Transcript

Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham, and welcome to The Police Accountability Report. As I always try to make clear, this show has a single purpose, holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we question the system that makes bad policing possible. And today, it’s that same system that we will be holding accountable because we will be retelling the tragic story of this woman, who is breaking her silence after 46 years about how the flawed war on drugs ruined her life and her family.

But before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com, and we might be able to investigate for you. And of course, you can always message me directly at Taya’s Baltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. It really does help us, and we now have a Patreon account called Accountability Reports, so if you have a few dollars to spare, it would really help us keep doing these investigations for you.

Okay, now we’ve got all of that out of the way. Now as anyone who watches this show already knows, Stephen and I spent the last five years documenting the firing of the first black police chief of a small town called Pocomoke. This community on Maryland’s lower eastern shore had caught our attention because the chief, a former Baltimore homicide detective, Kelvin Sewell, had implemented a form of community policing that was both popular and successful. Sewell had implemented an idea that was both radical, and when you think about it, fairly simple. He ordered his officers to get out of their cars and walk and talk to people, a move that made residents feel like police were there to serve them, not the other way around.

But unfortunately, Sewell’s strategy was also at odds with the drug war, putting him in the cross hairs of a nearby countywide drug unit. That conflict got Sewell into trouble, and you can watch the story for free by clicking on a link that we’ll have pinned in the comment section. But the reason I’m bringing up the documentary is because it played a role in the story we’re telling today. That’s because shortly after we released the film, we received a call from a woman who was distraught. In fact, her message to us was so emotional, at first we thought she was angry about the work that we do.

But it turned out that was not the case. In fact, Sewell’s story had elicited her emotions because I unearthed memories of her own painful encounter with the corrupt power of politicized policing. It is a story so heart wrenching, we felt compelled to share it with you. First, let me set the scene a bit. The woman who called us is named Catherine Freeman. She lives in a small town on Maryland’s lower eastern shore called Snow Hill. That’s where we traveled to speak to her in a local library, and that’s where she shared her pain. The story starts in the early 1970s. Catherine was a young mother and deeply in love with her husband, Patrick Carey. The couple had settled in a farmhouse in Worcester County, where they welcomed the birth of their first daughter. As she recalls, her husband had just returned from serving in the Vietnam War as a medic. He’d also just finished training at Johns Hopkins University to become a full-time EMT. But the idyllic life that the pair had fashioned would soon be destroyed.

That’s because her husband also happened to be the son of the local sheriff, which is an important detail in this story, but that was the last thing on her mind when a stranger paid her family a visit. I’ll let her tell the story.

Catherine Freeman: I was 19, and I married Pat Carey, who was the son of Eugene Carey, who was the sheriff of Wicomico County. We lived on a farmhouse in Stockton, Maryland, back in the middle of nowhere, where we weren’t bothering a soul. It was just the three of us. Eugene Carey was appointed sheriff of Wicomico County after the sheriff there was killed, and he had been the sheriff of Wicomico County, and then the election came up for the next election, which he ran for. It was election time. A man in Snow Hill, I don’t know if you want me to say names, but you know who he was. Anyhow, he befriended Pat, who if you knew Pat, that’s how he was. He loved everybody.

So this man came over to our house a couple times for beers, and we smoked weed. Maybe two or three weeks after he comes into our life, and I have a baby, so a newborn basically, he comes one night, Saturday night, and says … He’d already left some of his belongings there, so I think that’s how the sheriff’s department got into our house because he had some of his belongings there. And he said, “Listen, I’ve got this weed, and hold onto it for me,” which I didn’t even know it was in the house. We had personal weed to smoke, but this was a pound. And in 1974, a pound is a lot of weed.

Taya Graham: Two hours after the mysterious man left, she was awakened in the middle of the night. And I’ll let her explain what happened next.

Catherine Freeman: So I’m in bed asleep. This man leaves the house. Two hours after he left the house, they show up, guns blazing. We were held at gunpoint. I was in bed asleep. It woke me up. I looked out the window and I get a spotlight in my face, that says, “There’s people upstairs,” and then I hear all this yelling. The nursery was right next to my room. I run in to Katie because I don’t know what’s going on. Pat runs into the room and says, “Cathy, the cops are here.” And I’m going like, “What do you mean the cops are here?” And the attic door was in the baby’s room. It was an old farmhouse. And I didn’t realize at the time what he was doing, but he went up in the attic real quick and ran back down. And of course by that time, the police were at us, in the house, gun point, all that.

As soon as they found the pound of marijuana, they quit looking. They didn’t look for nothing else. They found it up in the attic because that’s where Pat had taken it because there was other weed in the house they didn’t find because they quit looking. And of course, we were arrested. That was with a pound of marijuana in 1974 by the Worcester County sheriff’s department that did not belong to us. We never heard from the informant again. He never called the next day to say, “I’m coming to get the pound of marijuana.” He never called the day after to say, “Are you okay? What happened? Where’s my weed?” We never heard from the man again.

Taya Graham: So her husband, a veteran who served his country, and an EMT who dedicated his life to saving others, was accused of being a drug dealer and was facing a lengthy prison sentence, as you can see in this newspaper clip here. The mainstream media embraced this narrative. It was a debilitating turn of events for the whole family. But for Freeman, there was also the coincidence of the man who showed up their house, left his belongings, and then never returned. Could it be that the strange sequence of events was simply happenstance? Was it simply a string of bad luck that brought those two events together? Let’s listen to Catherine explain why she believes there was more to the story.

Catherine Freeman: Of course, they charge him with distribution, the whole nine yards. He could’ve gone to jail for a long, long time.

Speaker: So they charged him like he was a drug dealer.

Catherine Freeman: Yes, right.

Speaker: How did this affect him?

Catherine Freeman: Well, he’d already had issues from the Vietnam War. I was only 19 and Pat was 28. I’m from Snow Hill. He’d been around the world several times. He was a man of the world to me. So of course, he calls his dad right away and tells him. And then the next thing we know, they want to make a deal. This is what we want you to do. If you want to get out of this, this is what you’ll do.

Speaker: What was the deal?

Catherine Freeman: Plead guilty to possession, probation, and that Eugene back off of running for sheriff of Wicomico County. And he did not win, and that was the end of his career. And he was a veteran too, a military veteran. And it was awful what they did to him. They were both honest men, Pat and his father, Eugene Carey. And they did not deserve what happened. And that was one of the reasons why I feel I have to say something. It’s not about me, it’s about them. But because he married and he was in Worcester County, that’s what happened to him.

Taya Graham: So the message was clear according to Catherine. A drug informant who appeared to be working with the police had entered their lives at a time when her father in law was mounting a campaign for sheriff. The arrest had turned her loving husband into a drug dealer, and mainstream media picked up and ran with that narrative. But that’s now where this story ends. And before I let Catherine tell us what happened next, I’m joined by reporting Partner, Stephen Janis, who has been investigating to give us background. Stephen, thank you for joining me.

Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham: First, you researched the arrest of Catherine’s husband. What did you find out?

Stephen Janis: Well, it’s really interesting because none of the records are of course available online. You have to go back 50 years. Catherine shared a newspaper article, which I was able to find on a newspaper site. And what’s really interesting about it is that the article itself doesn’t really recount much of what the crime actually was, but it does in the headline emphasize that he is the son of a candidate, and that’s all the article really tells you. And the headline is kind of blaring, and so it gives you the impression that this was possibly a setup because if you look at it, it’s pretty clear that what they wanted to emphasize was not the crime, or the effect, or the impact of the crime, or the severity of the crime, but rather the political affiliation of the person who they were charging.

Taya Graham: Now the war on drugs has been a mass casualty event for most of our country. How bad has it been and what do the numbers tell us?

Stephen Janis: Well, let’s think about this statistic. According to the American Progress, there is one arrest for a drug possession every 26 seconds in this country. Since the 1970s, the US has spent over $1 trillion on the war on drugs. And the US government, the federal government, spends $3.3 billion a year incarcerating people just for possession. So really, it’s hard not to look at those numbers and say, “This is devastating.”

Taya Graham: Now finally, this story reminds me of a concept that you have talked about before, the powerful and destructive legal invention that you call proximity crimes. Can you explain this concept and how it pertains here?

Stephen Janis: Well, so many bad cases in the city always started with a simple phrase from police. I had smelled marijuana. And once they smelled marijuana, they can throw out any sort of civil protections any person has. It’s the pretext for all sorts of dominating power when it comes to policing. The possession or the proximity of drugs in any situation gives police license to take your property, take your freedom, do anything really in that situation, and ascribe all sorts of motivations to you, which may or may not be true. So proximity crimes are probably the laziest form of crime developed by our legal system and has facilitated a horrible and costly war on drugs.

Taya Graham: Now as I said before, Catherine’s husband faced serious charges. But behind the scenes, a message was sent that it could all go away. But there was a catch, which I will let Catherine explain.

Catherine Freeman: Well, his family kind of despised me after that because they kind of felt like if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have been here. It cost thousands of dollars, the fine and the attorney. Eugene’s career was done. He didn’t do anything in law enforcement anymore. And Pat, he just tried to make the best of it.

Taya Graham: And the pain for her was intense, a story so painful, she explained to us why she waited nearly 50 years to tell it.

Catherine Freeman: I mean, we were honest people, and they made us look dishonest. Why after 47 years would I sit here and say we weren’t set up if I’m not telling the truth? I’ve had two men in my life that I felt treated badly, and their life was, their careers were ruined. They were veterans, they are veterans, military veterans. And they were accused of things that weren’t true. They were set up. They did nothing wrong.

Taya Graham: So as this story points out, and as we’ve said before, policing is not the product of the desire for public safety as law enforcement and politicians often argue. Our idea of a crime is not the extension of some philosophical sense of justice. And even more important, our sense of right and wrong is not the driving force behind a set of laws that can ruin a man’s life over a pound, just a pound, of a weed that grows naturally and provides medical comfort to millions. The story that Catherine Freeman so bravely shared reveals a less scrutinized by more toxic imperative for the proliferation of cops and prisons across this country. What her story illustrates is the notion that law enforcement is a means to project power. And it’s important to understand the calculus behind that power, and who is wielding if it we are truly going to reform our massive law enforcement industrial complex.

So what exactly do I mean? Well, consider this study out of The University of Seattle. It is a detailed examination of the police tactics we have discussed quite often on the show, taking people’s property without charging them with a crime, also known as civil asset forfeiture. It is a strategy used by police to seize the property of purported criminals without due process because as law enforcement reassures us, doing so deprives criminals of the proceeds from illegal acts. So a set of economists set out to see if there is any evidence that this process works. And what they found is not only troubling, but speaks to the sort of perversion of power I think is exemplified in Catherine’s case.

For example, they found that asset forfeiture programs in five states not only did not reduce crime, but actually seemed to incentivize bad policing. One of the examples of this idea contained in the report is the case of Detroit resident, Stephanie Wilson. Wilson was picking up her ex husband in January of 2019 from a gas station when police surrounded her car. They confiscated the vehicle and impounded it, though they never arrested her or her ex husband, who was homeless at the time. The car was not returned because she didn’t file the proper paperwork to fight the seizure, which must be completed in less than 20 days. But that isn’t the end of her story. A few months later, Stephanie bought another car with a tax refund. And as hard as it is to believe, the police impounded that car too, again without arresting her for any crime.

This time, the police told her she’d have to pay $1800 to regain possession of property she already owned. What drives this kind of insane public policy is simple according to the report. Greed, that’s because Michigan, like many states, allows police to keep all the proceeds from the property they seize. Please let me repeat that. It allows police to keep all the proceeds from the property they seize. In fact, researchers found a troubling correlation between budgetary pressure and increased asset forfeiture, specifically states where unemployment rose, also experienced an increase in property seizures by police.

And let’s remember, these are not trifling amounts of money. According to the same study, police departments across the country have raked in $68 billion, billion with a B, since 2000. Put simply, they are using the ambiguity of the law and the general lack of respect for the Bill of Rights to extract wealth from communities that can least afford it. So how does this all relate to the story I just told you? Well, when you think about it, it is clear that strategies like the war on drugs have transformed law enforcement into not just an arbiter of politics, but a mechanism to redistribute wealth through power. It is a terrifying combination where the ability to take our freedom and our assets are fused together into one single sprawling institution that can insulate itself from accountability through the power of the law.

This evolution of the law enforcement industrial complex that can both confiscate freedom and property is a fundamental violation of the entire concept that this country was founded on. I mean, think about it, the one thing the drafters of the Constitution feared, it was the consolidation of power into too few hands. It is one of the reasons we have three separate branches of government, all of which are supposed to function as a check and balance on the other, which raises a critical question about policing we must confront. Can we sustain and preserve our freedom when we convey this type of power to self serving institutions like law enforcement? Are we creating a fatal flaw in our democratic form of governance by enabling this type of overreach to continue?

I want you to think about something when you answer that question, just a thought to put this in real terms. In this country, someone could drop a small amount of cocaine or pot on your property, call police, and watch while you’re put in handcuffs and your property is confiscated. The law does not require any sort of proof you purchased the drugs, tried to deal them, or that you were otherwise involved in the chain of events that put them there in the first place. It’s kind of a scary thought in light of the story we shared today and all the others we have in the past. Should another human being be granted that type of power? Should any individual be allowed to exercise that sort of discretion to incriminate and violate the rights of any person?

Well, I think these are troubling questions that we have to try to answer. And certainly, we intend to not stop asking because that is indeed the point of this, to make sure someone answers them. I want to thank my guest, Miss Freeman, for coming forward and trusting us to share her experience. And of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter, Stephen Janis, for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham: And of course, I have to thank friend of the show, Nolie D, for his support. Thanks, Nolie D. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us, and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us privately at par@therealnews.com, and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook, or Instagram, or at Eyes on Police on Twitter. And of course, you can always message me directly at Taya’s Baltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like and comment, you know I read your comments and appreciate them. And I try to answer your questions whenever I can. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of The Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

The nation’s endless war on mind-altering substances has many casualties, some who refuse to be forgotten. That’s why Catherine Freeman is coming forward after 47 years to describe how her family was set up by a drug informant. In this episode of PAR, we listen to her story about how the intersection of law enforcement and politics tore her family apart, and why the truth must finally be told.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

 
taya@therealnews.com
 
@tayasbaltimore

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.