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Americans have long maintained that a man’s home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing. Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
This paper presents a history and overview of the issue of paramilitary drug raids, provides an extensive catalogue of abuses and mistaken raids, and offers recommendations for reform.
Author Radley Balko is a policy analyst for the Cato Institute specializing in vice and civil liberties issues. He is a columnist for FoxNews.com and has been published in Time magazine, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Forbes, the National Post, Worth, Reason, and several other publications. Balko has also appeared on CNN, CNBC, Fox News Channel, NPR, and MSNBC.
The proliferation of SWAT teams, police militarization, and the Drug War have given rise to a dramatic increase in the number of "no-knock" or "quick-knock" raids on suspected drug offenders. Because these raids are often conducted based on tips from notoriously unreliable confidential informants, police sometimes conduct SWAT-style raids on the wrong home, or on the homes of nonviolent, misdemeanor drug users. Such highly-volatile, overly confrontational tactics are bad enough when no one is hurt -- it's difficult to imagine the terror an innocent suspect or family faces when a SWAT team mistakenly breaks down their door in the middle of the night.
But even more disturbing are the number of times such "wrong door" raids unnecessarily lead to the injury or death of suspects, bystanders, and police officers. Defenders of SWAT teams and paramilitary tactics say such incidents are isolated and rare. The map below aims to refute that notion.
May 18, 2008—CT
Police in Easton conducted a heavily-armed drug raid on the home of Ronald Terebesi, Jr, after a woman reported that she had witnessed drug activity at the house that morning. They began the raid by throwing flash bang grenades through Terebesi's windows, then battering down his door and storming the house. According to police, an unarmed man, Gonzalo Guizan, charged the raiding officers, at which point they shot and killed him.
The subsequent search yielded a small amount of coc aine residue and some coc aine pipes. Terebesi was charged with drug possession and drug paraphernalia.
Source: Maggie Caldwell, "Woman's report triggered police raid" Easton Courier, June 6, 2008.
January 4, 2008—OH
While executing a "high risk" search warrant, Lima, Ohio, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia shot and killed Tarika Wilson, 26, and injured her one-year-old son.
Tarika's boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was arrested and charged with suspicion of possession of crack coc aine. Subsequently, Sgt. Chavalia was charged with negligent homicide in the Wilson's death and charged with negligent assault in the wounding of her son, Sincere, whose finger had to be amputated. On August 4, 2008, Chavalia was acquitted of all charges.
Greg Sowinksi, "Woman killed, child injured during Lima drug raid," The Lima News, January 5, 2008.
John Seewer, "Lima Officer Charged in Fatal Shooting," AP, Mar 17, 2008.
John Seewer, "Ohio Officer Acquitted of Killing Mom Holding Baby," AP, August 4, 2008.
November 21, 2006—GA
Acting on a tip from a confidential informant, police conduct a no-knock raid on the home of 88 year old Kathryn Johnston.
Johnston, described by neighbors as feeble and afraid to open her door at night, opens fire on officers as they burst into her home. Three of the officers are wounded before Johnston is shot and killed.
Relatives say that Johnston lived alone, and legally owned a gun because she was fearful of intruders. She lived in the home for 17 years. Police claim that they find a small amount of marijuana in Johnston's home, but none of the coc aine, computers, money, or equipment described in the affidavit that was used to obtain a warrant.
There are now allegations of a police cover-up.
Shaila Dewan and Brenda Goodman, "Atlanta Officers Suspended in Inquiry on Killing in Raid " The New York Times, November 28, 2006.
Vinny "Pops" Hodgkiss
June 12, 2008—FL
Police raided the home of Vinny Hodgkiss, 47, with serving a warrant for suspected drug activity. Officer Javier Diaz shot and killed Hodgkiss who, according to police, had a loaded shotgun in his hand at the time of the shooting. Less than an ounce of marijuana was found at the scene. Friends and relatives doubt that Hodgkiss, a former pressman at a printing firm too sick to work, would have knowingly confronted a police officer in that way. Hodgkiss had a concealed-weapon permit and no history of felonies or violence.
Michael Mayo, "Overzealous drug war claims another casualty" South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 15, 2008.
Michael Mayo, "Pembroke Pines family, police paint two portraits of one man" South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 22, 2008.
Salvatore Culosi, Jr.
January 24, 2006—VA
A SWAT team in Fairfax County, Virginia serves a warrant on Culosi, an optometrist who is suspected of running a sports gambling pool with friends.
As the team surrounds him, one officer's weapon accidentally discharges, striking Culosi in the chest and killing him. Culosi had no criminal record, no history of violence, and police found no weapons in his home.
Fairfax officials later tell the Washington Post that nearly all of the county's search warrants are executed with a SWAT team, even document searches.
Tom Jackman, "SWAT Tactics at Issue After Fairfax Shooting," Washington Post, January 27, 2006, p. B1.
Detective Jarrod Shivers/Ryan Frederick
January 18, 2008—VA
Det. Jarrod Shivers, 34, was shot and killed serving a drug warrant on the home of Ryan Frederick, 28, who was suspected of growing marijuana. Frederick claims he did not know the police were raiding his home and shot before the police identified themselves. Frederick's home had been burglarized within the previous week.
Frederick has been charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. There was a small amount of marijuana and a water-pipe seized by the police, but there was no evidence that Frederick was growing anything but perfectly legal plants.
John Hopkins and Steve Stone, "Fatal shooting of officer leaves neighborhood numb," The Virginian-Pilot, January 19, 2008.
John Hopkins, "I'm not the murderer they make me out to be," says Frederick, The Virginian-Pilot, January 25, 2008.
Dep. Joseph Whitehead
March 23, 2006—GA
On March 23, 2006, 12 officers conduct a 1:30 am no-knock drug raid on a house in Macon, Georgia. During the raid, Dep. Whitehead is shot and killed by residents Antron Dawayne Fair and Damon Antwon.
Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena told the Macon Telegraph that once the suspects realized the raiding party was law enforcement and not gang members, they surrendered immediately.
Nevertheless, prosecutors charged five of the residents with murder, including one who wasn't in the building at the time. The two who actually fired weapons during the raid face the death penalty.
Phillip Ramati and Joe Kovac Jr., "'It just went wrong,' sheriff says of slaying," Macon Telegraph, April 5, 2006.
January 7, 2008—AR
At 7:40 P.M., North Little Rock SWAT executed a no-knock raid on the home of Tracy Ingle. Ingle reached for his legally-owned although inoperative pistol to defend himself until he realized the "intruders" were, in fact, police. He dropped the weapon on the ground.
Ingle was shot five times by the officers and incarcerated for four days after released from the hospital. No drugs or drug residue were found on the premises, but he was charged with assault and running a drug enterprise-the police found a scale and plastic bags during the subsequent search.
As of September 9, 2008, charges are still pending against Ingle.
Richard and Sharon Betker August 4, 2006—WI The Milwaukee Police Department obtained a no-knock warrant to search the home of Richard and Sharon Betker for illegal weapons. Neither had a violent criminal record, they owned their home, and they had no involvement with drugs. About 10:30 p.m., as the police entered the house, Richard got a handgun from a nightstand and called out asking who the intruders were. Betker was shot in the finger and the left shoulder by an officer armed with a semiautomatic M-4 carbine. During the raid, police officers broke the house’s picture window and the front and back doors. Richard Betker was not charged with any crime. Sharon Betker pleaded no contest to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, as she was convicted of check fraud in 1982, fined $250 and sentenced to five days she had served in the House of Correction. There is a civil suit filed be the Betkers pending.
SWAT Team Raids Gay Gym July 1, 2006—NM In July 2006, police officers in flak jackets donning assault weapons and shields raid a gay gym/social club in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Patrons -- some of whom were dragged from the locker room naked -- are handcuffed and forced to lie on the floor at gunpoint for more than an hour. One man is taken into a separate room, where, he says, officers photograph him and ridicule him. "We saw about 15 or 20 flashes coming from there and heard lots of laughter," one patron would later say. "They (the officers) were having a good old time. It was like the gay Abu Ghraib." Police officials later said the SWAT raid was due to reports that the club was dispensing alcohol without a license.
Cheye Calvo and Trinity Tomsic
July 29, 2008—MD
Policemen posing as delivery drivers delivered a package containing nearly four pounds of marijuana to the home of Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo and his wife Trinity Tomsic. After Mr. Calvo brought the package addressed to his wife into the home, the Prince George's County SWAT team initiated a raid into the home using no-knock entry. Upon entering the home, the officers shot and killed Calvo's two black Labrador retrievers. Calvo, dressed only in his underwear and socks, and his mother-in-law were handcuffed and interrogated for hours-a short distance from the dogs' corpses.
The SWAT team had been issued a standard warrant-not a "no-knock" or "dynamic" warrant that allows for the initial tactics used in the raid. Subsequently, on August 6, 2008, the Prince George's County police announced that they arrested two men in connection with a delivery scheme to deliver drugs to homes of unsuspecting recipients. The package addressed to Tomsic was among those tied to the men.
A review by the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office concluded that the killings of the couple's dogs were justified.
Neither Calvo nor Tomsic were arrested or charged in the case. Source:
Rosalind S. Helderman, "Pr. George's Officers Lacked 'Knock' Warrant in Raid," Washington Post, August 6, 2008.
Rosalind S. Helderman and Aaron C. Davis "Killing of Mayor's 2 Dogs Justified, Pr. George's Finds," Washington Post, September 5, 2008.
Rosalind S. Helderman and Aaron C. Davis, "Pr. George's Police Arrest 2 In Marijuana-Shipping Plot," Washington Post, August 7, 2008.
Aaron C. Davis, Police Raid Berwyn Heights Mayor's Home, Kill His 2 Dogs, Washington Post, July 31, 2008.
and charged with[size=18] suspicion of possession of crack coc aine.
In the same period, 173 potentially lethal raids on what turned out to be innocent subjects.
The Dillard-Blakely Family
June 3, 1996—IL
In June 1996, police raid the Pontoon Beach, Illinois home of Tarkus Dillard, Vickie Blakely, and the couple's two young children. According to Dillard and Blakely, one officer points a gun directly in the face of their three-year-old daughter during the course of the raid.
Police had mistakenly raided the couple's home instead of the home next door. Police Chief Michael Crouch apologized to Dillard and Blakely for the mistake, but insisted his officers had done nothing wrong. The man police were after lived nearby, and was often seen in front of the apartment building where the Dillard and Blakely lived. He escaped during the wrong-door raid.
In 1998 federal judge threw out the couple's $1 million lawsuit against the police department. A lawyer for the police officers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that even if police had pointed a gun in the face of the child and cocked it, that "it was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment." He called the suit's dismissal a "tremendous vindication" of the officers' actions, and said he was contemplating suing Dillard and Blakely, to recoup the city's legal costs.
Charles Bosworth, Jr., "Judge finds for police officer in bungled raid; Pontoon Beach couple who lived next to drug suspect filed $1 million suit," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 24, 1998, p. D2.
Venice, Illinois Police Accidentally Raid Their Own Mayor's Home
June 3, 1992—IL
A SWAT team in Venice, Illinois raids a suspected crack house by breaking in through a window and breaking down the back door with a battering ram.
Not only do they raid the the wrong address, they end up raiding the home of Tyrone Echols, the town's mayor
"To tell the truth, I don't remember what they said because I was furious," Echols told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If I'd been here and heard that going on I probably would have taken my pistol and shot through the door. I'd probably be dead. And some of the officers would probably be dead, too."
Patrick E. Gauen, "Mistaken Drug Raid Irks Venice Mayor," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 1992, p. A12.
Originally posted by chise61
reply to post by apacheman
In the same period, 173 potentially lethal raids on what turned out to be innocent subjects.
I bet it was a hell of a lot more than that, What about all of the instances where the press never got ahold of the story. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were that many in Illinois alone, if not more. Chicago cops just love using that battering ram. All they need for one of those no knock warrants is a tip from somebody trying to get out of drug charges. People that are facing drug charges and are scared and trying to get out of it will tell the cops anything.
What really gets me is the fact that you are suppossed to be able to face your accuser in a court of law, well not anymore. At least not here in Chicago, they say it has become too dangerous for the accuser, so they never have to be identified, or show up in court. What the hell kind of system is that?! So that means anyone that is ticked at you, even your ex that's mad because you dumped them can tell the cops that you're dealing drugs out of your house and never have to give any proof, or even face you in court.
So all this crap is being done on the tip of some crack head, or an ex that's ticked at you, or your neighbor who has beef with you because you play your music a little too loud, or your dog pooped on their lawn and you didn't pick it up They have no evidence beforehand, just a simple tip that could have come from anyone, for any reason.
What needs to happen is for one of these innocent victims to take their case to court on the grounds that they were denied their right to face their accuser in court, and take it all the way to the supreme court. Maybe then they'll put an end to all these gestapo raids.
And they get away with it because the whole judicial system has their back, no matter how wrong they are, or what damage they cause. Here's an example......