USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Here we go again. Another innocent killed by police serving a “No-Knock” warrant in the middle of the night, and another person arrested for shooting at unidentified, un-uniformed, home invaders.
This time it happened in Louisville, Kentucky. Although it is only now attracting national attention, the tragedy took place back on March 12, when 26-year old Breonna Taylor was shot 8 times by 3 plain-clothes police officers who had just kicked in her front door. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, says he believed the intruders were home-invaders and he fired one shot as the attackers came through the door.
Walker was arrested and indicted on charges of Attempted Murder of a Police Officer. At last report, those charges have been dropped pending the outcome of investigations by the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office and the FBI. If those investigations don’t come out with favorable findings for Walker, he could find himself before another grand jury facing the same or revised charges.
By twisted coincidence, the police raid on the home of Breonna Taylor occurred less than 24 hours after a similar “No-Knock” raid in suburban Maryland where 21-year-old Duncan Lemp was killed and his pregnant girlfriend wounded. As in the Kentucky raid, the stories of the police involved and the witnesses present, don’t agree. Montgomery County, Maryland Police say their officers announced themselves and that the victim/suspect refused to follow police commands before being shot.
Lemp’s girlfriend says police began firing through a bedroom window while she and Lemp were asleep in bed!
That raid was based on an “anonymous tip” that Lemp was in illegal possession of firearms. Lemp had a juvenile record that stipulated that he was not to purchase or possess firearms in Maryland until he had attained the age of 30. Three rifles and two handguns were found in the home that Lemp shared with his parents and younger brother.
Police statements regarding the raid seem to be carefully worded to allow somewhat flexible interpretations, not unlike Bill Clinton’s statements about what “is” means. For instance, police have said that Lemp refused to obey police commands and that upon entry into the bedroom, a rifle was “recovered,” but they don’t actually say that Lemp was threatening officers with the rifle, or that he was even holding it, just that it was in the same room. These ambiguous statements, and the claims of Lemp’s family, have prompted the family’s attorneys to call for the release of the body-cam videos from the officers involved in the raid. So far, Montgomery County, MD police have refused to release any video of the incident.
That refusal to release video has come under additional fire recently, after another officer-involved shooting by the same department resulted in the release of the body-cam video within 24 hours. Skeptics suggest that the reason that video was released, was because it strongly supported the officer’s contention that he had no choice but to fire in that situation. Could it be that video from the Lemp assault is being withheld because it doesn’t support officers’ claims? Are we next going to be told that none of the officers involved were wearing body cameras, or that those that were, either forgot to turn them on or had some technical issue that caused them not to work, as happened in the Erik Scott case in Las Vegas in 2010?
Back in Kentucky
Police in Kentucky say that there was no video of the assault on Breonna Taylor’s apartment, and that’s believable, though inexcusable. In that case, there were only 3 officers involved in the raid, all in plainclothes. Of course, that raises all sorts of other questions, such as why there were only 3 officers involved, why all were out of uniform, and why there isn’t some policy requiring that cameras be used during any warrant service where there’s time and opportunity to do so?
That’s just one suggestion for policies and regulations that states could implement to reduce the problems associated with “dynamic entries” and other aggressive SWAT tactics used by police:
Require that the warrant service be recorded from beginning to end, preferably with a body-cam on every participant.
Another reform intended to reduce these problems, is a law that requires police agencies to submit biannual reports on the use and activities of their SWAT teams, including reporting when, where, why, and how these officers and tactics are deployed, along with data on suspects apprehended, evidence acquired, and any injuries or serious property damage sustained in the process.
This law was pushed through the Maryland Legislature back in 2009 by the former Mayor of Berwin Heights, a suburb of Washington, DC. The mayor’s arguments for the law were especially compelling since, a few years earlier, he and his mother-in-law had been held at gunpoint, handcuffed face-down on his kitchen floor, in a pool of blood from his two Labrador Retrievers that officers had killed when they raided his home. The raid was based on a package containing marijuana being delivered to the mayor’s address. It turned out that the package was shipped by a smuggling operation and was supposed to be stolen by one of their operatives from the carport where the UPS driver had left it. They hadn’t planned on the mayor’s mother-in-law visiting and taking the package inside before their operative could acquire the package.
This type of law has only been adopted by two states, Maryland and Utah, and obviously it didn’t prevent the March raid on the Lemp residence, so what else could be done to prevent these tragedies?
For starters, judges need to be more demanding and cautious in their issuance of warrants and perhaps face consequences for signing off on a warrant based on a flimsy affidavit.
Of course, judges don’t want to be seen as micro-managing the police or having to face any consequences, but they must take responsibility for the outcomes of warrants they sign. In cases like the death of Breonna Taylor, not only should the officers who executed the raid, and the supervisor who signed off on it, be held accountable, but so should the judge who approved the warrant. At the very least a judge’s involvement in issuing a questionable warrant should be made public knowledge, especially around election season for elected judges.
Ultimately, “No-Knock” or “Knock-Knock-Bang” warrants should only be issued in very specific and extreme circumstances to save lives. Kicking in doors, setting off flash-bang grenades, rappelling down from the roof and crashing through windows, shooting dogs, using armored vehicles to pull off window bars, and all of these other movie-style tactics, simply don’t belong in our neighborhoods. Like the BATF raid on the Branch Davidian Church in Waco, Texas, there’s almost always a better way, such as capturing the suspect while he’s checking the mail or pumping gas, calling on the phone and asking for a meeting, or simply knocking on the door and showing a warrant.
If the evidence being sought is small enough to be flushed down the toilet during the service of a warrant, then it’s probably not enough to warrant putting police officers at risk to try and procure it with a dynamic raid. If the suspect is so dangerous that a SWAT raid might be warranted then it would probably make more sense to try and catch him away from his home turf, rather than trying to take him from his “castle.”
Examples of warrant service going bad are far too common and almost completely preventable. There have been far too many victims created by the tactics themselves.
People like Cory Maye, who served 10 years on Death Row for shooting at strangers kicking down his door, and Jose Guerena, a former Marine and combat vet, who jumped from his bed when he heard pounding and explosions, and was shot dozens of times because he was holding a gun in his own home. Or Cheye Calvo, the Mayor of Berwin Heights Maryland, mentioned above, or Katheryn Johnston, a 92-year old woman who was shot to death after she fired a shot at a group of home invaders crashing through her front door. It turned out that they were corrupt narcotics officers trying to shake-down a drug dealer, but they got the wrong address.
All were innocent victims of aggressive police raids that I’ve written about in the past. Statistically, these tragedies are rare, considering that SWAT teams or tactics are employed something like 40,000 times a year in this country, but even though only a small percentage of those end up in the news as bungled operations, many more result in unnecessary death and destruction, and even more result in trashed homes, trashed lives, and deep scars among some members of the community, widening rifts that departments should be working hard to close.
It’s well past time for the public, politicians, and police unions to join together to address these tactics that unnecessarily jeopardize the police and the public.