Another Isolated Incident

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

This one was in Chicago. And from what the article reports, it sounds awfully similar to the Cheye Calvo raid.

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.


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64 Responses to “Another Isolated Incident”

  1. #1 |  croaker | 

    Eventually the war on drugs will go asymmetrical. Against the pigs.

    The only thing a bully understands is overwhelming force. That means you need to put them in ICU or a slab. That is what will end this shit, absent a complete reversal on qualified immunity.

  2. #2 |  More News from Good Ol’ USSA for Friday » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog | 

    […] Radley Balko: Another Isolated Incident […]

  3. #3 |  a_random_guy | 

    I just came across this in the original news report: “Upon delivery of the package, the warrant stated, there was probable cause to justify a search”

    Read that again: the package is mentioned in the search warrant. At the time the search warrant is being signed, the package has not yet been delivered. The police break into the house immediately after the postal service delivers it. They search the house and confiscate the (unopened) package.

    So…just how do the police know about this package in advance? How do they know it contains drugs? Did they, perhaps, send it themselves?

  4. #4 |  Over the River | 

    Did I miss the part where the thugs killed the dogs?

  5. #5 |  Detroiter | 

    Several years ago, Patty Hearst found herself with a similar package delivered to her house and had the foresight to leave it on the porch. She went inside, called the police, and stymied the goons waiting to break down her door. Since she didn’t bring it inside, the bust was a bust.

    Hearst has more reasons than average folks to be paranoid, but I found it instructive.

  6. #6 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    The second American Revolution. But where are the Americans who are willing to spend their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in pursuit of anything but the next government handout?

    You really think a revolution is going to happen before a massive flight? The “best” will move, far, far, away and leave behind all the others to enjoy what they created.

  7. #7 |  Mairead | 

    11 Cyto: I’m not sure what the rationale is for letting the PD smash in your nice, expensive front door and walk away without making you whole.

    “The king can do no wrong”.

    Like laws forbidding suicide, divorce, abortion, and pot-smoking, it’s a holdover from when we were the actual property of the king. Obviously property can’t be allowed to complain about what its owner does to it.

    There are still too many such laws in this mis-named “land of the free”.

  8. #8 |  Kent | 

    The Las Vegas Review Journal gets it…

    “On the other hand, while police are granted wide discretion to deal with potentially dangerous situations, they’re not supposed to shoot unarmed citizens who pose no discernible threat to anyone. And the problems with promiscuously deploying AR-15s should have been obvious not merely after the death of Trevon Cole, but as long ago as the unnecessary 2003 shooting death of Orlando Barlow.”

    http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/use-of-deadly-force-goes-to-grand-jury-173662661.html

  9. #9 |  theCL Report: Decline, Delusion, Despair | 

    […] Another Isolated Incident […]

  10. #10 |  marie | 

    They’ll just move on to the next big prohibition, whatever it might be.

    Child pornography. Prosecutors who want to look tough on crime like an easy, sure target and child porn defendants are ridiculously easy to convict. Plus, nobody likes to defend these guys so the chance of someone raising a stink is minimal.

    New Hampshire recently passed a law allowing the defense to tell the jury that they have the authority to decide if the law is properly applied in the case before them. When more states pass laws like that, when more jurors understand their responsibilities, that’s when we might start seeing more trials. More trials would be a very good thing.

  11. #11 |  supercat | 

    //Keep in mind that when SWAT teams go full Rambo in these raids, it is consistently against people they do not believe to be dangerous.//

    I wish people would stop using the same acronym for the SWAT-Wannabe-Aggressive-Thugs as was coined by the Los Angeles SWAT teams. The wannabes very often (perhaps the majority of the time) use reckless tactics which are detrimental to the safety of officers and citizens alike. The notion that such tactics are necessary to ensure officer safety is belied by the fact that, as you note, the police use *less* aggressive tactics against people whom they have reason to believe are more dangerous.

    I wonder what would happen if some county prosecutor somewhere decided to prosecute the wannabes for robbery (along with attempted murder or murder if anyone is shot or killed)? The Fourth Amendment says, in no uncertain terms, that unreasonable searches are illegitimate. While “reasonableness” does not require any particular balance between avoiding risk to officers, avoiding risk to citizens, and avoiding damage to citizens’ property, actions which are worse in all legitimate regards than obvious alternatives are unreasonable and thus illegitimate.

    Incidentally, I wish courts would recognize that the evaluation of any “good faith” claim is inherently a factual rather than legal determination, and thus any “good faith” claim by the state should be subject to trial-court scrutiny. For example, it’s generally accepted that police may legitimately force entry to a property for which they have a warrant if they first make a good faith effort to let potential occupants admit them. If courts recognized defendants’ rights to have jurors consider whether or not police made a genuine good-faith effort to let the occupants admit them, and instructed jurors not to construe against a defendant any evidence which was gathered in bad faith, I suspect many police officers would start behaving in such fashion as to make everyone safer.

  12. #12 |  Linda | 

    Officer safety takes priority over everything else…..yes, I have actually been told that by a police officer. While commenting on Facebook about Puppycide, a police officer (or so he presented himself as a police officer) actually responded to me and his very first line was “Linda, officer safety is paramount”. Paramount. I hate that word.

  13. #13 |  Burgers Allday | 

    @62

    Google: sylvester fdle

    At the end of September the authorities found the police slaying of Andrew Scott as justified. Interestingly, they suggested that it might have been justified if he shot Officer Sylvester instead of other way around.

  14. #14 |  croaker | 

    @62 And this is why I don’t exactly give a shit when a cop dies “in the line of duty”. With very few exceptions, law enforcement is corrupt and criminal, and their badges serve as an unconstitutional patent of nobility.