Law Enforcement Overkill in Carroll

September 08, 1992

Carroll County's narcotics task force made a major blunder when it staged a massive raid at the Westminster residence of Pamela S. Davis last May. Each new turn in the case makes the county law enforcement officials look worse.

Given that charges have been dropped against two of the four defendants and that District Court Judge Donald M. Smith ruled major pieces of evidence are inadmissible, one wonders why this case is being prosecuted.

The episode started earlier this year when the Carroll County drug task force received information from a United Parcel HTC Service security officer in Southern California that a small package addressed to Ms. Davis' clothing business, Terrapin Station, contained 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Based on this information, the task force obtained a search warrant from Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr.

On May 7, a task force officer -- disguised as a UPS employee -- delivered the package to Ms. Davis at her Westminster home. Once she signed for the package, members of the task force raided her home, ransacked the premises and found one ounce of marijuana and a water pipe.

Using the state's drug forfeiture law, the task force members also seized business records and $40,000 in computer equipment, which Ms. Davis uses in her Guatemalan clothing and accessory import business. The Carroll County task force returned the businesses records and computers shortly after Ms. Davis filed a civil suit seeking $100,000 in damages.

Judge Smith's ruling forced the local state's attorney's office to drop the misdemeanor drug charges against two of the occupants in the Westminster house on Humbert School House Road. Ms. Davis and her brother still face felony drug possession and distribution charges, but it would appear that case is built solely around the UPS package, which contained barely enough marijuana for a dozen joints.

Drugs are a scourge that should be wiped out, but this case is troubling because the task force seems to have paid little attention to civil liberties. Its search warrant was defective. It abused the drug forfeiture law. And now it seems intent on prosecuting this case as if it involved major drug traffickers.

The county's narcotics task force is using overkill. Possession and use of marijuana is illegal and should indeed be punished, but the narcotics task force's heavy-handed tactics and zealous efforts to prosecute relatively minor offenders weaken its authority and lessen its credibility in Carroll County.

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