ALPINE, TX — Federal agents violently raided a tobacco shop, unnecessarily broke down a door, tampered with surveillance cameras, and allegedly cracked a woman in the neck with a rifle stock. In the process, they also raided a neighbor’s home, only to later cover their tracks by acquiring a warrant retroactively. The carnival of injustice was completed when witnesses were ordered to recant their stories under penalty of law.
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‘Break it down’
The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began systematically performing raids across the country on Wednesday, May 7th, as part of a nationwide effort to crackdown on synthetic drugs. Over 200 search warrants in 29 states were performed as part of what was called “Project Synergy Phase II.”
One of the warrants served during the course of the operation was on a tobacco shop in Alpine, Texas. Known as the Purple Zone, the 9-year-old establishment serves the community with tobacco products, jewelry, and a hooka lounge.
DEA agents arrived at the store before 10:00 a.m., surprising the owner, Ilana Lipsen, before business hours. Ariel Lipsen, the owner’s sister, was also present outside the store when agents arrived.
“Do you have the key?” Ilana recalled agents demanding of her sister. She tried to explain that the doors don’t use keys, they use codes. But, according to the owner, “at that exact moment, one of the officers said, ‘Break it down.’ It didn’t give her a chance to say, ‘I have a code.'”
Agents were ready with a steel battering ram, but were sure to first disconnect the surveillance cameras and face them toward the walls, before smashing in the door.
Officers tore apart the store, confiscating computers, paperwork, hard drives, cell phones, and firearms. The DEA was supposedly looking for synthetic marijuana.
‘What are you going to do, shoot me?’
As the looting continued, Ariel was told by agents to leave the property. Ilana says her sister was standing on the sidewalk, and responded to the agent, “What are you going to do, shoot me?”
Ariel’s incredulity drew the ire of the power-tripping DEA agent. The agent began to grapple with the woman, and allegedly performed a leg-sweep, driving her into the ground.
“At that moment, he took his foot and tripped her to get her off of her feet and have her down to the ground,” Ilana said to NewsWest-9. “One of her feet came flying up and accidentally hit him in the shin. At that time he started saying, ‘Well now you’re assaulting a police officer.’ And he started attacking her more. He took the butt of his M-16 rifle and smashed it into her neck.”
“She was yelling, ‘Get off of me. You’re hurting me. You’re choking me,'” Ilana recalled. “He had his hand around her neck as he was holding her face into the ground of the neighbor’s property.”
Ilana and Ariel Lipsen were both arrested.
‘I don’t need to show you a F—–g warrant.’
A neighbor, who lives completely separate from the Purple Zone, also had his home raided that morning. Nicholas Branson, 30, lives in an apartment adjacent to the tobacco shop with its own address, a separate mailbox, and a gate which separates it.
Branson, a college student, returned home to find DEA agents searching it, according to the Big Bend Courier. The armored, automatic-rifle toting federal agents refused to let him enter his home, and were seizing some of his belongings.
The same agent who allegedly choked Ariel Lipsen demanded that Mr. Branson leave his property. Branson demanded that they present a warrant.
“I don’t need to show you a F—–g warrant,” the agent retorted, according to Branson.
Branson said, “I need to see a warrant, based on the fourth amendment…”
“‘Oh you’re a F—–g lawyer now? We can do this the easy way or the hard way,’ and put his finger on the trigger of his M-16. That’s when I just backed up,” Branson said.
The only warrant that the agents possessed was to search The Purple Zone, the Courier reported. After the raid on Branson’s home had begun, they sought out and acquired a warrant, retroactively, for his address. One was issued at 11:58 a.m., well after the agents broke through Branson’s wooden gate and invaded his home.
Agents confiscated Branson’s hard drives, camera drives, his grandfather’s shotgun, his rock collection, and some incense, according to the Courier.
Mr. Branson says agents treated him like he wasn’t a human being. He said to the Courier, “When I told them this was my house, they said, ‘Well, that’s the price you pay for choosing to live where you live.'”
Forced to change her story
Business owner Ilana Lipsen was arrested and charged with a first-degree felony, for allegedly selling a controlled substance, synthetic cannabis, in a drug-free zone. The charge is so draconian that it could result in a potential life-sentence in prison; not unlike the Texas teen who faces a similar charge for baking pot brownies. (Read more)
As a condition of her release from jail, U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Dwight Goains ordered her to pay $10,000.00 and publicly recant her story, which she had already televised to the media. The handwritten orders required that she request that pictures of her sister’s injuries be removed from the internet, and that she write an apology letter to the DEA for impugning their reputation. Specifically, the judge ordered that Lipsen “will advise media that her sister, Ariel Lipsen, was not beaten by agents… and her sister instigated/assaulted agents.”
Under duress, Ms. Lipsen followed the court order and wrote the apology letter. Without doing as the judge required, she would have been left to sit behind bars for months until her trial.
The order then reached the internet, shocking many who read it. According to 1st Amendment expert, attorney Eugene Volokh, the move to silence her witness testimony was “clearly unconstitutional.”
The DEA, of course, denied that the assault on Ariel Lipsen ever happened, so the apology letter played right into their hand. District Attorney Rod Ponton also immediately used the letter to show that all allegations against agents were false, the Courier reported.
Of course, this did not explain why multiple witnesses, including neighbor Nicholas Branson, gave exactly the same version of events as the Lipsen sisters.
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This story is disturbing on numerous levels: the violence, the unjust laws, the warrantless search, the silencing of the witness. As is often the case, the root cause of the tyranny is the existence of drug prohibition, which enables the police state in so many ways. Americans will continue being violated and thumped with automatic weapons until this unconstitutional Drug War ends and these dangerous federal agencies are abolished.
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The crushing impact of the DEA raid left Illana Lipsen personally devastated, branded with a criminal record, and left in economic ruin. Reason TV reported the following in October 2014:
Following the botched 2014 raid, the DEA immediately attempted a cover up. At the behest of the U.S. Attorney’s office, a judge strong-armed Lipsen into signing a letter absolving the agency from any wrongdoing by asserting that she and her sister had attacked the DEA officers first. For his part, Ponton strong-armed the local paper for writing a balanced take on the raid because he thought the Lipsens were not credible witnesses.
The Purple Zone was first raided in 2012, when police seized “spice” packets, which Lipsen sold as potpourri in the store’s incense section. “You can buy these products online or in any gas station or smoke shop in Texas,” says Lipsen. Though lab tests revealed no banned substances, Ponton moved to indict on the grounds that the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 makes it illegal to sell and possess substances that are “similar to controlled substances.” The basis of the indictment was the finding of 3 chemicals not banned in Texas at the time they were seized, but banned by the federal government a year later.
Lipsen agreed to a plea deal in September in exchange for serving no jail time. To date, she’s lost over $100,000 on legal bills and seized property, and wants to get on with her life. “I never wanted to aggravate anybody,” says Lipsen. “I don’t do this for fun. This isn’t a hobby, this is how I support myself. This is how I live.” Of her relationship with the town of Alpine, “I love it here, but it’s become toxic.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Dwight Goains
Chambers Address: 450 State Hwy. 118, Suite 222, Alpine, TX 79830
Chambers Phone: (432) 837-9740
Drug Enforcement Agency