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At Least 42% of Police-Sold Crack Gets to Users; Santa Ana, California Police Programs to Make and Sell Crack Under Attack


December 1994

The Orange County Public Defender's Office is seeking a dismissal of charges against more than 350 defendants who bought police-manufactured crack cocaine from undercover officers in reverse sting operations (Phil M. Gollner, "Defense Wants Crack Cases Killed," Orange County Register, Oct. 25, 1994, p. 1).

As was reported in the November issue of NewsBriefs, the Los Angeles Times discovered that the Santa Ana police department was secretly cooking seized powder cocaine into crack, selling it on the street, and then arresting the buyers. The practice was criticized by police groups and attorneys as dangerous. Several raised the question of whether cases against the buyers would hold up in court. (See "Santa Ana Police Make Crack to Use in Busts," NewsBriefs, Nov. 1994).

"The police conduct is so outrageous that it violates due process," said Deputy Public Defender Kevin Phillips of the Orange County Public Defender's Office. "Crack is highly addictive and has caused death."

Phillips told NewsBriefs on Dec. 19 that Santa Ana has suspended their reverse sting operations but is planning to resume them soon. He said that about 42% of the people who bought drugs from the undercover officers got away with the police-manufactured drugs. While the police are immune from prosecution for health and safety violations, Phillips questioned if they could be held accountable for a death resulting from ingestion of police-manufactured drugs. He said that the police do not have to use manufactured drugs at all to win convictions in the sting operations. Instead, he suggested the police use harmless look-alike substances or drugs seized in other busts.

The Los Angeles Police Department, hearing of Santa Ana's number of arrests, is proposing to open a similar program ("L.A. Police Consider Making Rock Cocaine," Orange County Register, Oct. 24, 1994, METRO p. 4).

"If the conventional methods aren't working, I believe we have the obligation to look at knocking out the problem in other ways," said Captain Bob Hansohn, who is pitching the program to L.A.P.D. Chief Willie Williams.

Phillips said that when the Los Angeles Times the story broke about Santa Ana's reverse sting operations, most of the defendants had already been processed through the system. Most of the people busted in the operation were first-time offenders and were diverted out of the criminal justice system. Phillips said that he wrote a generic motion to dismiss and an accompanying brief to be used in the defense of these clients, but to his knowledge it has not yet been used. The brief argues that reverse sting operations using manufactured crack violate due process. Phillips said he had not heard that the Los Angeles Police Department was considering making crack for use in reverse sting operations, but said he doubts Chief Williams would agree to such a plan.