Steve Silverman, [email protected]
The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned Denver, Colorado officials for launching a "no-knock" drug raid in September which resulted in the death of a father of nine.
Ismael Mena, 45, was shot to death by masked SWAT officers who broke down his door in the middle of the night. The officers, who had obtained the warrant based on a tip from an informant who claimed there were drug dealers in the house, later said they shot Mena after he pointed a gun at them and fired. No drugs or evidence of drug dealing were found in Mena's house, and an autopsy revealed no drugs in his body.
"If the government officials who authorized the warrant had followed the law, Ismael Mena would be alive today," said Mark Silverstein, the ACLU's legal director in Colorado. "No-knock warrants should be the rare exception and not the rule," he added.
Craig Silverman, a Denver trial lawyer and a former prosecutor summed up the absurdity of no-knock warrants by asking, "Why do you have police officers risking their lives and putting other people's lives at risk for a crime that routinely results in no incarceration in Denver?"
Silverstein said that while any request to search a home must be evaluated with care, judges should be especially wary of requests for no-knock warrants. "No-knock warrants pose a danger to the lives of police officers as well as innocent civilians. Many Colorado residents legally own firearms, and Colorado's controversial 'Make My Day' law increases the risk to police. If police do not successfully communicate their identity in the split-second hen they kick down the door, they are likely to encounter gunfire from citizens who believe they are justifiably defending their homes from lawless intruders."
In 1997, the Supreme Court unanimously held that a warrant to search for drugs does not automatically justify a no-knock entry. "The Supreme Court requires facts that are based on the specific case and the specific home to be searched," said Silverstein. "Police cannot rely on the easy generalization that a drug case means that the suspects inevitably will start shooting or attempt to destroy evidence. The warrant in this case, however, was based on the precise stereotype that the Supreme Court unanimously rejected in 1997."
(The Supreme Court decision is available online at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-5955.ZS.html.)
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has promised a thorough probe of Mena's death. The FBI has also launched its own investigation.