The Prince Georges County, Maryland, Sheriff's Department has finished its investigation into a drug raid last summer in which deputies charged into the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights and killed two family dogs. Not surprisingly, the department cleared itself of any wrongdoing.
PG Sheriff Michael Jackson doesn't see it that way. The departmental review of the raid was "consistent with what I've felt all along: My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities," he said at a news conference last Friday as he announced the whitewash.
The raid drew national attention when SWAT team members tracking a package of marijuana delivered to the Calvo home without the residents' knowledge burst into the house, shot and killed the family's two Labrador retrievers, and detained Calvo and his mother-in-law for several hours. One dog was shot four times by the front door. The other was shot twice as it ran from officers. The sheriff's office later admitted that the Calvos had nothing to do with the drug delivery, which was a ruse by traffickers to avoid shipping to their own locations (and avoiding SWAT raids like the one the Calvos endured).
"I'm sorry for the loss of their family pets," Jackson said. "But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community. Lost in this whole incident was the criminal element... In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success."
Again, Calvo disagreed. "It's outrageous," he said. "Not only is he not admitting any wrongdoing, but he's saying this went down the way it was supposed to and he's actually commending his police officers for what they did."
The botched raid has already led to a new Maryland law imposing strict reporting requirements on SWAT teams. Now, given the instransigence of the sheriff's office, it may result in even more changes in gung-ho policing, at least in Prince Georges County.
[Ed: Sheriff Jackson was not entirely straightforward with the public during his press conference last week. First, when he said they were successful in the sense that they "kept these drugs from reaching our streets," that was flat out not true. The package was intercepted by police in Arizona. It was disguised members of Sheriff Jackson's force who delivered the package to the home, before they staked it out waiting for someone to come back and bring it inside. Maybe they just couldn't think of any of the obvious alternatives to doing a SWAT raid in this situation, but Sheriff Jackson at a minimum should be able to distinguish between his police officers and the drug agents in Arizona -- not the same people.
Secondly, Jackson claimed that they were justified in storming the home, rather than doing a standard knock and announce, because Mayor Calvo's mother-in-law had seen them and screamed -- the officers were "compromised," he said, because their presence was already known to the people inside the house. But that makes no sense at all, because knock and announce raids inform the people inside that the police are calling, by definition. By Jackson's line of reasoning, any knock and announce raid automatically compromises the police officers carrying it out -- but knock and announce is the standard way of serving a warrant.
No doubt Jackson's lies and distortions will come back to haunt him in court as the mayor's lawsuit moves forward. -DB]