Iowa Drug Cops, For The Win
December 12, 2016 (Fault Lines) — As Josh Kendrick pointed out, Iowa cops have a pretty tempestuous relationship with drugs. On the one hand, as we all know, drugs are bad, and practically anything is justified when the goal is to rid America of this terrible scourge.
But on the other hand, if our society’s drug problems were to disappear overnight, what would happen to Iowa law enforcement’s new and highly profitable revenue stream? The one that involves boarding helpless treasure galleons stopping people who violate traffic laws on the highway, manufacturing probable cause and plundering their cargo holds searching their cars for drugs, keeping any forfeitable assets found in the process?
In a nutshell, when it comes to civil asset forfeiture and the War on Drugs, law enforcement’s incentives are pretty poorly structured. There’s a cruel irony to this, given that CAF was originally devised as a way to keep 1980s drug kingpins from getting away with the loot. If Fault Lines’ resident prosecutor, Andrew King, is to be believed, the practice still serves that purpose in many cases, even if the concept of a kingpin has degenerated a little over the years.
But as long as police get to keep what they confiscate, it’s hard to believe they want their drug interdiction efforts to be wholly successful. It’s not that honoring the Fourth Amendment isn’t a noble thing to do, but that there’s no money in it.
What really sucks is when the guy whose property you took beats the odds and successfully challenges you for his money back. This is what happened in Josh’s case: two professional poker players on their way out of Illinois after a tournament were subjected to an unconstitutional stop, had their car searched when a dog alerted off camera and were forced to surrender their $100,000 winnings after a state trooper found a milligram of marijuana. The cops ultimately had to return 90% of what they misappropriated.
Not only that, but on December 5, the state of Iowa elected to pay $60,000 to resolve the poker players’ § 1983 lawsuit. That’s no fun at all, even if it is the taxpayer who bears the burden of the settlement. What’s to be done? Well, if you’re a Des Moines cop and there’s a drug case you simply have to make, there’s always a traditional alternative to cutting the perp loose.
The Des Moines Police Department is four days into a voluminous effort to review hundreds of cases handled by two officers who resigned after officials said they planted evidence in a narcotics case last year.
Senior Police Officers Joshua Judge, 30, and Tyson Teut, 30, resigned Monday. [Police spokesman Paul] Parizek said that police department administrators learned of the tainted case Friday. He declined to specify how it came to police’s attention except for saying there was a “complaint.”
Damn. Alliteratively named cops are at a premium these days. And since it seems the department hires no other kind, how are they going to replace these guys? Were any other officers involved?
No other officers are accused of wrongdoing, Parizek said.
Phew. So what are they being investigated for? Parizek and the Polk County DA, whom the PD is keeping posted as they look into this, largely declined to say:
Judge and Teut, who were assigned to patrol duties, are believed to have planted evidence on a suspect before passing the case on to investigators, Parizek said. He said that a suspect in that 2015 case was arrested and that the case was adjudicated. He did not say what the outcome of that case was.
He also didn’t identify the specific case in which evidence was planted, and Polk County Attorney John Sarcone did not return several messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Don’t overwhelm us with all that transparency, guys. At a press conference, Parizek was asked whether anyone was to blame for letting this case slip through the cracks back in 2015.
Parizek said that there was nothing to indicate anything was wrong while investigators were reviewing evidence in that 2015 drug case.
“This was possible because we hire who we believe to be the best people and mature people, and they operate independently on the street,” Parizek said.
In true police-spokesman fashion, it’s tough to say what to make of this comment. It seems Parizek is trying to accomplish two somewhat contradictory things: a) deny anyone apart from Judge and Teut was responsible for what happened, while b) offering people who’ll ask what the department plans to do to keep this from happening again an obvious answer (i.e., increased oversight). Really, as spokesman-y deflections go, this one isn’t half bad; Ohio’s Steve Loomis could stand to learn a thing or two from the guys in Iowa.
This is literally all the information available so far. But that didn’t stop Parizek from patting himself and his fellow cops on the back for being so forthcoming:
It’s very, very rare that we discuss internal investigations before their completion. We feel that the public’s interest in keeping them informed into what’s happening here is very critical. We need to maintain their trust and part of that is being open about what is going on.
The interesting thing is that in addition to pounding home how transparent they’re being while offering little to no information and making ambiguous comments, Des Moines PD isn’t using best practices for police-misconduct investigations. Rather than rely on an outside investigator, DMPD is handling this one in-house. And because DA Sarcone declined to answer any questions, we don’t know what he plans to do about the “hundreds” of cases Judge and Teut were involved in that may be irrevocably tainted.
When a similar situation arose in Cambria County, PA after a local cop/drug addict looking to score used a hammer to break into his department’s evidence room, the DA cooperated with the county public defender to release people who were being held on charges filed by that officer. Presumably, Judge and Teut kept busy when they weren’t getting accused of planting evidence. Will Polk County work to modify their arrestees’ bonds? That remains to be seen.
The only thing clear about the latest murky scandal to come out of Iowa drug policing is that their track record of respect for people’s constitutional rights isn’t set to improve. Between getting plundered on the highway thanks to manufactured probable cause and getting dragged into court because of manufactured evidence, the Hawkeye State’s finest are working overtime to make visiting Iowa an unforgettable experience.