No-Knock Warrants from the Department of Education?
By Jeff Knox
It’s 6 AM and a groggy Ken Wright is getting ready to start the day. Thinking about jumping in the shower, getting the coffee on, and wake the kids… Suddenly noise from outside draws his attention and he looks out the window. He sees dozens of black-clad, armored men swarming on his lawn and now someone is pounding on the front door. As he starts down the stairs in his boxer shorts the front door shatters and the heavily armed men charge into the house pointing guns and shouting orders. They grab Wright, drag him from the home, throw him down in the front lawn and roughly handcuff him as the neighbors look on in horror. Wright is placed into a police cruiser and then sees the black-clad figures with their guns and body armor dragging his three children aged 3, 9, and 11 out of the house screaming and crying. They too are locked in the police cruiser where Wright can at least talk to them and try to calm them down. The search of the house goes on for six hours as Wright and the children sit helplessly in the hot police cruiser wondering what it’s all about.
Is it the FBI raiding a suspected terrorist cell? The DEA busting a major cocaine smuggling ring? A local SWAT team searching for a murdered wife? No, it’s a team of agents from the U.S. Department of Education Office of the Inspector General (EDOIG) looking for evidence of student loan fraud.
The Department of Education? With guns, armor, and battering rams?
This is not some far-fetched TV script or the delusional rantings of a kooky conspiracy theorist. These are the facts as reported by local Stockton, California media. Apparently the EDOIG agents were looking for evidence in an investigation of Wright’s estranged wife Michelle who does not currently reside in the home. It is not yet clear whether the EDOIG agents knew that Michelle Wright no longer lived there or that the children were in the home.
We have long been vocal in my strenuous objection to “No-Knock” and “Announce and Enter” search warrants. I believe they, and the paramilitary forces and tactics employed to serve them, are not only an affront to the Fourth Amendment, but are inherently dangerous to all concerned. Their use in certain types of cases dealing with drug gangs, kidnapping, murder, and terrorism might sometimes be justified, but their use in the vast majority of cases is simply unjustifiable. Military tactics employed in a case of student aid fraud – by an agency of federal bean-counters – goes well beyond unjustifiable and solidly into the realm of criminal.
We have previously raised concerns about the Department of Education, and various other bureaucratic agencies within the federal government, developing their own law enforcement agencies with full arrest powers and special assault forces. Over a year ago I raised an alarm after the EDOIG put out a request for bids to purchase 27 Remington 870, 12 gauge shotguns with 14 inch barrels and special, adjustable stocks. You can read that column by clicking here. The quote request included a brief statement explaining that such 14inch Remington 870s were the “only shotguns authorized for ED based on compatibility with ED existing shotgun inventory, certified armor and combat training and protocol, maintenance, and parts.”
That statement raised even more questions. Specifically, why did the Department of Education have an “existing shotgun inventory” and “certified armor,” and why on earth would they have “combat training and protocol”?
Exploring those questions led to the startling revelation that Inspectors General for over two dozen federal agencies – from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to NASA – have been authorized by Congress to seek law enforcement powers from the Attorney General without having to demonstrate any proof of need or ability. At this point it is not totally clear just how many of those IGs have taken advantage of the opportunity, but even just one is way too many − as demonstrated by the outrageous raid on Ken Wright’s home.
What if Wright had not realized that the people breaking down his front door were law enforcement? What if he had grabbed a gun to protect his home from the violent invaders? As I have previously reported, exactly that scenario played out in Tucson last month when Pima County Sherriff deputies raided the home of José Guerena. Guerena was shot some 60 times and died at the scene. The debacle is still under investigation. Similar tragedies are all too common with innocent victims, non-violent offenders, and officers paying with their lives.
How could anyone possibly justify placing Wright and his children’s lives – not to mention the lives of the EDOIG agents – in such jeopardy over allegations of fraudulent student loans?
The federal agent who swore out the warrant against Wrights home, the agents who executed it, and the judge who signed it should all face serious disciplinary action as should any agency or judge executing or issuing such warrants in such a cavalier and clearly reckless manner. Meanwhile, Congress needs to repeal the law authorizing law enforcement powers for bureaucracies. Federal thugs – as these agents proved themselves to be – have no business coming into our communities and crashing into people’s homes – regardless of the validity of the allegations.
Update: See the Cato Institute’s map of botched raids here.