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Law Enforcement: More Raids Gone Bad, Making May a Bad Month for SWAT

Two more SWAT raids gone bad in the past couple of weeks have kept the spotlight on the aggressive police units and the tactics they employ. In Polk County, Georgia, an elderly Cedartown woman was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack as a local police SWAT team and DEA agents swarmed the wrong house. In Detroit, in an incident that drew national attention, a 7-year-old girl was killed by police gunfire in a SWAT raid at the wrong apartment in a house. The SWAT team was attempting to arrest a murder suspect, so there was arguably more of a case for SWAT than in the routine drug cases we normally track in Drug War Chronicle. But the incident tragically demonstrates the potential dangers arising from such aggressive police tactics.

The two raids come before the national outrage generated by the now infamous dog-killing SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri, has had a chance to die down. In that raid, a videotape of which went viral on YouTube, a SWAT team executing a marijuana search warrant burst into a family home and shot two dogs, killing one, before ushering the suspect's terrified wife and young daughter out of the home. All police came up with was a tiny amount of pot and a pipe.

In the Georgia raid, Helen Pruett, 76, was home alone when nearly a dozen agents entered her property with guns drawn in search of drug dealers. They were actually looking for another residence on the same property, but mistakenly -- after two years of surveillance -- hit hers.

"She was at home and a bang came on the back door and she went to the door and by the time she got to the back door, someone was banging on the front door and then they were banging on her kitchen window saying police, police," said Pruett's daughter, Machelle Holl, adding that her mother was scared to open the door until the Polk County Police Chief convinced her she was safe. "They never served her with a warrant. At that point, she said the phones were ringing with the other men that were in the yard and they realized that it was the wrong address," said Holl.

Police Chief Kenny Dodd said police realized the subject they were looking for was not there. "She made us aware that she was having chest pains and we got her medical attention. I stayed with her and kept her calm and talked with her, monitored her vital signs until the ambulance arrived," said Dodd.

Bizarrely for a wrong address raid, police said the property had been under surveillance for two years. The DEA said it is investigating how the wrong address raid address raid occurred. That didn't mollify Holl.

"They have totally made a really bad mistake. You would think that with the officers and the SWAT team and the DEA they would make sure that all of their I's are dotted, all of their T's are crossed before they go bursting into someone's home like that," said Holl. "My mother was traumatized. Even the doctor said this is what happens when something traumatic happens. He said it's usually like a death in the family or something like that just absolutely scares them half to death, and that is what has happened," said Holl.

In the Detroit raid, the SWAT team was attempting to arrest a murder suspect, making the decision about whether to use SWAT potentially more complicated than in the routine drug cases we normally track in Drug War Chronicle. But the incident tragically demonstrates the potential dangers arising from such aggressive police tactics, and it resulted in the death of a seven-year-old Aiyana Jones.

According to a statement Sunday by Assistant Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, police had tracked the killer of a 17-year-old man the day before to the house. "Because of the ruthless and violent nature of the suspect in this case, it was determined that it would be in the best interest of public safety to execute the search warrant as soon as possible and detain the suspect if while we sought a murder warrant," Godbee said. "Our intelligence was accurate in this case. The suspect in Mr. Blake's death was found inside the home and arrested... But to locate him, we first had to make entry into the home. At approximately 12:40 this morning, members of the Detroit Police Special Response Team, or SRT, executed this high-risk search warrant," the assistant chief explained.

"According to our officers, and at least one independent witness, officers approached the house, and announced themselves as police. As is common in these types of situations, the officers deployed a distractionary device commonly known as a Flash Bang. The purpose of the device is to temporarily disorient occupants of the house to make it easier for officers to safely gain control of anyone inside and secure the premise," Godfree continued. "As the lead officer entered the home he encountered a 46-year-old female immediately inside the front room of the house. Exactly what happened next is a matter still under investigation, but it appears the officer and the woman had some level of physical contact. At about this time the officer's weapon discharged one round which, tragically, struck seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones in the neck/head area. Officers immediately conveyed Aiyana to St. John's Hospital while others apprehended the suspect and cleared the rest of the residence."

The SWAT team was accompanied by film crews for A&E's "The First 48," a reality TV show that follows police homicide investigators in the crucial first 48 hours after a murder has been committed. The network was taping the raid for a documentary. The videotape could play a crucial role in how this case plays out, and copies of the tapes were reportedly turned over to the state police later in the week. The state police are investigating the incident.

Prominent Michigan attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing the family in a civil suit filed this week, has questioned the police version of events. Saying he had obtained video footage shot by the TV show camera crew, Fieger said it showed officers rushing the house and throwing a flash grenade through a window before an officer fired into the home from the front porch.

The police account was "entirely false," Fieger said. "Of course, I have seen the videotape and the videotape vividly portrays the fact that a percussion grenade device was thrown through the front window and a shot was fired immediately from the outside from the porch," he said.

"No murder suspect was found in Aiyana's house," Fieger added. "In fact, there's an upstairs apartment next door which the police did not have a search warrant for and that is where he surrendered, they went into that house too. But he was not in Aiyana's house."

This isn't the first time the behavior of Detroit area SWAT teams has generated lawsuits. According to the Detroit Free Press's archive of stories on the Aiyana Jones killing, a civil suit is pending against Detroit SWAT for a 2007 raid at a home where children were present and a dog was killed, and another lawsuit is pending against the suburban Southfield police for a 2004 raid in which a 69-year-man was brutalized. Police in that raid found a small amount of marijuana in an adult son's dresser drawer.

Such raids have consequences. The anger is palpable in Detroit. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has called for a federal investigation, the Rev. Al Sharpton will address Aniya's funeral, and the city council is preparing its own review. The anger is also still palpable in Columbia, Missouri, where the dog-killing pot raid continues to reverberate. On Sunday, demonstrators picketed the police station, and city council meetings for the past two weeks have been packed with citizens complaining about the raid and demanding that heads roll. The mood wasn't helped by the police department's announcement Thursday that it had investigated itself and found its actions "appropriate."

Neil Franklin is a former Maryland police officer with SWAT experience. He is also the incoming head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). For Franklin, SWAT has limited legitimate uses, but aggressive, paramilitarized policing has gone too far. He blames the war on drugs.

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s, we didn't use SWAT teams to conduct search warrants unless it was a truly documented violent organization," he said. "As the drug war escalated, we started using SWAT to execute drug-related warrants. When I first started as an undercover officer, the narcotics team executed the warrant, along with two or three uniformed officers, but not with the high-powered weapons and force we use today. The drug war is the reason for using these teams and the driving force behind them."

"Whatever one thinks about using SWAT tactics when looking for a murder suspect, the results in Detroit show how dangerously volatile the tactics really are," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, who is also the moving force behind the Americans for SWAT Reform web site. "There is every reason to believe that conducting a late night raid and detonating flash bang grenades led to the physical contact between the woman and the officer in which the gun discharged, killing the girl. All the more reason to avoid those tactics wherever possible, certainly for routine drug search warrants."

As the Chronicle and others, most notably, Radley Balko at Reason and The Agitator blog have reported, these aggressive drug raids gone bad are not flukes, but occur on a regular, if unpredictable, basis. As they become increasingly routine, so do the risks associated with them -- for police and citizens alike. Next week, the Chronicle will be taking a look at what can be done to begin to rein them in.

Feature: Police Officer Deaths in US Drug War a Rare Occurrence, Despite Popular Belief

Tomorrow is National Law Enforcement Memorial Day, a day to mark the service of those law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. Fortunately for drug law enforcers, last year did not leave a lot of fallen officers to memorialize. And while it may cut against the grain of countless pop culture depictions about dangerous drug dealers, last year was not unusual.

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lioness statue, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (courtesy wikipedia.org)
Doing drug law enforcement is just not that dangerous. According to statistics on police line of duty deaths compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page, only three law enforcement officers were killed enforcing drug laws last year, and those three were not undercover narcs doing drug buys or SWAT team raiders busting down doors, but DEA agents who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. (One officer, Michael Crawshaw of the Penn Hills Police Department in Pennsylvania, was killed responding to a drug-trade murder in which one drug trafficker killed another over a drug debt. This officer death was certainly related to the drug war; we rightly or wrongly did not include him in the count because he was responding to a murder, not a drug crime.)

By contrast, according to FBI preliminary figures, 48 law enforcement officers were "feloniously killed in the line of duty"-- none of them doing drug law enforcement. But that was less than half of the 126 line of duty officer deaths last year. Auto accidents killed 34, drunk drivers killed nine, heart attacks killed nine more, seven died after being struck by vehicles, and four died in aircraft accidents (including the three DEA officers). Duty-related illness, 9/11-related illness, and motorcycle accidents accounted for three each, two died after being shot accidentally, and one was beaten to death.

According to historical data provided to the Chronicle by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which also compiles statistics on police line of duty deaths, last year's low death toll among officers enforcing the drug laws is not a fluke. In the decade between 1978 and 1988, an average of 6.5 officers were killed each year; in the following decade, the number was 6.2; and in the last 10 years, an average of 4.3 officers were killed each year enforcing the drug laws. The single bloodiest year for drug law enforcement was 1988, when 12 officers died.

In 2008, the number of police who died maintaining drug prohibition was seven; in 2007, it was four; it 2006, it was five; in 2005, it was four. When placed in the context of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests made in each of those years, it is clear that only one in every several hundred thousand drug arrests leads to an officer's death. During the past 10 years, the odds were less than 1 in 350,000.

But while drug law enforcement is not in itself that dangerous for police, certain police tactics raise the risk -- for both law officers and the recipients of their attention. Of the 20 officers killed enforcing the drug laws since 2005, nine were killed in drug raids and five were killed doing undercover work.

Two of the 2008 officer deaths demonstrate the risks involved in aggressive forced-entry raids. In Virginia, Chesapeake Police Detective Jarrod Brent Shivers, who also doubled as the door-rammer for the SWAT team, was killed by Ryan Frederick, who shot through a door in fear for his life in reaction to the home invasion. Frederick, who had recently been burgled, was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison. The cops were looking for a marijuana grow, but found only Japanese maple trees which the informant apparently mistook for pot.

FBI Agent Samuel Steele Hicks died in another raid gone bad. While serving a forced entry narcotics search warrant in Indiana Township, Pennsylvania, Hicks was shot and killed by the suspect's wife, Christina Korbe, who fired blindly from a bedroom at what she later said she thought were intruders. Although Korbe was not a target in the investigation of an 18-year drug conspiracy, she has since been charged with a string of drug offenses in addition to facing a murder charge.

Aggressive law enforcement tactics, such as dynamic entries (kicking in the door) and SWAT-style assaults have also left dozens of homeowners dead. (See Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko's now famous report, "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America and the police militarization archive at his blog, The Agitator for page after page of stomach-turning reports.)

In November 2006, undercover Atlanta narcotics officers doing a forced entry raid shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston after the woman fired at the people breaking down her door in a high-crime neighborhood. In this case, at least, the police were held accountable, in part because their conspiracy to cover up their fabrication of evidence for a search warrant quickly unraveled. Three of them went to prison.

  • On January 6, 2008, police in Lima, Ohio, shot and killed a 26-year-old mother of six, Tarika Wilson, during a raid aimed at her boyfriend. The police shooter was eventually found not guilty for killing her.
  • The following day in North Little Rock, Arkansas, a police SWAT team raided the home of Tracy Ingle. Awakened by a ram battering his door and thinking he was under attack by armed robbers, Ingle grabbed a broken pistol to scare them off. Officers fired multiple shots, wounding him five times. He spent a more than a week in intensive care before police removed him, took him to the police station, and questioned him for five hours. He was charged with running a drug enterprise even though no drugs were found.
  • In May, Connecticut police raiding an apartment after being informed that people were smoking crack there, shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan, who was unarmed. Police said he charged at them. All they found was a crack pipe.
  • This year, at least two people, Florida grandmother Brenda Van Zweiten and Memphis resident Malcolm Shaw were killed in separate SWAT-style raids on their homes the same week in March. In both cases, police claimed the victim was armed. Whether Van Zweiten, who was raided over small-scale drug dealing out of her house, or Shaw, who was raided over simple drug possession (!) intended to attack police or were merely trying to defend themselves from intruders breaking into their homes, will never be known because they are dead.

It's not just people. Dogs also seem to be a favorite target of drug-raiding police. That has certainly become an issue in the February SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri (see related story here), which has resulted in widespread outrage after a video of the raid found its way to YouTube last week. In that incident, police executing a search warrant over alleged marijuana sales killed one dog and wounded another, and terrified the suspect's wife and child, but found only a tiny amount of weed and a pipe.

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DEA memorial for agents killed in Afghanistan
Another infamous dog-killing SWAT raid occurred in 2008 in Maryland. Cheye Calvo, the mayor of the Washington, DC, suburb of Berwyn Heights, saw his two dogs shot and killed by a Prince George's County SWAT team that burst into his home after his mother-in-law accepted delivery of a package containing marijuana. Calvo and his family were twice victimized, once by the pot traders who used his address to have their dope sent to, and again by the gung-ho, itchy trigger finger police.

It is unclear how many people were killed by police enforcing the drug laws in general or conducting drug raids in particular. Although in 1999 Congress authorized legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to submit such data, it neglected to fund the program. The incidents mentioned above are only some of the most egregious and well-publicized, but they suggest that even if doing drug raids isn't particularly dangerous for police, it is for their victims.

There is a better way, said a pair of former drug enforcement officers consulted by the Chronicle. It might be succinctly expressed as: "Chill out."

"There is no question that in the bulk of those raids, these are not folks with any history of violence, said former SWAT team member US Special Forces sergeant James Hanson, now communications director for the veterans' group Warrior Legacy Foundation. "That should be the first hurdle: Does he have a propensity for violence? Drug warrants almost never have that level of threat. The fears police claim to have are overstated."

But, he suggested, those fears can come to fruition precisely because of aggressive policing tactics. "If you dig deeper on the two or three that happened in 2008, it was the dynamic entry that triggered the violent incident," said Hanson. "Dynamic entry into a house is the most dangerous thing about it. Just wait for the guy to go to the 7-11, for goodness' sake," he exclaimed. "That way, you're not busting down doors, endangering kids, and escalating the situation."

Cops didn't used to need paramilitary squads to do drug busts, said retired LAPD detective Dave Doddridge, who had long experience enforcing prohibition. "We weren't scared, we'd go knock on doors," he recalled. We didn't need the overkill. When I first joined the department back in 1973, at roll call, they would read off the houses, and we would drive up in a patrol car and knock on the door. We managed," he said.

"I spent several years down in South Central kicking in doors and raiding homes, and probably served 50 search warrants," the former narc added. "We weren't SWAT, just a couple of narcotics detectives with our vests on, and none of us got seriously injured. There was seldom any resistance."

SWAT was originally envisioned as elite squads designed for rare but dangerous situations, such as hostage situations, barricaded suspects, or terrorist attacks. But in a case of mission creep gone mad, they are now used routinely for drug raids -- as noted above, to the tune of 50,000 or so a year.

"In a lot of these cases, because, thanks to funds from Homeland Security, they have a SWAT capability, they have to have a reason for having it," said Hanson. "Using SWAT to serve drug warrants allows them to say it's worthwhile, and overstating the potential for violence is part of that."

"SWAT definitely takes control of the situation, but that's not necessary for a family home," said Doddridge. "Maybe if there's a gang with a big drug house and they're manufacturing you should send in SWAT, but if it's a house, just send in an informant, buy the drugs, and get an arrest warrant. You don't need SWAT for that."

But the SWAT philosophy is well-entrenched in American policing. Changing that mentality, or at least reining in SWAT's overuse and abuses will be a difficult challenge. But it can be done.

In the Columbia SWAT raid case, public outrage led quickly to new restrictions on SWAT team deployments and new rules for their use executing search warrants. Similarly, public outrage in the case of Cheye Calvo, the Maryland mayor, led to the passage of the first state law in the country aimed at reining in SWAT. That law requires every department that has a SWAT team to report regularly on its activities.

"The Maryland law is a perfect example of what needs to be done," said Hanson. "There was no auditing of how many times these teams were used in dynamic entries -- nobody from the civilian side was looking at it. If we're going to ask police to serve drug warrants, we get to decide how they do it. We don't want to put police at risk, but neither do we want to put citizens at risk. There are too many instances of bad warrants, wrong addresses, or lying informants."

Doddridge, who has become a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) since he retired from the force has another idea. "We need a crack team of attorneys who are good at lawsuits to just go around and start suing like crazy," he suggested. "When they have to start worrying about paying money, that'll make them start looking over their shoulders."

Law Enforcement: Missouri SWAT Team Gets Restrictions After Outrage Over Dog-Killing Pot Raid Video

Faced with widespread public outrage and even death threats after the release of a video of a February marijuana raid in which two dogs were shot, one killed and one wounded, by SWAT team members in a family home with a young child present, the Columbia, Missouri, Police Department Monday moved to dampen the uproar. At a press conference, Chief Ken Burton announced he was immediately imposing new restrictions on the way the department serves search warrants.

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CPD web site with SWAT team section's links and pages removed
The press conference failed to assuage public anger over the raid. At a Wednesday night Police Review Board meeting frustration with the department that extended beyond the raid was evident. (Read a local press account of the meeting here.

Although the raid occurred in February, the video did not appear until last week, after homeowner Jonathan Whitworth pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. Since then, the video has gone virulently viral and has now exceeded the one million views mark on YouTube. It shows the SWAT team pushing through the front door, aggressively entering while yelling commands and obscenities, and includes the sounds of barking and gunfire, following by the yelping of the dying and wounded dogs. The video also shows Whitworth's wife and seven-year-old son being hustled away by police, while Wentworth himself is forced to the ground with guns pointed at him.

According to the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant, Whitworth was a marijuana dealer selling high-grade pot. The affidavit cites two "truthful and reliable" snitches as saying so. It also includes the results of a search of Whitworth's trash in which police found THC residues. Despite the information in the affidavit, police found only a pipe and a small quantity of pot.

Chief Burton acknowledged that his officers had committed errors and announced six policy changes for the way the SWAT team handles search warrants. He said they were among the most restrictive SWAT policies in the country.

"The public can be assured that a similar incident is not going to happen again without somebody's head rolling because it is now the policy," Burton said. "We know what we are going to do. We're telling you how we are going to handle these things."

Here are the policy changes:

IMMEDIATE CHANGES TO COLUMBIA POLICE NARCOTIC SEARCH WARRANT SERVICE PROTOCOL

  • The Narcotics Sergeant and SWAT Commander are being removed from the decision making process on whether or not, and how, a narcotic search warrant will be served.
  • Once probable cause has been established to obtain a search warrant for narcotics, the target location will be kept under surveillance. If the surveillance is interrupted or compromised for any reason, service of a search warrant may not be authorized, or the manner in which it is served may be changed.
  • Warrant services for narcotic-related search warrants will be served within a reasonable time after the warrant is obtained, generally within 8 hours of receipt.
  • Prior to serving the search warrant, the Bureau Commander (Captain) over the area will be briefed about the warrant, and he or she will review all available intelligence related to the request, and will decide how the warrant will be served. Assessing the potential danger to officers, innocent bystanders, and suspects, along with what law enforcement purpose will be served by serving the search warrant, will be weighed in their decision.
  • All available intelligence will be used to attempt to mitigate unnecessary risk to any person. Issues such as children being present will be strong evidence that dynamic entry should not be considered except under the most extreme circumstances. SWAT Officers always have and will continue to be bound by the Columbia Police Department policy regarding any use of force.

They will, however, still shoot your dog, at least as far as this policy is concerned.

The Dog-Killing Drug Raid that Pissed Off America

This FOX News segment with Judge Napolitano is a must-see that really captures how everyone is feeling about the raid in Missouri.

Radley Balko follows up with the best piece yet written about this epic drug war controversy. There is nothing more important to understand here than the fact that everything that took place in that video is standard operating procedure in the war on drugs. The vilification of drugs and drug users has given birth to a vicious recklessness that characterizes modern drug enforcement even, and sometimes especially, when police perfectly follow the law and the orders they're given.

Until that changes, nothing else ever will.

Law Enforcement: Video of SWAT Team Killing Dogs in Front of Child During Pot Raid Stirs Outrage

A February SWAT raid in Columbia, Missouri, in which police shot two dogs, killing one of them, in front of a Columbia man and his terrified wife and seven-year-old child is stirring outrage months later -- after video of the raid was released this week. Police in Columbia are reporting death threats as the video goes viral and Internet message boards grow bloated with angry, outraged comments.

As of Friday morning , the YouTube video had been watched more than 500,000 times. The Columbia Tribune article linked to below contained a whopping 593 comments Thursday night, the vast majority critical of police, many downright hostile.

The SWAT team hit the home of Jonathan Whitworth, 25, with a search warrant alleging he was holding a major amount of marijuana and was a drug dealer. They found a pipe, a grinder, and a small amount of marijuana. Along the way, they shot the dogs, killing one of them, shouted profanities at the frightened family, and generally behaved as if they were Special Forces raiding a Taliban hide-out.

Police claimed they shot and killed a pit bull because it was "acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner," but while the video shows barking, it shows no growling. No reason was given for shooting and wounding the second dog, a corgi.

According to the Columbia Tribune, police said they were unaware that a child resided at the home. Between the bad intelligence indicating they had a major drug bust and the bad intelligence regarding who lived at the target residence, the raid would seem to suggest a force gone lax in its procedures and a local judiciary inclined to rubber stamp search warrant applications.

Jonathan Whitworth was arrested on marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia charges, and recently pleaded guilty to the paraphernalia charge. Now, he can concentrate on whether to file a lawsuit against the police department. "Their focus right now is to get this behind them," said Whitworth attorney Jeff Hilbrenner said. "Obviously, this was a traumatic event for his wife and son. A final decision has not been made, but they are evaluating all of their options."

The Columbia Police say they are conducting an internal review. It is worth nothing that in 2004, Columbia voted to make adult marijuana law offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. Somebody should mention that to the police department and its out-of-control SWAT team.

A Small Bag of Marijuana = Police Shooting Your Dogs in Front of Your Child

If you think our drug laws keep people safe, I would love to hear your thoughts on this video from a drug raid in Missouri:

You just watched as police shot 2 dogs in the presence of a small child, only to find nothing more than a small bag of marijuana. Incredibly, the parents were charged with child endangerment, not the police who fired guns inside the home.

The madness of prohibition just can't be illustrated much more powerfully than this. You have to see it with you own eyes to fully absorb the brutal callousness of the people who carry out these violent attacks on peaceful families. Even knowing as I do how often events like this take place, I still shuddered while witnessing the suspect's grief at discovering his dogs had been shot.

This is the vicious reality that the drug war's defenders can't and won't ever acknowledge. Blaming drugs for violence might be easy enough to do when it suits your agenda, but the role of our laws and their enforcers in creating horrific bloodshed is too real to be ignored.

Law Enforcement: Drug Cops Kill Two in Drug Raids in Florida and Tennessee

At least two US citizens were killed in their own homes by American police enforcing the war on drugs in a 48-hour period late last week. One was a 52-year-old white grandmother; the other was a 43-year-old black man. Both allegedly confronted home-invading officers with weapons; both were shot to death. No police officers were injured.

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Brenda Van Zwieten
The combination of widespread gun ownership in the US and aggressive drug war policing is a recipe for tragedy, one that is repeated on a regular basis. Gun owners commonly cite protecting themselves from home-invading robbers as a reason for arming themselves, while police cite widespread gun ownership as a reason they need to use SWAT-style tactics, breaking down doors and using overwhelming force against potential shooters. That homeowners would pick up a weapon upon hearing their doors broken down is not surprising, nor is it surprising that police are quick to shoot to kill "suspects" who may pose a threat to them.

The first killing came Thursday morning in North Memphis, when a Bartlett, Tennessee, police narcotics squad serving a search warrant for drug possession -- not sales, manufacture, or possession with intent to sell -- shot and killed Malcolm Shaw, 43, after breaking into his home. Police said they knocked on Shaw's door several times and identified themselves as police before entering the home.

Police said Shaw emerged from a room and pointed a gun at plainclothes officer Patrick Cicci. Cicci fired once, killing Shaw. Cicci is on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

While the Bartlett Police investigation is ongoing, that didn't stop the Shelby County District Attorney's Office from announcing Monday that Cicci will not be prosecuted. Cicci's killing of the homeowner was "apparent justifiable use of deadly force in self defense," a spokesman said.

Bartlett police said that while the Bartlett narcs conducting the raid were not in uniform, their gear clearly identified them as law enforcement. They wore "high-visibility vests" marked "POLICE" in several spots, police said.

The killing of the well-known neighborhood handyman led to the formation of a crowd hostile to police outside his home. Bartlett police on the scene had to call Memphis police to do crowd control.

Memphis police complained that the Bartlett narcs had not followed law enforcement protocols requiring them to notify the local agency when they were operating in its jurisdiction. They said they were notified only as the raid commenced, and that moments later, they got a request for an ambulance at the address, and moments after that, they got a request that they send a couple of police cruisers for crowd control.

Timothy Miers, who said he was Shaw's brother, accused police of being trigger-happy. "How you gonna go in serving a warrant and shoot somebody?" Miers asked. "They already had their finger on the trigger."

The sense of disbelief over the killing was shared by members of the crowd gathered outside Shaw's home. Many complained about the officers' actions.

"My heart fell to the ground," one neighbor said.

"We can't believe it," said another. "Malcolm out of all people."

Family members expressed confusion about the shooting, saying Shaw was not a person they would have expected to threaten officers. "They say he had a gun," said Miers. "My brother doesn't have no gun."

Friends of Shaw said the same thing. "I ain't never seen him with no gun," said Arvette Thomas, a friend of Shaw.

Shaw never bothered anyone, neighbors said. "I think it's wrong to just kill him like they did," said a neighbor, "because he wouldn't hurt a fly."

Less than 48 hours later, members of a Broward County Sheriff's Office SWAT team and its Selective Enforcement Team in Pompano Beach, Florida, shot and killed Brenda Van Zweiten, 52, during a drug raid on her home. Police had developed evidence that drugs were being sold from the residence, and obtained a search warrant. After allegedly identifying themselves as police, they broke through a sliding glass door to a bedroom and arrested Van Zweiten's boyfriend, Gary Nunnemacher, 47, on charges of possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana. Van Zweiten was in a different bedroom, and was shot and killed by deputies when she emerged holding a handgun. According to police, she refused to put down her weapon, so they shot her.

Police reported finding one gram of heroin, four grams of crack cocaine, marijuana, marijuana plants, 40 generic Xanax tablets, $550 cash, two shotguns, and a rifle. Family members said Van Zweiten had a prescription for Xanax, but was not a drug dealer. But police had earlier in the day arrested three people leaving the home who they say had bought drugs there -- although police did not say from whom.

After Van Zweiten's killing, police were unrepentant. "When you approach a police officer with a loaded weapon and don't put the weapon down, there's going to be consequences," sheriff's spokesman Mike Jachles said. "It's unfortunate, but I'd rather be talking about a dead suspect than a dead cop."

Van Zweiten's brother, Bill George, said his sister had recently received threats and was afraid of break-ins. "It was an unlawful shooting," he said. "She's 98 pounds. She was just trying to protect herself. I would come out of my room with a gun too."

As news of Van Zweiten's death spread, friends, neighbors, and family members expressed dismay and disbelief. They called the incident a "set up" and said the blonde grandmother was affectionately called "Mom" by many who knew her for using her home as a neighborhood hangout to keep kids off the streets. Dozens of people gathered in her yard near a flower-bedecked cross put up as a memorial.

"Look at these people," said George. "She helped so many of these young people."

"She was like a second mom to me," said Michael Miller, 18. "She would take in anybody."

"There was no reason for this," said son Rob Singleton, 32.

Van Zwieten had no criminal history involving drugs or violence, state records show.

George said that Van Zweiten had reason to fear intruders because she had been threatened recently by a man accused of stealing watches and rings that were part of a shrine to two of her four sons, who had died within the past three years, one in a traffic accident, one of a drug overdose. She had just installed an alarm system last week, George said. "She was scared."

Singleton showed reporters inside the house, including the small bedroom where she was shot. A large puddle of blood remained on the floor, and the walls and ceiling were splattered with blood -- from his mother's head, he said. "She was probably running into the closet and trying to hide," he said.

As is all too typical in such raid, police also totally trashed the house. As the Sun-Sentinel reported: "Much of the interior of the three-bedroom house looked as if it had been hit by a tornado... Drawers were pulled from dressers, clothes were scattered, a bed was overturned, food and crockery had been knocked from kitchen cabinets." The shrine to her dead sons was also destroyed, Singleton said.

Two Broward County Sheriff's Office detectives are on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. They have not been named.

Law Enforcement: Drug Cops Kill Two in Two Days in Drug Raids in Florida and Tennessee

At least two US citizens were killed in their own homes by American police enforcing the war on drugs in a 48-hour period late last week. One was a 52-year-old white grandmother; the other was a 43-year-old black man. Both allegedly confronted home-invading officers with weapons; both were shot to death. No police officers were injured. Brenda Van Zwieten The combination of widespread gun ownership in the US with aggressive drug war policing is a recipe for tragedy, one that is repeated on a regular basis. Gun owners commonly cite protecting themselves from home-invading robbers as a reason for arming themselves, while police cite widespread gun ownership as a reason they need to use SWAT-style tactics, breaking down doors and using overwhelming force against potential shooters. That homeowners would pick up a weapon upon hearing their doors broken down is not surprising, nor is it surprising that police are quick to shoot to kill "suspects" who may pose a threat to them. The first killing came Thursday morning in North Memphis, when a Bartlett, Tennessee, police narcotics squad serving a search warrant for drug possession -- not sales, manufacture, or possession with intent to sell -- shot and killed Malcolm Shaw, 43, after breaking into his home. Police said they knocked on Shaw's door several times and identified themselves as police before entering the home. Police said Shaw emerged from a room and pointed a gun at plainclothes officer Patrick Cicci. Cicci fired once, killing Shaw. Cicci is on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. While the Bartlett Police investigation is ongoing, that didn't stop the Shelby County District Attorney's Office from announcing Monday that Cicci will not be prosecuted. Cicci's killing of the homeowner was "apparent justifiable use of deadly force in self defense," a spokesman said. Bartlett police said that while the Bartlett narcs conducting the raid were not in uniform, their gear clearly identified them as law enforcement. They wore "high-visibility vests" marked "POLICE" in several spots, police said. The killing of the well-known neighborhood handyman led to the formation of a crowd hostile to police outside his home. Bartlett police on the scene had to call Memphis police to do crowd control. Memphis police complained that the Bartlett narcs had not followed law enforcement protocols requiring them to notify the local agency when they were operating in its jurisdiction. They said they were notified only as the raid commenced, and that moments later, they got a request for an ambulance at the address, and moments after that, they got a request that they send a couple of police cruisers for crowd control. Timothy Miers, who said he was Shaw's brother accused police of being trigger-happy. "How you gonna go in serving a warrant and shoot somebody?" Miers asked. "They already had their finger on the trigger." The sense of disbelief over the killing was shared by members of the crowd gathered outside Shaw's home. Many complained about the officers' actions. "My heart fell to the ground," one neighbor said. "We can't believe it," said another. "Malcolm out of all people." Family members expressed confusion about the shooting, saying Shaw was not a person they would have expected to threaten officers. "They say he had a gun," said Miers. "My brother doesn't have no gun." Friends of Shaw said the same thing. "I ain't never seen him with no gun," said Arvette Thomas, a friend of Shaw. Shaw never bothered anyone, neighbors said. "I think it's wrong to just kill him like they did," said a neighbor, "because he wouldn't hurt a fly." Less than 48 hours later, members of a Broward County Sheriff's Office SWAT team and its Selective Enforcement Team in Pompano Beach, Florida, shot and killed Brenda Van Zweiten, 52, during a drug raid on her home. Police had developed evidence that drugs were being sold from the residence, and obtained a search warrant. After allegedly identifying themselves as police, they broke through a sliding glass door to a bedroom and arrested Van Zweiten's boyfriend, Gary Nunnemacher, 47, on charges of possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana. Van Zweiten was in a different bedroom, and was shot and killed by deputies when she emerged holding a handgun. According to police, she refused to put down her weapon, so they shot her. Police reported finding one gram of heroin, four grams of crack cocaine, marijuana, marijuana plants, 40 generic Xanax tablets, $550 cash, two shotguns, and a rifle. Family members said Van Zweiten had a prescription for Xanax, but was not a drug dealer. But police had earlier in the day arrested three people leaving the home who they say had bought drugs there -- although police did not say from whom. After Van Zweiten's killing, police were unrepentant. "When you approach a police officer with a loaded weapon and don't put the weapon down, there's going to be consequences," sheriff's spokesman Mike Jachles said. "It's unfortunate, but I'd rather be talking about a dead suspect than a dead cop." Van Zweiten's brother, Bill George, said his sister had recently received threats and was afraid of break-ins. "It was an unlawful shooting," he said. "She's 98 pounds. She was just trying to protect herself. I would come out of my room with a gun too." As news of Van Zweiten's death spread, friends, neighbors, and family members expressed dismay and disbelief. They called the incident a "set up" and said the blonde grandmother was affectionately called "Mom" by many who knew her for using her home as a neighborhood hangout to keep kids off the streets. Dozens of people gathered in her yard near a flower-bedecked cross put up as a memorial. "Look at these people," said George. "She helped so many of these young people." "She was like a second mom to me," said Michael Miller, 18. "She would take in anybody." "There was no reason for this," said son Rob Singleton, 32. Van Zwieten had no criminal history involving drugs or violence, state records show. George said that Van Zweiten had reason to fear intruders because she had been threatened recently by a man accused of stealing watches and rings that were part of a shrine to two of her four sons, who had died within the past three years, one in a traffic accident, one of a drug overdose. She had just installed an alarm system last week, George said. "She was scared." Singleton showed reporters inside the house, including the small bedroom where she was shot. A large puddle of blood remained on the floor, and the walls and ceiling were splattered with blood -- from his mother's head, he said. "She was probably running into the closet and trying to hide," he said. As is all too typical in such raid, police also totally trashed the house. As the Sun-Sentinel reported: "Much of the interior of the three-bedroom house looked as if it had been hit by a tornado... Drawers were pulled from dressers, clothes were scattered, a bed was overturned, food and crockery had been knocked from kitchen cabinets." The shrine to her dead sons was also destroyed, Singleton said. Two Broward County Sheriff's Office detectives are on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. They have not been named.

Former Cop Says Mayor Calvo Should Stop Complaining About the Killing of His Dogs

Check out this letter in The Baltimore Sun from an ex-cop who's pissed off about Cheye Calvo's efforts to monitor the use of SWAT teams. The writer apparently thinks police should be free to use as much violence as they choose without having to explain themselves to angry innocent citizens whose pets they kill.

Radley Balko picks the whole thing apart masterfully, resulting in a rather useful point-by-point refutation of all the most common defenses of constantly using SWAT teams for everything. There isn’t much else to say except that it still amazes me that anyone would dare condemn Calvo's advocacy. Guess what, if cops bust into an innocent family's home and kill their dogs, they're going to be extremely displeased.

Everything that happened here is the fault of bad laws, bad procedures and bad cops. None of this is Cheye Calvo's fault, and any suggestion that he's overreacting is plainly ridiculous. You can't overreact to police coming into your home and shooting your pets! It's a really big deal. This wasn't a random accident that everyone can just put behind them. There is no such thing as an acceptable number of dog killings in the homes of innocent marijuana suspects. Things like that should never happen at all, and if they do, it should be discussed constantly until every contributing factor is identified and every responsible party is held accountable.

Thanks to the Drug War, Innocent People Fear Police

When a mysterious package of marijuana arrived at the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, police arrived moments later and murdered his dogs in a horrible botched drug raid. He was completely innocent, and now other innocent people who receive suspicious packages have to worry about being victimized by law-enforcement:

Sloan and Anderson have a German shepherd named Cheyenne. Sloan said the Berwyn Heights fiasco sprang to her mind the instant her husband told her about the coffee grounds.

"Before he even looked in to see what kind of drugs they were, I called 911," she said. "I told them exactly what was going on. I'm like, I don't want them coming through my door with guns drawn, because I love my dog." [Washington Post]

It's just so tragic that anyone would even have to worry about such a thing. Every single element of this problem is a symptom of prohibition, from the smuggling technique of intercepting packages at random addresses all the way up to the violent raids and dog killings that occur when police crash into private homes with big guns and no proof of guilt. It's a dreadful situation and no one is safe from it.

For more on the horrors of paramilitary policing, here's an interesting piece from Radley Balko and some disturbing news from Pete Guither.

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