On November 25, 45-year-old Kenneth R. Howe was riding in the passenger seat of a truck that was stopped by police at a sobriety checkpoint in North Andover, Massachusetts. Hours later, he was dead. The cause has been ruled a homicide, from injuries suffered while Howe “struggled with police.”
What exactly happened that night is a matter of dispute, and the subject of a federal lawsuit filed last week against state, city and county police, claiming that police officers beat Howe to death.
Family members and a fellow passenger say Howe, a father and husband, had lit a marijuana cigarette a few moments earlier and was trying to put it out as police pulled over the truck. When police saw the marijuana cigarette, the fellow passenger says, officers pulled Howe out of the vehicle.
Police claim Howe dove out of the truck’s window and assaulted a female officer.
One way or another, a struggle ensued, Howe was arrested, placed into the back of a police cruiser, and taken to the state police barracks. While waiting in a booking room, Howe slumped over, became unresponsive, and was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
After an autopsy, the state’s chief medical examiner concluded that Howe’s death resulted from “blunt impact of head and torso with compression of chest” suffered when he “struggled with police.”
If the claims made in the federal lawsuit are to be believed, why would police lay their hands on someone for putting out a marijuana cigarette—something that Massachusetts voters have decided should carry a penalty of no more than a $100 fine! Howe was a passenger in the vehicle, so there wasn’t even a question about him driving under the influence. And if the police are to be believed, and Howe was truly trying to flee the scene, then he most likely did so only out of fear of punishment from having the marijuana.
Either way, there is no reason—none whatsoever—why Mr. Howe should be dead, his family deprived of a husband and father.
How many more tragedies like this need to occur before politicians realize that our marijuana laws do far more harm than good?
by Mike Meno
February 1, 2010
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