Alpine business raided by DEA; owners cry foul over apparent excessive use of force – UPDATE
May 15th, 2014 under Top Stories
By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA
ALPINE – The Alpine business The Purple Zone was the target of a nationwide sweep of pipe shops last week in an effort to curb the use and sale of synthetic marijuana, also known as spice, and bath salts.
The operation, known as Synergy Phase II, began in January 2014 and has served nearly 200 search warrants in 29 states.
During the serving of the search warrant, federal agents forcibly entered the business and charged one of the business owners with assaulting one of the agents, while the business owners assert that excessive forced was used in carrying out the search and seizure.
In the execution of the search warrant, Arielle Lipsen – the sister of business co-owner Ilana Lipsen – was arrested for assaulting a peace officer, barricading agents from the property, and resisting arrest.
The officers on the scene, Ilana claims, had already started breaking the door down when Arielle arrived.
“She was having a conversation with a female agent, and trying to give the agents the lock code,” Ilana Lipsen claimed. “She was trying to tell them there was no key, but a code. There were too many officers and about half of them were doing nothing, then this one agent charged at her, threw her, kicked her legs out from under her, and when she was falling, her leg brushed up against his leg. That’s when he said ‘you’re trying to beat a federal agent’ and shoved the butt of his rifle into her neck.”
“Ariel Lipsen was arrested for assaulting one of the agents. Neither she nor any person involved was ‘beaten with the butt of an M-16’, or assaulted in any manner,” wrote 83rd District Attorney Rod Ponton in a statement following the raid. “All members of law enforcement acted professionally and courteously.”
An investigation into excessive use of force from the unnamed officer, however, has been instigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Tom Cochran, an Alpine business owner who photographed search and seizure operation.
FBI Agent Joshua Pirtle, Cochran said, visited his business, Big Bend Screen Printing, to collect information on the alleged use of excessive force.
FBI Agent Michael Martinez contacted the Big Bend Sentinel Thursday morning to inform reporter John Daniel Garcia that the FBI will not be issuing any statement regarding the investigation into the actions of the unnamed DEA officer.
“Harassing me over my business is one thing,” said Lipsen. “But they could have killed my sister.”
On Tuesday, both Ilana and Arielle Lipsen were indicted on federal charges.
Arielle Lipsen was indicted on one count of assault on a federal officer causing bodily injury and Ilana Lipsen was indicted on one count of person under indictment receipt of ammunition.
Purple Zone owners Ilana Lipson, and her mother, Rosa Lipsen, are currently under state indictment for multiple first-degree felony manufacture, deliver, or possession of a controlled substance following four previous raids beginning in November 2012.
They’ve pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“They’re just trying to find something against me,” Ilana said. “This is extreme harassment. I’m aware of my 4th Amendment rights and they violated it.”
The catalyst for the most current raid, Lipsen also claims, was her internet search history, as well as her business dealings with China.
“They link people with internet search history. I own a hookah lounge, so I’m always looking at new products, and I breed, train, and show Arabian horses, so I’m always looking at them online. I do business with China. All my e-cigarette merchandise is bought directly from Chinese distributors,” she said. “It’s the last reach from the DEA in Brewster to get something from nothing. There were 30-plus officers at my shop, and they seized my personal and business computers, my camera, my cell phone, and my registered guns. They also seized packages of kratom, which is a legal herbal stimulant. They absolutely did not find anything illicit or any contraband.”
The officers, Lipsen also said, turned the security cameras in her shop to face the walls and not capture any agents in the raid.
“I’m not aware of the agents doing that,” said DEA Spokesperson Lilia Rico, who also said that the DEA don’t run cameras during raids.
The guns and ammunition seized in the raid, Rico also said, were taken as Lipsen is currently under state indictment.
Photos by citizen photojournalist Cochran that he had posted to Facebook during the end of the raid were deleted, then reposted once Facebook officials found nothing conflicting with their code, despite requests from authorities.
“The whole deal is just scary,” said Cochran, who witnessed the tail end of the raid. “It just shows the violent, confrontational aspects of modern policing and the increasing militarization of the nation’s police forces, as well as accusations of funding terrorism to get access and warrants against anyone.”
The use of terror, Cochran and Lipsen said, has been a part of Operation Synergy phase II.
“They claimed that I had ties with Hezbollah and Syria, which is ridiculous,” said Lipsen. “How can I, a Jewish woman who supports the State of Israel, contribute to those groups or states?”
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