Up In Their Grills

Feds fail in bid to seize dental ornaments from accused drug dealers

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Up In Their Grills

APRIL 10--Federal prosecutors last week tried to reach into the mouths of two accused drug dealers and remove ornamental "grills" affixed to the men's teeth. Arguing that the gaudy "cosmetic dental appliances" were evidence of ill-gotten gains, investigators convinced a Tacoma judge to sign a warrant authorizing their seizure.

In a March 29 affidavit supporting the seizure, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent stated that grills were "symbols which drug traffickers purchase to portray their status in the criminal community." The affidavit, a copy of which you can find here, apparently convinced Magistrate J. Kelley Arnold to order the grills (which can reportedly cost up to $25,000) removed from the mouths of inmates Flenard Neal, Jr. and Donald Lewis.

But when lawyers for the men protested the seizure of the grills--which are permanently bonded to the teeth of Neal and Lewis--Arnold issued an April 4 stay of his order, because removal "would unduly compromise their dental health."

Since the prosecution's seizure demand was filed under seal, defense attorneys only learned of the government action when Neal and Lewis called to report they were about to be transported to a Seattle dentist for the extraction procedure. (8 pages)