Facing felony drug possession charges, actress Rose McGowan turned herself in to authorities in Virginia yesterday.
Police claim a wallet McGowan left behind on an airplane contained two bags of cocaine. A warrant was issued last month, and McGowan was released on $5,000 bail. The authorities themselves concede that the wallet was not in McGowan's possession when it was found on the plane.
The incident illustrates the petty and abuse-prone nature of the drug war, as well as the lack of accountability prosecutors face for poor decision-making and misconduct.
McGowan's lawyer, Jim Hundley, has asked the local county attorney to dismiss the charges, pointing out that "individuals other than Ms. McGowan had access to the wallet for somewhere between approximately 5 hours 40 minutes and more than 11 hours" before the authorities found it.
For that reason alone, the charges should not have been filed. They'll never hold up in court, because the long gap in chain of custody provides more than enough room for a reasonable doubt. But prosecutors have little sense of self-regulation on excessive charging like this, because they face no negative consequences for their decisions. "Who are they gonna believe, you or me?" a Texas prosecutor asked an Uber driver during a drunken tirade.
Thanks to video, that widespread sentiment within the law enforcement and criminal justice industry is slowly starting to be challenged. But it isn't exactly on its last legs. Police officers are fairly regularly caught on tape planting drugs, but it doesn't seem to have ended the practice. Here's an example from, uh, yesterday.
McGowan, meanwhile, has powerful enemies. The actress, who says Harvey Weinstein raped her in a hotel room in 1997 and reached an undisclosed settlement with him, has been one of the movie mogul's most vocal critics. When Weinstein hired a private investigation firm to squash imminent reporting about his alleged serial sexual predation, former Mossad agents working for the firm posed as feminist-supporting investment bankers and met with McGowen to fish for information.
Had McGowan claimed that ex-spies were trying to extract information from her before the stories about Weinstein were published, she might have been written off as a paranoiac. The same goes for the claim that someone else might have planted the bags of cocaine in her wallet. McGowan says she got a mysterious Instagram message saying she had left her wallet and coke on the airplane. Fearing she was being followed, she decided to leave D.C. by bus after the Women's March for which she came into town.
Yet the validity of her claim should not have to rest on a widely publicized harassment campaign by one of the most powerful men in her industry. After all, any backwater prosecutor or cop could be the most powerful man in the country from your perspective, when he has your fate in his hands.
Body cameras for police are a start. But the kinds of laws, like drug possession, that offer the authorities an easy way to nail a predetermined target have to go as well. The laws are based on fundamentally nonviolent offenses, but they introduce violence—police force and the threat of jail—and an opportunity to abuse power.
McGowan can sound the alarm to Ronan Farrow and The New Yorker, and she still has to spend money on a lawyer to shake off preposterous charges. For countless Americans without her wealth or fame, it's even worse.