More on the Korbe/Hicks Drug Raid

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Responding to the drug raid that ended in the death of FBI Agent Samuel Hicks that I wrote about earlier, this letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review gets the problems with the FBI’s tactics just about right:

Had the police not made the tactical decision to break down the Korbes’ front door, agent Hicks would still be alive.

The justification for this act by the FBI is that evidence was being destroyed by Mr. Korbe. It most certainly was, but the FBI probably had enough evidence against Korbe or they wouldn’t have been able to get the warrant for the raid. The house was surrounded, so eventually Korbe would have been taken into custody.

I don’t know Christina Korbe, who’s charged with shooting Hicks, but news coverage indicates that she has no criminal record and had a carry permit for the weapon allegedly used to kill Hicks.

It is inconceivable to me that the FBI would choose to forcibly enter a house before dawn, knowing, as they did, that young children likely were sleeping on the second floor. In my opinion, the trauma to the family in having their door broken down would justify waiting for Mr. Korbe to surrender.

Mrs. Korbe surely knows the people with whom her husband does “business.” It was probably why she had a carry permit.

However, I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. My house has the same floor plan as the Korbes’ and if I heard a commotion on my front porch at 6 a.m., I would be defending the front door from the second-floor landing also.

Mrs. Korbe said she didn’t know that the people on the front porch were police. That’s possible, especially when they began breaking into the house.

As soon as she fired a shot, she called 911 to report that she had shot an intruder. I’m not sure that I’d have defended my children any differently. A jury in her murder trial may see it that way also.

The real losers in this incident are the Hicks and Korbe children, whose lives will never be the same.

There is plenty of blame to lay at the feet of the Korbes, but this raid would have been a one-day story on the police blotter had the FBI not chosen to act with such bravado.

It contributed nothing to their goal that morning and cost a man his life. I’d like to see more police restraint when apprehending people who are not immediate threats to the public.

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31 Responses to “More on the Korbe/Hicks Drug Raid”

  1. #1 |  Thomas Paine's Goiter | 

    PA is an NRA state. They aren’t big fans of cops breaking down doors.

  2. #2 |  roy | 

    I agree with the gist, but this is absurd:

    …the FBI probably had enough evidence against Korbe or they wouldn’t have been able to get the warrant for the raid

    Probable cause is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

  3. #3 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    “Probable cause is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    No, but why not arrest him away from the house, then serve a search warrant? No violence and no destruction of evidence – but maybe, also no excitement? Official yahooism needs to be discouraged.

  4. #4 |  chance | 

    Question: Has anyone ever seen a answer from the police about why they so often choose to use these tactics rather than the alternatives (e.g. arresting the person during commute)?

  5. #5 |  Highway | 

    chance, the reasonings frequently given is that they

    – Want to ‘control the situation’

    – Must stop whatever bad guy from ‘destroying evidence’

    – have to answer the possibility of force in return with ‘overwhelming force’

    All of these, on their face and shown by this case, are farcical. They didn’t ‘control’ any situation, the guy STILL flushed the evidence, and their ‘overwhelming’ force just confused the people inside into returning fire.

  6. #6 |  Highway | 

    Let me add those are reasons given *by the police*. To us standing around looking at the carnage and destroyed lives these stupid tactics leave behind, as well as the macho thug culture that we see from these departments on their websites and press releases, it’s pretty evident that the reason they choose these tactics is that they get to dress up in clown suits and play soldier. Something that most of us grew out of around age 12. Even real soldiers don’t show the same reaction to doing these things that these wannabes on police forces do.

  7. #7 |  dsmallwood | 

    #2 | roy |
    according to the original news story, the police were serving an Arrest Warrant, not a Search Warrant. if that is true then potential-destruction-of-evidence is not justification for barging in. they don’t need new evidence to execute the arrest.

  8. #8 |  Jerry S | 

    It’s all about Power. It’s as simple as that.

  9. #9 |  chance | 

    Thanks for the answer. The thing is, I wonder how one counters this creeping militarization? This has probably been discussed in Mr. Balko’s book (haven’t read it yet, sorry), but it seems like a tough nut to crack. While the audience to this blog may be the exception, I think most people are just going to accept such tactics, and most politicions won’t touch stronger restrictions on tactics with a ten foot pole. I know there is an aversion to “legislating from the bench”, but I wonder if in the long run only the courts are in a position to change things. (Not saying they will, only that they are the most likely change agent).

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Not likely that we’ll see police tactics change anytime soon. They’ve adopted a strategy of defending their actions at all costs regardless of the outcome of those actions. To do otherwise would be to admit that they were wrong, an attitude they are patently unfamiliar with.

    A lot of this has to do with the sense of superiority that law enforcement feels toward ordinary citizens and they’re belief, perpetually reinforced, that they are above the law. And the public, having condensed their entire concept of law into a single mantra that being “tough on crime” is all that matters, doesn’t just mindlessly tolerate the abuses, they actively defend them.

  11. #11 |  Red Green | 

    Websters says of totalitarianism,”absolute control by the state”. That’s totalitarianism knocking on (kicking in) our doors. I guess that’s also what is meant by “controlled substances”. Authoritarians never “admit they’re wrong”…until forced to, by law.

  12. #12 |  Highway | 

    Unfortunately, I think Dave Krueger is right, and we won’t see any change any time soon. Look how resistant police forces are to ANY outside influence. Civilian review boards, where they even exist, are toothless dog and pony shows. Police ‘internal investigations’ are a complete joke, where every action by the police is justified using blanket reasoning like “he feared for his life”. People continually say things like ‘there’s only a few bad cops’, but the blue wall of silence says otherwise. If there’s only a few bad cops, why aren’t they rooted out? Why aren’t the supposedly good cops trying to expose and fire the bad cops? Even a police UNION should want to get rid of the bad cops, shouldn’t it?

    Even some of the posters here, who have experience both in the police force and the academies show us that the culture of the police is changing *for the worse*. They’re much more interested in getting liars and thugs into the force than honest people, because they make it so hard for anyone who has ever done any bad thing to be a police officer. Liars and thugs have no trouble lying about their past, so they make it through the joke of a screening process.

    And we keep getting politicians who are silent on these issues. Even when there are these botched raids, they don’t say anything. And if they do, it’s in support of the police forces.

    Let’s be clear: NOBODY is on the side of the ‘citizens’. It’s increasingly us against them, and the people in charge are them.

  13. #13 |  dave smith | 

    This letter is the clearest commentary on why these raids are bad news (except from our humble Agitator, of course).

    I cannot understand why anyone would think that people who express such views on these police raids are not in the vast, vast majority.

    I do not understand why our elected officials don’t stop it.

    I do not understand why our public do not stop it.

  14. #14 |  Joel Rosenberg | 

    Chance the theory is that the BG (as the unwilling host of the attentions of the defenders of law and order is usually referred to) is far more likely to surrender than to engage in violent resistance if the defenders of law and order achieve surprise, combined with apparent massive overwhelming force.

    In many, many cases, this is true; at least most of the time, that’s just what happens.

    The problem is what happens when:

    a: the response by the real BG is violent, when a more subdued method would have resulted in nobody being hurt;

    b: the “isolated incidents” where the defenders of law and order kick in the wrong door, or the right door based on bad information, when a simple knock and query would have sorted that out without any damage to property or babies being shot, say;

    c: collateral damage to innocents that might have been avoided with a more judicious use of force.

  15. #15 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Again and again I keep reading opinions that paint “drug dealers” as recluses that never leave their house/armed-compound. We’re not talking about Escobar here. They are out and about the vast majority of the day–living a pretty basic lifestyle. The MOST dangerous (or at least one-of-the-most dangerous) ways to apprehend them is with a home raid.

    Waco changed nothing. Ruby Ridge changed nothing. I don’t think anything will change until we get full system collapse. As the current system puts laws ahead of lives, good ridance.

  16. #16 |  z | 

    Chance, it’s generally better to arrest someone at home because if they choose to resist then the risk to the more general innocent public is minimized. If you go to arrest someone at work and he decides to start shooting then it’s a much worse problem. Also, if the criminal activity is unrelated to the guy’s employment then it is unfair to the owner of the business to enter and arrest one of his employees, it’s an invasion of his property and disrupts his business and could have negative PR, all of which are none of the owners fault. Of course, you can argue that we shouldn’t be arresting drug users and sellers at all and that we shouldn’t break down anyone’s door unless absolutely necessary and I agree 100%, but to suggest arresting them somewhere other than their home is ignorant and uninformed.

  17. #17 |  z | 

    Unless you can get them to turn themselves in, like the Plexico Burress case, that’s the absolute safest way but not all that effective most of the time.

  18. #18 |  thomasblair | 

    z,

    Why not arrest them when they are entering or leaving their home? It eliminates the possibility that the person will start randomly shooting co-workers (what!) or other bystanders. By your logic, home invasion raids disrupt the family of the person who often had nothing to do with the reasons for arrest.

    The dog wasn’t selling pot, was he?

  19. #19 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “I’d like to see more police restraint when apprehending people who are not immediate threats to the public.”

    Who is Jim Bell?

    /kidding

  20. #20 |  z | 

    Why not arrest them when they are entering or leaving their home?

    Tell me how you expect that to work, cops sitting around all day every day until the guy comes out? Hoping to go unnoticed so he doesn’t destroy all the evidence inside? I don’t see it. It’s best to go to his house, knock,call, or use bullhorns and give him a chance to open the door and peaceably turn himself in. If that’s not working then you need to think about going in. The problem now is there may only be 10 or 15 seconds given for the ‘peaceably turn himself in’ part.

    By your logic, home invasion raids disrupt the family of the person who often had nothing to do with the reasons for arrest.

    Yes that’s true, but they have more association than random people at mcdonalds.

  21. #21 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #12 Highway: “They’re much more interested in getting liars and thugs into the force than honest people, because they make it so hard for anyone who has ever done any bad thing to be a police officer.”

    I don’t think departments are “interested in getting liars and thugs into the force,” but your point is still well taken. Getting hired by a police agency is very difficult, and I know this from personal experience. Its not just difficult for candidates that may have done something bad, its difficult for people who have engaged in common activities that happen to be illegal.

    I made it to the interview process with one agency and I freely admitted to smoking marijuana on ONE occasion (unfortunately for me, it was probably a month or two before the interview–poor timing on my part). This was almost certainly why I was not selected. Friends suggested that I should have just lied, and in retrospect, I thought it might have been justified. The system is dishonest, so why should I deprive myself of a career opportunity because of a fucked up system?

    Aside from trivial matters, my fear is that a candidate like myself (a critical thinker who has penned numerous letters to the editor, has been involved w/ various civil liberties groups and is now just a bit over thirty) would be frowned upon. One officer suggested that his department might not hire me because they could not “intimidate me” due to my education and life experience. I hope he’s wrong on that one, but we’ll see.

  22. #22 |  Highway | 

    Helmut, your experiences that were recounted here over time are some of what has led me to believe that those are the people they WANT to have in the force. One can believe it’s one of two things: an unintended consequence of overly strict rules, in which case the police who make the rules to get in completely naive, or it’s the intentional policy. If we laymen can see these consequences, surely they can.

    And if they’re not smart or insightful enough to see that these are the consequences, then are they really people who should be ‘protecting’ us?

  23. #23 |  Highway | 

    z, in response to your post: re: the Korbe raid, the drug dealing husband had a regular job that he attended on schedule. So with very little work they could have found out when he would leave and when he would come home.

    And there are plenty of people who DON’T have any connections to any bad people who get raided and victimized by the police. How much association did Cheye Calvo have with bad folks? How about Kathryn Johnston? You might say that Ryan Fredericks had some association, since he had bought some pot. And I guess Corey Maye did since he had a duplex next to a bad guy.

    That’s not a reason to get raided, tho.

  24. #24 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #22 Highway: One thing I think we can agree on is that too many law enforcement administrators are content with yes men. People who won’t (or can’t) critically examine the system and their role in it. Perhaps this sums it up: Answer your radio, write tickets, make arrests (any arrests, the quality of the arrest doesn’t matter), don’t upset the bosses and keep your head down and your mouth shut. They want military precision in a domestic police agency. Good luck with that.

    My views of the profession are just profoundly different. I won’t re-hash my anti-drug war views, but even outside of ending prohibition, policing needs a renaissance. One quick example: preventative patrol. This patrol method which has been shown (see the “Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment”) to have little effect on crime rates. These days, it is often a waste of gasoline. PD’s have to have rapid response capability, but there is no justification for putting cops on the street just to drive around in circles. This can give officers an incentive to be petty, just because they think they have to be active. Patrols that do occur should be based on sound crime analysis and requests from the community (traffic complaints, vacation checks or other periodic patrols). Otherwise, put the officers out on foot (in urban and some suburban areas) or, as Peter Moskos (former cop, current Professor at John Jay) might suggest, have them respond to non-emergency calls by making appointments to meet with citizens. Anyway, new ideas like this have to be brought to the attention of law enforcement leaders, and I guess I just think I can be of more use inside than I have been outside.

  25. #25 |  CEH | 

    Just a brief comment: Probable cause is often inter-changeable and is very tricky. A search warrant means there is probable cause to believe there is physical evidence of criminal activity present. An arrest warrant (which in some cases can serve as a search warrant – especially for felony suspects) means there is cause to believe a person has committed a crime. Probable cause is probable cause…PC to search, is PC to arrest, is PC to search, etc. The problem for LE arises where evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, for a conviction of course, is concerned. Where search warrants are concerned, people that are at the location are detained, not arrested, pending the search and hopefully (for the police) seizing contraband or locating the evidence of criminal activity. If no such evidence is located, no one is arrested…they were just detained. That is why someone cannot be “arrested” away from the location…the probable cause is not there, it has to be verified by what is found in the search which then becomes probable cause to arrest (revealling the evidence that hopefully leads to a beyond a reasonable doubt finding in court). Of course, where probable cause and a case have already been established against an individual, of course they could be arrested away from the home (with an arrest warrant already supported by evidence of some sort) with the eventual search just providing (hopefully for the police) additional evidence to aid in the prosecution. But that is not always the case. I hope that makes some sense. Here’s an example: police do an all too common “trash check” (when you put your can on the curb, it is no longer afforded Constitutional protections against search and seizure, it is after all trash you are discarding) and locate baggies with the corners removed and large quantities of cigar-like shavings – evidence of packaging and using marijuana in “blunt” cigars. A search warrant is obtained based on the aforementioned probable cause – but there is no drug evidence to support an arrest at this time that would withstand the beyond a reasonable doubt threshold in court. Police have to get the person and drugs at the house, not the person away from the house, to link them and get the evidence necessary for probable cause to make the arrest. Otherwise, the guy was just detained during a legal search, based on probable cause (baggy corners and cigar shavings). Now, where they have an infinite amount of time (because a routine work schedule can change!), manpower to set-up a solid perimeter around the home, vehicles and disguises that help them blend in and not be noticed by the occupants (or neighbors who may call in suspicous people in the neighborhood), the police may be able to arrest the people from the home in the front yard, going to work or whatever. But, let’s face it, that is time and manpower intensive, costly even. Might reduce the number of drug arrests drastically (cops need to work other cases, go to court, get time off, etc.)and the number of complained about homes taken care of considerably (the police address just as many complaints from the public as they do from informants trying to get out of arrests). The public won’t be happy, the cops are too slow and not doing enough. Thus, with PC they’re going in with suprise and overwhelming force (to protect themselves because violence is associated with the illegal drug trade, even though drug use in and of itself is non-violent by individuals in most cases) in order to quickly find the dope and make the arrest. Just trying to put things into perspective, maybe an attorney can chime in and support, or correct me of course, my PC explanation and reason the cops don’t generally arrest away from the target location.

  26. #26 |  CEH | 

    Helmut,

    What you are talking about is “evidence based” policing. Definitely the scientific way to go. Do what is supported by the evidence, go where the crime analysis information indicates problems are, etc. Unfortunately, the public “likes” to see police cars driving down their streets, especially in affluent neighborhoods that have relatively little crime. After all, they are the ones paying the taxes that fund the PDs aren’t they? Have you ever heard of “right place at the right time”? While not scientific, that certainly has been the precursor to some very good arrests and prevention of serious crime, because of some cop on random patrol that just “happened by”. I don’t know what the answer is. I support doing things better and more efficiently. But I also support trying meet the needs and demands of the public (whose support is vital for any LE agency to maintain legitimacy) and have a cop drive down their street every now and then even if there is a snowball’s chance in hell that a crime will be located or prevented while doing so. Perhaps it is not the profession that needs to be changed so much as the perception and expectations of the public. Good luck with that.

  27. #27 |  My 2 cents | 

    I often see it asked why the police didn’t check to see certain things (e.g. whether a house is actually a duplex like in the Cory Mayes case). I’ve been through some training at FLETC, and part of that training was prepping a threat analysis for police officers getting ready to arrest a suspect. If done properly, the police will be aware of dangers and other considerations, and plan accordingly.

    As has been noted on this blog, that often doesn’t happen. I believe it may be partially because there are no dedicated analysts, at most police departments, and the few that do are often over-tasked and under resourced. Sure, the officer could do this themselves (and to be fair many do, and I’m sure the rest are trained to do so somewhere along the way).

    The problem is that research and analysis is boring, time consuming, and the results are often ambiguous (paradox of warning, failure to warn, etc). If you have to choose between hiring another officer or hiring a bookworm who doesn’t arrest people, that’s not a hard choice

    Here’s a question for Mr. Balko (or another expert on the subject), is there a statistically significant difference between unnecessary raids at departments with such dedicated analysts, or no difference? And is that difference for the better or worse?

  28. #28 |  Ann | 

    I have to agree to the author of the article that Christina upon being awoken and most likely disoriented, was defending and protecting her children from the unknown. I’v been an acquaintance of Christina’s, we attended the same health club, and she is a very attentive mother. The losers here are all 3 children. Taylor, Nicholas, and Noah. I just find it hard to believe that there wasn’t that much forethought put into what the children would witness before the door was busted in. This is an experience these children, Taylor and Nicholas will never forget….it will be inked on their mind and their heart and we can hope and pray that they have an incredible support system to help them thru the hard times ahead.
    Because I am a mother, my heart aches for Christina and the torture she goes thru every minute she is away from her children, that is the harshest sentence any caring mother could be given.
    In reading the previous comments about police force…is it too much and are they in the right or not…I just can’t help but wonder…did they give it enough thought?? Did they consider all the variables?? Does all of this effort go into apprehending child molesters?? And real violent criminals?? Christina is considered a violent criminal now, but she wasn’t before she was placed in this position.
    I’ve just had alot of anguish over this and feel for all involved…especially the children as their lives will never be the same, but could’ve if a few decisions would’ve been made just a little differently.

  29. #29 |  slappy | 

    first of all being married to her fine husband for so many years its crazy to think she didnt know what he was into. hell, he was just arrested again for poss with intent in may. where the hell did the cash come from for the property (in the fox chappel school district) ? not to mention the home itself and the furnishings. come’on now his little ma and pa store and small auto body shop doesnt generate anything close to that kinda cash. when u know what hubby is into u need to ask yourself who may coming to visit your humble home eventually. one it may be another drug dealer or two and most probable, the police. knowing that it MAY be the police obligates u to not shoot blindly around a corner as she claims. dont give me the old babe in the woods routine. also a search warrant was not issued that morning by the FBI , but an arrest warrant. once the feds know the suspect is in the home on the warrant they have a right to enter the home to look for that individual named on the arrest warrant. since they were talking through the door to the suspect that was established. once they got no further response from the suspect after a brief convo through the door they had the right to enter. please people growup u dont always know people the way u think u do. many people have two lives. this woman did. she damned well knew what was going on and made a choice to stay and keep her children in this potentially dangerous situation . now they have to live with it and the agents family has to live without.

  30. #30 |  slappy | 

    yeah all u know it alls go on kdka.com and listen to the latest tape recorded conversations this piece of human trash had with her relatives from the jail. she’s not even bright enough to know that shes being recorded while in custody. real nice chic. refering to the slain agent as “that fuckin cop” making threats and threatening to have her family “take out” certain poeple if they dont change their attitude towards her when talking to the media. you people really hooked your wagon up to the wrong martyr.this all came out and the tapes were played at a bail hearing today. some of the tapes were played on kdka. she sounds like a real soccer mom to me. lol, more like a soccer hooligan !!!!

  31. #31 |  Calfed | 

    The meat of this letter is right here:

    “Mrs. Korbe surely knows the people with whom her husband does “business.” It was probably why she had a carry permit.”

    Exactly. She surely knew what kind of people that her husband did business with, and she was such an “attentive mother” that she chose to keep her children in a house that was used to store drugs.

    Anyone got a Mother of the Year nomination form?

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