Thursday, September 5, 2013

Drugs Hidden On Private Property

Joe Hamdan of Sierra Vista, AZ discovered a large amount of marijuana in the trunk of his car. In what appears to be a bold, new tactic, smugglers may have picked the lock to his trunk and placed it there. 

Mr. Hamdan is an honorably discharged, disabled veteran of the United States Army currently residing in Sierra Vista. Sierra Vista borders Fort Huachuca and is only a few miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border. The town is not far from Naco, AZ, a major trafficking lane used by drug cartels, human traffickers and sex slavers. Just a few miles more down the road, near Douglas, AZ, is the Krentz Ranch where Robert Krentz was assassinated by a drug cartel a few short years ago.

Hamdan noticed a strange smell in his car. His curiosity led him to inspect his trunk to find the smell's origin. He discovered six bundles of cut plants that he suspected to be marijuana. He promptly drove his car over to the Sierra Vista Police Department who confirmed the bundles were, indeed, cannabis weighing approximately 150 pounds. The street value is estimated near $80,000. 

"I was investigating a strange smell coming from my car, which led me to my trunk. I opened the trunk today, and discovered 6 very large, professionally packaged bails of Marijuana in my trunk. I was very confused," Hamdan posted on Facebook. "Many thoughts occurred to me, but only one made sense. I took the weed to the SVPD, and turned it in. They were shocked at first, brought out a few undercover narcotics agents, they mildly questioned myself and my roommate, and then let us go. They told us it was about 150lbs (roughly $80,000) worth of marijuana".

Having done the right thing, Hamdan now fears repercussions from the criminals.

"[W]homever decided to stash that [stuff] in my trunk, may come back looking for it," explains Hamdan, "I know if I lost that much money, I'd do quite a bit to get it back. So we are behind locked doors".

Hamdan urges others who live in border areas to be aware of this tactic. He expresses the need to get law enforcement involved, stay vigilant, and be prepared to defend your life and property. Joe also urges those who live in border areas to regularly inspect your vehicles and property for anything suspicious, reporting anything "not right" to authorities. "[E]nsure your vehicles are locked and remain that way when you aren't around them.. Even then, check your vehicle daily. Because I ALWAYS lock my doors.. Somehow they still managed to get in without forced entry". Joe further encourages using a garage, if you have one, and locking it. In addition to inspecting your trunk, Hamdan suggests doing daily sweeps around the body looking for items that may have been stashed in other areas. The criminals may not always be able to gain unnoticed access to a trunk and may look for other spaces such as fenders and wheel wells.

Citizens need to understand that turning such items over to the police and cooperating in investigations is the right thing to do. However, in light of the US Supreme Court decision in Castle Rock v Gonzales, citizens also need to understand that they cannot count on police protection. The decision enforces the concept that personal protection is an individual right and responsibility that is not delegated to the police. Conversely, failing to report the crime and turn the evidence over to the police is a criminal act. 

Sierra Vista is not new to illicit border activity. For example, in 2011, several potential sex slaves were found in one house in town. Neighbors reported a domestic disturbance to the local police. The police responded, ending up in a firefight as at least two armed men fled in an SUV. Authorities gave pursuit into the Garden Canyon area where they lost the trail. A search of the premises discovered several young women, none of which were US citizens.

In his book, Broken Borders Broken Promises, Todd Staples discusses the bold actions of many drug cartels, sex slavers, and human traffickers. With each day, these criminal organizations get bolder with their activities. They have no respect for private property. In fact, in several cases, they have forced citizens out of their homes and off their properties so the cartels could take them over to facilitate their illicit activities. They are not above murder. Now, it appears, they are not above breaking into private citizens' vehicles and using them, against their will or knowledge, to smuggle drugs. Imagine how many innocent people may end up jailed for decades on charges of trafficking because a criminal hid their drugs in the innocent person's trunk.  

Hamdan does not think he was targeted. Due to his training in the military, he is in the habit of locking and securing his vehicle and home, double checking. Smugglers may have picked his lock and hid the cache in his trunk, hoping he wouldn't discover it. Perhaps they were hoping to return later and recover the illicit product. Another possibility is they hoped his status as a disabled veteran would grant Hamdan ease in bypassing US Border Patrol checkpoints, which employ working dogs in searching for illegal immigrants and drugs. Should Mr. Hamdan have eased through such a checkpoint on his way to Tucson or other areas, perhaps the smugglers hoped to recover the drugs on the other side. The problem with this scenario is that Joe does not have Disabled Veteran (DV) or other items on his car that would identify him as a disabled veteran. So was his car picked intentionally or randomly?

Mr. Hamdan presents another possible, though unthinkable, scenario. He works at a tobacco store. In recent years, such stores came under investigation due to the sale of synthetic cannabis items such as "Pot Pourri" and "Saliva" at some of them. These substances are banned for use by the US Military. The US Military represents a large portion of the local economy. Fort Huachuca had placed businesses such as The Glass Bottom Smoke Emporium (which is not the store Hamdan where works) on the "off limits" list in the past because they carried such items.

Upon turning the contraband into the local police department, Mr. Hamdan was questioned concerning the owner of the store where he works. "They used phrases like 'Your boss has an interesting history' and  'You'd be surprised what's in his records'. I doubt they would have done it to get info on him. But, what else would explain their behavior, and the strange circumstances of the situation?". The narcotics division did not conduct any forensic screening of the vehicle. Hamdan says the behavior of the police was a bit suspicious. However, he contends that none of it makes any sense.

The drugs could have been hidden there by smugglers, his boss, a neighbor, or the police. However, the scenario of police planting the drugs seems outlandish to Hamdan, even if possible. He holds that it was, more than likely, some criminal element. The police may have seen this tactic before and known that detecting forensic evidence would prove fruitless. Still, the questions concerning the origin and the perpetrators remain unanswered.