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FOIAed DEA Disciplinary Action Log Shows Very Little Discipline, Lots Of Inaction

from the cleaning-the-agency-up,-one-cautionary-letter-at-a-time dept

The DEA, like countless other law enforcement agencies across the nation, doesn’t take employee misconduct too seriously. Perhaps upper management feels that drug warring is a tough, dangerous job and that any violations of policies/state/federal laws or other impropriety should be met with little more than a short, stern conversation and promises from agents that it won’t happen again.

Brad Heath and Meghan Hoyer of USA Today have secured a log of DEA disciplinary actions via a FOIA request. What it shows is a lot of wrongdoing but very little discipline and/or action.

Lawmakers expressed dismay this year that the drug agency had not fired agents who investigators found attended “sex parties” with prostitutes paid with drug cartel money while they were on assignment in Colombia. The Justice Department also opened an inquiry into whether the DEA is able to adequately detect and punish wrongdoing by its agents.

Records from the DEA’s disciplinary files show that was hardly the only instance in which the DEA opted not to fire employees despite apparently serious misconduct.

Of the 50 employees the DEA’s Board of Professional Conduct recommended be fired following misconduct investigations opened since 2010, only 13 were actually terminated, the records show. And the drug agency was forced to take some of them back after a federal appeals board intervened.

The DEA’s history is littered with dirty deeds: warrantless surveillance, impersonation of medical professionals to gain access to patient records, a confidential informant program that runs with almost no oversight, concerted efforts to block internal investigations, etc. The document obtained by Heath shows its agents are perfectly capable of doing the wrong thing individually as well. And in most cases, they’ll receive little more than the agency’s lowest level of discipline (letters of caution) as punishment.

Recommendations for punishment are handed down by the DEA’s Board of Professional Conduct. Its suggestions for suitable discipline are often ignored.

One of the most horrifying recent incidents of severe misconduct by DEA employees was met with the lightest of punishments.

This spring, the Justice Department said it had “serious concerns” about the discipline meted out to six agents who left a handcuffed college student in a holding cell for five days with no food or water. Two of the agents received brief suspensions; four others were given letters of reprimand.

The DEA, of course, has excuses for its unwillingness to mete out appropriate punishments for wrongdoing.

DEA spokesman Joseph Moses said that often happens because it’s not until after the Board of Professional Conduct makes its recommendations that employees get to fully present their side of the story. That can prompt human resources officials ultimately to opt for lighter punishment.

And this, from former DEA internal affairs investigator Scott Ando, who apparently believes agent misconduct should be graded on a very generous curve.

“DEA agents should be held to a high standard, but not an unrealistically high standard.”

From what’s in this document, it appears agents aren’t being held to any standard at all. Distribution of drugs and a refusal to cooperate with the resulting internal investigation netted one agent a two-week suspension. Another’s DWI arrest resulted in two days without pay. Falsification of records and theft of government funds? Five-day suspension. Failed random drug test? Also a five-day suspension.

That’s not a high standard. That doesn’t even meet the standards of the private sector. The last one listed is particularly odious because in most companies, a failed drug test results in immediate termination. At the DEA — home of the “Drugs Are Bad” brigade — a failed drug test is one workweek off without pay.

And for those who like their bad news bundled with worse news, Scott Ando — he of the “high but not too high standard” now heads up Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct complaints. Presumably, Chicago cops will be held to Ando’s high expectations: a standard where all the slack is pre-cut and “Of A Doubt” is listed prominently under “Employee Benefits.”

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Comments on “FOIAed DEA Disciplinary Action Log Shows Very Little Discipline, Lots Of Inaction”

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Anonymous Coward says:

You are wrong about one thing… failing a drug test in most companies does not result in immediate termination. Most companies are required to give you a chance to seek treatment prior to terminating you. The exception to this rule is if the role is safety related. At my company, any position like this is advertised as such and it’s clear up front you will be terminated because of FAA demands (work in avionics). You might just get reassigned. The rest of us are safe and don’t even get randomly tested unless we royally fuck up and then you’re probably getting fired for whatever it is you screwed up.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

Not surprising since the only purpose of the war on drugs is to keep funding the war on drugs. Funding inertia. Also not surprising since they are such assholes.

Shortly after cannabis was legalized in Washington state, the wife and I were at a bar where a group of DEA agents were loudly and boisterously bragging about shutting down a local dispensary and putting everyone in jail. They seemed to find it really amusing putting people in jail for pot when it was just legalized. Everyone around them was aghast–not that they noticed.

There’s no set of facts that paint the war on drugs as anything other than a complete disaster and waste of money. What has that trillion dollars bought us?

At least it’s nice to know that the people in pointless jobs who suck at the teet of all that taxpayer money don’t take the whole thing too seriously.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

We should quadruple every cop’s salary and increase their accountability by the same amount, or more. Pay them so much and make the penalties for gross misconduct so severe, that you’re going “with the grain” of human nature.

If we really want to be safe, then we should make keeping us safe a near-sacred task, and it should pay accordingly. We can pay for it all just with the money we are already spending on the illusion of being safe. But hey, that would require a non-retarded approach, so I’m not holding my breath…

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Excuses up front, please

(When even the notoriously lax DOJ has concerns…)

DEA spokesman Joseph Moses said that often happens because it’s not until after the Board of Professional Conduct makes its recommendations that employees get to fully present their side of the story. That can prompt human resources officials ultimately to opt for lighter punishment.

So, what are you saying, Mr. Moses? That there was a good excuse for “Distributing Drugs”? For “Falsifying Official Records”? For “Theft?” For a “Civil Rights” violation?

Because what you’re saying is that, yes, Board of Professional Conduct found they did wrong, but later on they told their side of it and they had a good excuse, so we let it slide.

Maybe we need to import a variation on that caution from Great Britain, “You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your case if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on as a defense.”

If you save something from the Board of Professional Conduct, you should not be allowed to present it as an excuse later.

GEMont (profile) says:

GEM's 1st law of Inevitable Organizational Entropy.

Any organization, institution, or business, that operates fully or partially in secret, will become corrupt, criminal and eventually fully evil, in an amount of time, directly proportional to the amount of secrecy it enjoys and the amount of money or power it handles.

No organization that has access to money or power, of any kind, or amount, is immune to this process.

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