Another Isolated Incident

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

In D.C.:

An 86-year-old D.C. man got a surprise visit earlier this month. Robert Smith heard someone banging on his apartment door on Randolph Street on the evening of March 4. But before he could unlock it, a group of D.C. Police officers battered the door down and knocked Smith onto the floor.

Smith said officers quickly realized they had the wrong apartment and called for an ambulance. Doctors treated Smith for contusions to his head and back.

“There’s a half million people in this city, so why did they have to pick on me?” Smith told FOX 5.

The retired federal government worker has lived alone in the same apartment for more than 30 years and said police never offered an apology for the mistaken raid.

FOX 5 viewed the search warrant which stated police were looking for marijuana, drug paraphernalia and anything related to drug trafficking.

The Director of Communications for the Metropolitan Police Department, Gwendolyn Crump, e-mailed FOX 5 saying that “The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating this matter.”

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30 Responses to “Another Isolated Incident”

  1. #1 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    How about we establish an exception to the immunity rules so that agents of the State can be sued for “excessive incompetence”?


  2. #2 |  random_guy | 

    You have to really marvel at just how much the police refuse to do their job. One 24 hour stake-out with at least 2 officers working in shifts would have told them in short order that a) the resident wasn’t a drug dealer b) their information was flawed and c) their was no further reason to waste police resources on this particular case.

    Instead based on whatever bs evidence they obtained, either a lying prison snitch or getting the wrong apartment from some other informant. They decide to conduct a dangerous, and expensive, raid on a man they know next to nothing about.

    I’m beginning to think its malice, not stupidity, thats causing these raids.

    If the police do an investigation and raid: They run the risk of being called out on reckless behavior (why not grab the perp as he walks out the house in the morning, instead of throwing a flash bang in at 3am?) Arguably the vast majority of SWAT raids today do not require such tactics and an investigation would show that.

    If the police do an investigation and no raid: Far less police resources are used. Two uniformed officers making an arrest in the middle of the day costs far less than a half dozen officers using SWAT gear on overtime. The way most police budgets work is that if they don’t use it one year they have a harder time justifying it next year. Their is an incentive to be wasteful.

    If the police do no investigation and no raid: They have to worry about keeping their jobs, because they’re not doing anything.

    If the police do no investigation but conduct a raid anyway: All three major points are hit. 1) The budget and resources used are justified, 2) they justify their tactics because they honestly didn’t know anything about the raid target, 3) they get to keep their jobs because big showy affairs like this remind the public “why we need them”.

    It seems that all the incentives are lined up so that police profit most by being as reckless as possible.

  3. #3 |  Matt D | 

    What, no “Killing an Arab” jokes?

  4. #4 |  derfel cadarn | 

    The police statement is code FOR NOT GONNA DO A FUCKING THING ABOUT IT.

  5. #5 |  Mario | 

    random_guy @ #2

    I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.


    I’m beginning to think its malice, not stupidity, that’s causing these raids.

    Malice it is, but that’s too vague. I would characterize it as criminal indifference. The only consequences they care about are the ones that affect them directly, to hell with the consequences to anyone else — even the innocent public they supposedly “protect and serve.”

    In a word, they’re sociopaths.

  6. #6 |  Difster | 

    They have no incentive to do good police work to verify the warrant. There are virtually no consequences for getting it wrong and it’s more expensive to do stakeouts to verify things.

    And they reason they don’t like to apologize is because it creates liability.

  7. #7 |  RWW | 

    By their own admission (in the search warrant), the police were looking for an innocent person to brutalize. Mission accomplished.

  8. #8 |  CyniCAl | 

    Retired federal government worker learns firsthand the meaning of the word “karma.”

  9. #9 |  auggie | 

    Why are DC cops doing Marijuana raids? That city deals with murders and real crime daily.This is priority?

  10. #10 |  Chris | 

    I’m just impressed that they didn’t shoot him.

  11. #11 |  André | 

    @10: Or plant drugs on in his house afterwards, either.

  12. #12 |  Irving Washington | 

    We’ll never be truly safe until our elderly have all their marijuana taken from them. It’s for the children, or something. Anyway, congratulations to these brave officers who must feel so proud right now.

  13. #13 |  EH | 

    Just once I’d like to see one of these victims respond not with “why,” but with “they’re just going to let themselves off the hook.”

    I think it signals that the DCPD is possibly desperate to make their numbers when they use worse and worse informants who play jokes like this on the department.

  14. #14 |  Rich | 

    Gwendolyn Crump, Acting Director (202) 727-9346

    From the website of the DC police department.

    I just called Gwendolyn told her my name, as I was not trying at all to harass her. I will not call her again. She was on her way to a press conference, I asked her if the DC police department was planning on raiding all the nursing homes in the area to keep our streets safe from Geriatric pot smokers, I asked her if she was going to tell the press that they planned on making those responsible for attacking a 86 years old man accountable when she knew in her heart she would really have no intention of ever doing that.

    Give Gwendolyn a call it is her job as the Communications officer to communicate with American citizens that is what she is paid to do. SO please, she seems like a nice enough lady give her a call.
    She seems to think that All I was doing was venting. Well Lets all start venting when 86 years old men are attacked in their homes due to pure sheer incompetence.
    A phone bill is worth keeping my servants accountable to their masters.

  15. #15 |  KR | 

    He’s lucky he didn’t have a dog.

  16. #16 |  CAshane | 

    Can’t the department or the officers be sued for illegal entry? Presumably the warrant was for a different address so that means they illegally violated his 4th amendment rights and in doing so assaulted him by knocking him to the floor. Something has to be done to hold the true criminals accountable.

  17. #17 |  Anthony | 

    Just like in shootings, this is neither a mistake nor an accident. It is malicious negligence.

  18. #18 |  SJE | 

    The optimist in me has to ask: when will politicians, judges, the media, and the public stop accepting this “isolated incident” garbage? There does seem to be a lot more traction than before, but we are yet to achieve critical mass.

  19. #19 |  SJE | 

    I gotta ask: where is the JUDGE in all this? If he is signing documents without proper evidence, what happens? At some stage, someone needs to be accountable. If a judge just signs whatever he is given, where is the 4th amendment protection?

  20. #20 |  supercat | 

    //If a judge just signs whatever he is given, where is the 4th amendment protection?//

    The proper Fourth-Amendment remedy would be to allow the defendant in a jury trial to challenge probable cause as a factual matter (calling for jury evaluation), with a jury instructed to disregard any evidence against the defendant which was not obtained in conformance with the Constitution, i.e. all of the following:

    -1- The evidence must have been obtained in a fashion consistent with a reasonable effort to minimize risk or harm to persons and property.

    -2- In cases where exigent circumstances are not claimed, the evidence must have been obtained in a bona fide effort to search for specific persons or things named on a warrant, and when such a warrant was issued, those involved in its issuance must have had a reasonable belief that (a) the warrant would find the named items, and (b) the named items would constitute evidence of a crime. Such belief must be predicated on the sworn testimony of witnesses relating personal knowledge.

    -3- In cases where exigent circumstances are claimed, a reasonable person would have believed that (a) a warrant could have been issued consistent with -2- if time permitted, and (b) there was a compelling interest in conducting the search in a time frame that wouldn’t allow for getting a warrant.

    If a search is even remotely legitimate, prosecutors should have no trouble convincing a jury of that. On the other hand, many searches are so far out of line that even a jury which would normally be slightly biased toward the prosecution would likely balk.

  21. #21 |  EH | 

    Supercat: Even for the concept of legitimate searches, doesn’t “legitimate” in this context have a ton of wiggle room? Shit flows downhill after all, so the rubber-stamping judge can blame the cops, the cops can blame their pranking snitch, and the informant receives privacy protections due to “ongoing investigations” or the like.

  22. #22 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    the comments on this policeone thd are worth reading:

  23. #23 |  croaker | 

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?”

    — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  24. #24 |  scott | 

    Matt D., I’m glad I’m not the only one whose mind immediately went there. I mean, I could see this story being Hot! Hot! Hot!, especially when your evening ends up A Night Like This. But it sounds like Mr. Smith handled it well because, as we all know, Boys Don’t Cry.

  25. #25 |  InMD | 

    All you can really say at this point is at least they didn’t kill anyone, not even a dog.

  26. #26 |  Guido | 

    Marijuana raid? And police want to be considered heroes?

  27. #27 |  Sindawe | 

    Too true croaker, too true. /emphatic cough

  28. #28 |  Joe | 

    They just meant to wish him a Happy St. Patricks Day!

  29. #29 |  SJE | 

    Supercat: even if we find a violation of the 4th amendment, the remedy is exclusion of evidence. What is there to exclude? We need to have some better remedy.

  30. #30 |  supercat | 

    #21 | EH | //doesn’t “legitimate” in this context have a ton of wiggle room?//

    It has quite a bit, but if defendants were allowed to have jurors look at all the factors related to searches, even jurors without no sense of smell would figure out in many cases that something stinks.

    Among other things, while there isn’t any numerically-defined standard for “probable cause”, it’s pretty clear that for probable cause to exist a cop must have a bona fide expectation of finding what he’s looking for. If the defense can show that the cop who sought the search warrant against him had a record of obtaining warrants, conducting searches, and not finding the *particular items* listed on the warrants, the defense could pretty well argue that the warrant and the items described in the warrant were a pretense for a fishing expedition, rather than things the cop actually expected to find.

    Of course, prosecutors won’t let such supposedly-“irrelevant” information reach a jury, because they know full well that the information isn’t irrelevant at all. If cops knew that unsuccessful searches could be used to discredit their claims of “probable cause” in successful ones, that would serve as a check on much of the unreasonable behavior seen from cops today.