Newsbrief: Ohio Man Deported for Minor Marijuana Conviction Found Murdered in Brazil

Relates to:
Date: 2004-05-28

Joao Herbert, adopted by a Wadworth, Ohio, couple from a Brazilian orphanage when he was eight, then deported back to a land he barely remembered after being arrested for a small-time marijuana sale, was found shot to death Tuesday in his native country, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

Herbert's body was found in the slums of Campinas, north of Sao Paulo, where he scraped by teaching English. His adopted mother, Nancy Saunders, told the Beacon Journal she had received reports her son was killed by police.

Herbert was deported after being convicted of selling marijuana to an undercover agent two months after he graduated from high school in 1997. Although he received only a probation sentence from the local court, he was ordered deported under a 1996 amendment to the immigration laws that made all but the most trivial crimes deportable offenses. And while Herbert had been adopted into an American family, US citizenship was not automatic, and he never obtained it.

Saunders and her ex-husband Jim Herbert, Joao's adoptive father, spent two years trying to block their son's deportation, ultimately winning a unanimous recommendation for clemency from the Ohio Parole Board. Republican Gov. Bob Taft denied that recommendation, and Herbert was deported in November 2000.

According to Saunders, a few days before his killing, Herbert had a run-in with Brazilian police, who shook him down for a bribe after finding a gun in his car. Saunders said Herbert told her that police demanded "$3,000 within 24 hours or they would arrest him and send him to jail for 15 years." Jim Herbert sent half that sum. On Tuesday, said Saunders, Herbert was returning home from teaching English when confronted by police, who shot him six times. He was buried in Campinas Thursday.

If the accounts blaming police for Herbert's murder are true, it would be little surprise. Brazilian police are notorious for death squad-style killings. In fact, in a report issued Wednesday, Amnesty International found that "thousands of people, predominantly young, poor, black or mixed-race males, were killed in confrontations with the police, often in situations described officially as 'resistance followed by death.' Few if any of these were fully investigated."

The Brazilian police may have murdered Joao Herbert, but there is also blood on the hands of Gov. Bob Taft and the rest of those drug war zealots who craft laws such as the one that threw a man out of the only country he knew because he sold a bag of pot.

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