Abusing Homeland Authority: As It Emerges as Our Country's First National Police Force, Michael Chertoff's Department of Homeland Security Is Becoming Notorious for Abuses of Power-And Even Depraved Crimes against Children

Article excerpt

The school day had ended and the parking lot at Englewood Elementary was full of energetic kids eager to go home when Leander Pickett saw a late model car obstructing the school bus loading zone. Pickett, a teacher's assistant at the Jacksonville, Florida, grade school, strolled over to the car, which had made a wrong turn into an exit lane, and told its occupants they had to move.

Pickett's reward for looking after the safety of the schoolkids was to be thrown face-down onto the hood of the car, hand cuffed, and held for more than a half-hour as students, teachers, and parents looked on in horror.

"I walked up to [the driver] and said, 'Sir, you need to move,'" Pickett told a television reporter. "That's when he said 'I'm a police officer. I'm with Homeland Security. I'll move when I want to.' That's when he started grabbing me on my arm."

"Mr. Pickett asked the guy blocking the bus loading zone to move, and the guy told him he would move his car when he got ready to move it," confirmed eyewitness Alton Jackson, a coach at the school. A second eyewitness, school employee Terri Dreisonstok, added: "At that point I intervened, and I went up to the gentleman and said, 'Mr. Pickett is an employee here,' and they said it didn't matter."

At the time Pickett was assaulted by the Homeland Security agents, school principal Gail Brinson was in the cafeteria. Summoned by an anxious student, Brinson raced to the parking lot and found an agitated Pickett being yelled at by the Homeland Security officials.

"I told them Mr. Pickett was an employee, and asked what he had done," Brinson recalled to THE NEW AMERICAN. "One of them told me that he had been 'abusive, aggressive, and belligerent,' but wouldn't say what else he had done to deserve being handcuffed. They just insisted over and over that it was 'Homeland Security business.' As I looked at Leander standing there in handcuffs without being told what he had done wrong, I said to the agents, 'Well, if you had treated me like this I would be belligerent, too.'"

Brinson demanded names and badge numbers, but the agents refused to provide them.

"They told me they didn't have to give me anything," she recounts. "They said that they were 'bigger than the FBI' and that they wouldn't let [Mr. Pickett] go until they thought it was okay. And all the time we had teachers crying, children screaming--Leander is really popular with the kids--and parents shouting at us." Finally, after an anguished half-hour, Pickett was set free without any charges being filed against him, and the federal agents drove away.

"You know what I think happened?" Brinson said to THE NEW AMERICAN. "I think they simply got lost, made a wrong turn into our parking lot, and when Mr. Pickett exercised his proper authority by telling them to move, the two things the Devil likes most took over--pride and arrogance." With the help of an acquaintance who works for the federal government, Brinson pursued a complaint through the Homeland Security Department's civil liberties section, but it availed her nothing.

"You can't get anywhere with these people," she points out. "When something like this happens nobody [in the federal bureaucracy] will listen unless you have a connection. Well, I had a connection, and it still didn't help. I just kept getting transferred around from desk to desk, and finally I spoke with some official who just told me that they 'stand behind our men.'"

Leander Pickett hired a lawyer and prepared to file a civil rights ! lawsuit. "You know you hear these stories every day and say, 'This

will never happen to me,' but ... it happened to me," comments Pickett. "If this is Homeland Security, I think we ought to be a little afraid."

Corruption and Perversion

When sheriffs or local police abuse their power, local remedies are available. But agents of the Department of Homeland Security are accountable only to the agency itself. …