In the latest example of overzealous policing gone fatally awry, a member of a Lima, Ohio, police SWAT team shot and killed a young mother and wounded the child she was holding in her arms during a raid aimed at the woman's boyfriend, who was alleged to be selling drugs from the residence. Tarika Wilson, 26, was killed last Friday in an upstairs bedroom, shot twice by Lima police Sgt. Joseph Chevalia. Her one-year-old son, Sincere, was also shot, as were two pit bulls at the house. The child lost his left index finger, but his injuries are not life-threatening. One of the pit bulls was killed.
In the week since the incident, Lima police have failed to provide any details on what led up to the shooting, except to say they were executing a drug search warrant for Wilson's boyfriend, Anthony Terry. Terry was arrested at the scene and charged with possession of crack cocaine, which, along with marijuana, was found at the house.
Lima police did, however, engage in some preemptive apologetics. "This is a terrible situation that resulted from a very dangerous situation that occurs when a high-risk search warrant is executed," Lima Police Chief George Garlock said.
Garlock did not explain what made the search warrant "high-risk," nor did he explain why he sent a SWAT team to raid a home where officers knew children were present. In addition to her one-year-old, Wilson was the mother of five other children between 3 and 8 who lived at the house.
Officers tossed at least one stun grenade before charging the residence, but that explosion took place outside because officers knew children were present. "Because of the possibility that we had children in there, they were not lobbed inside," Garlock said.
Lima police have turned the investigation of the incident over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation because the shooting involved a Lima police officer. That investigation is expected to take several weeks.
By mid-week, the FBI announced that it was joining the investigation. But angry family and community members are not waiting for answers. A crowd of more than 300 people marched with family members from a community center to the home where the killing took place to express their outrage and from there to the police station.
"Remember that baby who is in a hospital and that woman laying on a slab being dissected because the Lima police overstepped their bounds," Brenda Johnson, executive director of the community center, told the crowd before the march began. Ms. Johnson said it was reckless for police to raid a home with so many children inside. "This time it was someone else's child," she said. "Next time it could be your child, your grandchild."
According to next door neighbor and Wilson cousin Junior Cook, police "broke down the door and started shooting." He also denied that Terry sold drugs from the house. "No one ever came and knocked on that door or bought drugs there," Cook said.
"Not all the police are bad. Some of them have children," Pastor Arnold Manley of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church told the crowd. "But the majority of the ones in Lima are."
Residents and community activists have vowed to march every Saturday until justice is done. On Monday, more than 200 of them showed up at a heated meeting with police officials and the city council to demand action.
"The man who shot her, he's not a suspect? What if that was me?" shouted Quintel Wilson, the victim's brother. "Where would I be? Locked up. No bond! Victim is the word here."
"We're going to see that justice is done," said Bishop Richard Cox, an official with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Councilman Tommy Pitts, chair of the council's safety services committee, said Lima police have long targeted blacks. "This comes as no surprise to me," he said about the shooting.
That the resort to heavily-armed, paramilitarized SWAT teams to do routine drug search warrants can result in civilian fatalities should come as no surprise to anyone who follows their use. In 2006, Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko produced an authoritative report on the topic, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, that showed dozens of cases of people killed or brutalized during such raids.
The raids continue despite little sign of public support for them. StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter) last October commissioned a Zogby poll that found that two-thirds oppose the use of SWAT-style teams in routine drug raids. Now, from Ohio, comes one more reason to oppose them.