A Virginia jury on Wednesday convicted Ryan Frederick (see his MySpace page here)
of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a police officer during a no-knock drug raid. Prosecutors asked for and the jury recommended a 10-year prison sentence for the 28-year-old resident of Chesapeake. The trial judge will make a final determination in a May hearing.
The jury did not convict Frederick of capital murder as prosecutors had sought. Nor was he found guilty of marijuana production -- the police raid was in search of an alleged grow -- but only of possession of a small amount of pot.
On January 17, 2008, local police executing a search warrant based on the word of questionable snitch -- who admitted burglarizing Frederick's home days earlier -- began breaking down Frederick's door. Saying he thought he was under assault from violent unknown intruders, he picked up his rifle and fired a shot through the door, killing Officer Jarrod Shivers, whose job it was to break down doors during raids. As Frederick put it himself in a jailhouse interview shortly after the incident:
Frederick said he was sleeping in a back bedroom because his job as a soft drink merchandiser required him to get up early. His dogs, Dora and Bud, were in the house. He woke up because his dogs "were barking like crazy. They're going like really crazy, so I grab my gun. As I'm walking through the hall, someone comes busting through my door."
Intruders were pushing through the bottom panels of the four-panel door, he said. The lighting in the house was dim. Frederick said he didn't hear anyone say "police" or see identification.
"I was like, 'Oh, God, if I don't shoot, then he's going to kill me'... I think I shot twice. I can't remember. It happened so fast. All I know is the gun jammed."
Frederick said he then went back to the bedroom to get a telephone. When he realized police were outside, he walked out of the house and surrendered.
In tears at times, Frederick said he doesn't grow or sell marijuana. He had a smoking bong and a small bag of marijuana, he said.
The raid and its unfortunate outcome for all involved added to rising concerns among civil libertarians and drug reform advocates about the apparently routine resort to SWAT-style tactics employed against small-scale drug offenders and, all too often, completely innocent parties.
The particulars in this case also raise serious questions about the quality of justice in that particular part of Virginia. For a closer look, try Radley Balko's detailed coverage for Reason magazine's Hit & Run blog here.
The case isn't over yet. Frederick's attorney said an appeal was definite.