Drug War

How Special Federal Grants to Enforce Drug Laws Make America a Better Place, Bitter Irony Edition

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Well, at least no one had their home invaded or military weapons stuck in their face. This account of how justice prevailed to make sure people who gathered at the recent Lightning in a Bottle festival in Riverside County, California, didn't get away with doing a favor for a persistent stranger out to do them harm.

Account from L.A. Weekly:

Los Angeles residents who attended the Lightning in a Bottle music and arts festival (July 11-15) in Riverside County and were arrested in a sophisticated sting for passing weed and party drugs to other friendly "attendees" — actually Special Investigations Bureau cops — are raising a stink after being slapped with serious drug charges and huge bond amounts.

Several dozen guys were hauled to the Southwest County Detention Center nearTemecula after an undercover operation by SIB, a task force of the Riverside County Sheriff's Station, whose alleged nasty tactics, slurs and push for fairly extreme criminal charges have left attendees and their families crying foul.

Some of the 58 arrestees, almost all men under 30, tell L.A. Weekly their troubling experiences followed a similar arc:

The attendee is hanging out at a campsite, or near a stage, when approached by another attendee. That guy asks him for some weed, molly or cocaine — not unusual at a festival. The affable festivalgoer freely offers the drugs but the stranger surprises him, stuffing $20 to $40 in cash into the attendee's pocket or hand — or even tossing the money at him.

Then, uniformed officers materialize from nowhere — and the happy festivalgoer is arrested and jailed, where, after an unpleasant night or two or three, he faces a steep bail approaching $30,000…..

Most arrested were charged with "sales of a controlled substance" — a more serious offense than mere possession…..

Riverside Sheriff's spokesman Albert Martinez could not respond to specific allegations or arrests. He also declined to say why the Special Investigations Bureau was deployed to Lightning in a Bottle, but noted that those arrested were breaking the law.

Why might picking off these harmless low-hanging fruit be seen as a law enforcement priority? Money, natch. Federal money.

The root of this scenario may lie in the fact that in June, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department received a $175,000 grant from the federal Drug Enforcement Administrationearmarked for SIB, which carried out the sting at the festival.

According to San Jose-based lawyer Cameron Bowman, once a specialized agency like this receives such a grant, there is "a great deal of pressure within the agency to justify their existence."

In other words, to spend the money. Says Bowman, "The main way that they justify their continued existence and funding is by arrests."

The SIB was also involved in this horrible story of manufacturing a crime and ruining a life I reported back in May, about a friendless autistic kid "befriended" and busted. It's such ugly, ugly stuff.