Who's Next?

Annette Green didn't have to die. Her death was a tragedy waiting to happen in St. Louis County's reckless war against two-bit drug dealers and addicts.

Duvall doesn't mince words about the killings. He can't understand why detectives needed to rush up to Murray's car in such a public place with so little to gain. As for Green, if the police put lives at risk by busting down doors with innocent children inside, they should have a darn good reason, he says. "They better be producing some large quantities," he says. "Why would you use a highly trained paramilitary unit that costs thousands of dollars to fund and to train and the most they get is a traffic-stop bust? North County is turning into the killing fields. Shooting is replacing lynching, because it's going unchecked and it's not being charged."

County Councilman Charles Dooley (D-1st), the only African-American on the seven-member council, says his constituents may not agree with such hot talk, but the activists have a point. "I think some of the rhetoric is not representative [of the community], but some of the concerns might be," Dooley says. "The concern is, when police come into African-American communities, are they cautious in our community as opposed to any other community? Those are some legitimate concerns. I think most of the community is waiting to see what the review panel has to say."

Dooley urged Westfall to set up the review panel and helped choose its members. Although he says one death is too many, Dooley defends county police. "This is not to diminish a loss of life, by any stretch of the imagination, but they do 200 or 300 of these [raids] every year with no incident," he says. Like Battelle, Dooley says the Berkeley shooting was different from the Green slaying because the officers who fired weren't county employees. "The county has a good record of being conscious of people and their surrounding environment," he says. "This is just an unfortunate situation."

County prosecutor Robert McCulloch confirms that inaccurate information was used to obtain the warrant served at Annette Green's home.
Jennifer Silverberg
County prosecutor Robert McCulloch confirms that inaccurate information was used to obtain the warrant served at Annette Green's home.

But when county police run out of luck, odds are, a black person will suffer the consequences.

A Riverfront Times review of more than 300 drug-related search warrants served in St. Louis County in 1999 and 2000 shows the police routinely use paramilitary force to raid the homes of nickel-and-dime dope dealers, mostly in black neighborhoods, often with disappointing results. As of early April, fewer than 80 of the 375 people identified as dealers in search-warrant affidavits had been charged with crimes. Those who face charges after warrants are served typically receive five years of probation, with no jail time.

Lt. Tom Jackson, commander of the county drug-enforcement bureau, concedes that a sizeable percentage of drug raids end with no charges filed. He offers several explanations. "Finding the person and finding the drugs does not necessarily conclude in a conviction or even charges being formally filed," Jackson says. "When you go in and there's a target in the house ... and the dope's in the house, if you can't physically put that person with the drugs and there are other people in there who could potentially possess those drugs, even with the best of information, it is often difficult for a jury or even a judge to say, 'Yes, this is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that that person and those drugs go together.'"

The officers on the tactical team are some of the county's finest. Between 20 and 50 officers each year ask to be transferred to the unit, which usually has no more than five vacancies. Once there, each officer receives more than 250 hours of training each year, 25 hours more than the national average as reported in a 1997 study conducted by Eastern Kentucky University researchers. Despite training, drug-sniffing dogs and the power to turn a house upside down in search of drugs, the cops often come up empty-handed. During the two-year period examined by the RFT, the police in 330 warrants reported finding no drugs in 40 searches and just residue in another 16 cases. "They're easy to hide," says Jackson. "They're easy to flush. That's the bottom line. I can't tell you how many times we've gone into drains in basements and found some in the drain. They're just easy to dispose of."

Time also works in the dealers' favor. Drug-search warrants served the same day they're signed by a judge are extremely rare in St. Louis County -- under state law, a warrant must be served within 10 days. Waiting a week, as the cops did in the Green case, is commonplace and often spells failure, especially with low-level dealers, who are likely to smoke whatever they can't sell within a few hours. "The drugs come in, we get the information and we act on it as rapidly as we can," Jackson says. "But, often, as quickly as it comes in, we get the information, it's good information and by the time we show up there, they've had a chance to move a good portion of it."

McCulloch has no easy explanation for the number of targets who have escaped charges. "It could be any number of things," he says. Some who otherwise would have faced charges may have agreed to become informants, he says. He also notes that people other than targets named in warrrant applications may have been charged as a result of searches but says he doesn't know how often that happens.

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