A Columbia man was convicted yesterday of possessing a small amount of marijuana in a case his attorney described as an example of the "class warfare" carried out by the Howard County Police Department.
Police targeted 44-year-old Anthony Leo Raymond Sr. in January after going through trash in a low-income neighborhood in Columbia's Owen Brown village. They said they found marijuana stems and seeds in his garbage bags and obtained a search warrant for his house.
Eight officers, wearing black battle-dress uniforms and with some carrying machine guns, burst through the front door of Mr. Raymond's home with a battering ram and found portions of three marijuana cigarettes and rolling papers in his bedroom. Columbia attorney Clarke Ahlers noted that the police department later notified Mr. Raymond's landlord of his Jan. 26 arrest, causing his client to lose his government housing subsidy.
"In my heart, I believe this is class warfare," Mr. Ahlers argued during yesterday's trial in Howard District Court. "I don't believe the police would behave this way in my neighborhood." Mr. Ahlers said he lives in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood in Prince George's County.
Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Baltimore, said in an interview that the actions of the officers show how police use "overkill" methods in the drug war. "You might say every single thing they did was legal," said Mr. Comstock-Gay, whose agency is not involved in Mr. Raymond's case. "But the total picture is not a particularly pleasant one."
Mr. Comstock-Gay questioned whether police had the basis to support a no-knock search warrant, saying a few marijuana stems and seeds is not evidence of a "huge crime." He added that although police are permitted to search a citizen's trash, that's still offensive to many people. "People ought to have some sort of expectation of privacy with their trash," he said.
Mr. Raymond, a bricklayer with two prior drug convictions, was ordered to pay a $25 fine and $50 in court costs after Judge James Vaughan found him guilty of possessing about 1.2 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Vivian Delores Booth, Mr. Raymond's 43-year-old live-in girlfriend, also was charged with possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Her case was put on the inactive docket yesterday, meaning the charges will be removed from her record in a year if she's not charged with another crime.
Mr. Raymond and Ms. Booth were the only people charged after police checked trash Jan. 6 at homes in the 6500 block of Pressed Gentian, off Cradlerock Way across from the Owen Brown Middle and Dasher Green Elementary schools.
Judge Vaughan, while sentencing Mr. Raymond, asked why he continued to use drugs after going through drug counseling as part of his prior sentences.
"Your participation in any way in the drug culture makes you one of the enemies," the judge told Mr. Raymond. "Why would you allow it? Why don't you . . . stop people [from using and selling drugs]?"
Mr. Raymond's conviction came after Judge Vaughan denied Mr. Ahlers' request to prevent the prosecution from presenting evidence found at Mr. Raymond's home, claiming the raid was unconstitutional.
Mr. Ahlers argued that the police did not have the grounds to carry out a no-knock raid at his client's house. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that police in most cases must knock and announce themselves before entering a private home with a search warrant.
However, the court ruled that no-knock raids are permitted in cases where the lives of a police officer or citizen are endangered and evidence could be destroyed if police take time to knock and announce themselves.
Assistant State's Attorney Thomas Rafter argued that the police acted properly. He said investigators had to conduct a no-knock raid at Mr. Raymond's home to prevent any drugs in the house from being destroyed.
Mr. Rafter said that detectives did not know if the people who they believed lived in the house would pose a threat to police officers if they had knocked on the door, announced that they had a warrant and then searched the house for drugs.
Cpl. Merritt Bender testified that investigators believed that two other men -- both of whom have been convicted of violent crimes -- might have been living at the house. He testified that police later learned that the men no longer lived there.