Expressway drivers no longer subject to search

GENESEE COUNTY — The “Sheriff ’s Posse” is no longer using a sign warning of a drug search ahead on local highways after the initiative garnered attention from the ALCU and media.

Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell said the whole initiative was a “ruse” and that there were never any drug checkpoints. He explained he stopped using the sign, towed behind a truck, when the media disclosed there were no sweeps, rendering the warning less effective.

There were no drug-related arrests made stemming from the sign within the two weeks while the sign was driven around I-69 and US-23.

The sign was lettered with “Sheriff narcotics check point, 1 mile ahead — drug dog in use” and displayed the sheriff ’s badge.

The Detroit Free Press reported seven sightings of the sign during the past month by motorists.

A driver traveling through Burton insisted that all vehicles towing enclosed trailers were being stopped last week and reportedly medical marijuana caregivers were unnerved by the sign.

Pickell insisted that his officers were looking for suspicious activity from drivers that may have felt threatened by the sign and slowed to the shoulder or made a U-turn.

A professor from the University of Michigan told the Detroit Free Press the the sign and what it implied was “perilously close to entrapment” even if the checkpoints never actually existed.

Other legal experts agreed an arrest made under those conditions would not stand up in court.

Random drug checkpoints were found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 after an Indianapolis-based case. According to legal scholars, checkpoints on public roads violate the Fourth Amendment protection of search and seizure. Roadblock searches are permitted, but only after a crime has been committed. In 1990, “sobriety check lanes” to discourage drunken drivers were ruled against by the Michigan Supreme Court.

“This is an aggressive move because we’re sick and tired of the heroin overdoses,” Undersheriff Chris Swanson told reporters last week. He insisted the initiative was “by the book.”

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said he was not made aware of the sign and said he questioned the probable cause issues surrounding it.

The move gained the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and spokeswoman Rana Elmir said that the ACLU was “deeply troubled” by the violation of the people’s rights. She welcomed residents to file complaints before calling it “clever.”

If the current county cuts are any indication, Pickell faces losing his undercover drug team in the upcoming months with the elimination of 24 officers through voting by the county Board of Commissioners in an annual budget that began Oct. 1.

The board expects the trickle of money to “The Posse” to disappear in mid-January. After that, the team might have an option to again fold into the state police-supervised Flint Area Narcotics Group (FANG).

“The Posse” currently employs two investigators and members of the Lapeer County Sheriff ’s department and FBI.

Pickell has long been outspoken on the dire condition of the drug problem in Genesee County, spearheading the formation of The Posse from FANG in 2000. He’s called the Flint area a “crossroads” for drug dealing because of the large number of roads and expressways that intersect.

Pickell initiated the broad sweep after learning that shipments of narcotics could be passing through local areas, stashed in tractor trailers with false compartments.

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