Ridiculous miscarriage of justice out of federal court in the
western division of Texas, Pecos division.
In a federal/local raid on a “smoke shop” called the Purple Zone
in Alpine, Texas, two sisters running the place were arrested:
Ilana and Arielle Lipsen.
Arielle insists she was hit in the head with a rifle by a DEA
agent in what she characterized as an unprovoked assault. The feds,
naturally, insist that Ms. Lipsen in fact attacked the agent.
Pictures of Lipsen’s head with the alleged gun butt wound were
taken and spread on Facebook by Tom Cochran, who runs a screen
printing shop whose services the Lipsen sisters used.
The document that Ilana Lipsen had to sign to make bond, which I
have seen, included this handwritten demand among some of the more
common typeset ones like “maintain or actively seek employment” and
“will advice media (Kwest9 news) that he [sic] sister, arielle
lipsen, was not beaten by agents carrying/using a M16 rifle, and
her sister instigated/assaulted agents.”
The bond document also demanded she ask Tom Cochran to take his
photos of the aftermath of the raid and of Arielle’s wounded head
off Facebook; Cochran says she did make that request, and he
refused to comply. Various people complained to get Facebook to
take them down, but Cochran says Facebook investigated and decided
there was no reason to take them down. Cochran also says that once
safely free, that Ilana thanked him for not taking them
Ilana says this morning that at the advice of her lawyer she
can’t say much, but did tell me: “I was incarcerated from Tuesday
of last week and wasn’t released until Monday of this week. That
should tell you something.”
report says Lipsen did, as ordered, recant her original
The pictures have now led Cochran to suffer a public call for
boycott of his business, Big Bend Screen Printing, from the
National Border Patrol Council,
an AFL-CIO affiliate union for Border Patrol workers. (Local
station NewsWest9 has
more on that.) Cochran finds this a weird abuse of federal
agency power, to use their name in a union to attack the livelihood
of a private citizen not facing any charges. “Their own code of
conduct says they should not use anything associated with [the
agency] for personal gain or to assert undue influence.”
Witness Nick Branson, who lived in a separate apartment with a
separate address attached to the raided store, had his home
searched as well, and thought he’s been charged with nothing had
some property taken, more property than the feds will admit to in
the property list they left him with, he complains. They took a gun
and some hard drives and flash drives and some frankincense, which
he assumes they think is illegal.
He insists that the incident happened this way: Ms. Lipsen “was
talking to another agent, she wasn’t yelling as they claim, she was
on the sidewalk, wasn’t even on the property at the time. She was
basically saying things like, ‘don’t you have better things to do
with cartels and kidnapping and human trafficking, we are 100 miles
from the border, this is what you are coming up with?’
“That’s when the same agent who told me he didn’t need a warrant
to be inside my house [and who also, Branson says, snapped back
with “what are you, a fucking lawyer?” when Branson mentioned the
Fourth Amendment] tried to grab her. She backed up, said ‘don’t
touch me.’ He said, ‘you are resisting arrest’ and basically put
his leg out, threw her over his leg onto the ground.
“She tried to get back up and he went to shove her face back
into the ground. She’s flailing at this point, obviously upset, and
he says ‘you are assaulting me’ and used his rifle butt on her neck
to pin her to the ground while other agents tackled her.”
Branson says he’s shown the picture of Lipsen to friends of his
from military who confirm that that is what it would likely look
like if a rifle butt where pressed into her neck.
Some excerpts from local news coverage, including
the Big Bend Sentinel:
Arielle Lipsen was indicted on one count of assault on a federal
officer causing bodily injury and Ilana Lipsen was indicted on one
count of person under indictment receipt of ammunition.
Purple Zone owners Ilana Lipson, and her mother, Rosa Lipsen,
are currently under state indictment for multiple first-degree
felony manufacture, deliver, or possession of a controlled
substance following four previous raids beginning in November
They’ve pleaded not guilty to the charges.
And local TV station NewsWest9 on
the whys and results of the raid:
On Wednesday, the DEA in partnership with Customs Border
Protection held a nationwide synthetic drug takedown named ‘Project
Synergy: Phase II” involving nearly 200 search warrants in 29
states across the U.S. The DEA says the visit to The Purple
Zone in Alpine was one of them…..
The owner’s sister told her agents entered their business and
took their guns, two computers, cell phones, cameras and their hard
drives. She also says agents disconnected her surveillance cameras
then faced them toward the wall. The owner claims nothing she sells
is illegal, nor is it classified as a synthetic drug….
NewsWest 9 spoke with the DEA who confirms that this was a state
search warrant used in this situation, looking for synthetic
controlled substances. They say these allegations are false.
In a statement from Brewster County District Attorney, Rod
Ponton, he says, “Numerous items of evidence, including “spice”
packages, firearms, and ammunition, were seized pursuant to
warrants. When occupants refused entry to agents in possession of a
valid warrant, the door was broken down, during which action one
agent received an accidental cut, which resulted in the blood at
the scene. Ariel Lipsen was arrested for assaulting one of the
agents. Neither she nor any person involved was “beaten with the
butt of an M-16″, or assaulted in any manner.”
Interesting long stuff from Alpine Avalanche on the
background of the DEA war on synthetic drugs.
While Lipsen’s lawyer was not available for comment this
morning, other criminal defense lawyers told me this is a strangely
abusive bail demand. Mark Kuby, who is also a talk show host in
New York, considers it a “Texas-sized” violation of rights, “as
unprecedented as it is unconstitutional” since bail demands
properly should be restricted to furthering two government
interests: protecting the community from possible criminal action
by defendant, and to make sure the defendant appears for trial.
That said, a third criminal defense lawyer I spoke to said that
when it comes to possible co-conspirators, such demands might not
be that unusual.
Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr via colleague Jesse Walker