Mistakes Were Made. Guns Were Pointed. A Family Was Terrorized. Pets Were Threatened.

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

The DEA has apologized for the wrong door raid in the Hudson Valley that I blogged about last week. Sort of.

John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, issued a statement Friday clearing Spring Valley resident David McKay and his family of anything to do with the series of drug raids that took place early Thursday in Westchester and Rockland counties.

“We sincerely regret that while attempting to execute an arrest warrant for a member of this drug trafficking organization, the innocent McKay family was inadvertently affected by this enforcement operation,” Gilbride said.

“Though we take many precautions to prevent this type of incident from happening, drug investigations are very complex and involve many fluid factors,” Gilbride said. “DEA will continue to pursue these criminal organizations to protect the public from the scourge of drug trafficking.”

So . . . sorry McKay family. You’re just more collateral damage. Gilbride’s statement is also another wonderfully elusive use of the passive voice. (The DEA originally said the McKay family invited them in.) And to think we libertarians say government has a hard time admitting when it’s wrong. The apology was also issued not to the McKay family themselves, but through a press release.

A few other items of note:

First, Journal News reporter Jane Lerner actually looked into some of those precautions the DEA claims to take before launching these drug raids. For example, she was able to determine that David McKay actually works for the local government, and that the McKay family is listed in property records as owners of the home. They’ve owned the place since 1998. She also found that the McKays are foster parents, which required them to complete an application process that included fingerprinting and a background check. These would be the sorts of easily findable, publicly-available clues that should have tipped the DEA off to their pending mistake, and that you’d think a federal agency would have taken the time to look for before going ahead with a volatile, violent drug raid.

Second, there’s still the matter of threatening to kill the McKay family’s dogs. According to McKay, the threat was because the dogs were barking, after the house was secured. Which means this wasn’t even a case of cops dubiously claiming the poodle presented a mortal threat. The threat to shoot the family pets was pure intimidation. Again, this isn’t how you treat citizens with rights. It’s how you treat enemy combatants in a war zone. You terrify them, intimidate them, put the fear of God into them. You threaten to kill their pets right in front of them. That attitude also explains why, even after it was clear they had made a mistake, the police rebuffed David McKay when he asked for an explanation, telling him, “You’ll read about it in the paper tomorrow.”

Third, if there’s a bright spot in all of this, it’s the way local media is starting to cover these raids. Lerner did some more research, and was able to find documentation for a number of other mistaken raids in the area. (As often as I write about these raids here, I don’t believe I’ve written about any of the other incidents that Lerner found.)

I now get a phone call every few weeks from a local reporter covering a botched raid. (I’m quoted in the story linked above.) They’re seeking out critics, and they’re starting to view the cops’ after-the-fact excuses and explanations with more skepticism. That’s a start.

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34 Responses to “Mistakes Were Made. Guns Were Pointed. A Family Was Terrorized. Pets Were Threatened.”

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    it’s a fantastic start!

    you could start another category for people searching your site and call it ‘apologies’.

  2. #2 |  Gordon | 

    I think you deserve a lot of credit for this, Radley; you’ve been on the forefront of this subject.

    Keep it up!

    (The DEA seems to have taken the National Lampoon cover as their new motto, perhaps?) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Natlamp73.jpg

  3. #3 |  Not Sure | 

    “These would be the sorts of easily findable, publicly-available clues that should have tipped the DEA off to their pending mistake, and that you’d think a federal agency would have taken the time to look for before going ahead with a volatile, violent drug raid.”

    Really? When they know they won’t get in trouble no matter how badly they screw up, why would they worry about checking out anything more than whether or not their guns were loaded?

  4. #4 |  supercat | 

    I don’t believe all the home invaders who conduct these raids regard them as mistakes. Many of them want to terrorize their victims. If the victims happen to be innocent, and thus more susceptible to terrorism than would be hardened criminals, so much the better.

  5. #5 |  kant | 

    See the problem is you’re assuming they do any basic investigation work prior to the raid. If i’ve learned anything (especially from cheye calvo’s ordeal) it’s that once they get the bare minimum (and ever reducing requirements) for a search warrant out comes the military equipment. And if something goes wrong, then a convoluted press release, and an internal “investigation” that last as long as the story remains in the press coverage.

  6. #6 |  TC | 

    That’s not an apology, it’s a couched warning!

    Like just letting you know we will do the same thing to you in your home, someday!

  7. #7 |  J.S. | 

    Indeed, thats how I now see it TC.

  8. #8 |  CTD | 

    inadvertently affected by this enforcement operation

    Because some “enforcement operation” was to blame. Not any actual human beings were responsible for terrorizing an innocent family. Passive voice FTW.

    Radley, you should run a contest for us to submit the best (?) usage of passive voice by a government employee following something terrible happening.

  9. #9 |  SJE | 

    Until the DEA and other LEOs are made to pay for their mistakes, there will be no change. I hope that the family gets their Congressional reps and Senators involved.

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    They’re seeking out critics, and they’re starting to view the cops’ after-the-fact excuses and explanations with more skepticism. That’s a start.

    Yes. One no longer has to be a libertarian to have heard of Radley Balko. I find this mainstream exposure of people from Reason Magazine one of the most encouraging developments for the cause of libertarianism in the last couple decades.

    It’s no small accomplishment to plant a seed of skepticism in the public’s mind regarding claims made by law enforcement. Without a compliant public, police power is vastly diminished.

    I think it bears noting that this change in attitude has largely been happening without much broad support from either of the two main parties or the mainstream press. Credit for this new awareness should go to bloggers like Radley Balko and the technologies that help bring police abuses into everyone’s living rooms. And I might add that, given how police power and abuse have been growing, it comes not a moment too soon.

  11. #11 |  c andrew | 

    I think that there is a type of moral hazard operating here. The cops know that no matter how badly they act, they will not be held accountable. So there are effectively no limits to their bad actions.

    Kudos to Radley for his persistence on this (and other) instances of abusive behaviour by the police.

  12. #12 |  c andrew | 

    Left out “exposing” between on and this.

  13. #13 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “So . . . sorry McKay family. You’re just more collateral damage. Gilbride’s statement is also another wonderfully elusive use of the passive voice. (The DEA originally said the McKay family invited them in.)”

    Thank you for continually pointing out the use of passive voice in these non-apology apologies, Radley. It demonstrates time and time again that law enforcement is loathe to take accountability for its misdeeds, particularly in the area of drug enforcement.

    If a suspect in a criminal incident used wishy washy language like this, that person would be ridiculed by police and prosecutors alike. But when the shoe is on the other foot, wishy washy is ok. In fact it is standard operating procedure! It’s a defense against all that “Monday morining quarterbacking” done by ACLU types, faggy liberals and anti-police subversives out there that aren’t satisfied with just trusting the coppers. Because we all know that police, prosecutors and other government employees aren’t susceptible to human failings like greed, hatred, sadism and simple errors. Hmm, professional arrogance anyone?

    Here’s an idea. Abolish the DEA. Remove the federal government from anything resembling drug and vice enforcement. Leave those decisions to the states. And if certain states decide they still wish to be authoritarian and/or paternalistic in the are of drugs/vice, then the residents of these states can leave for more forward-thinking, state that give their residents more choices.

    And my Sunday rant is complete. Can I get an Amen?

  14. #14 |  SJE | 

    Dave K “I think it bears noting that this change in attitude has largely been happening without much broad support from either of the two main parties or the mainstream press.”

    I would say that is has been happening DESPITE the main parties or mainstream press. The GOP is beholden to its “tough on crime/drugs etc” and mindset that all problems can be solved by being tougher and more violent. The DEMS have the police unions, their love of expansive government and blindness to its faults, and the fear that they will be portrayed as weak by the GOP. The media does not want to upset the cops or politicians, and be denied access, or think outside their pre-existing narratives. Its so much easier to report on the latest news about the Kardashians.

    Glenn Greenwald has written some really good stuff about blogs lately. How the NY Times blogs etc are still nationally located, and therefore responsive to pressure from the US. Wikileaks is not, and so can report/leak whatever it likes. Blogs like Radley are more similar to Wikileaks, in that he does not rely on the state or a large corporation.

  15. #15 |  CharlesWT | 

    Amen!

  16. #16 |  Joe | 

    Everyone of these mistakes needs to be reported and the message repeated. The media can have a lot of inertia, but once it gets moving it is also hard to stop. The more people who speak out, the more likely this stuff will stop.

    And a good way to make it stop is to allow, at a minimum, civil penalties when it occurs.

  17. #17 |  Bart | 

    Regretting something happened and apologizing to the victims are two completely different things.

    The police’s reluctant toned press release along with their failing to even talk to the actual victims makes it very clear they doing the bare minimum to make this nuisance of a situation go away.

    If Radley and the subsequent media had not gotten wind of this, there would have been no regret expressed at all.

  18. #18 |  Blawg Review #294: MLK, Jr. Day edition | 

    [...] Agitator, again, writing about the story of a botched DEA raid in the Hudson Valley, where the federal agents broke into and [...]

  19. #19 |  GreginOz | 

    Sadly, I don’t feel too hopeful. Remember that Bazza Obama can now seemingly pull the plug on the “Intertubes”? Hmmm, I wonder if Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic, can put up his own, privatised satellites so we don’t need the USA for connectivity? Hmmm…must write brief note to Dick…

  20. #20 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #15 CharlesWT

    Thank you, brother! Testify! Ok, that is as religous as I get, and Sunday is almost over, so I will stop my preacher rap.

  21. #21 |  Max D. | 

    tl;dr DEA agents aren’t police, or cops. They’re feds, or federal LEOs. POST-certified peace officers (“real” police) don’t consider feds to be police. FWIW.

  22. #22 |  Pablo | 

    The newspaper article was a hopeful sign but they are still referring to the Kathryn Johnston incident as a “botched raid,” implying that it was properly planned but fucked up in execution. In reality the indicent was completely illegal from the beginning. The cops lied to get a warrant, which was rubber-stamped, and then they shot her to death and planted pot on her body. To call it “botched” is a grave disservce.

  23. #23 |  Joe | 

    This apology was about the same as the guy who gets in a fight with someone he knows he can beat (and never takes on guys tougher than him), then buys them a beer afterward to show everyone he is really a good guy. The apology is not sincere, not enough.

    I figure in this case a high six figure to low seven figure settlement would be enough. Taken partially out of the commanding officer’s retirement.

  24. #24 |  Dan | 

    So here courtesy of the injustice everywhere blog, is a link to an apology for an injustice.

    I’ve been following this blog for over two years and have been mostly a silent observer, but when I saw this I just had to write something down.

    The disparity between the story Radley blogs about in this thread, and the above story is very tough to contemplate. I am a neophyte (and probably a poor) Libertarian, but I just can’t get over the difference of how injustice is handled when a “citizen” deputy sheriff is victimized vs a standard citizen.

  25. #25 |  Gaunilo | 

    From time to time the tree of liberty may have to be fertilized with the chattels of LEOs.

  26. #26 |  croaker | 

    This crap isn’t going to stop until the stormtroopers don’t go home after their shift. And I’m finding it increasingly difficult to care if it’s jail, ICU or morgue.

  27. #27 |  Mrs. C | 

    “Though we take many precautions to prevent this type of incident from happening, drug investigations are very complex and involve many fluid factors.”

    That’s a choice coupling of words…and since it sounds palatable…it makes their mistakes…much easier…to “swallow” …that’s if…you don’t choke on them first.

  28. #28 |  Dante | 

    “DEA will continue to pursue these criminal organizations to protect the public from the scourge of drug trafficking.”

    “Protect the public” ???

    I call BS. The DEA (and all LE organizations) are always trotting out the old chestnut about protecting the public. Who will protect the public from the scourge of the DEA?

    The greatest threat to our lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness is an encounter with Law Enforcement. They lie, cheat, steal, rape, assault and even murder without any regard for the law or their own accountability because they know they are above the law.

    Rather than teaching our children to respect LE, we should teach them to fear and loathe and (most important) avoid the police just like a poisonous snake.

  29. #29 |  “Second …” — Nudes, 2003 | Truth and Justice For All | 

    [...] The DEA has apologized, but via a press release and not to the family that was violated.  Balko returned to the incident because it appears that the DEA’s and other LEO’s research prior to the raid was [...]

  30. #30 |  pam | 

    sorry they got caught maybe.

  31. #31 |  Accountability? | 

    Does anyone else find it ironic that the police are pretty much about holding people accountable for their actions by arresting them and making them pay fines and go to jail, but when the cops screw up there is no accountability at all? If there is something I hate with a passion it is hypocrites, and the cops are the biggest.

    Also I think it’s great that they might settle this and pay these people out tax dollars to say they’re sorry. You know, not actually apologize or do anything to make it better themselves, but give them OUR money. We wouldn’t have to pay them if the cops would do their job correctly in the first place. Where has the accountability gone in our government? While citizens are forced to pay for more and more through taxes and laws and fines the government pays for less and less and makes sure they get away with more and more without a slap on the wrist.

    What can us citizens do about this? Well since you can’t get into politics without sucking the GOP or DEM dicks and they want less accountability and more corruption, there is nothing. We need to get candidates into offices such as federal judges and governors etc that will help the people change the laws so that the government will be forced into some accountability. So what will the incentive be? Because we all know people won’t do anything unless it benefits them directly, so I say we pay off people to go into office and put as many laws that fuck over these bastards in office currently as they can. It’s the same thing the regular government officials do right now except they want to prop up corporations as long as they get a cut and put down the citizens.

    This country has gone to hell. We really need to do something before it’s too late.

  32. #32 |  Paramilitary police raids — terrorizing children and killing grandpa for your safety | Cop Block | 

    [...] discharged from  a SWAT officer’s rifle.” Similarly, the DEA later issued an “apology” to the McKays, stating they were “inadvertently affected by this enforcement [...]

  33. #33 |  Headlines Were Written. – Hammer of Truth | 

    [...] Mistakes Were Made. Guns Were Pointed. A Family Was Terrorized. Pets Were Threatened. Radley Balko W… This entry was posted in link. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  34. #34 |  Update on Kelly Thomas murder | Cop Block | 

    [...] circumstances. For instance, a family that was brutalized by a SWAT operation gone wrong was “inadvertently affected.” Grandfather Eurie Stamps was “struck by a bullet which was discharged from a SWAT [...]

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