At Big Thicket National Preserve, a Combative Drug Dealer Changes His Mind When Ranger Stafford Shows Him His Taser

Model X26 Taser making an electrical arc between its two electrodes.
Taser photo via Wikipedia.

On Tuesday, September 2, Big Thicket National Preserve rangers Josh Clemons and Johnny Stafford were in a day use area conducting an assessment of possible hurricane damage (remember Hurricane Gustav?) when they came upon five men and a women doing a drug transaction. One of the men tried to resist arrest, but abruptly quit struggling with Clemmons when he got a look at the Taser that Stafford was holding.

Ranger Stafford had removed the Taser’s cartridge, which powers the two dart-like electrodes that deliver the powerful electroshock for which the Taser is famous. He only displayed the spark, which was quite enough to convince the perp that it just wasn’t his day. He quit struggling and submitted to handcuffing.

While frisking the group the rangers found a number of bags of marijuana and Vicodin pills. Charges are pending for possession, distribution, and resisting arrest.

Comments

I, too, read about this in the Morning Report. The report lists "a number of bags of marijuana and Vicodin pills", but doesn't specify how much. My reaction upon reading the story was, "What a waste of federal time and money." The war on drugs is the older cousin of the war on terror. Wars against ideologies or addictions can't be won. Looks like there might be another "five men and a women" in our already overcrowded jails with as many as 50% of the incarcerated there for drug-related charges. What a waste of money!

Frank--

I tend to agree with you that our "war on drugs" is not winnable and, therefore, the country needs to devise a different strategy. But, until that new strategy is in place, law enforcement people like the rangers involved here can't just walk away from an incident. The topic, however, is so toxic that no politician will ever be the first to propose a new approach. It will have to come from us, the voters.

Rick Smith

Police used to walk away from all kinds of penny ante stuff, maybe by giving a warning or throwing the illegal contraband into a nearby creek and telling the miscreants to beat it. That happened to me in college and the point was well taken and indeed quite powerful without the need to ruin my life and plunder my savings.

There are all kinds of ways to achieve positive results short of putting someone into the penal system for minor victimless infractions but invariably the modern cop is welded to the use of handcuffs, tasers and immediate incarceration.

The prison industry is very large and growing in our country and every drug user that is put behind bars means more government payroll jobs. Meanwhile I can buy a case of Johnny Walker Red from the government and the man behind the counter doesn't even blink as I load the dangerous poison into my trunk. They got their cut why should they care?

Beamis, I agree with the general thrust of your argument, but I take issue with two specifics. First, Johnny Walker Red is cheap and popular (the world's best selling whiskey), but you really should expand your horizons and develop your sophisticated side. Try a couple of bottles of JW Black Label (but not on the same day). Secondly, dealing in illicit drugs is not a victimless crime. That said, I believe that the war on drugs has been lost, and I share your disgust with the continuing massive waste of law enforcement resources. BTW, I have three close relatives in law enforcement, including both of my brothers.

If all drugs were legal there would be no violence associated with their purchase and use. I know that irks many people who are champions of the nanny state and want every aspect of human behavior controlled and regulated by government but the truth of the matter is that the prohibition of alcohol unleashed the greatest wave of organized criminality in U.S. history. Once it was repealed the violence and crime ended almost immediately. The same is true of so called "illicit" drugs, take away the heavy hand of prohibition and the violence and crime will subside as well.

It is not the business of the government to determine what I want to put into my body. Not now, not ever! I think Wal-Mart should sell marijuana seed packs in the spring right along with tomato, corn and asparagus. If I want to buy cocaine tablets in the pharmacy section that should be my right. If I want to take ephedra for a cold it should not concern Big Brother one iota. The drug war is a very efficient way to keep the criminal cartels in business and the law enforcement establishment fat and happy. In that way and in no other the War on Drugs has been a smashing success.

I've got the answer to all the park service's woes, but I bet you won't like it........

Legalize pot. Have the government not only subsidize the growers like they do the tobacco industry, put use the same taxation formula for pot products. The immediate impact would be measured in the BILLIONS of dollars annually. Any and all revenues generated get funneled directly to the NPS, including "user fees" collected from pot growers sponsorship of NASCAR, MLB, NFL and especially the NBA. Advertise it everywhere and the proceeds from billboard, print and internet ads also go to bail out the parks. Within 24 months, all the maintenance backlog is eliminated, and the windfall of excess funds can be utilized to purchase additional lands, hire and retain a higher quality of employee, market the product, whatever floats your boat. As an added bonus, you simultaneously put the screws to the cartels in Mexico, and somewhat the same in Columbia. It serves to free up jail space, court backlogs, and the current waste of time spend by law enforcement across the nation, saving additional countless millions of dollars and man hours, thereby making each more efficient in their daily operations.

Practical, yes. Doable? Again, yes. Chances of it actually happening in our lifetimes? ZERO.

Lone Hiker, I already made this suggestion on NPT long ago, and Beamis disagreed. At the time, I thought taxation and regulation would be a great revenue stream to help the parks. But then I realized, even in the remote chance of that passing, there would be so much parasitism around the revenue that it would not be worth it. First, a federal bureaucracy would need to be established, or maybe the ATF could become the ATFC (adding "C" for "cannabis"). Either way, more bureaucrats will need to be hired to come up with rules, regulations (can't buy it on a Sunday! No sir-e-bub, not on the "Lord's Day"!), enforcement, etc, etc, until the amount of taxes being collected from regulation increases as the bloated bureaucracy clamors for more food--er, I mean taxes--to try to satiate its leviathan appetite for growth and management.

After months of study and investigation, I see what would happen under regulation. Take tobacco. I was in a Kansas City laundry mat (don't ask) when a guy ran out of the adjacent convenience/liquor store with armfuls of cigarette cases. The market price for tobacco is probably pretty low, but the government has stepped in with taxes, pricing the lower income brackets out of the market and forcing them to crime to sustain their medical condition (addiction). How would regulating (taxing) Mary Jane be any different?

I do appreciate Rick's input and find that we have much in common. However, I side with Beamis about enforcement. Make people break their bowls, take their stashes (and smoke it later around the campfire), and tell them not to deal in the park again. That's enough punishment until freedom of choice can be restored.

I agree that it is most assuredly not a victimless crime. The substance abUSERS are not the only ones that hit rock bottom. Before that happens, families are ravaged. Abusers get high, get into debt (max out [cash advances, too] credit cards off the charts), empty bank accounts, come close to or actually lose jobs, lie, steal & whatever it takes. Then they have black outs & don't remember anything. Although rehab is a good thing, it doesn't help all habitual substance abusers. If not for the grace of God, families would be torn apart irrepairably. They come to the point of total brokenness. Only by a miracle through Jesus, the substance abuser's delivered from drugs, forgiven & redeemed:-D And the family restored!!! However, the consequences are still there. Day by day with the help of God, one doesn't simply exist but lives a full life. "The thief comes to steal, kill & destroy but Jesus came to give us a full life." John 10:10 That is reality...practical, doable & happening in our lifetime ( & eternity). Trust me, there couldn't be a better high than the abundant life;-) Sincerely,

The only way to assure that all people who commit crimes are treated equally during their encounters with law enforcement is for law enforcement officers to treat all of them as prescribed by policy - in this case arrest, in other cases citation. A policy that "you can throw away the drugs/paraphernalia instead of writing a cite if you feel like it" would tend to lead to officers picking and choosing how the people they encounter are treated. That could lead, even unconsciously, to discrimination. Thus, whether or not you like drug laws, the actions on the part of these officers was correct.

And I'm glad to hear that Big Thick has tasers now. It's a place that needs them.

While we're quoting the Bible,

"And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed." Genesis 1:29

Some scholars have suggested that Jesus healed using cannabis.

At any rate, at the risk of sounding like a NORML commercial, were the use of natural substance, such as cannabis, not prohibited under law, the cost of said substance would be low, or even free if grown at home, and there would be no "credit card" debt and all that other nonsense. (People would also stop growing it in parks.)

If you think your religion prohibits adults from deciding what to do with their body, that's fine. Just don't try to control (using governmental force) what other adults decide to do with, to, or for their own bodies.

As far as discrimination, wouldn't it be nice if each instance was treated as a unique situation rather than a one-size-fits-all mandate? I mean, doesn't it make sense to overlook someone passing off a bag of herbs and focusing on storm damage instead? Maybe someday...when freedom of choice has been restored.

PS

And speaking of double standards and "discrimination":
Denver Advisory Panel Recommends No Arrests of Marijuana Smokers During Democratic Convention

If it works for the dems, can't it work for the NPS?

These 5 male and 1 female "perps" (buncha local kids?) could have been dangling their bodies over a precipice, risking injury & death ... and putting others at risk and costing the public money attempting to rescue them ... and that would have been 'approved recreation'.

So they're gonna share a bag of weed, and the Rangers abandon their storm-damage assessement duties and go for a little Dirty Harry side-excitement? Got it.

Actually, the 2 Rangers obviously need a refresher course in basic law enforcement. There were 6 suspects, one Ranger is grappling with a 'man', and the other Ranger has only a disabled Taser to back him up. Not very professional ... but all too typical of Park 'law enforcement'.

Good cops read the situation better than these guys did ... and make a call to HQ when they (obviously) aren't ready to deal with it.

This incident reads more like Barney Fife gettin' the low-down on Mayberry.

Gee, Ted, you must have been on the scene to be able judge the actions of the 5 individuals and the 2 rangers. And, you even have a solution for the rangers involved--a refresher course. Come on, since you weren't there, let's leave the prescriptions for more training and the snide remarks out of NPT.

Rick Smith

Rick Smith,

Perhaps you overestimate the difficulty of assessing a law enforcement context.

There are easily enough facts in view in this case, to see that the interdiction was probably unprofessional to the point of being "amateurish".

The original post itself sets the snide & facetious tone, Rick (read it again) ... and I see you are happy enough to try your own hand. Nothing says that NPT has to be totally stuffed & humorless at all times.

This looks like a 'human interest' piece to me ... and I think it does NPT good.

Ted Clayton:

I do think you are listing over a little bit on these comments of yours. I did re-read the original post, and read it again, and don't think the facetious tone is there as you suggest.

Do find opportunities for humor, and NPT should not be and is not humorless. Plus, I am as concerned about irrational drug laws as anyone. And I am not impressed if the policy at a park is to focus on personal-quantity-drug-busts, to the neglect the primary mission of protecting the resources and the public. (I have seen upside down priorities among law enforcement officers in parks.)

But the fact is if a law enforcement officer walks into the middle of a drug transaction, and -- dig this -- finds "several bags" (not as you imply just the personal quantities of "weed" as you say) he must act on it. Imagine the reaction if law enforcement officers were removing substantial quantities of drugs, releasing the offending parties, and then not reporting the confiscated drugs. Many would wonder if the officer kept the drugs for himself. No?

That is what it means to be a professional. And yes, discretion and judgement is one of the jobs of the law enforcement officer. But I think the real complaint here reflected in this thread is the law itself.

So the drugs were not the subject of facetiousness, but perhaps if you have an attitude about the appropriateness of tasers, the tasers part of it, I guess you or the author may be holding that part of the story up to the light. Without being explicit. But even if so, this ranger did not actually use the taser, which seems to me again to possibly be good judgement, and the appropriate reaction.

Citizens are responsible for governing our legislators and the laws they pass, not the law enforcement officer. If we don't like the laws, the citizens have to give the cover to the elected officials they need to change the laws.

In this case, it is hard to see how Rick Smith could be wrong: we should trust the discretion of the arresting officers in this case. It does not seem there was an inappropriate use of force. It seems the arrest met 4th Amendment standards: there seemed to be probable cause and illegal substances in some commercial quantity were discovered.

If the US Attorney or the Court decides that the commercial quantities involved were too small to justify an expensive prosecution, they often drop the case or permit a guilty plea at a lesser charge. That would stlll be the lesson Beamis seeks, without full prosecution. Although, yes, at more expense of money and time than just letting them walk in the first place. But an individual officer seemed to make a legitimate judgement that he could not ignore a drug transactions of commercial quantities, and in such a case must make an arrest.

I've never heard of a pot-head maxing out credit cards and ravaging bank accounts to support their habit. Crack, coke, junk, PCP, meth, even opiates, yes. But you can't smoke enough pot to clear out your bank account or credit line, unless you have a $500 limit. You'll go broke faster due to alcoholism that due to weed.

Cigarette black markets have existed for years, especially in the prison system and states bordering Indiana. Partisanism is also nothing new. Creation of ANOTHER federal overlord? Not at all required, it already exists. (Hint: three letters......F...D...A) Our government already controls the market price of tobacco by taxation, on the national, state, city, county and local levels. The layering of taxes on tobacco, and alcohol for that matter, is enough to make you ill. How would taxing pot be any different you ask? Absolutely not at all, which is the total intent. The profits derived from sales of such products are what are funneled to the government, and in this example, the source of funding directed to the NPS. The higher the taxes the better as far as I'm concerned. Why turn a blind eye to a ready-made source of income?

I started lobbying for this on the local, state and federal levels with representatives of my own state back in the 80's. Not surprisingly, I was almost immediately targeted for investigation on a variety of levels. Pissed them off when they didn't find anything to charge me with, although I was certain some bogus allegations would surface. Anyway, I stand not to profit from this endeavor, nor do I sanction public displays of usage. But there are laws already in place to safe-guard things "between consenting adults" and other issues that occur "on private property", or in the "confines of one's residence". I really don't see where this legalization would be detrimental to society, and if by chance some good were to be able to be harnessed from this movement, I'm all for it.

I've never heard of a pot-head maxing out credit cards and ravaging bank accounts to support their habit. Crack, coke, junk, PCP, meth, even opiates, yes. But you can't smoke enough pot to clear out your bank account or credit line, unless you have a $500 limit. You'll go broke faster due to alcoholism that due to weed.

Cigarette black markets have existed for years, especially in the prison system and states bordering Indiana. Partisanism is also nothing new. Creation of ANOTHER federal overlord? Not at all required, it already exists. (Hint: three letters......F...D...A) Our government already controls the market price of tobacco by taxation, on the national, state, city, county and local levels. The layering of taxes on tobacco, and alcohol for that matter, is enough to make you ill. How would taxing pot be any different you ask? Absolutely not at all, which is the total intent. The profits derived from sales of such products are what are funneled to the government, and in this example, the source of funding directed to the NPS. The higher the taxes the better as far as I'm concerned. Why turn a blind eye to a ready-made source of income?

I started lobbying for this on the local, state and federal levels with representatives of my own state back in the 80's. Not surprisingly, I was almost immediately targeted for investigation on a variety of levels. Pissed them off when they didn't find anything to charge me with, although I was certain some bogus allegations would surface. Anyway, I stand not to profit from this endeavor, nor do I sanction public displays of usage. But there are laws already in place to safe-guard things "between consenting adults" and other issues that occur "on private property", or in the "confines of one's residence". I really don't see where this legalization would be detrimental to society, and if by chance some good were to be able to be harnessed from this movement, I'm all for it.

d-2,

Bob Janiskee has recently conspicuously reveled in "satire", even at the risk (in fact, "cost") of flak from the relatively clueless and overly stiff among his readership. He continues to hone his literary artistry, in this very post.

Bob describes how one Ranger made gestures;

"... to convince the perp that it just wasn’t his day."

This, d-2 et al, is an "Allusion" to the famous line "Go ahead, punk; make my day" used by snarled by the Dirty Harry character played by Clint Eastwood, and this literary device is the centerpiece of Bob's post.

The very title of Bob's post contains the 'tongue in cheek' phrase, "... Shows Him His Taser". Law officers do not deal with unruly suspects by "showing" a weapon. The carrying & deployment of weapons by officers is a matter of specific protocol. One does not (professionally) pull a weapon and indicate to an opponent, 'See? I have a weapon...'. Bob further reinforces this dramatic device in the body of his post.

Indeed, Bob Janiskee did set a facetious & witty tone in his original post.

Lastly, it is categorically improper for law enforcement to expose themselves to a context that might require the use of a disabled weapon. The Ranger who deployed the taser knew the cartridge had been removed and the weapon was incapacitated. Furthermore, good officers are indeed expected to evaluate a situation and modulate their response to events in view of the facts. Calling for reinforcement or to check with Headquarters for guidance is the mark of good training.

These two Rangers managed to make the arrest, but I expect the debriefing was not all pats on the back & attaboys. Not if someone in the local unit is an actual professional.

Just a point of clarification here. Removing the cartridge from a Taser doesn't incapacitate it. The sole function of the cartridge -- a container of compressed nitrogen -- is to allow the Taser to fire the two electrodes through the air (about 21 feet, I'm told) so the officer doesn't need to get dangerously close to the individual being subdued. With the cartridge removed, you can still press the electrodes against an individual and get the desired effect. I asked a police chief of my acquaintance if a Taser with the cartridge removed was a potent device for subduing somebody. He replied, and this is a direct quote: "Oh, yes indeedy."

I don't think legalizing marijuana will make problems go away any more than currently legal alcohol has reduced drunk driving deaths and alcoholism.

Also, there is a difference between an officer tossing some kid's joint into the creek, and letting 5 individuals with large amounts of weed and pills waltz off into the woods to live happily ever after.

What an ingenious thing to do! It looks like we don't need sophisticated techniques to compete with drug dealers, they can be tricked just like little kids. If only this would be true in all cases perhaps my little brother wouldn't be now in a drug treatment center recovering from drug addiction.

I think the main topic of the story has only been briefly touched on. These offenders were on National park service property, property that tax payers pay for in order to hike, canoe and share time at the beach with their family and friends. Law Enforcement rangers make sure that the park remains a place where people want to bring their families. Individuals doing drugs are not part of this plan. Meth addicts that have pitched a tent on the NP beach and are consuming are not part of the plan. Groups of canoeists that break and sink thousands of bottles a year in the river are not part of the plan. They would take over these tax payer properties if it were not for LE rangers. Severely underfunded and understaffed, park rangers deal with a lot and don't always get the support they need from state and local enforcement. Someone replied they should have called headquarters for backup. Well, guess what, there is no backup, so when a drug user starts struggling with the ranger, he's lucky the ranger had a cool head and used deceit rather than force.

Brandon -

Well said!

Most readers of this site have never been to the Big Thicket, and it's therefore hard for them to grasp the difficult situation rangers there often face. Many parks have similar issues with inadequate staff and backup for rangers, but they seem to be amplified at the Thicket for a lot of reasons related to the local culture and the surprisingly remote nature of much of the park.