Speed Reads

drug war fail

The DEA is making raids look like robberies — with really dangerous consequences for innocent people

The Drug Enforcement Administration likes to use something called a "sneak-and-peek warrant," a search warrant that allows agents to enter and search a property without notifying the owner as a normal warrant would require. Officers operating on a sneak-and-peek (officially, a Delayed Notice Warrant) typically aren't allowed to take any evidence they find on-site — but they do frequently trash the place, faking a burglary to explain their break-in.

Sneak-and-peek searches were authorized by the Patriot Act and, as is often the case with this law's provisions, quickly became more useful for the federal drug war. But the trouble with fake-robbing people is it can lead to unintended, dangerous consequences, like those experienced by an Oregon storage locker manager named Shawn Riley.

In December, The Oregonian reports, Riley was tied up and held at gunpoint by alleged drug traffickers who believed he'd stolen the cache of marijuana they'd stored at his facility. It turns out the DEA was the real culprit; agents had done a sneak-and-peek and confiscated 500 pounds of pot. "The danger of violence is obviously real, and this case makes it very evident," said Cleveland State criminal law professor Jonathan Witner-Rich, a warrants expert. "Someone could have been killed."

Marijuana is legal in Oregon, and the 500 pounds was allegedly set for transport to Texas. The DEA declined to comment to The Oregonian.