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Watch a Florida Cop Botch a Drug Field Test on Video, Then Arrest an Innocent Man

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Body camera footage obtained by Reason appears to show a now-fired Florida sheriff's deputy blatantly lying about the results of a roadside drug test during a traffic stop last year.

The video shows the April 17, 2018, traffic stop of Florida resident Steve Vann by former Jackson County Sheriff's deputy Zachary Wester. Vann was subsequently charged with possession of methamphetamines and paraphernalia as a result of the traffic stop, but state prosecutors later dropped those charges as part of a review of more than 250 cases that Wester was involved in since his hiring in 2016.

State prosecutors have dropped criminal charges in more than 100 cases involving Wester after body cam footage released last September showed the officer allegedly planting drugs in a car during another traffic stop. A Florida judge also vacated the sentences of eight people whose convictions were based on evidence and testimony by Wester. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation into Wester, and several people have filed federal lawsuits against him.

In the body cam footage obtained by Reason of Vann's arrest last year, Wester searches Vann's truck after pulling him over for a traffic violation and appears to find a small plastic baggie in the vehicle's center console.

"Honesty is going to go a long way with me," Wester tells Vann, holding up the baggie. "Have you ever seen this before?"

"No, no what is that?" Vann says. "Where'd you get that?"

"The center console," Wester says as he walks back to his cruiser to perform a roadside test of the baggie for methamphetamines.

"There ain't no way, man," a distraught Vann says. "Oh my god, you gotta be fucking kidding me."

Wester then uses a Nark II field test for methamphetamines and MDMA. According to the manufacturer, the field test "will develop an IMMEDIATE (within 2 seconds) Dark Blue color as a positive reaction after breakage and agitation of the 3rd ampoule. If the color development is an immediate Pink slowly transforming to Lavender, you DO NOT have either Methamphetamine or MDMA."

Wester shakes the field test for about 10 seconds, checking it several times, but it remains red. Looking right at the small bag of pinkish red liquid, Wester then says "blue" and returns to Vann to tell him the substance tested presumptively positive for methamphetamines. The field test occurs at roughly the 3:45 mark in the video above.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Office confirmed to Reason that it uses the Nark II field test and that a positive result for methamphetamines should turn the solution blue.

Wester presses Vann to admit that he knew the meth was in his car, but Vann, breaking into tears at several points, continues to deny knowing where it came from. He appears confused and devastated throughout the exchange.

"I'm going to have to take your vehicle, too," Wester tells Vann. "Listen buddy, I don't think you're a bad guy."

At one point, at around 11 minutes 50 seconds into the footage, Wester drops some of Vann's personal effects into the trunk of his police cruiser, at which point he picks up the field test and looks at it again. It's still clearly red.

The Tallahassee Democrat first reported last September that local prosecutors were dropping dozens of cases involving Wester after body cam footage appeared to show him planting a small baggie of meth in a woman's car during a traffic stop.

The Democrat later published accounts by several other people who claimed they were framed by Wester during traffic stops. Before joining the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Wester was fired from his previous job at the Liberty County Sheriff's Office for for inappropriate relations with women, the newspaper reported.

In 2016, The New York Times reported that the $2 roadside field tests that Wester and countless other police officers around the country use to establish probable cause to arrest someone for drug possession are unreliable and easy to misinterpret:

There are no established error rates for the field tests, in part because their accuracy varies so widely depending on who is using them and how. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all. In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014. When we examined the department's records, they showed that officers, faced with somewhat ambiguous directions on the pouches, had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.

Such tests are not admissible evidence in court in most jurisdictions in the U.S. Instead, samples are sent to state forensic labs for verification.

Many of Wester's victims had prior criminal records for things like drug possession. They were, in other words, easy targets. No one would believe their word against a police officer's. If Wester hadn't been wearing a body cam, and if he hadn't of been sloppy enough to film his amateur sleight-of-hand attempts and lies, all of their charges would likely stand, and he would still be patrolling the streets.

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freeAgent
18 hours ago
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Los Angeles, CA
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T-Mobile executives repeatedly stayed at Trump hotel while pushing for merger approval

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As T-Mobile pushed for government approval for its merger with Sprint, company executives repeatedly stayed at a Trump hotel, according to a new report from The Washington Post. The stays raise questions about whether companies like T-Mobile are attempting to gain favor with the Trump administration through the president’s private business interests.

According to the Post, one day after announcing its proposed merger with Sprint, nine T-Mobile executives, including CEO John Legere, checked in to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. The Post reported that documents showed 38 nights of stays by company executives over about a dozen days last year, a figure that could be incomplete.

Legere was seen in...

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freeAgent
22 hours ago
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There is no way that was a coincidence.
Los Angeles, CA
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Google Play starts manually whitelisting SMS and phone apps

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Google Play starts manually whitelisting SMS and phone apps

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Google is implementing major new Play Store rules for how Android's "SMS" and "Call Log" permissions are used. New Play Store rules will only allow certain types of apps to request phone call logs and SMS permissions, and any apps that don't fit into Google's predetermined use cases will be removed from the Play Store. The policy was first announced in October, and the policy kicks in and the ban hammer starts falling on non-compliant apps this week.

In that October blog post, Google laid out its vision for SMS and phone permissions for Google Play apps, saying, "Only an app that has been selected as a user's default app for making calls or text messages will be able to access call logs and SMS, respectively." That statement also comes with a host of exceptions, some of which were added after communicating with members of the developer community, but the end result is still that SMS and phone permissions will be heavily policed on the Play Store.

Google says the decision to police these permissions was made to protect user privacy. SMS and phone permissions can give an app access to a user's contacts and everyone they've ever called, in addition to allowing the app to contact premium phone numbers that can charge money directly to the user's cellular bill. Despite the power of these permissions, a surprising number of apps ask for SMS or phone access because they have other, more benign use cases. So to clean up the Play Store, Google's current plan seems to be to (1) build more limited, replacement APIs for these benign use cases that don't offer access to so much user data and (2) kick everyone off the Play Store who is still using the wide-ranging SMS and phone permissions for these more limited use cases.

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freeAgent
22 hours ago
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Los Angeles, CA
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Ivanka might be an improvement

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Yes, yes, I know she is only running the interviewing process, but that is how Dick Cheney ended up as vice President.  Here is one excerpt from my Bloomberg column:

You might argue that Ivanka is not qualified to run the World Bank, and I might agree with you. (She would not be my personal pick; how about Carly Fiorina, Kristin J. Forbes or Arthur Brooks?) Yet consider that the previous president, Jim Yong Kim, was highly qualified on paper. He co-founded a famous foreign-aid public health group, has a Ph.D. in anthropology, was a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health and then president of Dartmouth. As an Asian-American, he had the potential to be a powerful symbol of multicultural governance.

Yet by most accounts his tenure at the bank was a failure. He alienated much of the staff, and his organizational changes (after first creating chaos and bad morale) were largely reversed.

Now he is leaving suddenly, years before his term is up, allowing Trump to appoint his replacement. Not only that, Kim is moving to a for-profit infrastructure firm, hardly the best symbolism for the leader of an institution that is supposed to be about helping the global poor.

The sad reality is this: If Ivanka took over the reins of the bank, she probably would be an improvement.

And she might not even use the word “and” so much.

The post Ivanka might be an improvement appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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freeAgent
22 hours ago
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Los Angeles, CA
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Atlas Brew Works' Beer Is About To Go Bad Thanks to the Shutdown

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Atlas Brew Works, based in Washington, D.C., wants to sell 40 kegs of its "The Precious One" craft beer while it is still fresh, some of them across state lines. The federal government, in a policy that should always have been constitutionally questionable, insists it must pre-approve any beer label that enters interstate commerce under the certificate of label approval (COLA) rule contained in the Federal Alcohol Administration Act.

Thanks to the ongoing federal government shutdown, the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is not processing or issuing such approvals. Atlas applied for approval for the keg labels for its apricot-infused seasonal IPA on December 20, but two days later, before the TTB took action, its funding ran out and it ceased issuing approvals, or COLAs.

Atlas sells its beers in both cans and kegs, and the TTB had already approved the label for the cans, but not yet for the kegs. Not being able to sell those kegs will cost the brewery at least $5,000, it claims, as the beer is perishable, with the costs increasing the longer the COLA threat hangs over its head with no legal means of getting label approvals for that beer and other beers it wants to sell. It can sell the beer in D.C. itself, but claims that there is no reasonable chance it can sell all of it there before some of it goes bad.

The Atlas Brew Works company is suing in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, seeking a temporary restraining order against the government enforcing the COLA rule against it.

As the motion for the restraining order argues, "Americans' fundamental right to free speech requires no Congressional authorization. The government can shut down free speech regulators. It cannot shut down the First Amendment."

Its beer labels are "a form of expression protected by the First Amendment" it insists, and cites previous cases in a separate complaint document in the case of Atlas Brew Works v. Whitaker that support this contention.

The filings, from civil rights lawyer Alan Gura who has succeeded in winning various prominent First and Second Amendment cases, say it should be obvious that "the government cannot simply prohibit beer labels as a category of speech.... Atlas and its customers are suffering irreparable harm in that the government violates their First Amendment rights every moment that Atlas is not free to label its products.... The government cannot require Atlas to obtain a license in order to speak—a license aggressively reviewed for content under rules mandating some statements and forbidding others...and then shutter the licensing office indefinitely."

Atlas should thus be able to sell its labeled beer without running the risk of misdemeanor prosecution, the suit argues.

Elsewhere in Reason: Eric Boehm wrote earlier this month on how the vital process of getting fine beers to a thirsty public during the shutdown was being unnecessarily halted by this ultimately unnecessary policy.

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freeAgent
22 hours ago
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One would think that with the government shut down, people would be able to exercise more of their "negative" rights. How can we credibly say that the government is "shut down" while still curtailing negative rights which I'd say are pretty pedestrian (like selling beer in large containers with labels on them across state lines)?
Los Angeles, CA
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L.A.’s New Sheriff Rehires Deputy Fired for Alleged Stalking, Abuse

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Sheriff Alex VillanuevaLos Angeles County's new sheriff made it a campaign point that he was going to be focusing on the rank-and-file and rooting out cronyism from the leadership of the department. So it may come as a surprise to quite a few folks that he has just reinstated a deputy and campaign supporter who had been fired for allegedly stalking and physically attacking his ex-girlfriend.

Maya Lau at the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who just took office in December, has hired back Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell (whom Villanueva defeated in November's election) for the alleged abusive behavior. Mandoyan's firing was upheld by a county appeals board.

The Times notes that Mandoyan's rehire is the only one of its type so far, but it certainly sends quite the message. Villanueva won't explain why he rehired the deputy, explaining in a statement that California's laws sealing police personnel records forbids doing so.

Prosecutors declined to file charges against Mandoyan, but the Times did get copies for an application for a restraining order the woman—a fellow deputy—had filed as well as a memo from the district attorney's office describing the case. The woman was photographed with bruises and provided video evidence of him trying to force his way into her home. Prosecutors determined, though, that they didn't have enough evidence to charge Mandoyan with a crime.

Mandoyan sued to get his job back but then dropped the suit last month after Villanueva was elected. Mandoyan was also part of Villanueva's campaign, and he was photographed by the Times participating in a swearing-in ceremony in December for new hires at the sheriff's department, holding the box of pins for the sheriff.

That this is how Villanueva chooses to move forward with his term as sheriff, after removing two officials from their jobs advising the department to make sure law enforcement officers are engaging in "constitutional policing," has some folks concerned. From the Times:

"I'm a little flabbergasted and shocked that we're now confronted with this kind of hiring policy," Patti Giggans, the chairwoman of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said of Mandoyan's reinstatement. "It's very disturbing. I think every commissioner will be very bothered by this."

Out with the old administration's cronyism, and in with the new? Villanueva's public campaigning focused a lot on pushing immigration officials out of Los Angeles' jails (McDonnell had allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff to maintain an office in there). But Villanueva also made it very clear that he believed deputies and those in lower ranks were being unfairly punished. He says he wants to potentially create some sort of commission to rehear the cases of deputies who believe they had been wronged in some fashion by the sheriff's department's disciplinary procedures. Villanueva claims that he had previously been unfairly targeted for discipline by department leadership for political reasons and denied promotions.

We may end up learning more about Mandoyan's case. With the start of the new year, new records about police conduct investigations are now covered by California's Public Records Act. The sheriff's department is supposed to release certain records about Mandoyan upon request, but there are limits and it's not quite clear whether they'd apply here. The law covers cases of sexual assault by law enforcement officers or where they are caught engaging in deception on the job (like perjury, or concealing or fabricating evidence). So an investigation on domestic violence or stalking might not fall under the new release rules. But the Times has submitted a public records request to see what they can get about Mandoyan's work history (similiarly, Reason has submitted a records request under the new rules for anything they have about Villanueva's history of discipline).

What's happening now should serve as a reminder of how hard it is to get rid of problem cops. But with these new public records laws, at least California residents can know who they are. Though law enforcement representatives are fighting to stop even that information from being released.

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freeAgent
23 hours ago
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So, one of the first things Villanueva did after assuming his office was to re-hire a known abuser. Nice work. I don't know how that plays in a county like LA...
Los Angeles, CA
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