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Sweep of Drug ‘Hot Spots’ Nets 93 Arrests, 27 Vehicles

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police and federal agents arrested 93 suspected drug sellers, buyers and users and seized 27 vehicles in a crackdown on street-level drug activity this week in the northeast San Fernando Valley, authorities said Friday.

The law enforcement task force made the arrests while staking out and raiding “hot spots” of drug activity in Pacoima, Sylmar, Arleta and Sun Valley. Suspected dealers and buyers were arrested as they drove away. Twenty of the arrests came during a Friday morning police sweep of Pacoima and Sun Valley streets for drug users.

“This is our zero tolerance,” said Police Chief Daryl Gates, referring to a federal drug crackdown this year in which yachts, planes and other vehicles were confiscated by authorities when even minimal amounts of drugs were found.

Gates said his officers and agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used a similar standard when making arrests and seizing cars--all but five from buyers--during the Valley operation, which focused on areas where gang members are known to deal drugs.

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“It doesn’t matter how much it is or what it is,” Gates said at a news conference in Van Nuys. “If it’s dope, we are taking their automobiles.”

Seizures Will Continue

Gates and other officers said they had little sympathy for those who had lost their cars.

“If there is a war on narcotics, then these are people who are defeating that effort,” Gates said.

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He said the car seizures will continue. He said an estimated 500 cars have been seized citywide since last fall and “my goal is to take about 5,000 cars. The message will be clear then.”

The cars are taken under the federal forfeiture law, which allows authorities to confiscate a vehicle used in the purchase or transport of drugs. The seizure is a civil action that does not require a criminal conviction of the vehicle’s driver. Some cars are kept for use in undercover work and others are sold at auction.

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the foundation opposes the police seizure of cars for relatively minor drug offenses and before convictions occur. Joel Maliniak called such seizures the “American system of justice in reverse. The ACLU has zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies.”

In addition to the vehicles, worth an estimated $150,000, the 5-day operation resulted in the seizure of $7,300 in cash and nearly a pound of cocaine and 60 pounds of marijuana worth about $300,000, police said.

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Quadriplegic Loses Van

Among the suspected buyers who lost cars were a woman with five children in her car and a young man who had just driven his college graduation present, a 1983 Toyota Supra, from Virginia to Los Angeles and was arrested for buying a $5 bag of marijuana.

A person who said he lost his van but was not arrested was Ronald Oliver, 33, of Sylmar. Oliver, a quadriplegic, said he was riding in his van, which was being driven by his older brother, Lamar Oliver, and is equipped with a wheelchair lift, when they were pulled over by police Wednesday night in Pacoima.

The two had just left the Pierce Park apartments, one of the spots under surveillance by police. Lamar Oliver was arrested for possession of drugs, which officers said they had watched him buy. The van was seized because he was the driver.

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Ronald Oliver said he was driven home by an officer, and the van was taken away. He said he has been unable to leave his home since and is worried he will miss medical appointments and twice-a-week therapy sessions.

“I need that van,” he said. “I have no other way to get around. It doesn’t seem fair because they didn’t arrest me.”


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