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Sunday, December 31st, 2006

I’m quoted in this piece on the SWAT shooting in Wilmington, North Carolina that killed 18-year-old Peyton Strickland.

I’ve held off on commenting on this case because Strickland isn’t the most sympathetic character. The guy had just stolen two Playstation 3s, apparently by hitting the victim with some sort of “blunt object.” Local police also say they opted for the SWAT team and dynamic entry after viewing pictures on the Internet of Strickland and friends posing with weapons.

I’d still argue that there were more appropriate, less confrontational ways of arresting Strickland. And what eventually happened during the raid shows exactly why. Apparently, one of the raiding officers mistook the the crashes of the battering ram for gunshots. He then opened fire, through the door, striking and killing Strickland. Strickland was unarmed. The officer then killed Strickland’s dog as well.

The case demonstrates just how small the margin for error can be with these raids. The slightest misstep or mistake or unanticipated glitch can result in tragedy. Like the NPR story from last week, supporters of SWAT teams in this story don’t really do much to attack my position. They talk about how SWAT teams are necessary when apprehending murderers, fugitives, and the like. I’ve never been opposed to that. SWAT teams are magnificent at defusing already violent situations. My problem is and has always been the anticipatory, proactive use of SWAT teams to apprehend someone who isn’t an immediate threat. In those cases, they create violence and confrontation, they don’t defuse it.

Because he was indeed suspected of a violent crime, the Peyton Strickland case isn’t quite as clear cut as, say, a nonviolent drug case. But I’d still maintain it wasn’t an appropriate use of the SWAT team. Strickland may have been a schmuck, but he wasn’t wanted for murder. He wasn’t taking hostages. He wasn’t a violent, escaped fugitive. And he wasn’t an immediate threat to anyone.

He shouldn’t be dead. Surely there were more appropriate ways of arresting him than breaking down his door.

UPDATE: A reader emailed to say that it isn’t even clear that Strickland was involved in the theft. His roommates were suspects. But charges against Strickland were dropped shortly after the raid. There were also no guns found in the house. Also, it apparently wasn’t Strickland in the Internet photo posing with the guns, but a roommate, who was arrested earlier in the day.

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