Category: Police Militarization

Saturday Links

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Evansville Police Not All That Concerned About Raiding the Wrong House

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Ars has an update to the Evansville SWAT raid I posted about earlier this week. To recap, the police brought a SWAT team—and a TV crew—after someone posted a series of threats against cops on a Internet discussion board. They had the wrong house, apparently due to an unsecured wireless connection. Here’s what happened next:

 . . . the cops did some more investigation and decided that the threats had come from a house on the same street. This time, apparently recognizing they had gone a little nuts on the first raid, the police department didn’t send a SWAT team at all. Despite believing that they now had the right location and that a threat-making bomber lurked within, they just sent officers up to the door.

“We did surveillance on the house, we knew that there were little kids there, so we decided we weren’t going to use the SWAT team,” the police chief told the paper after the second raid. “We did have one officer with a ram to hit the door in case they refused to open the door. That didn’t happen, so we didn’t need to use it.”

Their target appears to be a teenager who admits to the paper that he has a “smart mouth,” dislikes the cops, and owns a smartphone—but who denies using it to make the threats.

You’d think the fact that for the second house they decided not to send the SWAT team, and that the result wasn’t a massacre of police officers, well, you’d think that maybe they have learned something from all of this.

And you’d be wrong. Here’s the police chief’s justification for the flashbangs and full-on battle garb in the first raid:

The police chief said officers went to 616 East Powell because they had traced the violent threats against them to an IP address they linked to that street address. They “looked at the names associated with that (street) address,” Bolin said, and came up with a 21-year-old relative of the residents — a man of whom they later turned up troubling photographs.

“He was posing with a gun hanging out of his waistband and there’s another where he’s pointing the gun at the camera in gangster-type poses,” Bolin said.

The police chief acknowledged that the man, whom he declined to name, has only “some minor things in his past with the criminal system.”

Police surveilled the house at 616 East Powell and saw an 18-year-old girl — but not her grandmother — coming and going.

“But seeing her come and go could very well fit with, she may be the girlfriend of this guy or she may live there but that doesn’t mean he’s not up there,” Bolin said.

Bolin said the girl and her grandmother convinced police the man does not live with them and had nothing to do with making threats against officers.

Why did police toss flashbang stun grenades and break the storm door?

Bolin said police wanted the element of surprise against a man they thought could have been armed and dangerous.

“They were very serious threats, and then coupled with the picture of the guy that listed that as his address, we’re thinking you know, obviously the poster of those comments hates the police,” he said.

“We train with a SWAT team for a reason. This isn’t like a street fight where two guys bloody their lips. Our officers have families, and they want to go home at the end of the night. I mean, we don’t sign up for this to take a chance to get killed.”

Well, actually you do. That’s kind of the point of the SWAT team. Note too the “element of surprise” justification. When the suspect is a legitimate threat, that might make some sense. But when someone inside mistake the cops for criminal intruders and attempts to defend himself, “we need the element of surprise” changes to “he should have known we were cops.”

It’s one or the other. You can’t make both arguments.

Scenes From Militarized America

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

 

Wired  is the latest publication to take notice of small town police departments snapping up Pentagon gear through the 1033 program.

Small police departments across America are collecting battlefield-grade arsenals thanks to a program that allows them to get their hands on military surplus equipment – amphibious tanks, night-vision goggles, and even barber chairs or underwear – at virtually no cost, except for shipment and maintenance.

Over the last five years, the top 10 beneficiaries of this “Department of Defense Excess Property Program” included small agencies such as the Fairmount Police Department. It serves 7,000 people in northern Georgia and received 17,145 items from the military. The cops in Issaquah, Washington, a town of 30,000 people, acquired more than 37,000 pieces of gear.

In 2011 alone, more than 700,000 items were transferred to police departments for a total value of $500 million. This year, as of May 15, police departments already acquired almost $400 million worth of stuff . . .

Take the 50-officer police department in Oxford, Alabama, a town of 20,000 people. It has stockpiled around $3 million of equipment, ranging from M-16s and helmet-mounted infrared goggles to its own armored vehicle, a Puma. In Tupelo, Mississippi, home to 35,000, the local police acquired a helicopter for only $7,500 through the surplus program. The chopper, however, had to be upgraded for $100,000 and it now costs $20,000 a year in maintenance.

The Nebraska State Patrol has three amphibious eight-wheeled tanks . . .

In Lebanon, Tennessee, a town of less than 30,000 people, Mike Justice, the public safety coordinator, was so eager to accumulate military goods that he used to wake up at 3:00 a.m. so he was the first person logged in at the government’s first-come, first-serve online store. Thanks to his sleepless nights, since 2007, Lebanon has collected $4 million worth of stuff, including tanks, weapons and heavy equipment like bulldozers and truck loaders. Lebanon’s tank, an LAV 150, has been used only “five or six times,” according to Justice.

Evansville SWAT Team Responds to Online Threats, Raids the Wrong House

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

First watch this breathless local news report, which includes video from the raid. The police shatter a window, then set off at least two flash grenades in the house—clearly before they could have any idea who or what might be inside. The family’s front door was actually already open. But what’s the fun in walking through an open door when you’re decked out in battle garb?

The raid was in response to some online threats made against police officers and their families. So in response to words, the police brought violence. And you wouldn’t know it from the fawning local news reporter in the link above, but yes, they brought that violence upon innocent people.

Stephanie Milan said she managed to remain calm because she knew her family hadn’t done anything wrong. Still, she was stunned and confused.

After speaking to Milan and her grandmother, Louise, police determined those inside the house had nothing to do with their investigation.

Police were executing a search warrant for computer equipment, which they said was used to make anonymous and specific online threats against police and their families on the website topix.com.

“The front door was open. It’s not like anyone was in there hiding,” said Ira Milan, Stephanie’s grandfather and owner of the property for many years. “To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive.”

Ira Milan said the perpetrator of the threats likely used Stephanie’s Internet service connection from an outside location, which led police to the East Powell Avenue address.

But Police Chief Billy Bolin said, “We have no way of being able to tell that,” and the concerning Internet posts “definitely come back to that address.” . . .

Bolin said the SWAT team used its standard “knock and announce” procedure of knocking on the wall and repeating the words “police search warrant” three times before entering.

The police chief said the procedure doesn’t require officers to wait for a response.

“It’s designed to distract,” he said.

Note the complete lack of regret. Or even consideration of the possibility that they might have first considered the possibility that this was an open wireless connection, that the comments had been spoofed, or that they might have mistakenly traced an IP address to the wrong physical address.

Now, of course, everyone slips into bunker mode.

Police were executing a search warrant approved by a judge. Such warrants are routinely filed in the Vanderburgh County Clerks Office, but officials in the clerks office said Friday afternoon they had no record of a warrant served on that address.

When asked by the Courier & Press for access to the document that allowed them to force entry to the home, Bolin refused. He said it might contain information that would compromise their investigation. However, he said the document didn’t contain names of any suspects.

“We have an idea in our mind who it is, but we don’t have evidence yet,” Bolin said.

Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann also refused to release the warrant.

The Courier & Press filed Freedom of Information requests Friday afternoon seeking the document from the police department, clerk’s office and prosecutor’s office.

As of yesterday evening, the warrants had not yet been filed with the county clerk’s office. According to the Courier & Press, police and prosecutors are refusing to release them, even though state law apparently gives them no justification for keeping a warrant sealed once the search has been completed.

Late Morning Links

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Another Isolated Incident

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Why is the ATF doing drug raids, anyway?

Rochester police and federal agents made a mistake in Charlotte this week that has one woman baffled and frightened. She wants to know how they could mistake her house for one they were supposed to raid in a drug bust.

“I was sitting in my living room texting on my phone and I heard somebody come in my back door. I didn’t realize at the time what they were saying, but ultimately they were yelling out A-T-F, A-T-F.”

Nancy Dominicos says what happened next at her home on Tiernan Street Wednesday night is almost unbelievable.

“I thought it was a family member pulling a joke on me. And all of the sudden I looked up and they were in my dinning room pointing a loaded gun at me telling me they had a federal warrant to search my premises.”

Dominicos says she kept telling the three ATF agents this wasn’t right. They told her they were searching for narcotics and asked if anyone else was home. She said her adult son was upstairs and that’s when this story almost turned tragic.

“My son had heard me arguing with this man and it was not a voice he’d recognize. My son is a hunter, he put a bullet in the chamber of his gun. They heard that, they yelled down long gun, at that point there he told another ATF agent that was with me, handcuff her and take her out,” Dominicos said.

Thankfully Dominicos’ son recognized it was law enforcement and put the gun down right away . . . Police sent us a statement, saying they entered the home through an unlocked side door and quote:

“Upon encountering an elderly resident, the team realized that they were at the wrong location at that time and left the premises.” . . .

“I’m still terrified. It’s almost like a P.T.S.D. experience, you keep hearing things. You think oh my God I hear a door slam, I hear someone pulling into my driveway. I see a light it’s like oh my God are they back?”

“How could they make that mistake, how could they make that mistake?”

You’re just collateral damage, Ms. Dominico.

Scenes From Militarized America

Monday, June 18th, 2012
  • Deputies in Richland County, South Carolina will get “Navy SEAL” training. You remember Richland County. It’s the county where Sheriff Leon Lott put out a press release a few years ago to celebrate the new tank from the Pentagon’s 1033 program—one with a turreted, belt-fed, 360-degree rotating machine gun that shoots .50 caliber ammunition, and that he charmingly named “The Peacemaker.” He’s also the one who sent his SWAT team into the homes of University of South Carolina students whose only transgression was to have appeared in the same photo where Michael Phelps was pictured smoking pot.
  • Portland, Maine gets a Bearcat, courtesy of DHS. The press release announcing/justifying the acquisition apparently cited Coumbine (in which the SWAT team didn’t go in, because it was too dangerous), and the infamous North Hollywood shootout, a 15-year-old story that has become the go-to incident to justify new military gear. It also cites two local incidents, one in which the suspect turned out to have been holding a pellet gun, and another that didn’t result in any criminal charges.
  • The thumbnail to your right is from a series this photographer took of the Aventura, Florida SWAT team. Aventura is a town of 35,000 people, described on various blogs as a haven for shopping malls and country clubs.  The town has recorded one murder in twelve years. (Link via Random Pixels, via the commenter “Bystander.”)

Tiny Victories

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

A panel for the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a federal district court judge who dismissed a family’s lawsuit against the DEA. The lawsuit comes from a mistaken drug raid (someone apparently wrote down the wrong license plate number) in which DEA agents pointed a gun at the head of an 11-year-old girl while she lay handcuffed on the floor.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Whalen had ruled that DEA agents did not act unreasonably in their mistaken raid and treatment of the girls (the 11-year-old and her 14-year-old sister). But lest you overestimate the significance of the ruling, note that the panel did not rule that the agents acted unreasonably. They merely overturned the lower court’s ruling that the family should be denied the opportunity to have their case heard.

The panel also upheld Whalen’s ruling that there was nothing unreasonable about DEA agents cuffing and pointing guns at the girls’ parents while serving a search warrant for a consensual crime at the wrong house.

Funeral, Puppycide, Mistaken Gunfire, Wounded Cop, Threats, Ransacking

Monday, June 11th, 2012

If this account is true, it’s a police ineptitude first-ballot hall-of-famer.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court, police in Minneapolis showed up at a home in search of a sex offender. The home was full of people, in town to attend a funeral. The police spotted the family’s pit bull, and opened fire on the dog. In the course of killing the dog, they shot the family’s other dog. In the hail of gunfire, a bullet fragment ricocheted and struck one of the officers. The police on the scene apparently mistook the ricochet for hostile gunfire, so they called in for backup. “Approximately 30″ cops responded to the call, and then retaliated by trashing the house and threatening the people inside.

This account is one half of a lawsuit, so all the usual caveats apply.

This one ranks right up there with the Hmong raid from a few years ago, which also took place in Minneapolis. If the fallout from this one is similar to the fallout from that one, within a few months we can expect the city to honor these officers for their courage.

Pentagon Suspends Giveaway Program

Monday, June 11th, 2012

I have a new piece at HuffPost on the Pentagon’s suspension of its “1033 Program,” which has been giving away weapons to local police departments for nearly 20 years.

Unfortunately, the suspension isn’t due to a reconsideration of the propriety of the program and its contribution to the militarization of domestic law enforcement, but because too many police agencies haven’t been keeping track of the weapons.

Morning Links

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Morning Links

Friday, June 1st, 2012

The Death of Gonzalo Guizan

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

I’ve posted on the Guizan case a number of times before. In May 2008, Guizan was visiting his friend Ronald Terebesi in Easton, Connnecticut—Guizan’s family says it was to discuss a new business. He was killed later that night during a SWAT-like police raid. (In this part of Connecticut, it’s called the SWERT.)

Terebesi doesn’t seem like the sort of guy you’d necessarily want living next to you. Neighbors reported frequent visits from prostitutes, drug use, and that Terebesi would watch porn in his living room. One jealous boyfriend apparently fired a shotgun into Terebesi’s house. But I don’t know why any of things would justify a SWERT raid.

And in fact, the raid came after a prostitute who had previously visited Terebesi reported he had been using—not dealing—cocaine the night of the raid. Guizan, who had no prior criminal record, was shot and killed by police shortly after they entered Terebesi’s home.

Four years later, the Connecticut Post looks at what we’ve learned since then.

On the morning of May 18, 2008, the Easton Police Department got a telephone call from “Chandra Parker.”

It turns out that wasn’t her real name, but that didn’t matter. Solomon now had a reason to take action against Terebesi.

He called in members of the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team, a SWAT force made up of police officers from Easton and four surrounding towns. Nine heavily armed officers charged into the home based on a search warrant that a miniscule amount of drugs had been seen there by Parker.

When the operation was over, Guizan, who was visiting Terebesi, had been shot dead . . .

Two officers expressed misgivings about the operation prior to its launch. The team’s commander urged it be delayed; another officer suggested the SWAT-style raid wasn’t even necessary. But Solomon insisted the raid had to be conducted that day.

A member of the team with the most critical role in the May 18 raid had received most of his training for a far different role in such an operation. He arrived an hour late to the pre-raid briefing.

And the woman whose complaint led to the search warrant and the raid had a criminal record and gave a false name to officers preparing the warrant — all of which was never conveyed to the judge who authorized the search.

The lawsuit charges that the raid by the Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team should never have been ordered.

“The decision to call out SWERT to execute the warrant was unjustified, unreasonable, an arbitrary abuse of police power and not based on a legitimate law enforcement objective,” the suit states. “It was intended to frighten, intimidate, harass and/or punish Terebisi and Guizan and, on information and belief, to further Solomon’s interests.”

Solomon, who had been chief since 1995, recently retired from the police department. His lawyer did not return calls and emails for comment. In his deposition testimony he states that based on the information he has now he would not have done anything differently in ordering the SWAT team to raid Terebesi’s home. He claimed he wanted the raid done as soon as possible to ensure that evidence of criminal activity was not destroyed before they could seize it. He continued the raid was necessary to “obtain the evidence that the crime — obviously a crime was occurring, and to obtain that evidence.”

That alleged crime requiring such urgent, overpowering police action, once again, was a man using cocaine in his living room.

Police would learn later Parker’s real name was Pankov and she had a criminal record, including convictions for interfering with police, assault of a police officer, threatening and harrassment — all things they later acknowledged might have made a difference to the judge who reviewed and signed the search warrant. But that information was not provided to the judge . . .

Cirillo told [the SWERT officers] assembled that Terebesi was known to have guns in his house, had fought with officers before and that there was a good chance he was going to shoot at officers during the raid, according to court records.

Terebesi did have a handgun, which he owned legally. There was no history of him fighting with police officers. In fact, he had been served with an arrest warrant a month earlier after an EMT found glass pipes in his bed. (EMTs had been called after a report someone was having a seizure in Terebesi’s home.) He agreed to turn himself in, and was described by police as “‘congenial,’ and even ‘friendly’” while he was booked. So telling the SWERT team Terebesi has previously been violent with police was a lie.

They began to count down. Ten, nine, eight. …

At one there was the sound of breaking glass and the explosions of flashbangs at the other side of the house.

The back door was smashed open and the stack went in, Weir yelling, “Police, warrant.”

Another explosion as a flashbang went off.

Sweeney yelled, “I’m hit, I’m hit,” and then a volley of gunfire ensued.

It was over in about 15 seconds.

A lifeless Guizan lay on the floor with six gunshot wounds, one through his left hand that penetrated his chest, two shots to the abdomen, a gunshot in his left groin, one to the right knee and one to the right upper arm. Terebesi, who had been pinned by Sweeney, was handcuffed and dragged out of the house.

Team members searched the room and found two crack pipes and a tin containing a small amount of cocaine. No guns.

He had been “hit,” lightly, with the effects of one of his own flash grenades.

As Sweeney had entered Terebesi’s home the third flashbang had gone off. Debris from the explosion had hit him in the chest and foot and he mistakenly thought someone in the house was shooting at him. When Sweeney yelled that he had been hit, Weir, believing his comrade was under attack, fired one shot but didn’t hit anyone.

Sweeney said later that he had taken three or four steps into the room and then looked to his right where he saw Terebesi and Guizan in a corner of the room. Sweeney said he took two or three shuffle steps towards them.

At that point, he said, Terebesi and Guizan came toward him. Terebesi pushed and pulled on Sweeney’s shield while Guizan grabbed at Sweeney’s gun hand, pulling it downward. Sweeney said he began to lose his grip on his pistol and began firing until he felt Guizan let go of his gun. According to the video, this whole confrontation would have occurred in about a second.

Weir said later he saw no struggle between Sweeney and the two men.

During a deposition a frustrated Sweeney asked: “Why didn’t we just knock on the door?”

Of course, even if Guizan had fought with Sweeney, the most likely explanation is that he thought Terebesi’s home was being invaded. It’s much less likely that a guy with no criminal record or history of violence would knowingly take on a SWAT team . . . while unarmed.

Here’s the coda, now almost obligatory in these stories:

Sweeney received his department’s Officer of the Year award for his part in the raid.

For mistakenly believing he had been shot, then opening fire on an unarmed man, all because a prostitute had told police that the dead man’s friend was using cocaine in the privacy of his own home . . . for this, Officer Sweeney was declared “Officer of the Year.”

Sunday Afternoon Links

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

He’s Lying

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

And he’s not even very good at it.

Embattled Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said Wednesday that having 10 police officers search for his son’s stolen iPhone on January 11 was not “some kind of preferential treatment,” but is something the department “would do for anybody in the city.”

“This is being cast as some kind of preferential treatment, but it was not,” said Meehan in a telephone interview. “It is not unusual for us to respond to a live track of stolen property with the resources we have available. We have done it in other cases. In this case, my son was the victim of a crime at the high school. My personal phone was linked to his and was able to track it. I showed that to a detective-sergeant and said ‘what can we do with this?’ He said we can work cases like this. He took his team to track the signal and they weren’t able to find anybody.”

The reason so many officers investigated the theft so quickly was because it was a crime in progress, said Meehan.

Riiiggghht. Last March, Ken at Popehat posted on another bizarre episode involving Meehan.

See, one night last week Chief Meehan read a story that he felt misstated his position on a controversial issue. The story reported that Chief Meehan had apologized for a slow police response to an incident; Chief Meehan felt that it was more accurate to say he had apologized for the police being slow in giving an explanation for the response time.

Chief Meehan apparently tried to reach the reporter, Doug Oakley, and the news organization, the Bay Area News Group. He was unsuccessful, probably because it was late at night.

So Berkeley Police Chief Michael K. Meehan sent a police officer to the home of reporter Doug Oakley to knock on his door at 12:45 a.m. and complain and ask for the story to be changed.