1,000 Words

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Have a look at this photo.

Believe it or not, there was a time when people would have doubted a picture like this could have been taken in America. No one would believe it — probably some third-world despot or Eastern European dictatorship.

In fact, it was taken in Durham, North Carolina by a college photojournalist, and recently won in the “Spot News” category of the College Photographer of the Year competition.

Here’s the description:

A member of the Durham Police Department Selective Enforcement Team escorts a child to use the bathroom after serving a search warrant at a suspected drug house. Working closely with the police department’s Gang Units, SET is responsible for making high-risk entries into dwellings to serve search warrants. Gang Unit Two made two controlled buys, or drug purchases, from the home with the help of an informant, giving them probable cause for a search warrant.

I’ve tried to get in touch with the photographer to see what was actually found during the raid. So far, no luck. Given the next sentence in the photo’s description, I’m led to believe the answer is “not much:”

Even if a raid doesn’t turn up anything, presence and show of force sends a hard message to the neighborhood that gang and drug activity will not be tolerated.

I don’t know who wrote that — the photographer, a college reporter he was working with, or someone affiliated with the competition. It seems to suggest that nothing turned up in this particular raid. But more disturbingly, it suggests that the Durham police department sees nothing wrong with conducting a violent, door-busting raid that turns up no evidence, so long as it “sends a hard message.” I’m hoping that’s just a college journalist taking a flight of fancy. If the source for that quote was the Durham Police Department, someone needs to send them a few dozen of these.

Durham — and neighboring Raleigh — have a long, troubled history with botched police raids. Actually, the entire state of North Carolina is pretty bad. Two examples from Durham pulled from the raid map after the break.

Thanks to Kyle McKenzie for the tip.

  • In February 2002, 100 Durham police officers, two National Guard helicopters and 10 State Bureau of Investigation agents seize an entire neighborhood, then embark on a series of forced-entry raids. The exercise is dubbed “Operation TIPS,” short for “The Aggressive Police Strategy.”

    Police arrest 35 people and sieze an “undisclosed” amount of drugs. They also find two pistols. Residents say police were “brutal” in the raids, including one incident of attacking a 13-year-old boy and holding a gun to his head.

    A judge would later throw out all the arrests and evidence, declaring the entire operation to be unconstitutional and “partially illegal.” Superior Court Judge Orlando H. Hudson concluded that some of the officer behavior amounted to “criminal conduct.”

    A police attorney who viewed a videotape of the raid disagreed, finding that the officer involved conducted themselves in a “very fine and upstanding manner.”

    Source: John Stevenson, “All Cheek Road Drug Raid Charges Dropped,” Durham Herald-Sun, July 13, 2002.

  • In May of 1999, police in Durham, North Carolina storm the home of 73-year-old Catherine Capps. Also in the house at the time was Capps’ friend, 71-year-old James Cates.

    Police say they obtained a warrant for the home after a confidential informant claims to have bought crack cocaine from the residence. According to her family, Capps — the only resident in the house — had poor vision, was deaf, and “could not even cook an egg without being extremely out of breath.”

    When police raid the home, they order Cates to stand. Hobbled by a war wound and frightened, Cates stumbles at the order, and falls into a police officer. Sgt. L.C. Smith apparently mistakes Cates’ stumble as a lunge for the officer’s pistol. Smith responds by punching the elderly man twice in the face.

    Cates isn’t permitted to use the bathroom during the search, causing him to urinate on himself. Both Cates and Capps are also strip-searched. No drugs are found in the home or on Capps’ or Cates’ person.

    Capps later died from health maladies her family says she incurred during the raid. Police continued to insist they had the correct residence. The only reason Capps was never charged with selling crack cocaine to the informant was that, according to prosecutors, trying her would have required them to release the informant’s name.

    Subsequent investigations conducted by the Durham Police Department, the FBI, and the local district attorney found no wrongdoing on the part of police.

    About six months prior to the Capps-Cates raid, the city of Durham had set up a citizens’ review board, in part due to community complaints about other allegations of excessive force on the part of police. But like similar review boards in other parts of the country, proceedings were often conducted in secret, complainants weren’t given access to witnesses or evidence, and laws regarding search warrants kept vital information sealed.

    When Capps’ family attempted to file a complaint with the review board, the board instituted a new rule denying a hearing to any complainant who had sought financial compensation from the city prior to the complaint, and applied the rule retroactively.

    Though neither Capps nor her family had asked for any compensation, Cates had, which the review board said was justification for them to refuse to even listen to a complaint about the raid. After complaints from local activist groups, the board relented.

    Sources: John Sullivan, “Durham man, 71, files lawsuit over drug raid,” Raleigh News and Observer, May 9, 2000, p. B4.

    Dan Kane, “Council committee hears critics of disputed police raid,” Raleigh News and Observer, November 5, 1999, p. B4.

    Jen Gomez, “Internal inquiry exonerates officers in drug raid,” Raleigh News and Observer, August 14, 1999, p. B7.

    John Sullivan, “Durham DA absolves police,” Raleigh News and Observer, July 27, 1999, p. B1.

    Kimberly Marselas, “Watchdog watchers see problems; Some disturbed by slow pace, record of citizens board that monitors police,” Durham Herald-Sun, July 16, 2000, p. B1.

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