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October 10, 2006 - Daily Camera (Boulder, CO)

OpEd: Law Enforcement Is Awry

By Eli B. Wilson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

In the past two months since the tasing death of my nephew, Ryan Michael Wilson, the actions of the law-enforcement community in its efforts to deal with suspected drug offenses have boggled my mind. As citizens of Boulder County, you should be concerned as well.

Your law enforcement officials seem to have no established, consistent method of engaging drug suspects. I will outline three notable incidents which have occurred within just the last 60 days. Pay attention. Your loved one or someone you know might be the subject of a future news event just like these.

Aug. 4. After receiving an anonymous tip, two Boulder County Drug Task Force officers immediately dispatch to a field to stake-out a marijuana-growing operation consisting of 12 to 14 small pot plants. They did not pull up and seize the plants. Instead of immediately taking care of the problem and moving on to the next big caper, they chose to lay in wait to confront Ryan.

Ryan chose to run. The officers gave chase bound and determined to get their man, anything less would have been an insult to their machismo. Officers did not produce K-9s, they did not produce a chopper, they would not be satisfied with simply destroying the plants.

But they did manage to have Officer John Harris from the Lafayette Police Department head Ryan off at the pass. After chasing him for half a mile and shooting him like a prairie dog along a fence line with a Taser, Ryan died. He flat-lined after the initial shock.

It has never been reported that Ryan brandished a weapon. He wasn't under the influence of drugs. He was not a violent offender and posed no risk to the public at large. The Task Force got their man. Officer Harris got his prey. Ryan's family gets a box of cremains, and Chief Schultz hasn't the professional decency or compassion to return an e-mail from Ryan's family.

Sept. 6. The Boulder County Drug Task Force enters a home on Sir Galahad Drive in Lafayette and discovers a meth production lab. How did they discover it? For several days prior to the task force's taking action, they were repeatedly contacted by neighbors of the meth lab. One neighbor, in fact, had gathered more intel of suspected buyers than the task force did in the days prior to their arrival at the house.

There were several tips made to the task force before they chose to take action. There were explosive chemicals so noxious that task force agents had to wear protective hazmat style suits. There was an immediate risk of explosion and/or loss of life. Yet it took Cmdr. Steve Prentup's crew several days to act on the tips they were given. Perhaps the task force was too busy getting their stories straight about their agents' actions during the Wilson death to respond promptly to the meth lab?

Sept 25. Boulder City Councilman Richard Polk is pulled over for following too close and for straddling traffic lanes while driving. The interior of his car had a strong smell of marijuana.

What happens in Boulder to a councilman who tries to use his position to wiggle out of an arrest, appears to be high and is posing as a danger to others' well-being on the road? He's ticketed for driving under the influence of drugs and for failing to provide proof of insurance.

Not only was he given a pass on spending the night in jail, casually allowed to leave and take a taxi home, but Boulder Police were kind enough to take and park Councilman Polk's car behind his Pearl Street shop rather than have it towed and impounded! How considerate of Boulder's finest. Did Mr. Polk have to pay extra for valet service?

Boulder County has a problem, a serious problem, because of the way they inconsistently deal with crime. This is not supposition on my part; this is reported fact. The evidence can be seen by simply reading local newspapers. The national media have taken shots at Boulder County ever since the Ramsey case broke back in'96, and more recently with Mary Lacy's handling of John Karr. Based on the three incidents listed above, criticism is well deserved.

Chiefs of police must be held accountable for the actions of their officers and for the way their officers conduct business. When police chiefs answer to city government because their positions are appointed rather than elected, city councilmen and mayors need to be held responsible for their chiefs of police.

Killing a running suspect, to knowingly allow a meth lab to conduct business as usual for several days while lives of the public are at risk and allowing a police officer to give a "get out of jail free" card to a city councilman and valet-park his car rather than impounding it are all reprehensible, unacceptable and in my opinion contrary to any police officer's pledge or oath of office to uphold the law and the Constitution without prejudice.

Cmdr. Steve Prentup of the Boulder County Drug Task Force, Chief Paul Schultz of the Lafayette Police Department and Chief Mark Beckner of the Boulder Police -- each of you needs to clean up the way your department operates, or tender your resignations so someone else who is capable of effectively protecting and serving in a consistent manner can move your departments forward.

Within the last 60 days, it has been reported that three law-enforcement jurisdictions have taken steps to revise their standards on use of weaponry and arrest protocols, which in itself is acknowledgment that problems exist. Mayors, councilmen, citizens of Boulder County, it's time to make a few changes in your personnel.

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