Paul Brown was working on his computer in his north suburban home when police smashed in the front door, pointed guns at and handcuffed him and other family members, and ransacked the house in a search for drugs.
The authorities had burst in immediately after a postal worker delivered a package to the home that they said contained marijuana. But a search of the house found no further contraband, and officers left without making an arrest.
Brown, outraged, said he was sure the cops had the wrong house. Police maintained they had the right place, but the target of their investigation wasn’t there at the time.
Brown, a 58-year-old who works in building design, said he supports law enforcement in general. But he said innocent bystanders shouldn’t be subject to such dangerous and damaging searches without any compensation.
“I was scared to death,” he said. “I really felt like a hostage. These guys are supposed to be on my side.”
The package delivered to the home in a middle-class neighborhood on Adelphi Avenue was addressed to someone named Oscar, who Brown said has never lived there and is unknown to him.
Brown would have liked police to pay for the $3,000 leaded-and-stained-glass door, lock and frame they broke, to clean up the mess they made, and to apologize. Police say that won’t happen.
Well of course that isn’t going to happen. Because the police aren’t on your side, Mr. Brown. They’re fighting a war. And you got in the way.
Sullivan did not release the complaint that states the evidence upon which the warrant was based, citing the ongoing investigation. But, he said, “we had a valid warrant, and it was a good search.”
After another member of the household accepted the package outside as he arrived home, officers knocked on the door and announced themselves, and waited an unspecified “reasonable” amount of time, as required by law before breaching the door, Sullivan said.
Brown disputed that, saying his 77-year-old mother-in-law was about 15 feet from the door but did not hear anything, and his two small dogs, who always bark when someone knocks, were silent.
Brown said the people who conducted the raid were dressed in SWAT-style clothing with black sweaters that said “police,” though at first he didn’t even realize who they were. He said they handcuffed and questioned him, along with his son-in-law, who had accepted the package but never opened it, and his son-in-law’s brother, who live in the house along with Brown’s daughter, wife and mother-in-law.
Notice how rarely the victims of these raids actually hear the knock-and-announce the police claim to have given? Going back to English common law, the entire point of the knock-and-announce requirement was to preserve the sanctity of the home—to give the occupants an opportunity to avoid the violence of a forced entry. Over the last 25 years or so, its purpose has changed to protect the police. Today, they announce themselves only so you won’t attempt to shoot them when they break down your door seconds later. The Supreme Court has ruled that as few as eight seconds between knocking and entering is sufficient. That’s hardly enough time for someone who is, say, sleeping to wake up and answer the door. And even if you could, the courts have also ruled that police can break down your door without waiting if they hear movement or see a light go on inside the house. The fear is that these could be indications that someone inside is arming themselves. Because the safety of police is more important than the safety of the rest of us, the fact that movement or light in the house could mean someone is merely trying to answer the door doesn’t really matter.
All of which means the centuries-old principle that the knock-and-announce requirement is necessary to preserve the home as a man’s castle and place of sanctuary . . . is as dead as Kathryn Johnston.
Sullivan said police have to enter such raids in a rush with overwhelming force, to prevent people from flushing or destroying evidence, and to prevent anyone from attacking police. Though Lake County MEG personnel have never been shot during such a raid, officers elsewhere have, and MEG officers have found guns next to dangerous criminals in the past, Sullivan said, making it a potentially dangerous mission.
Got that? Preserving a quantity of illicit drugs small enough to be quickly flushed down the toilet so the person in possession can later be prosecuted is a higher priority than not subjecting innocent people to having their doors torn down, physical abuse, and the terror of having guns pointed at their heads. Oh, and officer safety. Officer safety takes priority over everything else. Everything. Better a 77-year-old woman get rush, knock to the floor, and handcuffed than a single cop wearing Kevlar, holding an assault weapon, and carrying a ballistics shield be “attacked.”
He acknowledged that Brown might not be aware of any illegal activity by anyone in the house but said, “some people have secrets.” He added that police still expected to close the case with an arrest. As of Friday, Sullivan said there were no new developments in the case to report, and court records in Lake County showed no criminal charges filed in the case against members of Brown’s household.
Again, it’s about the priorities on display, here. Because one guy who may or may not be a relative of acquaintance of these people may have committed a marijuana offense, Sullivan sees nothing wrong to subjecting the entire family to the terror, violence, and danger of a tactical police raid.
“I understand when you walk away (without an arrest), that brings up a lot of questions,” Sullivan said. “But there’s a series of checks and balances … to make sure we’re doing everything right. We are concerned about the public as much as they are about themselves.”
So how did those checks and balances work out for Brown, his wife, his brother-in-law, and his mother-in-law? Let’s be clear, here. The “checks and balances” Sullivan is referring to here could better be called “formalities.” And when you tear down a man’s door, scare the hell out of him and his family, acknowledge they all may well be innocent, then refuse to repair the damage you’ve caused or apologize for what you subjected them to, “We are concerned about the public as much as they are about themselves” is so transparently false, I can’t help but wonder if Sullivan was smirking when he said it.