Man Calls Cops To Turn In Drug Paraphernalia He Found, Gets Home Placed On Federal 'Drug Lab' Watchlist For 2 Years

from the helping-out,-getting-hurt dept

"If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear," right? Here's how that works in reality. (via Reason)
On Jan. 5, 2012, Paul Valin called the police to report he'd found a backpack containing what he believed to be meth-making equipment. That simple act of good citizenship landed his and wife Cindy's house on the National Clandestine Laboratory Register [NCLR], the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's list of meth labs.
Valin spotted a backpack in a river while kayaking. He took it home and opened it up looking for some identification that might point to its owner. Instead, he found tubing and chemicals. Being a good citizen (with nothing to hide), he called local law enforcement who came and removed the backpack… and then put him on a federal list that put his house in the same category as property where drugs had been seized (you know, as opposed to voluntarily and proactively given to police officers).

The NCLR's website openly admits that no federal agency verifies the information being forwarded to it. Valin's house was added to this list by local law enforcement, who filled out a standard form that failed to note that Valin had found the backpack and at no point had the "drug lab" ever crossed the threshold of his house (it had been in the back of Valin's pickup the entire time).

Once Valin was made aware of his home's placement on this list by a local TV reporter, he contacted the DEA in hopes of being delisted.
Valin sent an email to the DEA explaining the facts of his case and asking that his address be removed from the NCLR. The reply he received three weeks later was not encouraging.

An unsigned email from NCLR@doj.gov explained that Valin's address had been listed because of a Clandestine Laboratory Seizure form the DMPD submitted to the DEA following the collection of the backpack.

According to the email, the DMPD officer who filled out the report had checked the boxes for "abandoned lab" and "boxed lab," but didn't include any other information, such as where and how Valin found the backpack.
The email also stated that the DEA was only the "caretaker" of the NCLR site and, again, pointed out that it doesn't perform any sort of verification of submitted forms. According to the email, Valin had a couple of options: persuade the Des Moines, IA police department to contact the DEA and straighten out its paperwork error or have a local health agency declare his home free from drug contamination.

Unsurprisingly, the DEA's suggestions were both dead ends.
The second option isn't possible. No local or state health agencies in Iowa conducts such inspections. The state hasn't even set any standards for what constitutes meth-related contamination.

Valin hasn't had much luck with the first option, either. He's still waiting for a reply to the voicemails he left at the DMPD phone number he was told to call.
The good news is that someone finally decided to do something about this error. Special Agent Eric Neubauer of the El Paso branch of the DEA took the Des Moines Police Dept. investigative report (which detailed the whole chain of events) provided to him by Iowa Watchdog and used that info to delist Valin's home. The DMPD still hasn't explained why the details on its internal investigative report failed to make their way onto the form sent to the DEA -- an omission that put Valin's home on a national "drug lab" watchlist for two years.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 5:38am

    Brilliantly played local PD...

    Now every wanna-be drug maker or dealer in that area knows that even if they're sloppy in hiding their actions, the locals won't dare mention anything they may see or run across to the police, for fear of being accused and treated just like the actual drug makers/dealers.

    Usually criminals have to threaten and/or bribe people to ensure their silence, they've got to be quite happy with the police doing their work for them like that.

    Truly, those involved with the drug trade in that area must be running scared with such on on-the-ball police force like that. /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 5:50am

    So there is this Federal List where people can't challenge what is on it, and instead need to rely on the people who couldn't be bothered to fill a simple form out right in the first place. The only way to get any action is to them publicly embarrass them and pray that he isn't going to end up being "randomly" selected for all sorts of stops and investigations.
    Where have I heard this before?

    This is yet another half baked system that I am sure sounded awesome on paper, where the only people who would end up on it were hardened criminals... but in practice in the real world it manages to screw innocent people.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 5:52am

    you know what they say, 'No good deed goes unpunished!'

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Greevar (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:06am

    Re:

    Rule of acquisition #285.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Trails (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:10am

    Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    To elaborate on your point (cause I'm a pedant), the real problem with this is having your home on that list basically nukes the value of your home. For many people their home is their primary asset. So, with a form, they can destroy the net worth of most people. Land of the what now?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:12am

    give 'em the ol' Richard Jewell treatment

    There could be much more to this story. Paul Valin may have been under investigation, and if so, would probably never have known about it (at least until the investigation got to a more advanced state).

    It's far from a rare occurrence that "good samaritans" who contact the police end up as prime suspects. Just ask Richard Jewell about that.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:14am

    Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    Your comments are insightful and accurate. But let me please add one more possibility onto them.

    This also means that a quite effective way for drug dealers to intimidate citizens is to threaten to leave drug paraphernalia on their property and then notify the DMPD, who are clearly too stupid, lazy, sloppy and unprofessional to record events properly, let alone investigate them with any kind of thoroughness. A backpack, just like this one, tossed into the back up a pickup truck sitting in a driveway, just like this one, could easily do much more than just get someone on a list: it could get them actively prosecuted.

    All thanks to the DMPD's incompetence.

    I'm sure that every drug dealer, con man, two-bit thug and minor criminal in the area is delighted that the DMPD is on their side.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:20am

    thank you for writing about this issue. Now I know to never help the police by reporting crimes or suspicious activity

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:31am

    Better off helping the crims than help the law

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:32am

    Re: Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    Will that lower your taxes?

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    Hell no...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:43am

    Re:

    It's simple.

    Every tool you provide to the police to catch criminals, will become the very tools they used against the innocent.

    People have long forgotten why the founders created the Bill of Rights to begin with. The Vanguards of freedom are dead, and until new ones are born to stop it we shall continue this abusive slide into the abyss.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:44am

    Re:

    That. I avoid the Police like the plague. Not because I support criminal activity but rather because law enforcement is completely out of control and odds are you are getting out of interaction with them with severe injuries (physical or not).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re:

    It is much simpler than that.
    If we give those in power ANY tool, they will use them.
    What is the point of the power of the tool if it is unused?
    If we do not establish real safeguards to their use, then we have failed.

    We are supposed to have safeguards, but have ignored them being undermined and re-purposed to allow for abuses. We are willfully blind to these things because we believe the lie they will never use them against us "Good People"(tm). Here we have yet another example of a "Good People"(tm) doing the right thing, and getting screwed. We wonder if apathy makes people no longer want to get involved, I think it is fear of the system targeting someone trying to do what is right.

     

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  15.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 6:56am

    Re:

    I was a witness to a car wreck a few weeks ago and agreed to testify in court. Two days ago I got paperwork stating that I'm the one being charged. Now I have to pay money to get a lawyer to get this fixed.

    Yeah, being a good citizen kinda sucks.

     

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  16.  
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    madasahatter (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:02am

    Re:

    Lists in theory are a good idea but the problem is lazy/incompetent/moronic/etc. idiots who are inputting the data into the system. What all these "systems" suffer from is the tendency for excessive false positives and false negatives - information that should not be entered and information that should be included. Compound this with the typical bureaucratic attitudes and you have situation that makes Franz Kafka look like a very naive optimist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re:

    Sounds like someone's a big fan of the Schrodinger's cat thought experiment, thinking that since you observed it, it follows that you caused it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:14am

    Re:

    In far too many cases(though for that any at all past none is 'too many'), the only real difference is who's got the badge.

    Rather than helping one or the other though, you'd be better off just staying out of it, leave both sides to their own business, especially if trying to help the second will get you treated like the first, like in this case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Trails (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    If you get assessed, it *should*. But as a homeowner, I'd rather have the value of my house go up, rather than down.

     

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  20.  
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    Trails (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:23am

    Re:

    Yes, and as I pointed out before, the consequence is potentially devastating. It will massively reduce one's net worth (since most people have most of their "savings" tied up in their house), and your ability to borrow against the property (which is a safety net for many).

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:31am

    I learned a long time ago never to proactively communicate with any police. No matter how innocent you are, it'll take you days/weeks/months/years to clear a misunderstanding up, if you can clear it up at all. It's not worth that risk to report someone else's crime.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: "material witness" and related abuse

    It's often to people's advantage to never talk to police, even when completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

    The "material witness" statutes are routinely used here in the US as an excuse to jail innocent people indefinitely -- without charge or access to the court system.

    A common (and highly successful) method of trickery that police use to evade the 5th amendment is to pretend to ask people for help in solving a crime (whether real or made up), not telling them (or outright denying) that THEY are the prime suspects being investigated in that or some other crime.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    ahow628 (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:47am

    Big mistake

    This guys big mistake was not making meth with the stuff he found. I bet he never makes that doozie again.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 7:50am

    Re:

    I think a key factor is the definition of "crime" - as such things as recreational drug use and non-government-approved sexual practices are a lifestyle choice. Albeit an illegal one. I say live and let live.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:10am

    Re: Re:

    I think the same way. Many years ago, I got burglarized. I didn't report it to the cops because that's a risky thing to do. You never know if you'll get the good, competent cop who will handle things professionally, or if you'll get the lazy, incompetent, and/or corrupt cop who will just make a bad situation worse.

    Odds are that the burglars wouldn't get caught anyway, and if they do, I probably wouldn't get my stuff back, and so there's little "reward" for the risk.

    Instead, I beefed up my physical security.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:25am

    So in theory if someone were to toss something meth related on to someones property and call in an anonymous tip , they could effectively drive down the price of that property. Hell, I think everyone should do it lowering the housing prices in the US and thus hurting banks profits.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    Land of the free (as in beer), as in the approximate price (~$0) he would have to accept to get rid of a property marked as contaminated.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    Dear 90210 resident,

    Wire 5% of your home's net worth to the number given at the end of this message. Failure to comply within 1 week will result in a backpack of meth supplies and call to your local police.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    A few years ago I reported a car break-in, mainly as a service to the community. The cop who showed up showed little interest in a car break-in, yet insisted (rather rudely, I should point out) on knowing my entire life's history. The only other time I got that kind of treatment was by a border guard. It's like they were asking questions (rapid-fire style) just for the sake of asking questions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Bergman (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:53am

    No federal agency verifies the list? Really?

    I wonder if we could get 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in DC listed as a drug house?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 10:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Brilliantly played local PD...

    Nope. Because assessments look at your neighbors' houses.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 10:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Talking about it there are cases here where people tried to help others injured by cars (pedestrians) or by criminals that ended up being prosecuted as if they were the ones that caused the injures (either due to bad faith from the victims or due to bad law enforcement).

    It's rather common to see news of people that died because people didn't stop to help at times where there's less activity (less crowded streets) specially at night/dawn (not to mention in some cases the criminals themselves set up traps like this pretending to be injured and having some partner in hiding).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well said, but I do not believe it to be apathy. It is more of a cost/benefit analysis. Let me provide my thoughts as to how this works out.

    Mr. Good works and earns 100k per year for his wife and 3 kiddos. He witnesses an illegal event. Does not matter if the offense was from the government thugs or non government thugs. Said thugs apply just enough pressure to keep him quite. They don't even have to say anything because their reputation proceeds them and Mr. Good gets the idea. Shut up and keep looking and help your family not the person that got screwed because you might get the thugs negative attention on you.

    Lets expand that to a more common theme... most honest hard working Americans do not have the time to spot check everything their crappy elected do.

    Mr. Good in this scenario only makes 30k per year struggling to make end mean for his wife and 3 kids. He certainly cannot afford even a verifiable false claim from a corrupt police officer or government official.

    People are under intense pressure to not buck the system and play by their dirty rules or else. We have to wait until enough good people are burned by it so that they are fed up enough to take action. Sadly one it reaches this point only bloodshed results, but evil wants it to be that bad to make good guys hesitate as much as humanly possible so that they can keep their power.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 11:53am

    Sure, he is now "off" of the NCLR list...

    but I bet he is still on the secret Terrorist Watch List/No Fly List, for having a backpack confiscated from him of "possible chemical bomb making materials".

    No need for him to worry thought, until he tries to get off said list. Should only take around 10 years, if he is lucky.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Lurker Keith, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 12:56pm

    avoid leaving fingerprints

    While I'm at certain stores, looking for items related to one of my hobbies, I, more often that I should, come across something that's visibly either broken, missing parts or the wrong item (ie. someone swapped the contents & the employees are too stupid to notice) & I report them to Customer Service. I do my best not to leave fingerprints, just in case they call the police to investigate, due to the chance it could come back to haunt me.

    A few times, I've seen the item already back on the shelf before I leave. *facepalm*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    AzureSky (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 12:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    i sure as hell wouldnt stop, not with the risk of being sued/blamed, i wouldnt even call the cops, because that also puts you at risk of being blamed.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Lurker Keith, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 2:16pm

    Re: avoid leaving fingerprints

    than*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2014 @ 2:28pm

    This is why the general public needs free access to drones! Self defense from our government, they really are the bad guys.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 3:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I would absolutely stop and render whatever assistance I could, damn the consequences. In fact, I have. I think it falls under the heading of "basic human decency".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Atkray (profile), Mar 17th, 2014 @ 8:21pm

    New head for the FBI

    Eric Neubauer. The guy went out of his way to fix this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Sunhawk (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Re:

    This, many times this. Any list of "people that've done/might do bad things" needs to have:

    1) Clear criteria for how an individual is added to the list

    This one is usually given some attention, but it mostly comes down to a lazy "someone with authority fills out this form", which is not sufficient.

    2) A straightforward process to remove an individual from the list.

    "Wah," some might cry, "that would mean a terrorist/meth maker/etc would be able to get themselves scott-free". So? They're going to find themselves on it again soon enough... and they've (as a possibility) sworn under penalty of perjury that one or more of the criteria is incorrect. That gives another felony charge to level at them.

    3) A mechanism for someone to find out if they're on the list.

    *Especially* if being on the list measurably impacts the individual's life. Making them unable to sell their home, for example, or being not permitted to fly.

    4) Sufficient information attached to that entry of the list for someone to make the "on list/off list" decision again.

    This is perhaps the most important, and should come with some random spot-checks on entries (if the list is large enough that one person can't periodically validate them). Having an attached report (because surely someone's life shouldn't be able to be ruined by a form with a couple of check-boxes and a signature) allows the possessing agency to respond to challenges to the list efficiently.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Sunhawk (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    Re:

    I favor constant records, myself.

    Heck, combine the two - I have a drone following me with a camera and a directional mic that streams the results to a remote server.

    Heh... I had a thought. A shirt with the phrase "any verbal interaction may be monitored for quality assurance" on it. It'd be rather provoking, though; not the best of ideas.

    However, it might fulfill any notification requirements for one-party consent recording...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 3:54pm

    Re: give 'em the ol' Richard Jewell treatment

    Wow, I just googled Richard Jewell, that guy got boned :(

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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