Monday, May 19, 2008
Help Me Howard: DEA trouble
It's a mother and a daughter sitting at home. Suddenly four people in black T-shirts that say "police" pull up in unmarked cars, jump out and demand to be let into their home. They accuse them of growing marijuana and hiding guns. Were they? No. Was it a mistake by the DEA, and do they have to do anything if they come into your home without a search warrant? It's the reason Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser got a call.
WSVN -- It was called operation D-Day. A round-up of 135 people across the state of Florida, people who allegedly turned their houses into elaborate marijuana growing labs, wired to speed up the process. A joint task force raided the homes, found guns, wads of cash and, of course, over 9,000 marijuana plants. A highly successful operation.
But maybe not a perfect operation.
Barbara Cordoves: "When I look, four people are jumping my fence."
Barbara, her mother and their cat Otto were in their home when operation D-Day hit them.
Gladys refused to let the four agents wearing DEA shirts in, at the same time Barbara called 911 and got clear instructions from the dispatcher.
Barbara Cordoves: "So she said, do not open the door. 'Who told you do not open the door?'"
One agent was not happy.
A few minutes later, a Miami-Dade police car arrived. Barbara opened the door to meet the officer, the DEA agents seized the opportunity.
Barbara Cordoves: "They just barged in, walked through the halls, started opening all the doors of the house."
One agent told the police officer who pulled up to leave. He did, leaving Gladys and Barbara with the four agents.
Barbara Cordoves: "They did not have a warrant."
Barbara Cordoves: "They just said they had an anonymous tip that we were growing marijuana and that we had guns in the house."
Gladys is so naive, she showed them this plant she had bought at Home Depot, worried it might be the marijuana they were looking for.
Barbara Cordoves: "I don't know how the plant looks like, but, they started laughing."
Barbara says they stayed inside for 15 minutes. Then, they put a piece of paper in front of Gladys to sign. By then Barbara was on the phone with a family friend who is a cop.
Barbara Cordoves: "I read it to him and he said, 'Tell her not to sign anything.'"
When Gladys refused to sign a document that said they allowed them to enter the home, she says the agent got irritated.
Barbara Cordoves: "He went ahead and he grabbed the paper from my mother's hand, pushed her and then he left."
The agents didn't find the marijuana growing lab or stash of guns their source promised, but they did leave one terrified woman.
Gladys Cordoves: "When he left because I didn't sign, he looked at me like, 'I'll be back.' I was afraid, and then they were mocking me. After awhile my heart start pumping, pumping."
Gladys was rushed to the emergency room with soaring blood pressure. Barbara was left stunned and fuming.
Barbara Cordoves: "This should not have happened at all. They should have investigated clearly. You know what, If you did something wrong, apologize because they didn't even apologize."
Which brings us to two questions. Does the DEA need a search warrant to enter a home, and if they go to the wrong place, do they have to apologize? Let's bring in that defense attorney who has defended a few people who were drug dealers, Mr. Finkelstein.
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, in a case like this, they needed a warrant or permission to enter the house. As for an apology, no, the DEA doesn't have to apologize if they make a mistake, but the apology is all Barbara and her mother want. Otherwise, they may sue the DEA and the agent who pushed Gladys, then the apology may come in the form of cash."
When I spoke to the DEA, they told me they had a reliable source who told them about drugs in the home, that the mother and daughter allowed them to enter the home when they opened the door. When I asked about one agent pushing Gladys, I was told, "that's what they told you, that they have not told us that." The DEA's point, 'We will not apologize because we don't know their side of the story, and we won't know their side of the story until they meet with us and file a complaint."
Barbara cancelled the first scheduled meeting with the DEA. She says she is is looking for an attorney to go with them, and both women say they know the message they want to take with them.
Gladys Cordoves: "They have to know they have to respect people before attacking them."
Who is telling the truth? The DEA agents or Barbara and her mother? Well, if the DEA can't sort it out, it may end up in court and a jury will have to decide, and if they do sue, Howard says not only can they go after the DEA but the agent who is accused of pushing Gladys.
Trying to hide a problem that is growing on you? Need someone to rush in and chop it down. Contact us. We don't carry guns, badges or law books, but Howard did go to law school for a long time.
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