Another DEA Disaster: Harassing Innocent Amtrak Commuters

By Zachary Siegel 05/20/15

With limitless power, the DEA searches and seizes without warrant, cause, or concern.

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Between cartel sponsored sex orgies and former administrator Michele Leonhart’s resignation, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been the epicenter of several scandals. The latest calamity now plaguing the agency is their needless harassment of Amtrak commuters, according to a report in The Atlantic.

Stories of DEA overreach on unsuspecting Amtrak passengers have recently been brought to light. The most appalling of which is that of 22-year-old Joseph Rivers, who boarded an Amtrak out of Romulus, Mich., headed toward Los Angeles where he hoped to begin his life as a music-video producer.

An agent boarded the train in Albuquerque, N.M., and searched Rivers without cause, then proceeded to confiscate his life savings of $16,000. Rivers was left penniless and stranded, unable to afford a trip back to Michigan or to continue onto L.A.

“He was the only passenger singled out for a search by DEA agents—and the only black person on his portion of the train,” Michael Prancer, Rivers’ lawyer, said to the Albuquerque Journal.

Sean Waite, the DEA agent in charge, weighed in on their side of the story. “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,” Waite told the Albuquerque Journal. “It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

A separate but equally blatant 4th Amendment search and seizure violation happened to Aaron Heuser, a mathematician out of Eugene, Ore. Terrified of flights, Heuser was traveling to Washington, D.C., by himself and purchased an Amtrak sleeper car. There was an unexpected knock on his door and a DEA badge shoved against his car’s window.

After being forced to leave his room for a search he explicitly refused, Heuser returned and “found my backpack moved and open, and my wallet, which was set down on the room table, had $60 missing,” he told The Atlantic.

According to Heuser’s story, a DEA agent stared him down and said, "You Oregonians may think that the green leafy stuff is harmless, but I know from my job that it kills people every day."

The Associated Press revealed last year that the DEA “paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network.”

Having had close to the mathematical zero, in terms of success in decreasing the availability of drugs on the street, the DEA continues their arbitrary raids on train passengers, doing their utmost to make futile dents amidst a constant blizzard of drug traffic, in the unwinnable War on Drugs.

The Atlantic is encouraging anyone who has had an encounter with the DEA on Amtrak trains to email them here with your story. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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