypochondriac leftists who are obsessed with “public health,” have successfully convinced the people that any and all drug use threatens our civilization.

    Stories such as the one above are shrugged off by the drug warriors who will immediately change the subject and tell some sob-story about a cop who died in a drug bust, or the crack-whore who sold their illegitimate children into prostitution to support her habit, yadda yadda yadda. After all, you can’t fight a drug war without throwing a few innocents in jail. Since we humans instinctively seek security over the freedom of others, they will ignore the abuses and focus on the “threat” that drugs pose to our society to justify them.

    As much as we want to see them legalized, it’s not going to happen. Hope isn?t going to change that.

  20. “We humans love OUR freedom. We will fight, kill, die, or just send a letter to our government to protect OUR freedom.”

    Not so much. Like frogs in the warming pot, we acclimate ourselves pretty readily to ever-increasing diminutions in our liberty with only the slightest of wimpers. Can you imagine what Washington, Franklin, and Patrick Henry would have said about a federal law that requires to show government-approved ID before you can buy a house? They’d have pointed out that we went to war against George III for far less, and would have laughed at the idea that such a proposal could get adopted here.

  21. “Can you imagine what Washington, Franklin, and Patrick Henry would have said about a federal law that requires to show government-approved ID before you can buy a house?”

    Sure I could, they were all Federalists.

  22. blammo,

    I guess it depends on what you mean by a trend, or what it takes to be a trend. I would certainly agree that incidents like these constitute a very small proportion of interactions between cops and civilians, even those related to the war on drugs. But the number of cases of abuse like this one that are reported and not properly dealt with by the police is far higher than it should be, and there are certainly many other cases of such abuse that don’t get reported because the victims don’t have the wherewithal to make their situations known. And I think the reason they’re not properly dealt with is that too many police departments (and admittedly too many civilians as well) are willing to look the other way because the war on drugs is too important to be slowed down by such pedestrian concerns as individual rights. To my mind, that is a trend, and not a good one….

  23. ChicagoTom: in some localities, it’s against the law to be intoxicated in a bar, so being stopped on the street is nothing.

  24. Seamus,

    The laws about the construction of houses were, in some ways, more restrictive in the early Federal period than they are today.

  25. I don’t think that the priority of the WOD is what caused the lack disciplinary action in this case. More likely it was the police “protecting their own” as usual.

  26. In defense of cops: I know quite a few, and they are all decent sorts. I don’t know any who would commit, or condone, something like this.

  27. You’ll never see a backlash against the WOD like you have with Kelo. Akira hit it on the head. The majority sees private property as God given. They don’t have the same feeling about the right to catch a buzz. Because of years of propaganda, or in many cases personal tragedies, they see drugs as a threat to their perceived right to feel safe. And it’s not just Conservatives and Liberals. My father is very libertarian leaning, except when it comes to drugs. Part of that could be his age; much of it comes from his time as an emergency room doc where he saw the very real, very bad side of addiction. Make all of the black market arguments you want, you simply can’t convince him that legalization is the way to go. Trust me. We have gone round and round on the issue. And if you can’t get a guy like him outraged about the WOD you’re screwed.

  28. Ralphus–

    That’s why I said people need to realize that it isn’t a case of simply saying “Oh, I don’t do drugs so this doesn’t affect me.”

  29. Not allowed to be drunk on private property either, there was a case, and following suit, about a guy in the Boston area I think, who was taken in to custody because he was drunk at a friends house and the cops came by. Of course the real reason they arrested him is that he was video tappin the cops or something and they didnt like that. So they busted in and took him down, and will now be responsible for their town losing a bunch of money to the drunk jokers lawyer. Granted, I am a bit drunk so my memeory is a bit hazy. Oh well, back to work.

  30. The vileness of slavery did not succeed in destroying our Republic.

    The worldwide Communist revolutions of the 1930s did not succeed in destroying our Republic.

    The combined dangers of Nazism and Japanese militarism did not succeed in destroying our Republic.

    Islamofascism probably won’t succeed in destroying our Republic.

    But government overreaction to a bunch of fucking plants just might.

  31. That’s why I said people need to realize that it isn’t a case of simply saying “Oh, I don’t do drugs so this doesn’t affect me.”

    That’s just the problem, people have been brought up to think that drug use DOES affect them them. Case in point. On the episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit regarding this very topic, the Drug Czar stooge they interviewed offerred up horrific, apoclyptic scenarious if, horror of horrors, we ever legalized drugs. In his words, legalized drugs would lead to “family destruction” and “chaos,” with clogged emergency rooms and increases in crime and accidents.

    Since people feel that government is the source of all security, they are going to take its word over a couple of Las Vegas magician/comedians and their “pro-drug” guests (sorry Jacob) no matter how clear and rational you make it. As long as people beieve drugs are a threat–something that our government, media, and religious institutions are very good at doing–they will call for their prohibition.

  32. Gah… Forgot to send that last one through the spell-checker.

  33. We were at Target this weekend, and my wife needed to buy some Tylenol Sinus, and discovered it was now available only by asking the pharmacist, to protect us all from THE EVIL CRYSTAL METH SCOURGE. I had a nice conversation with her after that that moved her that much closer to adopting an anti-drug-war stance. Previously she’s been pretty lukewarm on the whole matter, but this really got her pissed off.

  34. Jennifer

    I don’t disagree. It’s just a very tough row to hoe. Unfortunately, there are many more examples of drugs fucking up people’s lives for drug war supporters to latch on to. Mainly because hard working, mentally stable, casual users don’t make examples of themselves.

    And lets face it; the bad examples are really bad. Crack whores are not just a government fantasy. Now what is easier for a person looking at that kind of behavior to infer? Prohibition made her that way, or crack made her that way. Certainly no one would choose to live that way. So it must be the drug. We should get rid of those drugs. They’re bad mmkay.

    Part of my old man’s opposition is that he can’t even fathom why someone would want to use drugs. He rarely drinks and never smokes. He only takes prescription pain meds if he absolutely has to. Unlike me who saves them for when the pain is gone so I can really enjoy them. But, There are more like him than there are of us. And they vote for candidates that actually win. Well except for my Dad. He hasn’t voted since Goldwater.

    Personally, I want drugs to stay illegal because if everyone could get them they wouldn’t be cool anymore. I’m kidding of course. I’d love to be able to pick up a pack of Northern Lights from 7-11 instead of tracing down my patchouli soaked dealer every two weeks.

  35. The bottom line is that, if you, like the majority of Americans, accept that government has a role in regulating the safety of people’s food, medications, playground equipment, and thousands of other things the government currently regulates, then making illicit drugs illegal doesn’t seem that crazy. It even makes sense. This is why many Americans think Marijuana should be legalized, but not cocaine, heroin, etc. Many more people perceive Marijuana as safe for consumption, so they reason that the government should legalize it.

    This is also why the pro-legalization movement concentrates on not just a libertarian argument for individual rights, choice, small government etc., but also a safety argument. Even Jacob Sollum’s book discusses how drugs are actually much safer than the public perception.

    This is partly to do with the fact that many pro-legalizers are not libertarians, and do not object to the government’s regulation of dangerous substances. The pro-legalizers argument isn’t “let people make their own choices, good or bad.” Their argument is that drugs aren’t dangerous.

  36. We need more people to experience the moment of pissed-offness that Phil’s wife did. THAT might do the trick.

  37. blammo

    Agreed. The old man will admit that it’s stupid for pot to be illegal. In another generation you might be able to make marijuana decriminalization a reality, but you’re never gong to see Dutch style shooting galleries in this country. Too many believe it’s the government’s job to protect us. And their definition of protection is please save us from ourselves.

  38. ralphus,

    I think you’re right, but I’m not sure whether it’s “please protect us,” or more along the lines of liberal guilt: “Please protect the poor, misguided people who have been trampled on by capitalism. We must help them get out of poverty and protect them from themselves. Drugs are destroying inner city communities and preventing these underprivileged people from advancing in our society.”

  39. Granted, I am a bit drunk so my memeory is a bit hazy. Oh well, back to work.

    Max, that is quite possibly the funniest line I’ve ever read on H&R, which is no small feat.

  40. blammo

    Agreed again. What’s funny is that many of those same liberals are snorting and smoking up on the weekends. They just don’t think the poor masses can handle their buzz. That and they don’t think they’ll get caught because after all the cops just harass poor folk. Jennifer is right. If uptown BoBos were treated the same as po white, black and brown folks by their tune might change.

  41. Jennifer:

    Two things have largely killed my hope:

    1) When I first learned about assets forfeiture law about 12 years ago and how easily it can be abused, and frequently is, I was stunned and appalled. I was certain (and some tiny part of me still is) that if only this was widely known, the public outrage would rattle every tree and window in the country. It still goes on, and no one knows, and no one cares. As long as this goes on, nothing *else* in the pursuit of the war on drugs shocks me, or seems likely to change.

    2) I cannot convince my father that the war on drugs is bad. He is a fairly open-minded guy who respects my opinion and listens to what I have to say. I have succeeded, through reasoned argument, in changing his mind on a number of things, but not on this. I realize that my family is only my family, and not some sort of ideological Nielsen family, and yet I can’t help thinking that if reasonable people cannot be convinced by reasoned arguments made by people they know and respect, then what hope is there to convince masses of strangers?

    ChicagoTom: There are many places where “Public Intoxication” is a crime. Most of the time in those same places, “Simulated Public Intoxication” (pretending to be drunk) is also a crime.

    Ramon: These are usually (possibly always) local ordinances, not state laws.

  42. Akira:

    Re: Abortion

    I’m always a little disappointed by the claim that those who oppose abortion are somehow anti-freedom. It’s a bad argument because it misses the point.

    Most of the people who oppose abortion do so because they honestly believe that abortion is murder. To call them anti-freedom makes no more sense than to call an abolitionist anti-freedom because he wants to inhibit someone’s freedom to own slaves.

    Many pro-lifers miss the point in the same way. People do not support abortion rights because they think murder is okay, they support abortion rights because they do not believe abortion is murder.

    As someone who is ambivalent about abortion, I wish the debate wasn’t so muddled. The true debate is on the question of when life begins, not pro-murder vs. anti-choice.

  43. Blammo

    Re: Drugs

    I’ve never understood why the fact that it is easier for most high school students to get drugs than it is to get alcohol isn’t a more convincing argument. I’ve always found it compelling, and it goes right to the “for the children” line of thinking.

    I agree that the argument for freedom of choice (now here is a true “anti-choice” question) is not the way to go to convince most people.

    However I don’t think it’s possible to convince people that drugs aren’t dangerous. There are just so many people who have ruined their lives with drugs, even if it’s hardly all of them.

    It’s not just the horror stories alone, it’s the far more ordinary stories that people are more likely to have personal experience with. I know 20 or 30 people who are regular pot smokers (at least weekly, daily when possible). Every single one of them is a complete loser. I know losers who don’t smoke pot, and people who smoke pot less often who are not losers, but these regular users are a waste of space. Now odds are, they would be losers without the pot, but the point is, lots of people know people like this.

    I’ve always thought that the best approach for those who aren’t convinced by arguments from liberty is the alcohol prohibition argument which says that the “cure” is far, far worse than the disease. There are a number of persuasive arguments that this is the case, all of which I’m sure are familiar to everyone reading Reason.

    Of course, that argument has so far been a political failure as well, so my opinion that it’s the best argument isn’t worth much.

  44. blammo said:
    “The pro-legalizers argument isn’t “let people make their own choices, good or bad.” Their argument is that drugs aren’t dangerous.”

    I’m curious if folks here think this is a good approach (focusing on practical risks and benefits rather than individual rights). I remember a debate in Reason several years ago about medical marijuana, and whether or not it was a worthwhile fight for anti-WOD folks. The gist of the argument against it was that we would get medical MJ legalized, then momentum for full legalization would be gone because too many people would say, “OK, the people who need it can get it; but people who don’t need it don’t have any business using it.”

    My two cents: I think focusing on practical risks is worthwhile. Specifically, I think there’s a very powerful argument in looking at some of the drugs that are illegal, such as MJ and ecstacy, and comparing them to alcohol and tobacco, and the harm people do to themselves with those two legal drugs. Then one could eventually move to tougher arguments with “harder” illegal drugs.

    I should add that I would prefer that the individual rights argument was more powerful to more people, but it’s clearly not at this point. Also, I was much more confident in this approach 5-10 years ago. But after the War on Tobacco, the threatening War on Fat, etc., I’d be afraid of hearing, “hmmm…maybe alcohol and tobacco should be completely illegal too….”

  45. Cop-sters in their cop-ish way probably revere this guy as someone dedicated to the cause and willing to do what it takes to bring in the bad guys.

    It’s been years since I frequented any law enforcement discussion boards. But I’ll bet the cops there — if they are discussing this at all — are saying that the cop in this case is the true victim. Just like cops always are when they harm an innocent civilian.

    It takes a special breed of person to believe that “It was Amadou Diallo who set the stage for tragedy.

  46. AC- That’s been my experience too.

  47. Drugs have negative downstream effects on society, that is why they are illegal.

  48. J,

    I think you’ll find that there’s a certain semi-abstract subtext running through libertarian thinking that there’s just not such a big difference between the “principles” argument and the “practicality” argument. And that’s because liberty is ultimately the most practical path, and that’s what makes it such a good principle. And that’s why pointing out the inevitable stupidities and contradictions of something like the Drug War serves to underline the moral bankruptness of statist solutions. It’s all, heh-heh, connected.

    That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to explain that or that there’s no potential value in explaining these two aspects separately. But as far as what’s the best way to market libertarianism, I can’t claim to know. All I can say is that it’s a hard sell that may border on the impossible, but the fact that you understand it and I understand it is our only glimmer of hope. I was attracted to libertarianism as a result of my schooling in economics and my awareness of what I just said above, that good moral principles actually lead to the most practical solutions. So maybe that’s the best marketing approach, to stress that connectedness. And maybe not. I do think more people should learn economics. But since I don’t particularly like compulsory or publicly supported education, I wouldn’t claim to have a “plan” to implement that!

    Hope that hurts, I mean helps! 🙂

  49. It is not a question of how often things like this happen, but how accountable the police officer is. I say, fire the cop, fine him $100,000 (to be given to the victim) and give him six months in jail. Acts as a deterrent against future abuses.

  50. Hah! The guy deserved to be put in gaol for 10 years. Afterall, he could have been making “ash cookies”! Fair dinkum though, as an Aussie, I would be absolutley terrified to live in the USA. It seems to me that casual harrassment of citizens by police is really, really ramping up. Howzabout all those taser deaths AND tasering of children, grannies etc? Or the harrassment and fondling of citizens when getting onto a plane. Why, one can not even wear a political t-shirt as free speech only exists where no-one is listening. Very Zen…if a liberty speech is made in a wilderness, is freedom served? Ah well, my cojones will be tested soon, Australia is to introduce an identity card soon, can’t wait to rip it up in front of the cops! Cheers from Grinna, Sydney.

  51. I’ve often thought that the whole drugs are easier for kids to get than booze was a compelling argument for legalization. At least for pot. When I was in high school we could score a quarter with one phone call. Hell, you could comparison shop at school to see who had the best shit. If we wanted booze or beer we had to have a good fake, find a willing older sibling or get a bum to buy it in exchange for his fortified wine of choice. Harder drugs were a little tougher to come by, but the only reason we came into contact with them in the first place was because weed was a black-market item so the dealer might have acid, coke, X or cheeba to offer you. There’s your gateway. It’s not the pot that gets you to try other stuff; it?s the fact that the guy with the pot has other stuff to try. If we would have been forced to go to the store to get our buds and show ID we would have smoked out less and had almost zero access to harder stuff. Because, it’s tough to get a good fake, siblings rarely agree to help and a good bum is hard to find.

  52. Ralphus! A good bum is hard to find??? Mmmm, sweetcheeks:-)

  53. John Tierney’s column seems relevant to this discussion:

    America has a serious drug problem, but it’s not the “meth epidemic” getting so much publicity. It’s the problem identified by William Bennett, the former national drug czar and gambler.

    “Using drugs,” he wrote, “is wrong not simply because drugs create medical problems; it is wrong because drugs destroy one’s moral sense. People addicted to drugs neglect their duties.”

    This problem afflicts a small minority of the people who have tried methamphetamines, but most of the law-enforcement officials and politicians who lead the war against drugs. They’re so consumed with drugs that they’ve lost sight of their duties.

    Few people actually read the NYT and Tierney. Most voters get their information from the televised stupidity that passes for journalism. I think most voters believe the stories about the “horrible meth epidemic.” They will continue to elect drug warriors. Move over Akira, I’m joining you in the Pit of Pessimism.

  54. My two cents: I think focusing on practical risks is worthwhile. Specifically, I think there’s a very powerful argument in looking at some of the drugs that are illegal, such as MJ and ecstacy, and comparing them to alcohol and tobacco, and the harm people do to themselves with those two legal drugs. Then one could eventually move to tougher arguments with “harder” illegal drugs.

    Pointing out that many illegal drugs weren’t any more dangerous than tobacco and alcohol was a tactic that was attempted in the ’60s and the ’70s.

    The result is now the nannies are now after our beer and cigarettes, too. Remember, you used to be able to light up a cigarette just about anywhere, and drunk driving was a minor offense, like a speeding ticket.

    Something tells me the comparison approach will only result in more of our favorite vices being outlawed, rather than the other way around.

  55. If vices are outlawed, only woodshops will have vices.

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