Diotaiuto, you may remember, was the 23-year old Florida man shot and killed by Sunrise police in a drug raid last August. I’ve spoke with a couple of people close to the case, and from what I can gather, the police account of the raid is coming apart at the seams. Cops now concede they found barely over an ounce of marijuana, not more than two, as originally reported. They’re also backing down — if only a little — from the story that Diotaiuto pointed a gun at the SWAT team.
Here, some lingering questions about the raid, and some possible answers:
Sunrise is a town of 100,000. There were exactly three murders in the city in 2003, the last year for which statistics are available. It’s a tourist/retirement area with very little violent crime. So why the SWAT team? The answer comes in a paper I’m working on at the moment, and hope to have out in the next few months. It’s because the federal government is showering police departments all over the country with military gear, funding, and combat training if they start up paramilitary units within their forces. Department officials don’t want to turn down free stuff (especially cool stuff like armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, night vision eqiupment, bayonets, and military-grade fully automatic weapons). So they start SWAT teams. The number of SWAT teams soared between 1980 and the mid 1990s, skyrocketed between 1995 and 2000, and has absolutely exploded since 2000. Because towns like Sunrise don’t have much violent crime, and don’t want SWAT teams to sit idle, they start using them for everyday policing task, like serving drug warrants. Which brings us to our next question….
Diotaiuto had one prior conviction of marijuana possession seven years ago, when he was 16. Sunrise police say Diotaiuto had a valid conceal-carry permit, and cite said permit as their reason for suspecting he was dangerous, thus necessitating the SWAT team.
Um, no. Violent drug dealers don’t bother to apply for conceal-carry permits. They flout the law, remember? In Florida, a conceal-carry permit requires paperwork, fingerprinting, a criminal background check, a fee, and enrollment in a firearms safety class. If anything, the fact that Diotaiuto had a valid permit shows he was in all likelihood not a big-time drug dealer, and was more likely a recreational marijuana user. If possession of legal, registered firearms is enough to raise a red flag with cops, and warrant storm-trooper raids of one’s home, the Second Amendment means nothing.
Diotaiuto also worked two part-time jobs while attending community college, and just sold his car to help make a down payment on a modest house for his mother. Not exactly the profile of a kingpin. Cops also could easily have grabbed him en route to his jobs, his classes, or his church, which he attended every Sunday. Of course, nabbing him that way would rob them of the fun of dressing up in commando gear, busting down doors, and clutching special-ops military weaponry.
Unlikely. Several neighbors watched the raid the moment SWAT personnel converged on the home say they heard no announcement. Police knew that Diotaiuto had just returned home from his late-night job as a bartender. They had good reason to believe he’d be exhausted, meaning they should have given him plenty of time to answer the door after announcing themselves (Florida law is unclear on just how much time is needed, but the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that six seconds is not enough time. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that 20-30 seconds is sufficient).
But the cops’ story doesn’t add up. Police say they found Diotaiuto awake in his living room, and that upon seeing them, he fled to his bed room and grabbed a loaded handgun.
But if the police had properly knocked and announced themselves, why would Diotaiuto have waited until after they entered his living room before fleeing to the bedroom to grab a gun? If his aim was to engage the cops in a shootout, it seems he would have armed himself the moment they knocked on his door and identified themselves as cops. The house was small. If he was in his living room, which is near the front door, a proper knock-and-announce almost certainly would have alerted him to the cops’ presence.
Which brings us to the next question…
This was the original story put out by the police department. It then changed to they think he pointed a gun at them, to “a gun was found near the body.”
Diotaiuto was found in his bedroom closet, his body riddled with the holes from ten bullets.
It doesn’t make sense for Diotaiuto to have armed himself and pointed a gun at the intruders if he indeed knew it was police who were invading his home. If Diotaiuto were hiding a dead body, or even a couple of kilos of cocaine or heroin, one might see how he would conclude that he’s better off taking on a SWAT team with his handgun then he is handing himself over. But an ounce of marijuana? Who goes down firing over an ounce of weed?
If it is indeed true that Diotaiuto rushed to arm himself (and yes, that’s still open for debate), the far more likely scenario is that the police didn’t properly announce themselves. More likely, Diotaiuto heard someone break open his door, possibly deploy a flash-bang grenade (it isn’t yet clear if the SWAT team used a diversionary device), and grabbed his handgun because he feared for his life.
The investigative committee has yet to issue its report. If this case proceeds like the dozens others just like it all around the country, the committee will likely paradoxically conclude that the police acted properly, and that the suspect died tragically and unnecessarily. Of course, if police properly followed procedure, and said procedure resulted in a the needless death of a nonviolent citizen, logic would suggest there’s something wrong with the procedure. Logic, unfortunately, is in short supply when it comes to drug prohibition.
In all likelihood, Diotaiuto’s family will sue. They won’t win any money from the cops who killed him, and judging from similar cases across the country, odds are about even that they’ll get any money from the city. What’s almost certain, however, is that the policy will remain unchanged. Communities like Sunrise will continue to deploy SWAT teams to serve routine drug warrants, needless provoking confrontation, and escalating the potential for violence. Those raids will inevitably continue to go awry, and cops, small-time dope dealers, and complete innocents will continue to needlessly die. A committee will investigate. And it’ll all happen all over again.
And all of that won’t do a damn thing to diminish the drug supply.