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Kop Busters.
December 7, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

The Odessa narcotics unit was tricked (stand alone video) by Barry Cooper and his show (currently over bandwidth), into raiding a house they thought had a grow-op. Was the probable cause based solely on their use of thermal imaging equipment? Canadian courts have already visited this invasion of privacy issue.

Barry Cooper with Marc Emery.
Barry Cooper at New Hampshire Liberty Forum.
posted by gman (46 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the first link:

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.

posted by jayder at 7:33 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Canadian courts have already visited this invasion of privacy issue.

As has the SCOTUS, in Kyllo.

"Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O’Connor and Kennedy, JJ., joined."

ie. 5-4.

One of the few big Scalia & Thomas decisions I'm on the same side of.
posted by troy at 7:38 PM on December 7, 2008


That's hilarious and awesome and righteous. But what does this mean: "When faced with a suspected marijuana grow..." Doesn't that mean they have some suspicion before the illegal imager is used? (I'd watch the video and likely find out, but I have a severe self-righteousness allergy.)
posted by DU at 7:41 PM on December 7, 2008


There must have been some reason for the cops to thermal image the house. Hmm.
posted by delmoi at 7:44 PM on December 7, 2008


Doesn't that mean they have some suspicion before the illegal imager is used? (I'd watch the video and likely find out, but I have a severe self-righteousness allergy.)

They drive along bad neighbourhoods in a cop car with a thermal imaging camera. As soon as they see large amounts of heat coming from a house's roof and its walls it's pretty much "DING DING DING! HYDROPONICS BE HERE!" and they go and fake the other crap to get probable cause for the search warrant.
posted by Talez at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


From 'invasion...' link:
Held: The appeal should be allowed. The FLIR overflight did not violate the accused’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
So, do Canadian saltwater fish enthusiasts are just open season for gettin' raided, or what? "Ugh, not AGAIN! I told you pigs those lights are for the coral."
posted by scope the lobe at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait, you mean all those hydroponics shops that advertise on the radio aren't selling equipment to grow your own organic and healthful alternatives to mass-produced vegetables?
posted by yhbc at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2008


Talez, planting drugs or whatever is a secondary issue: after Kyllo, the camera can't be used without a warrant, period. The main issue isn't the manufacture of probable cause to raid a location: the issue is that - subject to the usual exceptions, AFAIK - police need probable cause sufficient to actually get a warrant in order to use the camera itself.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:55 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kyllo.

It's certainly an interesting decision when Scalia and Ginsburg are on one side and Rehnquist and Kennedy on the other.
posted by Class Goat at 7:56 PM on December 7, 2008


"There must have been some reason for the cops to thermal image the house."

Because it was a low-income neighborhood? That's my guess.

Very interesting. I'm glad to know people are doing stuff like this. But I'm also guessing the Odessa cops are going to come up with some phony grounds on which to charge and arrest the people involved, e.g., "creating a public hazard" or some such bullshit.

Goes without saying: LOL Texas.
posted by bardic at 7:56 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


How unfortunate that they keep referring to themselves as a "reality show." A little gravitas could work well here, fellas.
posted by dhammond at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


dhammond - Goes along with their spelling of 'Cop'.
posted by gman at 8:04 PM on December 7, 2008


Talez, planting drugs or whatever is a secondary issue: after Kyllo, the camera can't be used without a warrant, period. The main issue isn't the manufacture of probable cause to raid a location: the issue is that - subject to the usual exceptions, AFAIK - police need probable cause sufficient to actually get a warrant in order to use the camera itself.

What part of this is hard to understand? They are still using the camera. After they find a target they manufacture probable cause with something like "a confidential informant sed der wuz drugs in dat house" or "the house smelt like dope" so that they don't have to admit to screening using the camera in the first place.
posted by Talez at 8:04 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's certainly an interesting decision when Scalia and Ginsburg are on one side and Rehnquist and Kennedy on the other.

Reading Stevens' dissent I find little to disagree with but also feel it misses the overriding principle that the home is one's castle and we need to be very careful about allowing generic police surveillance directed at it.

Probable cause, then surveillance, not surveillance to create the probable cause.

Although it is interesting taking Kyllo and applying it for radioactive agent surveillance. In this case, police power and societal interest in preventing health hazards if not terrorism, plus the impersonal and rather uncommon nature of radioactivity signatures, would, I hope, lead to the common-sense conclusion that this would not be an overly intrusive violation of 4th Amendment and common-law rights to be let alone.

The Kyllo decision came out a bare 3 months before 9/11. I don't think it would have been remanded 5-4 after 9/11.
posted by troy at 8:05 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wonder how high you'd have to get the false-positive rate in practice for thermal imaging to become cost-prohibitive as a drug enforcement tool. And I wonder how many people with a residual nostalgia for the fourth amendment would need to stick a grow light in their closets to make that happen. I am Spartacus a grow-op!
posted by enn at 8:10 PM on December 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


"What part of this is hard to understand?"

Details aside - it's all illegal and the police here should be arrested for it.
Furthermore I agree with Tuccille's take, civil libertarians should be more confrontational in exposing police corruption.
And wtf is it with that ruling? A witness testifies on the stand to committing a crime (planting the drugs) and she still goes to jail? What do they have monkey judges down there or what?
posted by Smedleyman at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


What part of this is hard to understand?

Nothing. I read your post originally as implying that they would plant something inside the house - which, obviously, couldn't itself directly establish probable cause, as it was located in the same place they would be seeking to search. I seem to have parsed what you wrote incorrectly.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2008


There must have been some reason for the cops to thermal image the house. Hmm.

This is anecdotal, but I hear that it's a regular practice to do fly-overs of subdivisions, identify potential grow operations, and then reverse engineer a case/probable cause before serving up warrants.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:59 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I also found the last bit of that news report concerning "Odessa police are still investigating whether or not any criminal activity occurred", meaning "we're pissed at you guys for playing us and would love to exploit a technicality to bring on some charges".
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


(found it amusing, rather)
posted by Burhanistan at 9:05 PM on December 7, 2008


And I wonder how many people with a residual nostalgia for the fourth amendment would need to stick a grow light in their closets to make that happen.

As scope the lobe alluded to above, reef aquarium hobbyists are using pretty much the exact same lighting technology (reflectors, ballasts, etc., albeit with bulbs at a somewhat different spectrum), so there are a fair amount of non-grow-houses out there with the same heat signature.

There are a few reports (mostly anecdotal, friend-of-a-friend type, but some that sound relatively real, also) out there of reefkeepers being raided, but not nearly as many as one would suppose; there must be at least a few other things that routinely get checked beyond the heat and power usage signature -- or most of those that are getting raided are being persuaded not to blab about it...
posted by nonliteral at 9:12 PM on December 7, 2008


I don't even use the stuff, much less have a source of it, but it goes to show how barbaric our culture is that we jail hundreds of thousands of people over over owning and selling plants. The money motive is not DuPont and hemp. It's all the law enforcement jobs, DEA operations, and cottage industry (from Corrections Corporation of America to Acme FLIR Corporation) that would disappear. Now the culture of fear is spreading into OTCs and prescription drugs. Hey, let's make painkillers harder to obtain even for chronic pain sufferers, and while we're at it, schedule some drugs that simply sound like meth precursors -- when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, the imprisoning and enforcement opportunities are just unlimited!
posted by crapmatic at 9:52 PM on December 7, 2008 [11 favorites]


So fucking awesome.

It's all the law enforcement jobs, DEA operations, and cottage industry (from Corrections Corporation of America to Acme FLIR Corporation) that would disappear.

Exactly. And this is also what drives the focus on forfeitures and the erosion of the 4th Amendment.
posted by BigSky at 9:59 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


of reefkeepers being raided

This wouldn't be such a problem if "being raided" wasn't such a ridiculously over-the-top military operation involving three dozen heavily armed men in a mental state of panicked aggression.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:02 PM on December 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


When a "reefkeeper" gets raided do the cops shoot the fish?
You know, if there are no dogs around.
posted by Iron Rat at 10:42 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, the Texas local newcast video is really obnoxious. They trivialize the illegality and general shittiness of what the police did. I'm glad the pigs walking into a bizzaro empty house, I'm sure it must have been nerve-wracking. If only the show had given the house the Silent Hill treatment...
posted by fuq at 10:50 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


They trivialize the illegality and general shittiness of what the police did.

Unless I missed it, they didn't mention the thermal imaging aspect at all. If I'd watched that without reading this post and/or already being aware of Kyllo, I'd have had no idea what the fuck was supposed to have happened or why I should care. There isn't any discussion at all as to why the police thought this was a grow-op, which is, for fuck's sake, the issue in its entirety.

I'm always amazed at how my opinion of local TV news manages to fall a little every single time I watch it. You'd think there'd be a floor somewhere, but no.
posted by enn at 11:10 PM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


I remember reading an extensive article in the Texas Observer years ago (the online archives only go back to 1999 - this would have been 1991, I think) detailing the corrupt nature of the Odessa police force, the narcotics unit in particular. Seems they profited pretty handsomely from property seizures - even if you were suspected of drug dealing or use but were later found to be innocent, they got to keep your stuff, which they either sold or used for themselves. There was much more to it, but that's the part that sticks out in my mind right now.

They've been doing shitty, illegal things for years, and will continue to do shitty, illegal things unless something very dramatic happens to stop them.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:17 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


They drive along bad neighbourhoods in a cop car with a thermal imaging camera.

I guess I was imagining it took longer than this to scan a house. I mean, "bad neighborhoods" can be pretty large and it seems unlikely that the growers would put their product against the front outside wall.

Or maybe I'm undersizing these operations. I was thinking of 4-6 large pots. If the whole house is full, then it doesn't matter what room/wall you scan, it'll be warm.
posted by DU at 3:04 AM on December 8, 2008


Wow. Nice music on that FLIR video. Do cops like to aggrandize themselves or what?
posted by dunkadunc at 4:43 AM on December 8, 2008


You know, with a ground-water based cooling system, even a very large grow operation could be virtually undetectable. Well, you'd have large electrical costs for the lights themselves.

What about skylights? Translucent so flyovers see nothing.

I'm not a smoker, but the secret engineering of this interests me.
posted by DU at 6:47 AM on December 8, 2008


I am a smoker, and the secret engineering of this interests me too.
posted by gman at 7:00 AM on December 8, 2008


Wait...do grow lights have to be incandescent or fluorescent? LED grow lights, with a precisely chosen spectrum, would use a tiny fraction of the electricity, wouldn't have a heat problem to solve and could be undetectable.

Oh, they exist. Game over, man
posted by DU at 7:19 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


DU - asked a buddy of mine about your idea. Here is what he said:

Yes you are right....so far they are working on them and seem to have the veg part down well but not bloom. I have a top LED dude working on it, he is testing the new ones from China and my friends here got ones too they are working on, bright as fuck but so far i have not seen the end proof....one day they will work i believe but i do not think we are there yet.
posted by gman at 9:45 AM on December 8, 2008


Wait, bloom? I thought the leaf was the smokable part. Oh but "bud" is slang so...well, whatevs. Don't give me a link, because there's no way I'm following it from work.

The interesting part here is that the plant grows through part of a cycle but not another, presumably because of the limited spectrum. Is it because it just isn't getting enough energy and so it shuts down the non-essentials? Or does it really a separate energy "channel" for the blooming? Weird and awesome if so.
posted by DU at 9:54 AM on December 8, 2008


DU: check out Erowid when you get home. It is very fascinating.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:11 AM on December 8, 2008


of reefkeepers being raided

aeschenkarnos : This wouldn't be such a problem if "being raided" wasn't such a ridiculously over-the-top military operation involving three dozen heavily armed men in a mental state of panicked aggression.

For real. So much of what is wrong with the drug war can be summed up in the phrase No-Knock-Warrants. Dress the cops up like SWAT ninjas, give them gear that they are largely untrained in using properly, allow them to keep the proceeds of the raids, and then we wonder why this war on drugs has gone so badly off the rails.

Ever since we installed metal halide for my wife's reef tank, I've been waiting for a visit from the locals. I actually keep the window that sits near the light partially open so if someone really wanted to perform due-diligence surveillance they could see that it's just for fish.

The fact that I ever thought this might be necessary demonstrates a deep flaw with the way things are.
posted by quin at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2008


Out here we sic one agency on another. Works pretty well really. There’s a LOT of corruption in the Chicagoland area. But we have a lot of very serious, honest, and powerful individuals (Our AG and U.S. Atty office (Madigan and Fitzgerald) off-hand).

Y’know, it’s kind of comic book-y really.
All we need is some folks in spandex (hell, I'd do it, but I'm afraid I'd wind up wearing the death's head on my chest rather than a bat or a red,white and blue shield).
posted by Smedleyman at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2008


The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.

My god, that is sweet.

The only thing missing, of course, is zealous prosecution of the (police) offenders.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:15 AM on December 8, 2008


I noted on the video that at least one of the officers takes a picture with his cell phone's camera. Would it be illegal for a police officer serving a search warrant to take pictures with a personal cell phone? (Not saying it is his personal cell phone, but if it is, is that illegal?)

In my opinion we need more operations like this one. The police in America, and the public's trust in them are out of control.
posted by Catblack at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2008


Why would taking a picture be illegal even if it is a personal camera?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2008


bardic writes "Because it was a low-income neighborhood? That's my guess."

They probably do this in all neighbourhoods. Around here growops are at least as likely to be in good neighbourhoods as bad. After all you wouldn't want some crackhead breaking into your million dollar grow op and blowing the deal.
posted by Mitheral at 12:48 PM on December 8, 2008


“Would it be illegal for a police officer serving a search warrant to take pictures with a personal cell phone?”

I doubt it. Procedurally you’d want to document evidence - whether their actions are based on an illegal warrant or not. It’s not like there’s not already evidence that they were there.

In fact, it might be the only honest policing that occured that day.

I see what you’re saying - that is the ‘personal’ aspect of the cell phone and invasion of privacy.
And were there something in the house (which they shouldn’t have been in, in the first place) that could be potentially valuable to an individual - someone nude, some money/ financial data, etc. then yeah (e.g. they bust in, someone’s wife sleeps in the nude, they take personal pics on their cell - that’d be bad, yeah).

But as it is, he could say - and be believed - that he was documenting evidence. Which is very likely the truth anyway.

Of course, the thing is that he’s on the hook for illegal activity, so he’s documenting evidence of his own criminal act.

But as for being there - it’s not compounded by taking photos, no. Or shouldn’t be, unless, as I say, he can derive some sort of personal gain or pleasure or whatever, out of having them. Otherwise he’s probably just documenting the scene with the tools he has.
---
It’s pretty appalling to think the police drive/fly around routinely violating not only people’s privacy, but the established law of the land.
We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking they do this just because they’re closet fascists or have some sort of natural proclivity towards operating this way.

One has to examine the systemic motivations for doing so - and I agree with what’s been said above, it’s the seizure culture that’s lead to this kind of economic predation by law enforcement and other agencies.
(Yet one more reason I’m pro-gun.)

These types of confrontational tactics up the ante such that it would make it counterproductive and not worth the effort to continue these practices.

Frankly, police officers should be, at least, afraid of violating the law. I’d rather see them repulsed by such an idea, much in the way the thought of eating a diseased and decaying human corpse would repulse someone - because it’s basic survival instinct.
As it is, the environment is such that they profit by such predation.
Were it a practice poisonous to them, they’d soon stop and be zealous in going after other officers or departments that did such a thing.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:22 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The interesting part here is that the plant grows through part of a cycle but not another, presumably because of the limited spectrum. Is it because it just isn't getting enough energy and so it shuts down the non-essentials? Or does it really a separate energy "channel" for the blooming? Weird and awesome if so.

Got another reply for you. Grammar sucks, but I'll post as is:

"they are not quite sure. some think and are trying to use infrared light also they double up the led power and are trying that out... very weird and very cool...when we can do it...huge home run."
posted by gman at 4:03 PM on December 8, 2008


If you google for "led grow lights marijuana" you find tonnes of others asking about this. Perhaps a hybrid system. Turn on the "real" lights but only at low wattage or infrequently. LED the rest of the time. Or at certain points in the growing cycle. Perhaps even better, time it so you've got full sun in your "greenhouse" during the One Critical Time Period, if there is such a thing.

Anyway, I'm already past the point of exhausting my botany.
posted by DU at 6:36 PM on December 8, 2008


I have a roommate from a hot country. So in one room the thermostat is set to "oven!", probably about 50 degrees hotter than the rest of the place.
Is this likely to catch the thermographic Eye Of Sauron?
posted by -harlequin- at 10:55 PM on December 8, 2008


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