Bold witness to alleged abuse by federal agents comes forward (Thank you readers 21,000 views in one day)
Alpine Texas - Nicholas Branson is a 30 year old student at Sul Ross University, studying for a degree in geology. Now this student and former Eagle Scout is afraid for his future, for his career and even for his life.**Update**DA ignores first amendment violations; Washington Post comments ** Update**
Branson had the unfortunate fate of living adjacent to the Purple Zone, a business that was raided by local and federal agents on May 7, in Alpine, Texas. Branson witnessed the alleged attack on Arielle Lipsen Read more about the issue here, an act that was denied by the district attorney's office.
Branson’s apartment is separate from the Purple Zone. It is a place to sleep and study and is close to campus. The only thing Branson states he has ever purchased from the Purple Zone is an occasional can of Red Bull when he stops over to pay his rent.
“My address is clearly labeled from the street, my apartment is 705 ½” Branson told Big Bend Courier during an interview. “There is a gate that separates my front door and yard from the Purple Zone, and I maintain a separate mail box.”
That did not stop federal agents May 7.
Branson had just finished a final exam at Sul Ross University and was headed back to his apartment. When he arrived, he noticed agents in front of his apartment and thought, ‘Oh they’re raiding the Purple Zone.’
But, it was not only the Purple Zone, the officers were also in Branson's apartment. Officers refused to let Branson enter his apartment. Astounded at their presence in his home, he asked to see a warrant. Agents stated they had a warrant for the whole property, but still refused to show the warrant to Branson. The warrant, allegedly, did not list a physical address for the search and seizure. The Purple Zone address was on an affidavit that was not presented at the time.
The agents later admitted to Branson that they did not have a warrant for his address, and obtained one after the raid, based on frankincense incense seized from his apartment as well as the rocks he had collected to study. The agents allegedly entered Branson's residence at 10am without a search warrant, and only afterwards were granted a warrant by the court.
One agent, realizing they did not have a warrant for that address, directed other agents to leave the premises. Then, according to Branson, another agent, the one who allegedly choked Arielle Lipsen, told Branson he had to leave. At that point, Branson asked to see a warrant.
“He said, ’I don’t need to show you a F-----g warrant.’"
Branson said, "I need to see a warrant, based on the fourth amendment…"
"The agent answered ‘Oh you’re a F-----g lawyer now. We can do this the easy way or the hard way and put his finger on the trigger of his M16. That’s when I just backed up,” Branson said.
According to Branson the alleged assault to Lipsen happened in plain view, on the sidewalk in front of a residence.
“It happened outside on the sidewalk, " stated Branson, "She wasn’t even on the property. She was standing on the sidewalk.”
Branson’s account matches reported accounts by the Lipsens and Tom Cochran. He recounts how Lipsen’s sister Arielle started asking questions. Then, things got ugly.
“The same guy who cussed me out comes walking up. He’s about my size in full tactical gear with an M16 strapped to his chest, with what looked like four extra clips. He comes walking up real aggressive and she starts to back off. He says, ‘You need to shut up.’
"She says, ‘What are you going to do, shoot me?’
"At that point the officer grabbed her by the neck. She flinched and said, 'get your hands off me.' The officer then said 'that’s resisting.'
"He threw her to the ground.
"As she tried to get up, he grabbed her and threw her down again and her foot hit him. It wasn’t a kick. It is what happens when you get your legs kicked out from underneath you and get thrown to the ground.
"The officer said, 'You just assaulted a police officer' and then started choking her (with the butt of the gun). I saw it. I was standing right in front of the Purple Zone."
Branson was there when Tom Cochran arrived and witnessed them being very rude to Cochran.
The DEA eventually did get a warrant for Branson’s house. It was issued at approximately 11:58am, well after agents had entered the premises.
Agents seized all Branson's hard drives, flash drives, camera disks and his grandfather’s shot gun.
Branson is not originally from Alpine, he is a student at the university. He states that he does not shop at the Purple Zone except to buy the occasional Red Bull energy drinks. He rents from the Lipsens, and that is as far as his relationship with them goes.
The agents broke his gate. Agents totally destroyed a beehive that he maintains. They broke plates and ransacked his apartment. Branson said, "I’m afraid they are going to threaten me."
“I’m deathly afraid to come out. They said they suspected I had mushrooms, which is a federal crime. I’m a college student. If I get indicted I lose my Pell grant, my scholarship money, my student loan money. If they charge me I will lose everything I have been working for the last five years. But I can’t put up with it. It’s Un-American.”
“When I told them this was my house, they said, 'well, that’s the price you pay for choosing to live where you live.”
The local officer there was the only officer who treated me like a human being. He wouldn’t go onto the property because he didn’t have a warrant.”
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