The Washington Post on Cheye Calvo

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

For its cover story this week, the Washington Post Sunday Magazine ran a terrific feature on the case of Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor who’s home was raided and two black labs were slaughtered by Prince George’s County police during a botched drug raid last summer. Calvo and his wife unknowingly received a package of marijuana as part of a drug smuggling scheme. The SWAT team pounced shortly after Calvo’s mother-in-law brought the package in the house.

Calvo and his family have since been cleared of any wrongdoing, and Prince George’s County officials have at least apologized for wrongly raided their home, but the county and the police still adamantly insist they did nothing wrong, have refused to apologize for killing Calvo’s dogs, and have said they’d do nothing differently if they had the whole thing to do again.

The Post piece tugs at the heartstrings—more than a few people who sent it to me said it had them in tears. It also reads as strong critique of the drug war, or at least of this particular highly-militarized method of fighting it. The piece devotes quite a bit of copy to Overkill, the 2006 paper I wrote for the Cato Institute on the rise in the use of SWAT teams and paramilitary police tactics, and even inspired a stirring editorial in defense of the Fourth Amendment by the magazine’s editor, Tom Shroder.

The piece also uncovered some previously unreported information about the case.

This passage, for example, picks up shortly after the police had “secured” the house, and Calvo’s peering out his window.

At one point, Cheye recalled, he noticed a familiar uniform in the growing crowd on lawn. Berwyn Heights police officer Pvt. Amir Johnson had been patrolling the neighborhood when he passed the mayor’s house and saw officers dressed in tactical uniforms coming out the front door. He stopped. (Berwyn Heights and Prince George’s police have overlapping jurisdictions within town limits.)

“The guy in there is crazy,” Johnson remembered a Prince George’s County officer telling him when he arrived. “He says he is the mayor of Berwyn Heights.”

“That is the mayor of Berwyn Heights,” Johnson replied.

The detective looked very surprised, Johnson later recalled: “He had that ‘Oh, crap’ look on his face.”

In this passage, when the Berwyn Heights police chief (who wasn’t notified of the raid) calls the cops at the scene to find out what happened, Prince George’s narcotics detective David Martini flat-out lies to him:

At home in St. Mary’s, Murphy dialed the cellphone of his second-in-command, now standing on the mayor’s front lawn. Murphy’s officer handed the phone to a Prince George’s narcotics investigator, Det. Sgt. David Martini.

This is how Murphy later recalled their conversation:

“Martini tells me that when the SWAT team came to the door, the mayor met them at the door, opened it partially, saw who it was, and then tried to slam the door on them,” Murphy recalled. “And that at that point, Martini claimed, they had to force entry, the dogs took aggressive stances, and they were shot.”

“I later learned,” Murphy said in an interview, “that none of that is true.”

Finally, this passage is so infuriating it’s almost comical:

It was about 7:45 p.m. when Trinity turned her 1997 Suburu Outback with the kayak rack on top onto Edmonston. The road was so jammed with police vehicles that she couldn’t reach her driveway. Assuming that the house had been robbed, Trinity abandoned her car and searched frantically for any sign of an ambulance.

“Is my husband okay?” she asked when Ken Antolik met her near her front gate. “Is my mom okay?

“Yes,” he told her. “They are in the house.

Then it struck her. It was too quiet. She didn’t hear dogs barking. She knew, even before she asked: “Payton and Chase?”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Trinity collapsed against his chest. A female officer eventually came and led her gently around to the back door. Trinity started in to find her husband and mother, then saw blood. There was so much blood. There was blood pooled near the door. Officers were tracking her dead dogs’ blood all over the house. She backed outside.

“I remember sitting on the steps thinking, ‘I’m never going to be able to live here again,’ ” Trinity recalled.

“I found something,” Georgia heard a detective yell excitedly. The woman held a white envelope filled with cash. Inside, was $68. Across the front of the envelope were written two words: “yard sale.”

The detective seemed crestfallen, Georgia said. Georgia, who had been moved, still bound, into the downstairs bedroom, says she overheard the woman saying something like: “It’s my first raid, and we got the mayor’s house.”

Calvo and the article’s author, April Witt, just completed a live chat at the Washington Post’s website.

You download a free copy of Overkill here. My work on police militarization for reason here, and on cops killing dogs here. Prior post on the Calvo raid here.

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31 Responses to “The Washington Post on Cheye Calvo”

  1. #1 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Terrific article. I’ve already emailed Ms Witt to say what a fantastic job she did.

  2. #2 |  Ben | 

    I was flipping channels yesterday and cought a few seconds of a show on National Geographic similar to Myth Busters. They were testing how much damage the shockwave from a suicide bomber would do.

    They tested with a SWAT team in CO (i believe). They were talking about doing the test during a training session for SWAT to learn to use explosive entry techniques. EXPLOSIVE entry techniques. So now we’re okay with them using C4 or whatever (a la James Bond) to get into buildings.

    This can not end well.

  3. #3 |  Alien | 

    Not quite the same as this raid but related, an article on Fox News at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,486444,00.html talks about people who intentionally prank called for the express purpose of getting a SWAT team to raid a house that the pranksters had randomly selected.

    A bit different from drug raids in that the pranks are of an emergent nature that don’t allow for the type of investigation that one would expect for non-emergent drug cases. Still, is it so hard to call back a place or otherwise double check to make SOME kind of confirmation before busting in and having someone possibly die?

  4. #4 |  Ben | 

    This is the show I saw, apparently. I’m not 100% sure because I saw it through the haze of massive quantities of Dayquil and head cold.

    http://tvlistings.zap2it.com/tv/disaster-lab-blast-force/EP01110943

  5. #5 |  Aresen | 

    In a way, the Cheye Calvo raid may be a good thing.*

    If a few more blunders of this sort happen to people who are fairly prominent and have solid reputations in the community, maybe the public and politicians will start to rethink the Drug War and the militarization of the police.

    *I mean no disrespect to Mr. Calvo. What happened to him and his family is inexcusable.

  6. #6 |  Kieffer | 

    The land of the free and the home of the brave.

  7. #7 |  Jeff | 

    It’s currently the top story on Digg and getting a lot of exposure.

  8. #8 |  Dave Krueger | 

    These terrorizing search and destroy tactics aren’t going to change because there just haven’t been enough children injured or killed.

    Yet.

  9. #9 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    What got me, apart from the sad and appalling event, was that the grunt level cop doing the raid actually believed they were in Scarface’s house. These guys believe everythng they’re told by their superiors. With that kind of blind following (very akin to a soldier), we will NEVER get honest answers, NEVER have good cops step up, and NEVER end this silly “war”. The soldiers are just too entrenched and believe in this drug war like a religion.

  10. #10 |  ktc2 | 

    As long as the victims are not considered human (i.e. anyone not white and middle class or better off) by the perpetrators and the nutjobs who vote for them this will not change.

    So long as the thugs continue their reign of terror amongst the black and/or poor casualties won’t matter to those with the power to effect change. Sad fact.

  11. #11 |  PC | 

    Come on folks, this is just another example of the new professionalism of the police.

  12. #12 |  Mike T | 

    These terrorizing search and destroy tactics aren’t going to change because there just haven’t been enough children injured or killed.

    Yet.

    Correction: there haven’t been enough wives and children of police and prosecutors injured or killed. Don’t think for a second that your average narc gives two shits about “some civilian’s” kids. No decent human being actually makes a career out of being a narc. They’d sacrifice your kids to keep a reefer or crack pipe out of someone’s hands faster than a Moloch worshipper in a daycare center.

  13. #13 |  dsmallwood | 

    my favorite part is in the very begining … “during a botched drug raid”
    only the readers of this site view the events this way. the police say they “executed a raid. drugs were seized, but no arrests were made”

    power is all in the editing

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    True, Mike. Cops don’t give a shit if thousands die as long as one of them and theirs don’t get hurt.

    Hence…Fuck.The.Police.

  15. #15 |  Bob | 

    “Martini tells me that when the SWAT team came to the door, the mayor met them at the door, opened it partially, saw who it was, and then tried to slam the door on them,” Murphy recalled. “And that at that point, Martini claimed, they had to force entry, the dogs took aggressive stances, and they were shot.”

    If that’s actually what the guy said, then that’s a horrific indictment of the Prince George’s Narcotics group.

    ALL raids should be fully documented, video and audio. With the all important ‘Entry Cam’ trained on the front door from one of the vehicles.

  16. #16 |  Ben | 

    Bob, why? It’s just another tape to be lost in the shuffle.

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #15 Bob

    ALL raids should be fully documented, video and audio. With the all important ‘Entry Cam’ trained on the front door from one of the vehicles.

    That would require cameras that cannot be tampered with by the cops, which means the cameras would have to belong to the property owners and the pictures would have to be immediately transmitted off-site (preferably by some means that couldn’t be defeated by the cops). Easier said that done. When cops start finding themselves screwing up on tape often enough, you can be sure they will institute counter measures. Cops don’t voluntarily allow the existence of evidence that points the finger at them.

    As we all know, vehicle cams can conveniently not work, even if there are nine of them.

  18. #18 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #5 | Aresen | February 2nd, 2009 at 2:27 pm
    “In a way, the Cheye Calvo raid may be a good thing. If a few more blunders of this sort happen to people who are fairly prominent and have solid reputations in the community, maybe the public and politicians will start to rethink the Drug War and the militarization of the police.”

    In my neverending quest to eradicate optimism wherever I find it, I have to encourage you to revert back to realism, Aresen. Nothing short of a revolution will change things. The police will simply redouble their efforts against those unprotected by the State and institute safeguards to ensure that they don’t mistakenly target the State-protected.

    A shout-out to Boyd for pith.

    But it is Mike T who wins the strategy award for the thread. That is the revolution that would make the State sit up and take notice. Mercy on everyone at that point.

  19. #19 |  Bob | 

    “Bob, why? It’s just another tape to be lost in the shuffle.”

    Damn, good point.

  20. #20 |  Marty | 

    A fantastic article that brings this huge tragedy to life. My heart still hurts for the Calvo family and I hate the generals and foot soldiers of the drug war even more.

    The only downside to the article was when Mayor Calvo was hoping a cop would come by and ticket the (unknown to him) undercover cops parked next to the hydrant. “That’s three violations right there,” he recalled thinking. “That’s, like, $200 in tickets if you add them all up. I hope an officer comes by here. We need to ticket that car.”

    As his views have dramatically changed about how the drug war is being waged (he was somewhat of a drug war hawk when he was younger), hopefully he exams the general violence being executed by govts everywhere against citizens under the guise of ‘law enforcement’. It’d be nice to see someone advocate for reasonable and proportional penalties. If that driver had been a confused senior citizen on a fixed income, those fines for that minor offense would’ve amounted to several days worth of income.

  21. #21 |  Aresen | 

    @Cynical in CA #18.

    Thank you for that little joy-bomb.

    I bet you enjoy telling kids that there is no Santa Claus. (So the kids don’t develop any unhealthy optimism, of course.)

    ;P

  22. #22 |  Washington Post decides to make the war on drugs its cover story « Muse Free | 

    […] 2, 2009 by Abhishek Here’s the link. It’s a long poignant piece that points out the folly of the drug war by focussing on the […]

  23. #23 |  ktc2 | 

    Off topic, I know sorry, but is RF back in court today?

  24. #24 |  Greg N. | 

    As I was reading this story, the UPS guy delivered what turned out to be my Snuggie. He rang the doorbell, and my dogs (2 pugs and a chocolate lab) went crazy, like they do every time the doorbell rings, or someone knocks, or anything moves anywhere close to our house. All I could think was, “That could happen to me right now, and the SWAT team would murder all of my dogs.” My dogs are my kids, by the way, and they couldn’t be sweeter.

    Unfortunately, nothing’s going to change. Every one of these things is an “isolated event” somewhere, and the dominant view of the average citizen is that most people caught up in these raids “must have done something to deserve it.”

    If you’re a dog owner, and you can get through that story without tearing up, you’re tougher than I am. If you care about civil liberties, and you can get through that story without becoming nauseated and throwing your hands up in exasperation and submission, you’re better than I am.

    After reading these stories every day for years, I’m not sure there’s anything worthwhile left we can do.

  25. #25 |  Whim | 

    Picking up the thread posted earlier about people who intentionally Prank Call 9-1-1 for the express purpose of getting a SWAT team to raid a house that the pranksters had randomly selected……

    Wonder how it would work on reporting crimes in progress at the much less than random home phones of POLICE themselves???

    In a large metropolitan jurisdiction, the SWAT team wouldn’t necessarily know that they were raiding a police officer’s home.

    And, both sides being well-armed, a spectacular shoot-out could potentially ensue between the policeman who assumed he was being subjected to a violent home invasion, and the SWAT team assuming the armed perpetrator inside the home is the psycho described in the Prank Call.

    Nearly perfect justice?

    Could become a new national pastime.

    And, regarding video-taping every SWAT team action: The police just don’t like that kind of evidence that there was NO Knock-and-Announce.

    Or, that the household pets were actually NOT “engaging”.

    Besides eschewing video evidence of SWAT raids, NY and D.C. police and other jurisdictions are already exploring ways to obtain CELL PHONE JAMMERS. Obviously, to jam those pesky cell phone CAMERAS from transmitting evidence of police misconduct or culpability, but under the Homeland Security pretext of disrupting a terrorist incident.

  26. #26 |  Cynical In CA | 

    You mean there’s no Santa Claus, Arensen? You mean all these years … ?

  27. #27 |  Frank | 

    “Bob, why? It’s just another tape to be lost in the shuffle.”

    If there are no cameras, or cameras but no tape, then all police testimony becomes hearsay, and all physical evidence struck, since the police cannot prove that their actions are legal.

    It’s time to remove the “good faith” exemption, because police have demonstrated that good faith doesn’t exist.

  28. #28 |  LRW | 

    OK, I’m feeling a strong need to become part of the solution here. What are some good organizations that are actively fighting to bring an end to this insanity. I’m looking for organizations that I can lend financial support to and otherwise get involved with. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  29. #29 |  Rachel | 

    “As long as the victims are not considered human (i.e. anyone not white and middle class or better off) by the perpetrators and the nutjobs who vote for them this will not change.

    So long as the thugs continue their reign of terror amongst the black and/or poor casualties won’t matter to those with the power to effect change. Sad fact.”

    I live in Berwyn Heights, and I would like to point out that the mayor and his wife are white.

  30. #30 |  nattybrew | 

    #28 | LRW | February 3rd, 2009 at 2:40 am
    OK, I’m feeling a strong need to become part of the solution here. What are some good organizations that are actively fighting to bring an end to this insanity. I’m looking for organizations that I can lend financial support to and otherwise get involved with. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    http://WWW.CAMPAIGNFORLIBERTY.COM and “LEAP” law enforcement against prohibitions

  31. #31 |  nattybrew | 

    and YAL, young Americans for liberty

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