December 30, 2011

Police Not Doing Their Job, Blame the Property Owner

Patrick Laverty

I know this is a Rhode Island focused blog and sometimes we touch on national issues that affect Rhode Island. This story is neither, but it is an example of the level of lunacy that our federal government and law enforcement has gone to.

Today's Providence Journal contains a story1 about a motel in Tewksbury, MA that is being seized by the federal government because of an alleged prevalence of drug dealing at the motel.

In its petition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston describes eight drug arrests made at the motel between 2001 and 2008
"Police records show there has been a long history of criminal activity at that location," said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office brought the forfeiture complaint in federal court on behalf of the Department of Justice.
So wait a minute. The Justice Department is going to seize an entire motel business from someone who
In Caswell’s case, the government is not claiming that Caswell committed any crimes, but says the motel should be shut down because of the drug-dealing that goes on among its guests.
The police there make one arrest a year and now the US Justice department wants to seize the property? There's got to be more to this story.
If the government wins, under a provision of the law known as "equitable sharing," the Tewksbury police department could collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the motel. That would amount to more than $1 million, if the motel sells for the most recent town assessment of just over $1.5 million.
So why this guy and not one of the other thousands of motels around the country where this kind of activity takes place?
the Motel Caswell was seen as an easier candidate for forfeiture because it is not part of a large chain. It’s also family-owned and mortgage-free
Maybe this is one of those situations where the owner is turning a blind eye to the activity in order to rent out his rooms. Maybe?
He keeps a "do not rent" list at the front desk to notify his clerks of guests he has had problems with in the past. But he says he has no way of predicting what other guests will cause trouble.
Hmm, ok, well then it would seem he's trying to keep the "bad people" out, but maybe he's not willing to work with the police on deterring the crimes.
Caswell said he has tried repeatedly to get information from police about drug activity, but they always tell him they can’t talk about investigations.
So here we have a private businessman with a six-decade family business that seems to be trying to keep the undesirables away and the Justice Department sees a gold mine and payday.

One of the parts that I don't understand is why is this happening when it seems that it is the city's police department who isn't doing their job. It seems the hotel owner is doing all he legally can to cut down on the illegal activity. Usually in places where there is a heavy police presence, the drug dealers go elsewhere. If this is a place where drugs are frequently peddled, then the peddlers must not feel very threatened by the police.

Another part is how can you just seize a $1.5 million property due to one arrest a year. Here in Rhode Island, our own state legislature has had what, about four arrests in the last year? So what's next, does the Justice Department come in and seize our State House?

1 You can actually find the AP article in the online Boston Herald or in the Providence Journal's e-Edition. I really have no idea what the Journal is thinking with this whole online mess. In their radio commercials, they talk about how they have to report the news before bloggers can comment on it. Yeah, sometimes that's true but when we do comment on it, it sure would be nice to be able to give you a direct attribution and link back. But I can't. Because the story isn't on your web site and your e-edition is unlinkable!

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

"In its petition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston describes eight drug arrests made at the motel between 2001 and 2008. A Tewksbury police detective said in an affidavit that the motel has been the subject of more than 100 drug investigations since 1994."
Boston Herald

It says the petition describes eight arrests not there were only eight arrests and there were one hundred investigations since 1994. So apparently the cops have been doing their jobs as far as the feds, I'm not really sure this will fly.

Posted by: Max D at December 30, 2011 10:45 PM

There is a direct parallel here with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently being pushed through the House of Representatives by what can only be described as authoritarian madmen representing both parties. Since various law enforcement policies have proven failures over the past three decades, particularly in the drug and intellectual property arenas (some would say indicative of fundamental policy errors), the new bright idea is to go after those who "facilitate" the activities rather than the criminals themselves. I hope this blog will have a post sometime in the next month examining (and coming out against) SOPA since it has a real possibility of impacting this blog and most of the other online content we currently enjoy and use on a daily basis. Even this post could be considered a SOPA violation if the excerpts were deemed a little too wholesale for copyright purposes, and Justin could be found civilly or criminally liable and the site forcibly blocked as a result. If you think that's a stretch of the imagination, consider the hundreds of teenage "sexting" cases that have been prosecuted under child pornography laws and video recording of police cases (successfully) prosecuted under wiretapping laws.

Posted by: Dan at December 30, 2011 11:13 PM

Dan, funny that you should mention SOPA. I was doing a few hours of research on it last night and the result I came to was that much of the online discussion of the bill is crap. There are so many different things out there. I simply resolved it to where I simply need to read the bill and understand what it says and not what other people say it does. I was planning on digging into SOPA and it's related Senate version, PIPA, which Sheldon Whitehouse has signed on to support as well.

I have thought about the impact those bills could have on even Anchor Rising as where we often quote other sources. If someone were to accuse the site of plagiarism or stealing someone else's intellectual property, could the site be shut down at the DNS level? I'm not sure and that's one of the answers I was looking to get out of the bill.

More evaluation is necessary.

Posted by: Patrick at December 30, 2011 11:24 PM

I would look forward to reading a treatment of it here, Patrick. I am always in favor of going to the source instead of second-hand reporting, but I will point out that these types of sweeping laws often take on a life of their own once passed and become warped beyond their original purpose by law enforcement. I would cite the two specific examples in my previous comment as evidence of this, and a number of legal commenters have raised the same kinds of concerns that I raised. It's particularly a concern where new technology is involved. At a minimum, the legislation will pose a major threat to websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Google, which explains their fierce opposition and potential protests in response to it. Based on my own limited analysis, I think the appropriate level of concern for bloggers and blog readers should not be "alarmist," but should at least be "alarmed."

Posted by: Dan at December 31, 2011 12:09 AM

There have been times in the past when I was interested in property and called the police to see if "The address was familiar to them". If it was, I lost interest in it.

A friend, with proerty in Manchester, NH, includes the following in his rental ads "bring your police record".

My point, there are many addresses "known to the Police". And certain buildings "get reputations". Once that happens, the continue to draw the same type of renters. A friend inherited a property on a troublesome street, his rule is that he "will not rent to anyone who already lives on that street".

So, there are many prospects for seizure. At least one friend has purchased a Porsche seized for transporting drugs. From the "wink, winks" he received from the police, he is reasonably certain it was salted by the police.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at December 31, 2011 8:13 AM

"It says the petition describes eight arrests not there were only eight arrests and there were one hundred investigations since 1994. So apparently the cops have been doing their jobs" MaxD

Thanks for doing the five seconds of research Patrick should have done before posting this column. A quick google search will paint a picture of a frequently used local nuisance drug den. A "do not rent list" is worthless. It's common practise to have a customer rent a room for a drug dealer in exchange for some product. No shortage of customers equals no shortage of renters. Then the dealer carries out his business until, usually, the renter sombers up and calls the police saying he has unwelcome guests in his room.
That said, I'm not a fan of the feds taking this or any other property from a family (however reputable or sleazy they may be). It seems this place was an easy target without the corporate deep pockets to drag out a law suit or fight the forfeiture proceedings.

Posted by: seirra1 at December 31, 2011 10:48 AM

Almost every community has one of these flea bag motels were the cops spend an inordinate amount of time. I don't have a problem with forfeiture when the owner is directly involved but I would think that a community's licensing authority would be a better place to solve this problem as opposed to seizing someone's property.

Posted by: Max D at December 31, 2011 11:09 AM

""The motel’s clientele is made up of all types, many of them down on their luck - divorced, unemployed, disabled and homeless people who can’t afford an apartment""

Mr Caswell is providing low cost housing, to people in need, many of them could be homeless if not for him.
I certainly hope that he prevails in this foolish lawsuit

Best of luck to you sir

Sammy the landlord in Arizona

Posted by: Sammy in Arizona at December 31, 2011 11:32 AM

finally something we can all agree on. The over reach of law enforcement. The RICO act was meant to go after the untouchable killers that escaped law enforcment. The RICO act has now been deformed into a catchall for public corruption cases that have nothing to do with the purpose of the original bill. This has nothing to do with police work and all to do with the polically motivated DA's and sheriffs. So it is not surprising that drug seizure laws do not follow a similar pattern.

Posted by: David S at December 31, 2011 2:39 PM

Mr Caswell is providing low cost housing, to people in need, many of them could be homeless if not for him.

So you're saying he's doing a good Christian deed are you Sammy?

"finally something we can all agree on."

Crap! I may have to change my position on this. All I need is Russ to chime in and it might put me over the edge.

Posted by: Max D at December 31, 2011 3:30 PM

Max Diesel Good answer. Thats why you will always be a light weight despite the name.

Posted by: David S at December 31, 2011 5:10 PM

More substanceless insults from David S. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Posted by: Dan at December 31, 2011 5:18 PM

Dan.. Good to see that you could come up with something original. Maybe for the new year. Maybe for the new year.

Posted by: David S at December 31, 2011 5:34 PM

Maybe my interpretation was incorrect, maybe not. I stiil dont see where there were more than 8 drug related arrests.

Regardless, my overall point prevails. The owner is not being accused of anything illegal, yet he may lose his life business and as much as $1.5 million. This seems to be quite an overreach of he government.

To me, this is like when the city of Providence shut down Saki's Pizza a few years ago after the police got beat up by drunks eating pizza after drinking at the nightclubs. To me, Saki's did nothing wrong, like this Caswell guy. It is the job of the police to handle both situations better, not the business owners'.

Posted by: Patrick at December 31, 2011 7:18 PM

"Saki's did nothing wrong, like this Caswell guy. It is the job of the police to handle both situations better, not the business owners'."

Wrong again Patrick,you're 0 for 2 on this post. It's not that cops got"beat up" (which is debatable) its that Saki's caters to criminals. No one is safe from robbery and assaults near Saki's on a weekend night. Do the names Bergeron and Shute ring a bell? The answer isn't to deplete police manpower in other areas of the city to baby sit people who can't properly function in society, the answer is to revoke the license of the establishments that cater to them. Saki's owner knew exactly who his customers were and did nothing to deter the types of people he was attracting.
I find your take on this issue rather astonishing, so a business owner has no responsiblility to his community for the type of business he's running?

Posted by: seirra1 at December 31, 2011 9:28 PM

So you're saying he's doing a good Christian deed are you Sammy?
Posted by Max D at December 31, 2011


it could be a "good Jewish deed"

or Muslim deed

or Atheist deed, etc...ect...

ONLY Christians can be charitable ??

Posted by: Sammy in Arizona at December 31, 2011 10:42 PM

Thanks Dave and Sammy. The world is right once again.(No pun intended) You had me worried. Happy New Year to you both.

Posted by: Max D at December 31, 2011 10:54 PM

It's not so much a matter of "right" or "wrong" as it is a matter of opinion on the proper role of law enforcement and individual responsibility. I'm inclined to agree with Patrick - serving food and drink to criminals is not a crime, and shutting down a private property because certain individuals other than the owner use it for criminal acts smacks of police laziness. Such forfeitures are inconsistent with American judicial philosophy and can only be justified on utilitarian grounds of convenience or resource management.

Posted by: Dan at December 31, 2011 11:18 PM

sierra1 wrote:
"its that Saki's caters to criminals."

No, I think Saki's caters to people who are hungry and want to eat pizza. Those people aren't criminals.

"No one is safe from robbery and assaults near Saki's on a weekend night."

I don't think it's the owner or employees of Saki's robbing or assaulting people on a weekend night. It's the people who were irresponsible with their alcohol intake at the local clubs.

"the answer is to revoke the license of the establishments that cater to them."

If anyone, that should be the night clubs. However, I don't think that even they should be held responsible for idiots who go into the club legally, drink legally and then leave the club and do illegal acts. Yet you want to blame the guy slinging pizza for the illegal acts that those people commit?

"Saki's owner knew exactly who his customers were and did nothing to deter the types of people he was attracting. "

What's he supposed to do? Not sell pizza to hooligans but only sell it to those who will be law-abiding for the rest of the night?

The other dumb part about shutting down Saki's is when those clubs empty out at 2 am and they release all those drunks out onto the streets, which makes more sense, to put them all in the cars and send them home, or let them go get some food and give the alcohol a little more time to metabolize?

Sorry Sierra, I know I got your hackles up by saying that the police aren't doing their job here, and quite possibly they're doing the best they can, but to me, the answer to quelling rowdy and violent drunks at 2 am isn't to punish the pizza man. The issue here is personal responsibility. Put the onus on the people breaking the law, not on the people trying to make an honest living in an honest profession.

Posted by: Patrick at January 1, 2012 1:00 AM

So Dan what would you suggest? Posting police officers at these locations at the expense of the taxpayer? I'm sure Providence has more than one hot spot so who gets priority? If an establishment becomes a nuisance such as fights shootings, and stabbings, doesn't the city have an obligation to shut it down if the owner can't control it?

Posted by: Max D at January 1, 2012 1:10 AM

Patrick and Dan if you had anything more than a passing knowledge of Saki's you'd now that they weren't looking to "make an honest living".
At some point, administrative action needs to be taken. One establishment can't suck up half the manpower of a police dept that covers an area as large as Providence. I think if you were a resident of Mt. Pleasant or the East Side you'd be pretty pissed off if your beat patrolman was downtown dealing with a**holes when they should be in your neighborhood, that's why you pay taxes. This is what the licensing board is for. Saki was given numerous opportunities to clean up, he was given numerous ideas on how to do it, but refused. At some point enough is enough.

Posted by: seirra1 at January 1, 2012 9:37 AM

Max - If we entrusted the police to enact whatever utilitarian solution was most logical and convenient to them at the time, we would have no need for a Constitution - we'd just have Street Judges from the Judge Dredd universe cracking the heads of "known criminals" and shutting down "known criminal hangouts." I'm sure the criminal activity in Providence would greatly diminish overnight if police were handed that kind of discretion, but there would be longer-term "effects" that I shudder to think about outside of the comic book realm.

There are many interests that our society must weigh in a scenario like Saki's. I personally weigh the property and liberty interests of the individual more heavily than security interests. That's not to say that security never tips the scales, but it takes quite the compelling justification. Our Constitution used to give similar treatment; not sure if it still does in our new world of counter-terrorism and the almighty Commerce Clause. If police are feeling frustrated and restricted by such principles, then I feel everything is as it should be.

Posted by: Dan at January 1, 2012 9:43 AM

If the police are truly lacking coverage in the city of Providence, then I could make any number of suggestions to alleviate that particular problem. Reducing the amount of resources devoted to victimless drug, firearm, and prostitution law enforcement, or alternatively easing up a bit on traffic enforcement where there isn't a clear and imminent danger to the public should lend more than enough extra officers to patrol the few late night pizza joints of the city. I don't know which legitimate crimes went unenforced when the officer wrote me a 34mph in a 25 zone ticket last year, but it probably wasn't worth the $30 the city collected from me in the end by mail. I believe I've already discussed my "urinating in the woods" episode here - that action consumed around an hour of an officer's time on a Saturday night that could have been used at Saki's - resulting in absolutely no benefit to anyone.

Posted by: Dan at January 1, 2012 10:19 AM

At the risk of sounding dismissive of them, which I am not, instead of lamenting about the Constitution, property rights v. security, and Judge Dredd, you could have just said, "I don't have a solution." Not having a solution to problems for which you have no expertise is not a poor reflection on anyone.

Posted by: Max D at January 1, 2012 10:45 AM

Max - There is a saying among economists that there are no solutions, only tradeoffs. Please do not confuse judiciousness with indecisiveness. Law enforcement tactics that seem "common sense" in individual circumstances, particularly to those most familiar with them, can lead to far bigger problems when aggregated. This is a common principle throughout our legal system.

Posted by: Dan at January 1, 2012 11:55 AM
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