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Richard Blackwell famously started the “Ten Worst Dressed Women List” years ago to create a media furor around fashion design. Given the media’s attention to a subject that is frankly trivial, maybe we can redirect them this year to my “Drug War Addict of The Year” award. This title can be won either by an individual or an organization that relies on fear, rhetoric, and name-calling to impede the rational discussion required to address America’s failed drug policy.
There were many candidates to choose from this year, but the award can only go to Dr. Paul Chabot.
Chabot, the founder of the Coalition for A Drug Free California (CDFC), organized The National Marijuana and Policy Conference in the fall of 2013. The conference itself was touted as open to the public and encouraged those from outside law enforcement to attend to discuss the many questions surrounding marijuana policy. Many professionals representing the fields of law, medicine, and retired law enforcement attempted to register but were excluded based on public information that revealed that they were working to change our current marijuana laws. It is clear that these attendees were barred simply based on Chabot’s prohibitionist dogma.
What could have been an opportunity for the many stakeholders both for and against marijuana to meet, and discuss public policy and their respective concerns would have gone far to repair Dr. Chabot’s reputation. But instead, when conference organizers found out that there would be a peaceful protest the day of the event because of the exclusions, Chabot sent out a broad brush condemnation of those attempting to attend. This email to attendees described what to expect of the marijuana policy reform activists:
“The drug legalization crowd is well known for being hostile and at times outright dangerous. The many videos found on you tube [sic] by pot groups, including the shooting at a Denver pot event earlier this year is yet more proof of the radicalization of these anti-social individuals who lack common sense, patience and restraint…as we know from research, marijuana causes significant mental problems – and we clearly do not want to be near a crowd of people with mental problems, who exhibit a failure in judgment and propensity for violence.”
This most recent “Chabotism” is in line with the ongoing vitriol that his organization has distributed for years. The rhetoric, though, was not matched by the actions of the peaceful protesters that day. It is this dichotomy that is at the crux of the question of how far Chabot is willing to go to ensure that all efforts to reform cannabis laws are thwarted, even at his own reputation’s expense as a law enforcement professional. The protest itself was uneventful and affirmed that he is just one more “Chicken Little” drug warrior. Other examples of his behavior include name calling, exaggerations, and outright mischaracterizations of history and facts. He has been rebutted by many policy experts including my Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) colleague Sean Dunagan in this debate where he exhibits many of these behaviors.
But the heart of the email for me was the statement regarding a “failure of judgment.” Chabot’s long history of anti-drug policy reform propaganda revolves around his experience as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, as well as his military experience. Sound judgment is a core value in both these professions, required for serving our communities in a manner that is both professional and upholds the rule of law. This email is inconsistent with not just his decision making ability but the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics that is administered to every peace officer during the academy. We are held to a stricter code of conduct whether on or off-duty that should prevent us from acting – well – officiously. Chabot’s lack of judgment though is made worse because he has not been challenged by the law enforcement community, which uses him as a tool to further the status quo. His messaging reflects the rhetoric he and law enforcement use to drive fear into the unsuspecting public without any factual basis.
But it’s Chabot’s deep rooted belief that the drug-war is a “battle against eternal evil” that must be waged at all costs that makes him my Drug War Addict of the Year. In a civil lawsuit his judgment was found lacking for a second time in the ongoing saga of marijuana activist and registered nurse Lanny Swerdlow versus Paul Chabot. This case started in 2007 when Chabot hosted a CDFC meeting Swerdlow attempted to attend in order to distribute medical marijuana materials. Chabot alleged that he was shoved by Swerdlow and called the agency where he volunteered as a deputy sheriff. Swerdlow was placed under citizen’s arrest by Chabot despite any physical evidence and contradicting witness testimony. If this were sports, what Chabot had would be called a home court advantage.
In my experience, cases with such minimal evidence are normally not pursued, but a jury stood the test of reason, and Swerdlow prevailed on the criminal charges by a 12-0 Not Guilty vote. But the saga continued as Swerdlow filed a civil lawsuit alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution, while Chabot countersued for battery. In October 2013 the long-awaited civil trial occurred. For the second time, a jury believed that Swerdlow did not commit a crime and found that Chabot placed Swerdlow under false arrest while dismissing the countersuit. This finding resulted in a civil judgment where Chabot must pay a $5,000 fine in addition to courts costs.
Chabot’s actions are a perfect example of the corrupting effect that the drug war has had in America. No amount of training can change ideology that is inconsistent with our code of ethics in which we agree not to permit our personal feelings to prejudice us from our fundamental duties, one of which is to protect the innocent against deception while respecting the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice. Clearly, the good doctor has failed in this endeavor, losing the moral authority to ever be seen as anything more than a caricature of the drug war. This former law enforcement professional and newly announced political candidate is permanently branded for his failure to live up to not just a code of ethics that he violated but his ability to perform the duties of a peace officer as he is unable to testify without disclosing the results of this case under Brady v. Maryland.
In this Supreme Court case, prosecutors are mandated to provide exculpatory evidence to defendants and their attorneys. This evidence also includes information that can be used to “impeach” an officer’s testimony as the reliability of a given witness may determine guilt or innocence. This evidence can include false statements whether performed in the line of duty or as a civilian. The affirmation of false arrest by a civil jury likely contributed to the media now referring to Chabot’s law enforcement career in the past tense. But this same information should also be used by voters and the media to scrutinize his ability to hold office, or to comment on matters of public policy. By mischaracterizing not just his actions, but those of Mr. Swerdlow’s, while using his position of authority in an attempt to take away another’s freedom is where we see Chabot’s contempt for those not aligned with his beliefs. It is this reveal that shows the Machiavellian nature of our country’s drug policy and Dr. Chabot.
So congratulations, Paul Chabot: you are the recipient of the 2013 Drug War Addict of the Year Award.