EXCLUSIVE: Alpine Store Owner Speaks Out About Alleged Excessive Force by DEA
May 9, 2014 at 11:50 PM CDT - Updated July 20 at 10:03 PM
By Alicia Neaves
ALPINE - A visit by Drug Enforcement Agents to a local business in Alpine is stirring up controversy. The owner claims her sister was roughed up by DEA agents.
A resident took photos of the DEA's visit to The Purple Zone in Alpine but there is one photo that's receiving a lot of attention. NewsWest 9 spoke exclusively to the store owner to hear why she and her sister say they are completely appalled.
On Wednesday, the DEA in partnership with Customs Border Protection held a nationwide synthetic drug takedown named 'Project Synergy: Phase II" involving nearly 200 search warrants in 29 states across the U.S. The DEA says the visit to The Purple Zone in Alpine was one of them. The owner thinks this stems from something deeper.
"I really think that this is a final push from somebody. I'm not sure who, to try to remove me. It's probably a step from some form of anti-semitism," Purple Zone owner, Ilana Lipsen, said.
She tells NewsWest 9 that DEA agents arrived before business hours and her sister was outside when they got to the door.
"She pulled up and they said, 'Do you have the key?' and there's not a key for my property. We have smart locks and they're all on codes. She said, 'I don't have a key, but I have...' and 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,'" Lipsen said.
The owner's sister told her agents entered their business and took their guns, two computers, cell phones, cameras and their hard drives. She also says agents disconnected her surveillance cameras then faced them toward the wall. The owner claims nothing she sells is illegal, nor is it classified as a synthetic drug.
"The only information that I could get was they were looking for some type of document. I said, 'Well, could you please tell me what kind of document that you're looking for and I can help you?' But they wouldn't give me any information," Lipsen said.
What's most disturbing to Lipsen is what she claims happened next. Her sister was talking to a DEA agent on the sidewalk when she claims another agent approached and told her sister to get off the property. She says her sister responded, "What are you going to do, shoot me?"
"He grabbed her by the shoulders and started roughhousing her. My sister has never been arrested, has never had any other problems and she was terrified," Lipsen said.
She says her sister flinched, which seemed to escalate the situation.
"At that moment, he took his foot and tripped her to get her off of her feet and have her down to the ground. 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," Lipsen said.
Then, she says, they started to handcuff her sister.
"She was yelling, 'Get off of me. You're hurting me. You're choking me.' He had his hand around her neck as he was holding her face into the ground of the neighbors property," Lipsen said.
NewsWest 9 spoke with the DEA who confirms that this was a state search warrant used in this situation, looking for synthetic controlled substances. They say these allegations are false.
In a statement from Brewster County District Attorney, Rod Ponton, he says, "Numerous items of evidence, including "spice" packages, firearms, and ammunition, were seized pursuant to warrants. When occupants refused entry to agents in possession of a valid warrant, the door was broken down, during which action one agent received an accidental cut, which resulted in the blood at the scene. 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."
The DEA also said they can't go into much detail at the moment because this is a continuing investigation.
District Attorney Rod Ponton also says Ilana Lipsen and Rosa Lipsen are currently waiting trial on three first degree felony indictments each of selling controlled substances in a drug free zone.