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New Records Confirm That Local Law Enforcement Agencies Worked With The DEA During George Floyd Uprisings

11:05 AM PDT on October 11, 2021

    [dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]ew Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) records obtained by CREW—a nonpartisan, non-profit watchdog that uses aggressive legal tactics and investigations to hold government officials accountable—confirm that local law enforcement agencies in the Los Angeles area worked with the DEA to conduct surveillance operations during the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd last year.

    Obtained through an ongoing lawsuit, the records show that while departments like the Los Angeles Police (LAPD), Long Beach Police (LBPD), and Baldwin Park Police (BPPD) requested resources from the DEA specifically to target “agitators” and “looters,” the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) sought DEA resources to support “undercover surveillance operations.”

    Additionally, the LBPD requested “air assistance” to augment surveillance.

    The requests were approved between June 1 and June 3 of last year, during the peak of the summer uprisings, when at times, tens of thousands of people were regularly showing up to demonstrations. In response to a request for comment, Rudy Flores, a spokesperson for the SMPD, stressed that the department has “maintained long-lasting professional relationships with various law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels,” including the DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). According to Flores, on or around June 1 of last year, a representative from the DEA met with members of the SMPD. “After about one hour, the DEA representative realized their services were better suited at another event occurring in Los Angeles, and no action was taken in Santa Monica,” Flores said via email.

    Flores declined to specify what event in Los Angeles those resources were redirected to and referred us to the DEA.

    Richard Mejia, a spokesperson for the LBPD, told L.A. TACO: “DEA personnel provided support in a patrol capacity during the overnight and early morning hours, where they were to identify criminal behavior—particularly looting and arson, and relay it back to LBPD personnel for enforcement.” Mejia added that air assistance was on standby, and the department never utilized it. Minutes after sending a request for comment to the LAPD, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore responded, saying, “The DEA support was not used to surveil peaceful protestors.” When asked how the department was able to limit the scope of surveillance, Moore said that “the requested resources’ focus was on pharmacy break-ins.”

    In their “after-action report” on the protests, the LAPD estimates that more than half a million doses of controlled substances were unaccounted for or stolen from pharmacies during last year’s civil unrest.

    However, that same report found that the majority of demonstrations that the department responded to were peaceful. The LAPD estimates that between six to seven percent of protests resulted in violence or serious use of force, “The majority of our protests and demonstrations have been peaceful,” Moore said during a Police Commission meeting in October of last year. Similar outcomes were seen outside of the City of Los Angeles. A report from a non-profit that researches police violence found that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests across the country were peaceful. Captain Chris Hofford, a spokesperson for the BPPD, told L.A. TACO, “We are unable to locate any internal records to either confirm or contest the record that you sent me.”

    According to Hofford, he is the only command-level staff working during early June of last year when the DEA resources were requested, that is still on payroll. Hofford confirmed that the only protests in the area around that time were peaceful. “We had one small protest at City Hall, probably around 15-20 people. It was peaceful, and no enforcement action was taken,” said Hofford. In response to questions, DEA spokesperson Nicole K. Nishida told L.A. TACO: “We have no comment. Thanks.”

    Made possible by Trump

    By statute, the DEA is generally limited to enforcing drug-related federal crimes. Last year, BuzzFeed News reported that collaborations between law enforcement agencies and the DEA, specifically to target protestors last summer, were made possible after the Department of Justice temporarily granted the DEA sweeping new authority to surveil protestors.

    “In order for DEA to assist to the maximum extent possible in the federal law enforcement response to protests which devolve into violations of federal law, DEA requests that it be designated to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd,” Timothy Shea, acting administrator of the DEA at the time wrote in a memo. “DEA requests this authority on a nationwide basis for a period of 14 days.”

    At the time, it was unclear precisely what resources would be offered and how they would be used. These new documents paint a clearer picture of how the DEA was involved in local protests here in the L.A. area and the rest of the country. The records obtained by CREW show that “undercover DEA Special Agents” in the administrations Tampa District were asked to pose as “members of a scheduled' ‘vigil” at the University of South Florida. News reports show that the gathering was peaceful. In Denver, police used “aerial support” provided by the DEA to monitor crowds “for a planned protest.” And closer to home, in Nevada, a request from the Reno Police Department “to assist in providing intelligence on the movement of protesters” was approved and followed by a request for “static and mobile surveillance” as well as “covert vehicle intelligence gathering” support.

    CREW found 51 instances of police agencies across the country making requests to the DEA to “secretly monitor protesters engaged in First Amendment-protected activity.”

    The stark difference between federal law enforcement’s preparations for racial justice protests last summer and the failures in preparation for the white nationalist attack on our Capitol on January 6 demands close scrutiny,” CREW says in their report before concluding with a demand for more information to be made public.

    “We are not surprised at the fact that LAPD may have used or requested surveillance and resources from DEA in response to our peaceful/non-violent protests,” Paula Minor, organizer and Police Accountability Team Leader for Black Lives Matter L.A. (BLM-LA), said in a statement. “We know they infiltrate us and constantly surveil us.”

    Minor questioned Chief Moore’s denial and described him as performative and a regular liar. 

    “His regular response is to deny, deny.”

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