By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
Most drug-related search warrants served in St. Louis County are served in black neighborhoods. Five ZIP codes in predominantly black communities accounted for more than half of the warrants served in St. Louis County during the two-year period examined by the RFT, when police served no search warrants in several upscale communities such as Ladue and Frontenac. In Clayton, the only drug-search warrant served during those two years was executed when Washington University police summoned city police after finding a suspicious package mailed to a student. Cops searched the package -- not the student's room -- and found marijuana inside. The sole warrant served in Creve Coeur was issued in July 1999, when police found pot after pulling over a motorist who told them, "There is a lot more in my house, and too bad you can't get to it." Those words were enough for a judge to sign the warrant.
County police aren't alone in serving the bulk of warrants in black neighborhoods. Notwithstanding Dooley's claim that police serve as many as 300 warrants each year, the county tactical unit averages 180 warrants a year, according to police and court records. Many of these are obtained by municipal police agencies, not county detectives. Even so, court records show county investigators get most of their drug-search warrants for black neighborhoods. And the tactical unit that serves those warrants is virtually all white men. Of the 30 officers assigned to the unit, four are black and one is a woman.
Some cops are bothered by the pattern. Tom Mayer, president of the Missouri State Fraternal Order of Police and a member of the St. Charles County tactical team, says he sees the same economic demographics in his jurisdiction. "I have a concern with the lack of enforcement activity in wealthy areas on drugs, personally," he says.
Jackson, the county drug-enforcement-bureau commander, bristles at any notion that police weight their warrants toward black areas. "We don't base anything we do on the race of the individuals," he says. "We really have to go where the drugs are and where our investigations take us. We go where the complaints are, where the drug problem exists, where our informants tell us the drugs are and where we have the capability of concluding that those drugs are there and that those are drug houses." Battelle defends the Green raid as a response to neighborhood complaints. "We were not there on our own," he told the crowd at the Wellston church. "We were there because citizens sent us there. They told us there were problems at that house. Do you not want us to fight the drug problem in St. Louis County?" Jackson says police received two anonymous complaints about Green's house on the county's drug hotline over a period of several months.
Green was hardly an atypical target for county drug enforcers. During the period examined by the RFT, police obtained search warrants on the basis of controlled buys of as little as $10 worth of drugs. Battelle dismisses complaints that such operations are overkill. "Some people may say low-level drug dealers are no big deal," Battelle told the Wellston audience. "Well, let me tell you: It is a big deal. Our kids don't get drugs from high-level drug dealers."
But there were less risky ways to accomplish the mission in Green's case.
Green last fall pleaded guilty to selling less than 5 grams of marijuana -- well under a quarter-ounce -- to an undercover officer in 1998, a crime that earned her five years' probation. She violated her probation by not visiting her probation officer, prompting the state Department of Corrections to issue a warrant for her arrest. "Why didn't they just go there and arrest her?" asks her sister Betty Williams. "That would have closed the house down right there. She was always there. They could have gone in and locked her up for five years." (Indeed, that's exactly what happened to an accomplice in Green's marijuana case, who is now in state prison after having his probation revoked for failing drug tests.)
Although Shepard's affidavit doesn't mention Green's arrest warrant, Jackson says police knew she was wanted. "There was more to the case than that," he says. "That was an issue, but the larger issue was, there were drugs in the house, and that's what the warrant was for. There was not necessarily one individual that we believed was dealing drugs out of the house." He adds that police thought Montray Williams, the target named in the warrant application, would be in the house on Feb. 6. But for all the police intelligence and surveillance, he wasn't there when the raid went down.
The city of Wellston could have resolved neighborhood complaints short of force by simply evicting Green and everyone else in the house. The house, with an assessed value of just $1,690, was condemned on Jan. 17, but city officials didn't follow through on a vow to "abate the premises" by Jan. 30. Wellston environmental officer Lewis Clark, the man responsible for enforcing the city's housing laws, did not return several phone calls from the RFT. Green's sister says the city had given her extra time to repair problems, but city files don't reflect that. McCulloch says the police didn't know that the house had been condemned.