Drugs

The Government Thinks the DEA’s Fake Facebook Profile of a Real Woman Was No Big Deal

Is violating a woman's privacy in service of the drug war really OK?

by Lucy Steigerwald
Oct 13 2014, 4:30pm

Are we going to see any accountability for America's drug warriors? Photo via Flickr user Ryan Lackey

Back in 2010, Sondra Arquiett was arrested in connection with her boyfriend’s cocaine ring. She eventually got five years of probation after cooperating with the cops, but before her sentence came down, she granted DEA agents permission to search her phone. What she did not do was tell them they could use photos—some a bit sexy, some that included her niece and nephew—and information from that device to make a new Facebook page under her previous name, Sondra Prince. But that's exactly what happened, and now she's suing DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen for violating her privacy and endangering her safety. 

Everyone seems to agree that the feds violated something here—definitely Facebook’s terms of service, and probably the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But let’s be honest: They won’t be punished for it. With parallel construction, ICREACH, and their weird commando squads that tear through foreign countries, the DEA is as secretive and lawless as the CIA or the NSA is at this point. What happened to Arquiett is disturbing, but it’s a grain of sand on the beach of the war on drug's overwhelming awfulness.

So far the Department of Justice is defending Sinnigen’s actions as legitimate law enforcement. US Attorney Richard Hartunian says that Arquiett "implicitly consented” to the use of information on her phone, including the photos. And it's true that she was trying to help the investigation—but clearly she didn't want her identitiy used as part of a weird social media sting operation. It doesn't seem like it's too much to ask that the authorities don't impersonate us online just because we briefly turn over our phones to them, but that sort of violation of privacy is routine in the war on drugs.

Now onto the rest of this week’s bad cops:

-In the past week, videos showing three different incidents of of the New York Police Department (NYPD) behaving horribly were released. The deluge came right on the heels of Police Commisioner Bill Bratton declaring, “We will aggressively seek to get those out of the department who should not be here... The brutal, the corrupt, the racist, the incompetent.” Looks like he's got his work cut out for him!

Along with two young men who got beat up (one was pistol-whipped) for doing next to nothing, the incident that looks the most flagrantly like corruption involved 35-year-old Lamard Joye. He claims to have been out celebrating his 35th when an unnamed officer took $1,000 from his pocket before pepper-spraying him in the face. Reportedly, someone in the area had a gun, which provoked the police presence. Internal Affairs is now investigating the officer's conduct. 

-Speaking of missing money: The Washington Post is continuing its epic investigation into the horrors of civil asset forfeiture. Nearly $2.5 billion has been taken since 2008, and more than 80 percent of that came from people who were never indicted for anything. The whole story is worth reading, and it includes a defensive Ohio police chief who told the paper, “The money I spent on Sparkles the Clown is a very, very minute portion of the forfeited money that I spend in fighting the war on drugs.”

-According to a ProPublica deep dive into the (incomplete) data on police shootings black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. The investigation looked at 12,000 incidents between 1980 and 2012, making this no small sample. Explanations for why this has nothing to do with race are probably circulating on certain conservative websites as we speak.

-On October 6, a grand jury decided not to indict any of the officers involved in the May drug raid that left a Georgia toddler with severe facial burns. The Habersham County SWAT team conducted a no-knock entry into the home of Wanis Thonetheva on May 28, after a confidential informant reportedly bought meth from the place. Unfortunately for 18-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh, who was sleeping in his playpen in front of the door, police decide to use a flash-bang grenade. Phonesavanh, whose parents were staying in the house after their own burned down, went into a medically-induced coma. The photo of the tyke lying in his hospital bed made the media rounds and provoked more than your average amount of outrage and horror. But the family has had to raise the money for their $800,000 medical bills themselves.

Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell has admitted that, had his officers bothered to find out if a child was in the house, “We might have gone in through a side door. We would not have used a flash bang." Federal authorities are investigating to see if charges should be brought against the cops.

-Also last Monday, police in North Carolina pepper-sprayed a black teenager because they assumed he was breaking into his foster home. A neighbor called the cops after 18-year-old DeShawn Currie went into the house, and three members of the Fuquay-Varina Police Department found the front door slightly ajar. Police claim that when they asked Currie for evidence that he lived in the house, which presumably was full of photos of white people, he became profane and belligerent and wouldn’t sit down, and therefore had to be pepper-sprayed and cuffed. No charges were fired, and police swear—swear!—that racial profiling was not a factor.

-There’s community policing, and then there’s pro-cop propaganda. The University of Texas at Austin’s “Cop Day” sounds an awful lot like the latter. The October 8 event was described by the student paper as being all about what cops do in their typcial workday. At least these students will be able to address the members of the next SWAT team that kicks in their door in by name.

-On October 3, Emmett Township, Michigan Public Safety Officer Ben Hall admirably proved that he is a human being, and not a law-and-order robot. Our Good Cop of the Week got a call that a five-year-old was riding in a car without a booster seat. Her mother, Alexis DeLorenzo, said that her car had been repossessed, and the seat was lost in the process. Instead of ticketing DeLorenzo, Hall bought her a new booster seat. DeLorenzo was touched, suggesting the officer went “above and beyond.” And Hall gave us all the takeaway lesson: "A ticket doesn’t solve the situation.. .it was the easiest 50 bucks I ever spent.” Good dude.

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