SWAT teams claim to be private corporations, immune from open records laws

As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.

By Radley Balko – Washington Post –

You’re Either a Cop, or Little People: The American Police State

“You’re either a cop or little people.”—Police captain Harry Bryant in Blade Runner –

For those of us who have managed to survive 2014 with our lives intact and our freedoms hanging by a thread, it has been a year of crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.

We’ve been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.

As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’ve had our freedoms turned inside out, our democratic structure flipped upside down, and our house of cards left in a shambles.

We’ve had our children burned by flashbang grenades, our dogs shot, and our old folks hospitalized after “accidental” encounters with marauding SWAT teams. We’ve been told that as citizens we have no rights within 100 miles of our own border, now considered “Constitution-free zones.” We’ve had our faces filed in government databases, our biometrics crosschecked against criminal databanks, and our consumerist tendencies catalogued for future marketing overtures.

We’ve been given the runaround on government wrongdoing, starting with President Obama’s claim that the National Security Agency has never abused its power to spy on Americans’ phone calls and emails. All the while, the NSA has been racing to build a supercomputer that could break through “every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.” Despite the fact that the NSA’s domestic surveillance program has been shown to be ineffective at preventing acts of terrorism, the agency continues to vacuum up almost 200 million text messages a day.

We’ve seen the police transformed from community peacekeepers to point guards for the militarized corporate state. From Boston to Ferguson and every point in between, police have pushed around, prodded, poked, probed, scanned, shot and intimidated the very individuals—we the taxpayers—whose rights they were hired to safeguard. Networked together through fusion centers, police have surreptitiously spied on our activities and snooped on our communications, using hi-tech devices provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

We’ve been deemed suspicious for engaging in such dubious activities as talking too long on a cell phone and stretching too long before jogging, dubbed extremists and terrorists for criticizing the government and suggesting it is tyrannical or oppressive, and subjected to forced colonoscopies and anal probes for allegedly rolling through a stop sign.

We’ve been arrested for all manner of “crimes” that never used to be considered criminal, let alone uncommon or unlawful, behavior: letting our kids walk to the playground alone, giving loose change to a homeless man, feeding the hungry, and living off the grid.

We’ve been sodomized, victimized, jeopardized, demoralized, traumatized, stigmatized, vandalized, demonized, polarized and terrorized, often without having done anything to justify such treatment. Blame it on a government mindset that renders us guilty before we’ve even been charged, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing. In this way, law-abiding individuals have had their homes mistakenly raided by SWAT teams that got the address wrong. One accountant found himself at the center of a misguided police standoff after surveillance devices confused his license plate with that of a drug felon.

We’ve been railroaded into believing that our votes count, that we live in a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy, politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics—green.

By John W. Whitehead – A Nation Beguiled –

Parents owe $1million in hospital bills after toddler disfigured by SWAT raid

The parents of a toddler who was left disfigured after being hit with a stun-gun grenade in a botched drug raid while he slept in his crib are speaking out after a grand jury decided not to bring up charges in the heartbreaking case.

Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh’s youngest son Bounkham Jr, called ‘Bou Bou’, was just 18-months-old when a SWAT team burst through his bedroom and threw a flash-bang device at his sleeper crib, in the hunt to find a drug-dealing cousin who didn’t even live there.

Now, after several surgeries to address the boy’s serious injuries, the family is left with over $1million in medical bills that the county has refused to pay.

Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh’s youngest son Bounkham Jr, called ‘Bou Bou’, was just 18-months-old when a SWAT team burst through his bedroom and threw a flash-bang device at his sleeper crib, in the hunt to find a drug-dealing cousin who didn’t even live there.

Now, after several surgeries to address the boy’s serious injuries, the family is left with over $1million in medical bills that the county has refused to pay.

‘Before this we didn’t owe anybody anything,’ Mrs Phonesavanh recently told ABC News. ‘And now after all this, they have completely financially crippled us.’

And that wasn’t the only tragedy the family experienced last year.

The Phonesavanhs and their four children were only in Georgia because their house in Janesville, Wisconsin burned down that spring, leaving them homeless.

They moved in with Bounkham’s sister in Cornelia, Georgia while looking for a new home back in Wisconsin, all crammed into the garage, converted into a bedroom.

They had just found a new home and were planning to move back to Wisconsin when the SWAT raid happened in the early hours of May 28.

By Ashley Collman – MailOnline –

Local Governments Prohibiting “Off-the-Grid” Living in Florida

From IndieGoGo.com –

Currently, statutes and ordinances make it illegal to disconnect a Florida home from local utilities. Last year, those laws were used to jail Cape Coral, Florida resident Robin Speronis for five weeks, including two weeks in solitary confinement. Her crimes? Collecting rainwater and using solar power to meet her daily utilities needs. Speronis’ story has made international headlines.

We are funding a grassroots ballot initiative to help Florida voters amend their state’s constitution during the Fall 2016 elections…. Contributions will be used to collect the tens of thousands of signatures required to place our amendment on the 2016 ballot. In addition, we will hire attorneys to prepare for mandatory legal proceedings before the Florida Supreme Court. Contribute to this campaign if you agree that individuals should have the right to select reasonable alternatives to monopolized local utilities services.

You may think such bullying could never occur where you live. Unfortunately, it probably already has. Last year in Texas, for example, S.W.A.T. teams were deployed to the peaceful Garden of Eden Community as a Gestapo-style intimidation tactic. Officers arrested only one individual, based on unrelated traffic tickets, and issued a handful of citations for city code infractions. Officials found absolutely no drug-related violations, and all inhabitants of the community were unarmed.

Each of the community members present in the group’s house were initially handcuffed at gunpoint by heavily armed S.W.A.T. officers. This included the mother of a toddler and a two-week old baby. As part of the raid, many of the community’s edible crops were destroyed. Officers removed a variety of materials the community had planned to use in sustainability projects.

Garden of Eden is a sustainable community which lives outside of the confines of the ‘average lifestyle.’ The community believes in coming together to produce the basic necessities of life, and members support one another through each step. They grow their own food and live quietly. Since 2009, the group has been providing food, shelter and sustainability education classes to the public for free.

 
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