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

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #632)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

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.

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:


  • 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.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Hector Ortega (not verified)

The Sarge and Good Commander have a desk job waiting for them at The Asset Seizure Bureau. Just one Comrade helping another Comrade.

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 2:28pm Permalink
Scott Tudehope (not verified)

Recently in Missouri, "Rambo" cops decided to kill two family dogs in a marijuana dealer's house. A seven year old child and his mother were present and witnessed this slaughter. The marijuana dealer was arrested, and rightly so, for the illegal sale of marijuana.

What I object to is the fact that lethal force was used, particularly in regards to the fact that a child and his mother were present. Guns were used in killing the two dogs, when animal enforcement procedures easily could have been employed. Clearly, Missouri thinks that it's OK to kill dogs in a dope dealer's home. I disagree.

More people like me have to step up and ask...calmly if possible...what the SWAT teams procedures are to be in volatile situations like this one. It is time to review policies in city and county councils before this happens again. This family was traumatized and I object to Missouri's methods. They are wrong. They know that they are wrong, and in my book, the police should be sued.

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 3:01pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by Scott Tudehope (not verified)

First only one dog was killed, the other was injured by a ricochet. I hate that they shoot any dogs, but in discussing these atrocities we should be careful to be accurate about the details, otherwise they will just write off our concerns.

Second, you seem to think the guy deserved the raid, because he was a dealer. That has not been proven, only alleged, and with the raid they found no evidence of dealing. Only trace amounts of cannabis and a couple paraphernalia items were found. In fact, the pre-raid search of his trash can found only an empty baggie with trace amounts of weed left in it -- nothing of substance to indicate he was a dealer. So we are left with only the informants' accusations. We all know that snitches snitch for three reasons -- money, revenge/malice, or to get their own sentences reduced. I think it time we stop relying on the word of an informant for search warrants without corroborating evidence, which in this case is completely lacking.

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Sat, 05/15/2010 - 4:13am Permalink
Rwolf (not verified)

When Citizens read about police needlessly shooting some kid’s pet in front of the child, it resonates beyond anger; it signals a serous problem in a police department. Such inappropriate actions by officer might mirror their superiors’ attitude toward certain factions of the public.

Did you note the Columbia Police list of “new changes” failed to include taking additional steps to assure that their snitches were “truthful” before issuing search warrants? According to this story: the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant stated, Whitworth was a marijuana dealer selling high-grade pot. The police affidavit cited two "truthful” “reliable" snitches as saying so. But aren’t those words together, “truthful” “snitches” a oxymoron—contradictory and incongruous words? How can Columbia Police read the minds of their “truthful” snitches to know if they are lying, before issuing search warrants? Do police too much rely on snitches for probable cause? Consider the makings of a snitch: someone that is forced by police to inform on others and might say anything to stay out of jail and to please their police handler; someone who accepts money to inform on most anyone; or someone that just enjoys snitching, fore whatever reason. The aforementioned “snitch types” are at large given credibility by the government to testify against Citizens. Is it any wonder so many innocent people are sent to prison?

In most every country where police-SWAT military styled raids were not brought under control to protect the public, police incrementally moved forward targeting innocent Citizens and others at their homes for minor offenses. In the U.S. there has been such overuse of force by police raiding homes, one might wonder if some police are playing soldier, trying to emulate our troops in Iraq. In foreign countries police have used police military styled raids to target Citizens for their political speech or for attending certain political assemblies; or simply because someone wrote something that offended a government official. Americans should NEVER accept police raid misconduct. Could some police raiding homes have psychological issues that might include a penchant to hurt people? There have been a number of reports where U.S. police on raids apparently, needlessly shot down family pets, even in front of their owners. Could some police use such raids as cover to express their inner selves; who is going to listen to a pet owner complain about their dog being needlessly shot subsequent to their arrest for drugs, even a tiny amount of pot. Abusive U.S. police military styled raids have increasingly mirrored the 1980’s military/police raids by British Forces on homes in Northern Ireland. Those military/Police raids were sometimes used as cover to frame and or assassinate their political opponents. It should be noted U.S. domestic police military styled raids on Americans’ homes, sharply increased after local police expanded their training and working relationships with components of the U.S. military forming so called joint federal-state-local-task forces.

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 3:28pm Permalink
justme (not verified)

The law enforcement community has gotten away with corruption as long as I have been alive. It is the emergence of the video camera everywhere that is finally starting to get this corruption prosecuted and I'm 100% for it. It is about time these people who are supposed to be upholding the law, but actually considering themselves above the law, are finally having the tables turned on them. Hallelujah progress!!!

Fri, 05/14/2010 - 8:50pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by justme (not verified)

it's not likely we will see any more of these videos coming from any police departments (you did know the video was their own, did you not?). After this one went viral, you can pretty much bet there will never again be such a video forthcoming from any law enforcement agency; they will either not take video or, the video camera will have mysteriously not recorded the video, or it will mysteriously disappear or be damaged before it can be released to the public, even under the FOIA (as this one was). And if the cops won't video, no one will. How many people having armed thugs entering their homes in such a violent manner, day or night, will have the presence of mind to begin a recording of their own video of the proceedings before they are prone on the floor with a gun at their heads while their family are screaming in terror and likely their dog(s) screaming, too, in both terror and pain, not to mention lying, dying in a pool of blood? My guess is absolutely none.

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Sat, 05/15/2010 - 4:35am Permalink

They lied. They said the Pit was acting agressively but they shot the poor dog before it could do anything. And when they did shoot the Pit I'm sure it was in too much pain to try to get up and bite any of the SWAT members...they shot the dog three more times out of cruelty and because the dog was crying out of pain. They made up a lie to save their own butts.

Sat, 05/15/2010 - 2:54pm Permalink
Dan Simonds (not verified)

When I say the video of the dogs being shot,I couldn`t hold back my anger. I emailed and called the Columbia Police Department and the Columbia City officials and expressed my dislike of how they handled the raid. I am glad I did as I now know I was one of MANY other concerned people who made the effort to tell them about how wrong we feel they were in how they acted. Speaking up does make a differance. Thank goodness.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 9:34am Permalink

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