CADDO COUNTY, OK — A district attorney from Oklahoma is under fire seizing over $1.3 million in alleged drug money using a private security firm to conduct roadside drug searches along a 21 mile stretch of Interstate 40.
Prosecutors have dismissed all criminal cases stemming from the stops, which were conducted by private security firm Desert Snow beginning in January of this year after being hired by Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks to provide training for the county’s drug task force.
At a hearing on July 2, Caddo County special judge David A. Stephens said that he was “shocked” to learn that the employees of Desert Snow, who were actively involved in pulling motorists over and searching vehicles, were not certified law enforcement officers in the state of Oklahoma.
“For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me,” Stephens said.
District Attorney Hicks defended his decision, saying he was looking for a creative way to fill a funding gap, and he found it.
“We are taking drugs away from drug traffickers and we are financing law enforcement,” said Hicks.
But controversy surrounds the contract Hicks signed with Desert Snow LLC in January, which included a provision that the private security firm receives 25% of all drug money seized when Desert Snow is working directly with officers, and 10% of all drug money seized when the private security firm isn’t accompanying law enforcement.
“I thought this really makes sense because I can pair these guys one-on-one with one of my task force officers, put them on the highway and give them the opportunity to learn from the best of the best,” said Hicks.
Hicks argues that the percentage given to Desert Snow only covers the cost of training, adding that company only acts as consultants.
Hicks says instructors from Desert Snow accompany law enforcement officers, but do not make arrests or seizures.
However, testimony in a case heard on July 2 contradicts the claims by Hicks.
The case involved a February traffic stop on I-40, where Desert Snow company founder Joe David pulled over a pregnant woman he observed drift slightly into the shoulder of the highway.
During the traffic stop, which was one of 400 conducted by the task force during a five day span, David was wearing a sidearm and a shirt reading “POLICE” on the back. David, a former officer of the California Highway Patrol, allegedly questioned the pregnant driver alone.
The traffic stop resulted in the seizure of 25 pounds of marijuana, and the woman, along with her two passengers, was charged with a variety of drug charges.
Those charges were dismissed on July 2 by Justice Stevens, who issued a stern warning to Desert Snow’s Joe David not to conduct any more traffic stops or searches.
“If you do, I hope to see you soon, wearing orange,” the judge said, referring to the color of prisoner jumpsuits in Caddo County.
The judge went on to chastise the District Attorney for his use of a non-licensed security force policing citizens of Oklahoma, saying that citizens have a right to a professional, licensed police force as mandated by state law.
“Any time a police officer arrests somebody, they’re taking a valuable right each one of us as individuals have: our right to liberty,” the judge concluded.
District Attorney Hicks says that the drug stop program has been put on hold — for now. He says that the task force will resume the program eventually, but will consult with Desert Snow by phone.
He also added that some of the dismissed criminal cases could be refiled.
July 22, 2013
Thomas H. Clarke | The Daily Chronic
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