South Carolina Police Chief Threatens to Arrest Drug War Critic

Last week I
that anti-drug activists in Maine had asked Portland’s
transit agency to reject bus ads supporting a ballot measure that
would repeal local penalties for possessing small amounts of
marijuana. Such viewpoint-based censorship in a “designated public
forum” would have been clearly unconstitutional. But at least no
one said advocates of marijuana legalization should be arrested. No
one, that is, except Ruben Santiago, interim police chief of
Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. Popehat‘s Ken
 that Santiago recently cited a resident’s
criticism of marijuana prohibition as grounds for a criminal

The threat came in response to a Facebook comment by Brandon
Whitmer, who was unimpressed by Santiago’s
of a local pot bust. “Maybe u should arrest the
people shooting people in 5 points [a Columbia neighborhood]
instead of worrying about a stoner that’s not bothering anyone,”
Whitmer said. “It’ll be legal here one day anyway.” To which
Santiago replied:

@Brandon whitmer, we have arrested all the violent offenders in
Five points. Thank you for sharing your views and giving us
reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will
work on finding you. 

That post quickly disappeared, creating the impression that the
author had thought better of threatening critics of the drug war
with arrest. Not so! Santiago later posted this:

This is Interim Chief Santiago posting. I was just notified that
one of my staff members deleted my post. I put everyone on notice
that if you advocate for the use of illegal substances in the City
of Columbia then it’s reasonable to believe that you MIGHT also be
involved in that particular activity[. T]hreat? Why would someone
feel threaten[ed] if you are not doing anything wrong? Apply the
same concept to gang activity or gang members. You can have gang
tattoos and advocate that life style, but that only makes me
suspicious of them, I can’t do anything until they commit a crime.
So feel free to express yourself, and I will continue to express
myself and what we stand for. I am always open to hearing how our
citizens feel like we can be effective in fighting crime.

In response to an inquiry from White, a Columbia Policy
Department (CPD) spokesman confirmed that Santiago had indeed
written the two posts but suggested his comments had been

Chief was trying to say that he puts would-be-criminals on
notice—if you commit a crime or plan to commit one, CPD will work
hard to investigate and press charges according to the law.

It’s easy for social media posts to be misunderstood.

In other words , when Santiago said Whitmer’s criticism of a pot
bust provided “reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a
criminal” and added that “we will work on finding you,” he was
making a statement about his department’s professionalism. Or lack

A few months ago Ed Krayewski
that Dave Navarro, a former CPD captain, had accused
Santiago of plotting to frame Assistant City Manager Allison Baker.
Santiago responded with a
defamation suit
against Navarro.

[Thanks to Allen St. Pierre for the tip.]

from Hit & Run

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