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Wave of Burning Man-Related Drug Arrests Won't Go to Trial

District Attorney finds too many questionable stop and search practices in campaign of harassment aimed at Burners.

As reported here back in August, a cabal of federal and state agencies conducted a campaign of onerously harassing car stops and subsequent drug arrests on the main road heading to the Burning Man festival in the weeks ramping up to its start.

This is Burning Man book coverThis is Burning Man book cover

Many of those stopped, and the Burning Man organization itself, made noise, complaining that there were obvious Fourth Amendment issues raised by the excuses for the stops and the subsequent dog-triggered searches, ticketing, and arrests. The feds insisted the Burning Man connection was pure coincidence, and that this was just part of an existing Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) campaign to stop opiate trafficking in tribal lands.

Now the Reno Gazette-Journal reports that the courts are agreeing with those who saw something fishy about the pullovers and arrests. The Washoe County District Attorney's Office "chose not to pursue seven of the nine cases." According to documents obtained by the Gazette-Journal, the district attorney's office said "the cases would not hold up in state court."

Despite the "opioid eradication" excuse, none of the drug arrests were for opioids.

The Gazette-Journal also reports that:

During one of the stops, the officers appeared to hold the suspect beyond the designated time limit in Nevada for a Terry stop, or a brief detention under reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

"Police must diligently pursue a means of investigation during a Terry stop that is likely to dispel their suspicions quickly," the district attorney's office wrote, noting the 79-minute length of the suspect's detention...

"The Fourth Amendment issues are troublesome," wrote the district attorney's office in one of the cases submitted.

In the case, no probable cause is listed for the initial traffic stop, which later led to a search and seizure of what appeared to be cocaine, according to the arrest report. The report did not specify the quantity of the controlled substance...

In another case, the report lacked enough information about the time of the stop, the reason for the stop and the length of the stop. The stop led to a K9 search of the vehicle and a federal agent found mushrooms and acid tablets during the vehicle search, according to the arrest report.

"I do not believe I can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial," wrote the district attorney's office.

As reported in August, the Burning Man organization was contemplating suing over the apparent rights violations and their effect on the event's operations, but such a suit has not yet been filed. However Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham told the Gazette-Journal they still consider it "clear from the outset the BIA was targeting Burning Man participants with their traffic stops."

I wrote the first history of the Burning Man event in my 2004 book This is Burning Man.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I can think of no worse punishment for violating constitutional protections than for the victims of the illegal searches to not be prosecuted.

  • Don't look at me!||

    Moar training required.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    You are exactly right. It isn't enough here that the charges were dropped. What about the public resources spent by officers of the law conducting unconstitutional searches? What about the supervisor who authorized this very obviously illegal plan to deprive citizens of their rights?

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    I don't know enough details to know if this passes my definition of perjury -- trying to frame someone. Maybe it is just selective enforcement, but I have my doubts about the cops and prosecutors' sincerity, and selective enforcement is still mighty close to perjury. I guess that should be up to juries. I'd rebound perjury by punishing perjurers as their would-be victims *could* have been maximally punished.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    The Drug War has allowed toxic policing to be mainlined directly into the veins of society.

  • ||

    And we must jab a syringe full of Liberty straight through the sternum of society and into its heart.

  • Jerryskids||

    a cabal of federal and state agencies

    Didn't we have this argument before as to what the proper collective noun for a group of federal and state law enforcement agencies should be? A skulk, a perjury, a stench, a creep, a coprophage? Surely a "cabal" isn't descriptive enough.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    A pustule?

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    A stool?

  • gaoxiaen||

    A grinch?

  • ||

  • Bubba Jones||

    "Groups of older pigs are called a sounder of swine, a team or passel of hogs or a singular of boars."

    I like sounder because it is vaguely sexual.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    A sounder is used to ascertain the depth of a body of water, or, I suppose, a hole. Is your sounder of sufficient capacity for the task at hand?

  • Wally||

    A scum of state agents

  • gaoxiaen||

    Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

  • markm23||

    A conspiracy, and isn't there a law against that?

  • Rich||

    Despite the "opioid eradication" excuse, none of the drug arrests were for opioids.

    "The System worked!"

  • Bubba Jones||

    How is burning man NOT probable cause for drug possession?

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    It's surprising to me that something like this would get shot down by the DA and courts, only because I would think the police would have made sure those arms were on board with the enforcement effort before flexing their muscles. Did the cops just assume they could do as they wished and the DA's and courts would follow? If that's the case, it's extra reassuring, because it implies that the cronyism doesn't go as far as I would have thought -- that it's not quite a complete "old boy network", and does lean more toward the cops just cluelessly throwing their weight around the rest of the apparatus usually, but not always, mindlessly following along.

  • Qsl||

    I suspect initially it was done with the blessing of the DA, but miscommunicated the stringency of enforcement- it's no fun enforcing the law against people who have the means to fight back (Burning Man tickets aren't cheap). Not to mention I imagine BM is a bit of a cash cow to the region. Don't want to piss off the organizers.

    I mean I'd like to think the DA's office would give some consideration towards the rights of the accused, but then I bust out laughing at how stupid I'm being.

  • dantheserene||

    Q-
    Yeah, I'm pretty sure you've listed the DA's concerns in the correct order.

  • Lawn Darts||

    Their excuse for the stops was beyond ludicrous, and pretty much proof-positive that they were lying about the reason for the stops. If they really suspected these people of opioid trafficking on the rez (what they claimed) why did they pull over cars just driving down the highway? It might make some sense if they were harassing people at the rez gas station or somewhere that you could stop your car, but moving traffic? How can people deal drugs to nobody, in the wilderness, from a moving vehicle that hasn't stopped anywhere? There isn't even a shoulder on most of that highway.

    Of course, it was not all bad news. Law enforcement did get their clock cleaned when they pulled over Dildo Akbar...

  • SIV||

    K-9s aren't trained to sniff psilocybin mushrooms and LSD

  • Dr4Bob||

    Indeed, they are trained to "signal" anytime the officer wishes...

  • DenverJ||

  • DenverJ||

    Wtf? This is right link https://youtu.be/yTNwxaV61gs

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Same links, bud. You want a few more? Here's one. Here's two. Here's three.

  • BigT||

    Rich white people not prosecuted. What else is new!

    The law may suck. But disparate enforcement ain't the answer.

  • Sevo||

    "The law may suck. But disparate enforcement ain't the answer."

    Between the M/W laws, "free" housing and the jailing of black or brown kids for smoking a j, the various governments are going to make sure the B & B kids do not learn to be self-sufficient, and therefore remain dependent on the (D) government.
    I do not claim this to be an intentional 'program' on the part of government. No conscious conspiracy is proposed or required; like evolution or the market, it is self-organizing.
    The past and current governmental activities have resulted in a large dependent class of voters who support the government expansion and largess; there is no incentive from above to change anything. In fact, if you are at all conscious of the pub-sec union propaganda, they propose to 'grow the franchise'.
    I don't know when that class is the majority, but combined with lefty ignoramuses like Tony, they already are in many jurisdictions.

  • Sevo||

    "...The feds insisted the Burning Man connection was pure coincidence..."

    "You can keep your doctor if you wish."
    Ha, ha, ha, ha.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Controlled substances Act is unconstitutional.

  • Ordinary Person||

    I'm with you.

  • Sevo||

    Like the click bait about "#10 will shock you!", I don't bother clicking on the "embarrassing" photos links. Looks like all of them are women with big tits and it's pretty certain that's click-bait.
    Any one clicked and found out?

  • santamonica811||

    "...Many of those stopped, and the Burning Man organization itself, made noise, complaining that..."

    Not an actual English sentence, methinks.

  • JeremyR||

    This does kinda illustrate how the drug war works - rich people get off with no problems, because they have hot shot lawyers, while poor people get screwed because they don't.

  • JeremyR||

    This does kinda illustrate how the drug war works - rich people get off with no problems, because they have hot shot lawyers, while poor people get screwed because they don't.

  • Exsqueezeyou||

    "...this was just part of an existing Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) campaign to stop opiate trafficking in tribal lands." "... The stop led to a K9 search of the vehicle and a federal agent found mushrooms and acid tablets..."

    So, the Indians have such a cozy relationship with the feds that the Indians allow them to get all up in their Indian affairs? I have seen enough episodes of Longmire to call bullshit on that. That "relationship" needs some investigating and verifying. Now, where was ATF in this cabal? Worried about the opiates but not the firewater? More suspicious bullshit...I mean coincidence.

  • Exsqueezeyou||

    "The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the U.S. Department of the Interior.It is responsible for the administration and management of 55,700,000 acres (225,000 km 2) of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives."

    "land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States." Now, that is funny. Indians prolly need opiates and Prozac to sleep given their history of "trust" with the US.

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