Road Pirates -- Assemble! "Desert Snow" is Coming to IdahoBy William Norman Grigg
Jun. 15, 2015
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It isn't often that honest people receive detailed intelligence about a planned gathering of violent men who steal for a living and kill with impunity. An event of that kind will occur from August 10-12th here in Idaho. In fact, I can provide the specific address of the armed robbers' summit — 700 South Stratford Drive in Meridian. The location is conspicuously marked and easy to find: It is the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Academy, which will host a two-day session of Desert Snow's "Phase 2015" asset forfeiture workshop.
"Civil asset forfeiture," for the mercifully uninitiated, is a procedure in which police officers and the agencies that employ them steal money and property from people who have never been convicted of a crime, and quite often never face criminal charges. The agency designates the desired property as "proceeds" of illicit activity and then files an "in rem" civil lawsuit against it -- not the owner of the property, but the property itself. In this process, the burden of proof is placed on the victim, rather than the perpetrator.
Fighting an act of state-licensed larceny of this kind is prohibitively expensive and frequently futile, which means that the privileged plunderers generally make out like the bandits they unfailingly prove themselves to be.
Desert Snow was founded in 1989 by Joe David, a former California Highway Patrol Officer who — rather than doing penance for his career as an armed tax-feeder — devoted himself to the full-time promotion of undisguised road piracy. For more than a quarter-century, David has made a lucrative living as a prohibition profiteer. According to a Washington Post profile, David -- who owns a yacht and a vacation condo in Cabo San Lucas — enjoys a lifestyle many private sector crime lords would envy.
This year, Desert Snow and its companion program, Black Asphalt (a proprietary intelligence-sharing service) will conduct at least 30 regional road piracy training seminars nation-wide. The courses include recognition of "Indicators of Criminal Activity" -- or, more honestly, the art of pretending that inconsequential facts, such as the presence of an energy drink in a vehicle, are such "indicators"; "Developing Roadside Conversational Skills" -- or, more accurately, how to manipulate intimidated people into submitting to an unconstitutional search; "How and When to Seize Currency" -- a course that could be digested into a single phrase, "Whenever you find it"; and "Court Testimony Instruction," a euphemism for "How to commit perjury with composure."
Each event will attract scores or hundreds of officers eager to develop or enhance such deplorable skills, each of whom will pay $590 to attend the highway robbers' in-service course. When asked if the event would be accessible to the media, Desert Snow CEO Jeff David informed me that "the class is closed [except to] Law Enforcement Officers" -- thereby validating the principle that squalid undertakings cannot withstand exposure to daylight.
When I asked if the Desert Snow instructors were certified law enforcement officers, Jeff David declined a direct answer, protesting that "our words have been manipulated" by members of the media.
"We are a leader in the field and have a reputation second to none," he insisted. Desert Snow has "trained thousands of officers throughout the United States and Canada ... on how to successfully and professionally find major smugglers, terrorist [sic], child abductors and other major criminals. Our success stories and results speak for themselves."
Allowing media access to Desert Snow training, or answering detailed questions, would be tactically imprudent in light of the anti-police backlash underway on the part of an ungrateful public.
"Law enforcement in general is under attack," pouted David, "but sadly without these hardworking dedicated officers this country would be over run [sic]."
Iowa State Troopers Justin Simmons and Eric Vanderwiel are among the "hardworking dedicated officers" who graduated from the Desert Snow Road Pirate Finishing School. They, along with Desert Snow corporately and Joe David individually, are defendants in a civil rights lawsuit filed by William Barton Davis and John Newmerzhycky, from whom the troopers stole more than $100,000 and an Apple iPad2 during an April 15, 2013 traffic stop on I-80 in Iowa's Poweshiek County.
As recounted in the lawsuit, the heist, which was carried out through the Desert Snow-trained Eastern Iowa Drug Interdiction Team, was a textbook application of the organization's methods. Trooper Simmons is an experienced predator with a well-established pattern and practice of contriving excuses to stop cars with out-of-state license plates.
Davis and Newmerzhycky, who live in California, were headed to Las Vegas following a World Series of Poker competition in Joilet, Illinois. Scott locked onto the vehicle driven by Newmerzhycky and, after shadowing it for 15 miles, executed a traffic stop for a supposed failure to signal a lane change. This was a lie, of course: As the lawsuit points out, "video of the incident from Trooper Simmons' patrol car clearly shows Newmerzhycky signaling before making the pass in the left-hand lane."
Simmons recited his potted pretext for the stop, ran the driver's information through dispatch, and contacted his partner in crime, Trooper Vanderwiel, who was lurking just over the horizon with his drug-detecting dog. After issuing a warning, Simmons did as he had been trained by Desert Snow. After demanding that the driver get out of the vehicle (so he couldn't simply drive away at the end of the detention) the trooper informed the motorist that he and his passenger were "free to go" -- and, affecting a casual and even friendly demeanor, insisted on asking just a "few question" before releasing his captives.
The purpose of this "Roadside Conversation" tactic is to elicit supposedly incriminating details from drivers who are ignorant of the fact that they have no legal responsibility to tell the officer anything. This also extends the traffic stop beyond its constitutionally permissible limit, allowing the officer to devise an "articulable suspicion" of criminal activity that will supposedly justify a "drug sweep" by a conveniently available K-9 handler. This charade inevitably ends with the dog "alerting" on something "suspicious," which provides an excuse for a hands-on search of the vehicle.
Every element of this routine is patently illegal and artfully deceptive. On this occasion, as Simmons asked if Newmerzhycky was willing to wait for the K-9 handler to arrive, the driver "denied consent for the search of the vehicle and indicated ... that they had been waiting long enough and that they would like to be on their way."
As a matter of law, that ended the investigative stop. Everything from that point forward was an abduction and armed robbery devoid of even the barest pretense of legality.
Simmons forcibly detained the pair, and the familiar script unfolded. The costumed thieves found the poker money, an iPhone, a Galaxy cell phone, an iPad2, and "a grinder with residual bits of marijuana." The currency was stolen, the vehicle impounded, and the driver and passenger taken into custody for aggressive interrogation.
At one point during the two hours that the pair spent as prisoners of the Desert Snow-tutored thieves, Newmerzhycky -- who suffers from diverticulitis -- asked permission to use the bathroom.
"Although Trooper Simmons reluctantly allowed Newmerzhycky to use the restroom located upstairs from the garage [where his rental car was being searched], Simmons followed [the victim] into the bathroom and rather than remaining silent ... continued to interrogate Newmerzchycky while he sat in the stall," narrates the lawsuit. "Simmons laughed and commented on the sounds Newmerzhycky made in the stall and despite the fact that Newmerzhycky asked him to leave him alone and would be done in a minute, Simmons continued to berate and laugh at Newmerzhycky."
Newmerzhycky received a misdemeanor citation for the trace elements of marijuana on the grinder. His tormentors told him that they were keeping his cash, his cell phones, and Davis's iPad2. On the following day, the weary and despondent men learned that their homes in California had been searched on the basis of information provided -- via the Black Asphalt service -- by Simmons and his comrades to their counterparts in California. The victims soon learned that their bank accounts had been frozen as well.
Ironically, on this occasion the victims were somewhat successful in challenging the illegal forfeiture. Ninety percent of the money stolen from them was returned, but one-third of that total was taken in legal fees. What remained was not enough to cover the financial impact of the seizure of their bank accounts and the other damages inflicted on them by being targeted for the Desert Snow treatment.
As a result of the police search of his home, Davis was evicted by his landlord. Newmerzhcky, who worked as artisan glass-blower, lost his business and "was forced to live in his car and rent his home to someone so [he] could continue paying the mortgage."
The Iowa lawsuit is not the only recent scandal in which Desert Snow is implicated. In July 2013, District Attorney Joe Hicks of Oklahoma's Caddo County reluctantly shut down an interdiction task force through which Joe David himself, and other private contractors associated with Desert Snow, were conducting traffic stops. On one occasion, David -- who was wearing a sidearm — pulled over and interrogated a pregnant woman on I-40 and interrogated her at length -- despite the fact that he was not a state-certified law enforcement officer.
Hicks told The Oklahoman Newspaper that he had hired David and his prohibition privateers"because his drug task force had little success on drug stops" and because "he hoped to make money for his office from the drug stops because of a loss of federal funds." Davis and his henchmen were allowed to keep 24 percent of everything that was stolen by the task force; at the time the program ended, Desert Snow's take was $40,000, with another $212,000 in the pipeline with Caddo County Special Judge David Stephens shut down the racket.
As he ordered David never again to conduct "interdiction patrols" in his county, Judge Stephens told him that "if you do, I hope to see you soon, wearing orange."
This episode probably explains why Joe David turned the reins of his criminal empire over to his son Jeff. Desert Snow, LLC operates out of the Logan County Sheriff's Office in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The elder David probably wants to avoid visiting his company's home office, given the depth of his disrepute in that state.
More than 30,000 police officers nation-wide have undergone Desert Snow indoctrination. As a self-described "Brotherhood" of modern road agents, veterans of the Desert Snow program participate in "an annual competition to honor police who seize the most contraband and cash on the highways," observes the Washington Post. This is why officers are encouraged "to post seizure data along with photos of themselves with stacks of currency and drugs."
The Desert Snow alum who brings in the biggest haul is crowned "Royal Knight" in an annual awards ceremony. More importantly, according to the program's literature, the winner is "considered for an associate instructor position with the Desert Snow Training Program." As Joe and Jeff David can testify, teaching police how to conduct seizures and confiscations, rather than carrying them out on behalf of law enforcement agencies, is where personal profits can be made.
It is quite likely that at least some of the officers who will attend the Desert Snow training session at the Idaho POST Academy in August aspire to become road piracy "consultants" once they begin collecting their tax-subsidized pensions. One unavoidable result of that event will be an escalation in Idaho law enforcement's ongoing war against the property and liberties of anybody who uses public highways in the Gem State.
Since the event is closed to the press and public, nobody representing the productive class will be permitted to participate in the proceedings. Given the nature of the facility in which the crime summit will be held, an effort by outraged citizens to arrest the perpetrators would be pointless.
A high-profile protest during the event might produce some useful publicity, but wouldn't be likely to shame participants into reforming themselves. People capable of decent shame wouldn't be involved in that kind of criminal enterprise.
William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.