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Cops Dodge 4th Amendment By Phoning In 'Anonymous' Tips; Watch Their Drug Bust Vanish After They're Exposed

from the it'sa-me,-anonymio! dept

Really. What the hell? Does law enforcement just perceive the Fourth Amendment as damage and route around it?

Detective Harold Zech and Lawrence Spathelf didn’t have probable cause to search the homes of Albert McCullough and Dakeem Booker, so they made their own. They phoned in “anonymous” tips to McCullough’s and Booker’s parole officers, who searched their [homes] and found some heroin.

It’s not as though the Fourth Amendment is that difficult to comply with, especially considering law enforcement can avail themselves of all of the following to avoid having to obtain a warrant:

Good faith exception

Exigent circumstances

Motor vehicle exception

Plain view

Plain hearing

Plain smell


And yet here we are, seeing two cops masquerading as the most reliable and honest of anonymous tipsters. You know, except for the part where they covered up the fact that they were cops.

The bust was fun while it lasted. 963 bags of heroin, two handguns, and a couple of perps. None of that matters now because the Fourth Amendment was just too much of a hassle.

This sort of dishonesty has happened often enough that there’s a term for it.

[T]he law is clear that police cannot use parole agents as an arm of law enforcement to initiate a search to get around the stricter probable cause standard they must meet, Mr. Sheppard and other attorneys said. Multiple appellate courts ruled that practice, known as a “stalking horse,” illegal.

The two horses called in tips twice, resulting in searches of two residences. Despite costing them a nice drug bust and successful prosecution, both the DA (Shane Scanlon) and the Chief of Police (Carl Graziano) are defending not only the faux tipsters’ actions, but their work as law enforcement officers as well.

“Do I think in any way, shape or form this was an effort to be dishonest or an intentional act? I don’t,” Mr. Scanlon said. “I think it was an attempt to comply with the stalking horse law that was just done wrong.”

Hmm. “I tried to comply with the speed limit but did it wrong.” “I tried to comply with restrictions on the distribution of Schedule 1 substances but somehow screwed it up. Am I free to go?”

Yes, the officers did exactly the opposite of what the law forbids. That is indeed “wrong.” But to shrug off the deliberate nature of their actions is asinine. The pair never identified themselves as law enforcement officers which means they knew they were violating something, even if they were unclear on the legal specifics. There was no “effort to comply.” Just dishonesty and the hope that the ends would justify the means, as the police chief inadvertently implies in his defense of his employee.

“His goals and intentions, along with all other members of the Scranton Police Department, is to remove violent criminals and drug traffickers from the streets of Scranton while at the same time staying within the lines of current case laws and acceptable procedures,” Chief Graziano said in an email.

There was no “staying in the lines” here. Just two officers wandering outside of the confines of the law to expedite a process that likely could have been handled in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. It may have required more time and effort, but certainly wasn’t an impossibility.

Citizens may not be pleased that two drug dealers will go unpunished. But they should be equally displeased the two officers who undid these convictions haven’t even suffered the brief indignity of a paid vacation for their actions. As civil rights attorney Barry Dyller points out, this tells other law enforcement officers that there are zero consequences for bending the rules.

“The commonwealth and DA have a duty not merely to convict, but a duty to seek justice,” Mr. Dyller said. “If there is no consequence for those officers, it’s a signal to other officers it’s not the end of the world if you cut corners. … For every time someone is caught, there has to be 100 times when they are not.”

Then there’s this depressing statement from the DA, which clearly shows how much faith and deference his office extends to law enforcement.

Mr. Scanlon said as far as he knows, Mr. Booker’s and Mr. McCullough’s cases are the only two where this has happened. He acknowledged he has not done any research to determine if there are other cases.

Chances are, Scanlon still has yet to do any research. Why go looking for information that might disprove your bold, unresearched statements? Why give the other side that much more ammo when defending the accused? Better to stay on this side of the blue line and avoid biting the hand that feeds you criminal cases.

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Comments on “Cops Dodge 4th Amendment By Phoning In 'Anonymous' Tips; Watch Their Drug Bust Vanish After They're Exposed”

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David says:

Re: can I play this game?

Uh, you mean he didn’t expose illegal activities of the NSA? Why would they have been lying left and right to them to Congress then, partly under oath?

I mean, you can’t really blame Snowden for stuff magically becoming un-illegal by frantic lavish post-fact (or rather post-discovery) legalization blessings?

“Ok, you need us to legalize what? Will be a challenge to have it survive constitutional challenge, though. How much dirt do you have on the Supreme Court judges? Well, better stock up on temptations, then.”

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And one wonders why people distrust cops & the system.

Cops don’t need to know if the law they used existed, if they trampled your rights… to bad.

Prosecutors are terrified the cops won’t assist them if they hold them to the law… to bad.

Even if you manage to force them to try to prosecute, you end up with citizens who ignore what they can see & vote to acquit… to bad.

If a miracle occurs and they somehow manage to fail to get it all pitched, you end up paying the settlement… to bad.

If it looks like it might go bad, the cops are often allowed to retire keeping all of their benefits and move to a new department to do it all again… to bad.

The system is corrupt, because those who are supposed to play by the same rules have their own special set of them. They are better than us, and we should just learn our place… or perhaps its time we stop believing the hype and work to replace those who are to beholden to the image of the system over little things like rights & laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The end justifies the means?
This old and tired trope flies proudly and prominently for many, everyone else recognizes it for what it is.

Why is it this trope only applies to the lower class citizens? Has this ever been used to justify violating the rights of any rich influential people?

If getting the 963 bags off the street was so important, why did the cops screw it up so badly? certainly they could’ve asked for instructions on how to bust someone within the laws – but noooooooo.

Eponymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You are correct that heroin is horrible, horrible stuff. Knowing that, one would think that a responsible cop would do everything in her/his power to ensure that investigations and arrests go exactly by the book. Wouldn’t want those dope pushers to go back to peddling their poison just because they were too lazy, sloppy, or stupid to do their job correctly, would we?

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Sep 30th, 2016 @ 2:37am

It’s really too bad that dangerous criminals get away because the police feel they are above the law. When you allow the government to break the law you end up with the situation that the 4th amendment was designed to prevent: the pursuit of innocent people because they pissed off a powerful person, crushing dissent, intimidating political opponents and many other actions that are common in fascist dictatorships.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Do it right or don't bother

Not in the slightest, if anything that just makes my disgust with the cops higher. They had a chance to follow the law and get a massive amount of highly dangerous drugs and those selling it off the streets, and instead the dealers walk because the cops were too incompetent and/or corrupt to do it right.

DannyB (profile) says:

A serious and honest question

I’m not trying to defend cops who did something wrong.

It seems that the parole officers can search the home at any time. Otherwise these anonymous tips would not have worked to initiate a search.

It seems that if there is a law forbidding the police from being the source of these anonymous tips, there must be a reason for that. Maybe because of some past pattern of abuse? (That wouldn’t be a surprise.)

If someone is on parole and their parole officer can search at any time, then I’m not quite so sure what is wrong here — except that technically, the police cannot just search anyone, any time, any where on their whim. Even though they seem to think they can.

If the parole officer can search at any time, then it seems that people on parole don’t quite have the same right of not being searched at any random time. What is the purpose of parole?

So why can the parole officer search them and their house, but not the police?

Am I misunderstanding some basic facts or unaware of some law? (Very possibly)

Thanks for a any clarification

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A serious and honest question

When one starts with a disclaimer, what follows is immediately suspect. You sabotage your own post.

IANAL – and therefore do not have an answer to your question about the law(s). I do have an opinion … our justice system is so full of stupid idiotic rules/laws that it’s a wonder anyone can figure out wtf is “legal” and what is not. Apparently, the law is so messed up that lawyers argue forever about what a sentence or word actually means with results that can vary widely depending upon who pays their mouth piece more money. So – maybe there is no real answer to your questions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A serious and honest question

“So why can the parole officer search them and their house, but not the police?”

A parole officer can search because it is part of the deal that lets a convict out of prison before the end of his sentence.

A police officer needs a warrant. He can’t use a parole officer as his proxy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: A serious and honest question

A parole officer can search because it is part of the deal that lets a convict out of prison before the end of his sentence.

I thought you couldn’t give up your rights, even voluntarily. So you mean, for example, I can own a slave if I can convince someone to “voluntarily” sell themselves into slavery?

afn29129 (profile) says:

Try harder next time.

“… both the DA (Shane Scanlon) and the Chief of Police (Carl Graziano) are defending not only the faux tipsters’ actions,” and “Mr. Scanlon said. “I think it was an attempt to comply with the stalking horse law that was just done wrong.”” I read those two statements to mean that the Cop-tipsters need to perfect their techniques, and please meet us behind the barn and we’ll instruct you how it should be done.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Maybe the police are being trained that the whole constitution should be ignored and that all people are criminals, are guilty not innocent and therefore deserve no rights.

Cannot be 1 giant coincedence that all these various police departments across the country are all dedicated to ignoring citizens basic rights. when their job requires them to swear an oath of loyalty to defend said constitution.

freedomfan (profile) says:

tip of the iceburg for this sort of event

In this case like, the illegal stalking horse raid turned up some contraband and the case went to trial an the truth came out. Don’t doubt for a second that for every case like this, others occur in which the raid takes place and either nothing is found for which to arrest the raid targets or the DA’s office realizes there the police have violated the stalking horse law (or something else has gone wrong) and decides not to prosecute. In those cases, which may well be the vast majority, the raid targets are so relieved that they managed to survive an encounter with those who “protect and serve” them that they go away without it ever coming to light that the police, instead of seeing protecting peoples’ rights as their primary job, see peoples’ rights as the primary obstacle to their job.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Incentives and a lack of punishment

“The commonwealth and DA have a duty not merely to convict, but a duty to seek justice,” Mr. Dyller said. “If there is no consequence for those officers, it’s a signal to other officers it’s not the end of the world if you cut corners. … For every time someone is caught, there has to be 100 times when they are not.”

The lawyer nails it, there’s no reason for cops not to bend if not flat out break the law, and plenty of reasons for them to do so. Sure they got caught this time, but I’m totally certain that this is hardly the first time they’ve ignored the law and still gotten a conviction from it, so why would they care that it didn’t work this once?

Tossing the evidence, and as a result the case is a good start, but it absolutely needs to be followed by actual punishments for those cops involved. Dock their pay for minor screw-ups, fire them permanently for huge ‘mistakes’ and fire them and bring charges for those times when they screw up so badly that you know without a shadow of a doubt that it was intentional.

Cappy Chromecast says:

The real issue is when will citizens organize to stop it?

Question for a lawyer : but can’t the anonymous tip line, the officers phone, or other records be subpoenaed under Brady?

Remember the SOD datase-it was a DEA illegal wiretap scheme, used to funnel cases on Americans to other agencies:

These illegal datbases are a hot potatoe that one gency after another passes off to another after they get busted.

The ‘see something say something’ is fully designed to skirt the 4th mendment, and cops exploit that anonymous tip line every day.

Great examples are : Backpage.com stings, drug buys and tax cases, and especially organized stalking facilitated by database abuse, petty vendettas, and
stalking women ( Google Minnesota reporter Jessica Miles gang stalked by 88 departments)

It’s not a question of the people being unaware, it’s a question of clueless or complicit judges.

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