Thursday, November 30, 2006

When drug raids go wrong

So you like the idea of the war on drugs? You like the idea of police obtaining "no knock warrants" and going after this scum. You think as long as I am not using or selling I have nothing to worry about right?

Well, imagine this, a criminal informant for the police department has a major beef with you. He goes to the police and says that he bought narcotics off of you. The police obtain a "no knock warrant" for your arrest.

Then you are laying in bed when some one kicks in your door. You think you are being robbed and reach for a gun to defend yourself. You see the barrell of a long gun getting ready to come around the corner. You fire and shoot what you believe to be a burgler.

Turns out its the police, of course you didn't know because they are not in uniform. They in return shoot you dead. No drugs are found because you don't use or sell drugs.

Think it doesn't happen??? It happens a lot.

Here’s an interactive map of botched paramilitary police raids. The raid map is from the Cato Institute, a prominent Washington Libertarian think tank.

This map is quite interesting. It shows raids done by police that resulted in the death of innocent victims, police officers, incidents where police had the wrong house and more. Also with details of what happened.

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.

If this map is an indication of rare I would hate to see excessive.

Here are some botched raids in North Carolina since 1990.

"Operation Ready-Rock."November 2, 1990—NC
Officers from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and 45 local police conduct "Operation Ready-Rock," essentially a massive paramilitary drug raid on entire street in one predominantly black Chapel Hill neighborhood.

Police armed with assault weapons and dressed in camouflage and black hoods kick down doors and enter homes unannounced. Police block off the area shortly before the raid begins, and allow white citizens to vacate the area.

The four-hour raid yields 13 arrests for minor drug offenses, but no one is ever formally charged. The remarkable warrant indicts an entire street of people, and even predicts the future, stating, "there are no 'innocent' people at this place. Only drug sellers and drug buyers are on the described premises."

A court would later find the warrant unconstitutional. In 1996, the participating jurisdictions would pay $200,000 to settle lawsuits associated with the raid.

Christian Parenti, "SWAT Nation," The Nation, May 31, 1999, p. 16.
"Lessons of Graham Street," staff editorial, Chapel Hill Herald, February 25, 1996, p. 4.
Joyce Clark, "Suit over drug raid settled for $200,000," Raleigh News and Observer, February 22, 1996, p. B1.

Jeffrey and Phyllis Hampton. May 10, 1995—NC
In May 1995, police in Concord, North Carolina mistakenly storm the home of Jeffrey and Phyllis Hampton. The Hamptons are relaxing at around 9:30 pm when police break down their door, come into the house with assault weapons, and order the couple to the floor. Police realize their mistake after about a half hour of interrogation.

"I feel like they've taken part of my life away," Phyllis Hampton would tell the Charlotte Observer. "I used to feel safe in my home. Now I don't feel safe anywhere."

It is the first of three botched raids in the town of Concord in four years.

Anna Griffin, "Drug raid at wrong house moves couple to file suit," Charlotte Observer, September 16, 1995, p. C1.

Priscilla Clark.December 15, 1998—NC
In December 1998, SWAT officers in Raleigh raid the home of Priscilla Clark, who is pregnant at the time.

Clark tells the Raleigh News and Observer her first thought was, "'Oh my God, someone's coming in here to kill me.' I looked out my bedroom door and saw this big gun coming down the hall and a man dressed in black."

Police lock Clark's two children in a bedroom while Clark attempts to explain to them they have the wrong house. Police eventually believe her, and apologize.

Craig Jarvis, "Drug raids usually hit mark, occasionally bomb," Raleigh News and Observer, July 7, 1998, p. B1.

Charles Irwin Potts.September 4, 1998—NC
On September 4, 1998, police in Charlotte, North Carolina deploy a flashbang grenade and carry out a no-knock warrant for cocaine distribution on a tip from an informant. By the end of the raid, police have put four bullets in 56-year-old Charles Irwin Potts, killing him.

Potts was not the target of the raid. He had visited the house to play cards. Police say Potts drew his gun (which he carried legally) and pointed it at them as they entered. The three men in the house who saw the raid disagree, and say the gun never left Potts' holster. Police found no cocaine, and made no arrests as a result of the raid.

The men inside the house at the time of the raid thought they were being invaded by criminals. "Only thing I heard was a big boom," said Robert Junior Hardin, the original target of the raid. "The lights went off and then they came back on . . . everybody reacted. We thought the house was being robbed."

Police were cleared of all wrongdoing for Potts' death.

Leigh Dyer, "Anatomy of a Deadly SWAT Raid," Charlotte Observer, September 9, 1998, p. C1.
Leigh Dyer, "SWAT Team Serves Risky Warrants, Often Uses Flashbang Devices," Charlotte Observer, September 9, 1998, p. 4C.
Gary L. Wright and Leigh Dyer, "No charges in 2 police killings," Charlotte Observer, November 4, 1998, p. C1.

Earl Richardson.June 1, 1998—NC
In June of 1998, police in Raleigh, North Carolina raid the home of 66-year-old Earl Richardson, punching a hole in his front door and ripping out its interior frame. An officer clad in black points a rifle at Richardson and orders him to the floor while police rummage through his belongings.

Police had intended to raid an unmarked apartment to the rear of Richardson's home after a tip from an informant, and after finding marijuana residue in the trash. Police insist they knocked and announced before entering, which Richards denies. "That's an outright lie," Richardson told the local paper. "I would have heard them. The window of the room I was in is right next to the front door. The only thing I heard was the crash."

After an apology from Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer days later, Richardson added, "I don't have anything against the city. I'm just glad I didn't get shot."

Anne Saker, "Police raid the wrong home," Raleigh News and Observer, June 5, 1998, p. A1.
Craig Jarvis, "Drug raids usually hit mark, occasionally bomb," Raleigh News and Observer, July 7, 1998, p. B1.

The Mackin-Howie Family.May 22, 1998—NC
Police in Concord, North Carolina raid the home of Leonard Mackin, Charlene Howie, and their four children. Officers burst in with guns drawn and order the family to the floor. After repeated pleas by Mackin to police that they had the wrong house, Detective Larry Welch recognizes Mackin as a co-worker with the city and asks, "Leonard, is that you?"

A confidential informant had given police the wrong address.

It is the second of three botched raids in Concord in four years.

Kerry Prichard, "Concord Family Sues Over Search By Police," Charlotte Observer, May 25, 1999, p. C3.

Catherine Capps and James Cates.May 6, 1999—NC
In May of 1999, police in Durham, North Carolina storm the home of 73-year-old Catherine Capps. Also in the house at the time was Capps' friend, 71-year-old James Cates.

Police say they obtained a warrant for the home after a confidential informant claims to have bought crack cocaine from the residence. According to her family, Capps -- the only resident in the house -- had poor vision, was deaf, and "could not even cook an egg without being extremely out of breath."

When police raid the home, they order Cates to stand. Hobbled by a war wound and frightened, Cates stumbles at the order, and falls into a police officer. Sgt. L.C. Smith apparently mistakes Cates' stumble as a lunge for the officer's pistol. Smith responds by punching the elderly man twice in the face.

Cates isn't permitted to use the bathroom during the search, causing him to urinate on himself. Both Cates and Capps are also strip-searched. No drugs are found in the home or on Capps' or Cates' person.

Capps later died from health maladies her family says she incurred during the raid. Police continued to insist they had the correct residence. The only reason Capps was never charged with selling crack cocaine to the informant was that, according to prosecutors, trying her would have required them to release the informant's name.

Subsequent investigations conducted by the Durham Police Department, the FBI, and the local district attorney found no wrongdoing on the part of police.

About six months prior to the Capps-Cates raid, the city of Durham had set up a citizens' review board, in part due to community complaints about other allegations of excessive force on the part of police. But like similar review boards in other parts of the country, proceedings were often conducted in secret, complainants weren't given access to witnesses or evidence, and laws regarding search warrants kept vital information sealed.

When Capps' family attempted to file a complaint with the review board, the board instituted a new rule denying a hearing to any complainant who had sought financial compensation from the city prior to the complaint, and applied the rule retroactively.

Though neither Capps nor her family had asked for any compensation, Cates had, which the review board said was justification for them to refuse to even listen to a complaint about the raid. After complaints from local activist groups, the board relented.

John Sullivan, "Durham man, 71, files lawsuit over drug raid," Raleigh News and Observer, May 9, 2000, p. B4.
Dan Kane, "Council committee hears critics of disputed police raid," Raleigh News and Observer, November 5, 1999, p. B4.
Jen Gomez, "Internal inquiry exonerates officers in drug raid," Raleigh News and Observer, August 14, 1999, p. B7.
John Sullivan, "Durham DA absolves police," Raleigh News and Observer, July 27, 1999, p. B1.
Kimberly Marselas, "Watchdog watchers see problems; Some disturbed by slow pace, record of citizens board that monitors police," Durham Herald-Sun, July 16, 2000, p. B1.

Thomas Edwards, Jr.April 13, 1999—NC
In 1999, police in Concord, North Carolina shoot 15-year-old Thomas Edwards, Jr. during a drug raid. Edwards is on his hands and knees, per police orders, when he's shot.

Edwards and five other children, all aged 13-17, are at the house playing video games when police conduct the raid. Edwards is shot below the hip by Officer Lennie Rivera when, according to an internal police investigation, "a sudden movement jolted his gun, causing him to tighten his grip on it and pull the trigger."

Police find a small amount of marijuana and cocaine at the home.

Police Chief Robert E. Cansler said his officers had done surveillance on the home an hour or two prior to the raid and that "At that time there were no indications of a group of children present."

Officer Rivera was found to have improperly held his finger on the gun's trigger, and was assigned to more training with the Heckler and Koch weapon. It's the third of three botched raids in four years in the small town of Concord.

Emily Bliss, "Police note officer's mistake in shooting," Charlotte Observer, June 30, 1999, p. C6.

Dep. Steven Lanier.October 5, 2002—NC
On October 5, 2002, a sherif's department SWAT team in Brunswick County, North Carolina raids the home of 25-year-old Paul Pelham and his roommate, Atari Thomas. The raid commences after police say an informant sold Pelham an ounce of crack cocaine two days ealier.

The police, dressed in camouflage, forcibly enter the home. They say they announced themselves, though neighbors would testify for Mr. Pelham at trial that they heard no announcement.

Pelham is awoken late at night to the sound of flashbang grenades, reaches for his gun, and shoots at what he says he thought were intruders.

Pelham shoots and wounds Dep. Steven Lanier. One bullet hits the officer in the back, another hits him in the hand. Other officers then open fire on Pelham, shooting him 17 times. Pelham says he didn't know the raiding officers were police until after he was shot.

Pelham is eventually charged and convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflicting serious injury, three counts of assault with a firearm, and drug charges. He is acquitted of first-degree attempted murder and the charge of selling crack to an informant, the charge that brought the raid.

Pelham is sentenced to 19 to 26 years in prison.

Deputy Lanier suffers permanent disability from his injury, and can no longer serve on the SWAT team.

Millard K. Ives, "Jury Finds Winnabow Man Guilty in Assault on Officer," Wilmington Morning Star, October 30, 2002.
State of North Carolina v. Pellham, No. COA03-636, Filed: 4 May 2004.

Charles Alford.February 27, 2002—NC
On February 27, 2002, police raid the home of 77-year-old Willie Alford on a narcotics warrant issued for his daughter and two grandchildren.

Police from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Cumberland County, North Carolina Sheriff's Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation broke into that home at 8 pm and, according to Alford, "came in shooting." Two children, ages eight and 13 were also present in the home.

Alford's son Charles, a truck driver visiting from out of town who wasn't a suspect, was shot in the arm, legs, and side. Police found no weapons in the home. Two suspects named in the warrant were arrested at the site of the raid, and one was arrested the following day.

Christina DeNardo, "Vander Gunfire Probe Under Wraps," Fayetteville Observer, April 13, 2003.

The Cheek Road Raids.February 15, 2002—NC
In February 2002, 100 Durham police officers, two National Guard helicopters and 10 State Bureau of Investigation agents seize an entire neighborhood, then embark on a series of forced-entry raids. The exercise is dubbed "Operation TIPS," short for "The Aggressive Police Strategy."

Police arrest 35 people and sieze an "undisclosed" amount of drugs. They also find two pistols. Residence say police were "brutal" in the raids, including one incident of attacking a 13-year-old boy and holding a gun to his head.

A judge would later throw out all the arrests and evidence, delcaring the entire operation to be unconstitutional and "partially illegal." Superior Court Judge Orlando H. Hudson concluded that some of the officer behavior amounted to "criminal conduct."

A police attorney who viewed a videotape of the raid disagreed, finding that the officer involved concucted themselves in a "very fine and upstanding manner."

John Stevenson, "All Cheek Road Drug Raid Charges Dropped," Durham Herald-Sun, July 13, 2002.

Tomika Smith.July 2, 2004—NC
Police toss a flash grenade into a home as part of a no-knock raid in July 2002. The grenade lands on a couch where Tomika Smith is sitting, ignites the couch, and leaves Smith with severe burns.

Smith was on a date at the time, and not suspected of any crime. She won a $10,000 settlement in 2004.

"Cumberland County Pays Burned Woman $10,000," Fayetteville Observer, October 1, 2004.

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