Another Isolated Incident

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

In Lawrenceville, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta:

Gwinnett County police drug investigators on Wednesday served a “no-knock” search warrant and forced entry into a Lawrenceville house, but soon discovered they were at the wrong address.

In a news release, a Gwinnett police official said it was “a case of human error and not deliberate malfeasance on the part of the investigator.”

[…]

The front door was patched with a piece of wood Wednesday night, but splinters still littered the front hallway of the home of John Louis, 38, and his girlfriend Heather James, 37.

Louis said he was upstairs working from a home office when police used a battering ram to break through the door. James and their 3-month-old daughter were asleep in separate bedrooms.

“They came in here and put guns to us. The house was full of police,” Louis said. “I’ve never had a gun in my face before. I’ve never even held a gun.”

He said that he and James, who was in a nightgown, were ordered at gunpoint to lie on the floor. When he tried to ask what they wanted, Louis said, he was told to “shut up.”

After the officers roamed through the house for a few minutes, they spotted the baby and realized their mistake, Louis said. He said they apologized and told him they confused his home with that of a neighbor two doors down, a suspected methamphetamine distributor.

Louis said he still has questions for police about how such a mistake happened.

“If you had the house under surveillance for three months, why did you come here?” Louis said. “You broke in here and put all our lives in danger, and all you can say is you’re sorry?”

Seems like we’ve reached a troubling new comfortableness with wrong-door raids when the police department’s defense is, “well, at least it wasn’t deliberate.”  I’d hope that raiding the wrong house would never be deliberate.

Video of a local news report here.

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31 Responses to “Another Isolated Incident”

  1. #1 |  Michael Chaney | 

    The search warrant was served as a result of a three month drug investigation. Efrain Pedruza, age 31, was arrested without incident. The search warrant yielded approximately 24,000 dollars in cash.

    But no drugs. Is there any evidence that this person doesn’t just hoard legally obtained cash in the house?

  2. #2 |  Tools of the State | 

    Of course it is deliberate. It’s called acclimation. Get the police used to treating normal civilians like Iraqis in a war zone, and get the people accustomed to military-style tactics by their neighborhood cops. Then when the economic collapse (followed by the inevitable government supression) occurs, both sides will know their role.
    This might be a good time to become a police officer. In the end it’s about your survival, not living in the moral climate you think is right.

  3. #3 |  Edwin Sheldon | 

    “If you had the house under surveillance for three months, why did you come here?” Louis said.

    This just about sums up how well most of these cases are “investigated”. I’d love to see the search warrant. I’m sure it claims the residence was under surveillance for an extended period of time, yet the cops made an “honest mistake” and raided a completely different residence. Surely, after having had the meth distributor under surveillance, they’d know which apartment was his?

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    “It wasn’t deliberate”

    By the same logic, a citizen who shoots a policeman during a no knock raid, believing it to be a home invasion, can say “it wasn’t deliberate.”

    Oh yeah, I forget, the same logic never applies to citizens.

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    It wasnt deliberate: i.e. the police didnt deliberate (i.e. THINK THROUGH) before they raided. Truer words were never spoken.

  6. #6 |  Bill | 

    In fairness, it is quite possible that the degree of specialization in this police force is such that those officers who conducted the surveillance weren’t the same as those who busted the door down. This would be proof that one or more of those who conducted the surveillance and applied for the warrant should be present. If they were present, then it is proof of either monumental stupidity or criminality on the part of the investigator(s).

    That said, is the house numbering system down there so bad, or are these guys so stupid, that they knocked down a door on the wrong side of the street? Considering that having one’s home invaded by armed, armored, agressive people is a fairly significant life event, might I humbly suggest that “oops, wrong house” should no longer be sufficient to protect cops from criminal charges, such as trespassing, assault and battery, terroristic threats and reckless endangerment if they take so little care as to what door they’re breaking down, and that if they happen to be injured or killed by the homeowner, a defense of “oops” should be more than adequate for the startled resident?

  7. #7 |  SJE | 

    Bill: I agree that the degree of specialization may lead to errors, and may indicate that individual officers are innocent. However, the system is clearly guilty.

    If a manufacturer sold me a car with defective brakes, the manufacturer couldn’t say “it wasnt our fault, it was Joe on the assembly line” or “at least we didnt deliberately plan for you to run into a tree and kill you and your family”

  8. #8 |  Bill | 

    No argument with you there, SJE. The question regarding the individual officers is whether they should be fired for gross incompetence or locked up; can you imagine any other profession in which putting an innocent person on the floor with a gun to their head could be seen as simply a “mistake”? Classroom teacher? Auto mechanic? I think not…

    Aside from an end to the laws which constitute the “War on Drugs”, at the very least the tactics being used should be drastically changed.

    Not that I expect to find either of those under my Christmas tree.

  9. #9 |  Fatwa Arbuckle | 

    As a new resident of Lawrenceville (with two sweet, very friendly dogs), I’m less than thrilled to see this news.

    I’ve just made call to the authorities as a “concerned citizen” and was told their spokeshole was “not available right now”.

    Perhaps the local thugs will use the “Pete Seeger defense”:

    Little boxes on the hillside
    And they all look just the same…

    I hope that Mr. Louis successfully sues the bejeesus-puke out of Gwinnett County, as that seems to be one of the few methods for putting an end to this sort of dangerous foolishness.

  10. #10 |  HTownTejas | 

    Atlanta Police are addressing this problem by trying to eliminate the Citizen Review Board.

  11. #11 |  Cynical In CA | 

    “I’d hope that raiding the wrong house would never be deliberate.”

    But it is deliberate.

    It’s deliberate in the same way that a certain number of children per year are sacrificed to the swimming pool god. A law could be passed outlawing all swimming pools, but the certainty that children will drown in them every year for eternity has not brought this law into existence. Thus, the State tacitly tolerates this child sacrifice for the convenience and pleasure that swimming pools offer its subjects.

    In the case of wrong-door raids, it is a classic win-win for the State. It’s actually a more potent result in the case of a wrong-door raid than a “right”-door raid for the following reasons:

    1. In a “right”-door raid, the subjects are criminals who have little or no fear for law enforcement, so no new net fear is introduced into the system.

    2. In a “right”-door raid, some drugs may be seized, but there will be no net effect on the drug war. As has been demonstrated by 30 years of drug war madness, the drug war is completely ineffective at eliminating drugs, so the exercise is futile from that perspective.

    3. In a wrong-door raid, the State is demonstrating its omnipotence to new subjects who may have been neutral in their opinion of law enforcement, but now have the fear of god when it comes to law enforcement. They have wonderful tales to tell all their friends and relatives of how awesome the powers of the State are. Much more fear is introduced to the system, which is oxygen for the State.

    I’ll stop there, but suffice to say that something can be deliberate without a smoking-gun memo. All the policies of the State are deliberate, and OBVIOUS.

  12. #12 |  z | 

    Why does the Illinois governor get the courtesy of a phone call requesting him to come outside and turn himself in?

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-arrest-10-dec10,0,3457227.story

    Just minutes before 6 a.m. Tuesday, a pair of black sedans and an SUV raced toward the personal residence of Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

    About the same time, the phone rang inside Blagojevich’s home.

    On the other end was Robert Grant, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Chicago. Two agents were outside Blagojevich’s front door with a warrant for his arrest, he told the governor.

    “Well, I woke him up,” Grant recalled later Tuesday at a news conference to announce charges of fraud and bribery against Blagojevich.

    Grant asked the governor to quietly open the door “without the media finding out about it, without waking the children,” he said. “He was very cooperative.”

  13. #13 |  MacK | 

    If they were original investigative team, or not, surely they heard the address at some point, but instead ignored that, and went to where someone pointed (to bad it was not a 100ft high bridge (lemmings falling)), that would be funny as hell.

    The parts that jump out at me are they way the two different views are presented….

    Police version: “Once the officers forced entry to the house, they briefly detained a male and female resident before determining they were in the wrong place.
    The search was immediately halted and no intrusive search was ever executed, said police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman.”

    That was all nice and sweet… sounds like a pleasant day for all.

    Victims version: “They came in here and put guns to us. The house was full of police,” Louis said. “I’ve never had a gun in my face before. I’ve never even held a gun.”
    He said that he and James, who was in a nightgown, were ordered at gunpoint to lie on the floor. When he tried to ask what they wanted, Louis said, he was told to “shut up.”
    After the officers roamed through the house for a few minutes, they spotted the baby and realized their mistake, Louis said.”

    That didn’t have the same sweet scent to it… sounds like a terrifying beginning to a day for the victims, but I’m sure it was still the beginning of a pleasant day for the police.

  14. #14 |  nobahdi | 

    Radley, is there a way to see the cops “three month surveillance” evidence? You know to prove whether or not they are lying, and can get a warrant without even knowing which house it is?

  15. #15 |  Omar | 

    @HTownTejas, FYI, Lawrenceville is not part of Atlanta. It’s a city in Gwinnett County. Atlanta and Gwinnett don’t share the same police or government.

    @Bill #6, Every home I’ve ever seen in Lawrenceville has a mailbox at the end of a driveway. House numbers are on the mailbox and on the front door.

    I went to Gwinnett county public schools. We all learned to read numbers before we were old enough to carry guns. You’d think that was a requirement on the local civil service exam. I guess from reading this blog though, even normal people of normal intelligence and education do colossaly stupid things when given perverse incentives and unnecessary circumstances.

  16. #16 |  OneByTheCee | 

    #14 | nobahdi

    Even if there is a FOIA request for the surveillance report and the warrant, both will most likely be so heavily redacted as to render them completely useless, especially if an informant was used.
    That would include the officer applying for the warrant and the judge who signed it.

    It’s all a big secret.

  17. #17 |  Johnstank | 

    shout out @15 – Omar!

    I live within walking distance of Lawrenceville. Meth is the new tool of fear, the excuse the cops around here have used for the last decade to justify just about everything from “no-knock” raids to their apparent favorite, the “stop-n-search.” They’re always sure to correlate meth with the large Latino population in the Gwinnett Daily Post – it really adds to the manufactured fear that make such tactics “OK” with many people. Duluth PD is just as bad, if not worse. You know the cops are doing something right when they have a “f*** the Duluth PD” MySpace Page with over 500 members!

  18. #18 |  Andrew Williams | 

    I’m surprised they even bothered to say, “Sorry.” Maybe somebody told them that would take care of everything.

  19. #19 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Legislators have proven they won’t stop this. So, how do these SWAT raids eventually end?

    I say it ends when lawyers get HUGE settlements against government (taxpayers). No way anyone moves out of principle.

  20. #20 |  Frank | 

    #12 Because he’s important.

    I want to see the family sue the department and the officers involved in their individual capacities. There is no excuse for this.

  21. #21 |  Frank | 

    #19 I say it ends when half of the SWAT team doesn’t go home.

  22. #22 |  mattincincy | 

    There’s got to be grounds for a lawsuit in here somewhere. The Po Po can’t just break into your house- even if it is by accident. If I have an accident on the roads, it’s an accident, but I still get a damn ticket.

  23. #23 |  the friendly grizzly | 

    #6 brings up an interesting point about house numbering.

    How many of you have your addresses CLEARLY marked on your house or on your curb right in front of your house? My guess is: darn few of you. This is something I have noticed over the years: address numbers are hardly posted on businesses anymore, and houses are not too much better.

    Clearly mark your house, ladies and gentlemen. The house I spent my childhood in had a light-up address sign. My present place has some stylized numbers clearly visible by the sunset-to-sunrise porch light. If nothing else, it will be one less excuse for the city-sanctioned thugs to use.

  24. #24 |  Jason | 

    So we ruined someone’s day, no big whoop.
    http://rightklik.blogspot.com/

  25. #25 |  Fatwa Arbuckle | 

    Follow-up:

    I made a second call to the copshop this afternoon to enquire when the name of “Inspector Clousseau” will be made public; got stonewalled again.

    I’m shocked…shocked I tell you.

  26. #26 |  Mattocracy | 

    Right on Omar. Its scary when it hits close to home.

  27. #27 |  OneByTheCee | 

    All this SWATzi* crap is only going to get way worse before, if ever, it gets better.

    But I seriously doubt in my lifetime. I fear it’s only in its infancy.

    *Pilfered from an agitator from a previous post. Please feel free to take credit.

  28. #28 |  Red Green | 

    You are correct sir, it is going to “get way worse”. It should’nt, but nobody but us “cop haters” seems to care enough. What brings it to a stop is more “bad busts” and blood and law suits, same as ever. SWATzi is ,as SWATzi does…unto you.

  29. #29 |  Coffee! | 

    I am a doctor and if I give, or have my nurse give, the wrong medication or dose or I operate on the wrong part or patient I am likely to get sued. Even if there was no death, serious complication or injury my license gets a ding, I get thoroughly investigated by the hospital and a committee of my peers, it goes on my permanent record as having been investigated, my name goes up on a number of government and private web sites that lists the investigation (all readily available to anyone with an internet connection), my insurance rates go up and I am generally marked as being a ‘quack’. It doesn’t matter the circumstances and it certainly doesn’t matter that I didn’t do it with malfeasance. Maybe we need to start holding police to a little higher standard than ‘we do internal investigations, we clear em’ but you still can’t read it because it might cause embarrassment’ (or more likely, give grounds to suing those who consistently fall far outside the conduct of their peers). But that is just crazy talk.

  30. #30 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Dead Dog Tales | 

    […] It’s the second time in 10 days that cops in Gwinnett County have forced their way into the wrong home. Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark […]

  31. #31 |  Gwinnett County’s Greatest Hits | The Agitator | 

    […] the Wrong House and Killed a Dalmatian Blues”  “Disabled Guy and a SWAT Team,”  “No-Knock, Wrong Wouse,”  and the follow-up just a few months later, “Sorry We Pointed Our Guns at Your Baby (We Got […]

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