Did the US Supreme Court Ignite a Rash of No-Knock Raids?

Did the US Supreme Court Ignite a Rash of No-Knock Raids?

Prior to 2006, if the police raided your home they had to prove that the raid was executed in the proper manner.  If it wasn't, then the evidence they found might not be admissible in court. 

In 2006, the United States Supreme Court issued Hudson v. Michigan.  In that case, a regular search warrant for Hudson's home was executed as  'no-knock" warrant.  The question for the court was whether the police could still use what they found, even though they did not execute the warrant properly.  The Supreme Court ruled that they could. 

After that opinion, I wondered why any police force anywhere would bother knocking ever again.  There's no benefit to police by knocking, and now the Supreme Court has said that even if the police do not knock, they still get to use what they find to convict the homeowner.

Since Hudson, it seems like we have seen a rash of botched no-knock raids that have resulted in innocent people getting shot and/or disfigured.  I wonder whether the Supreme Court opened the door to this or whether other forces were at play.  Or both. 

Your thoughts?

And no discussion of no-knock raids would be complete without Lindy's somber "No Knock Raid."

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War on Drugs Claims Another Officer's Life

War on Drugs Claims Another Officer's Life

In Ogden, Utah, the War on Drugs has claimed the life of another officer.  

The tip about the marijuana plants came from an ex-girlfriend of Stewart's named Stacy Wilson. They had dated for about a year and a half but broke up in the summer of 2010. Erna Stewart introduced them. "I still feel guilty about that," she says. "He caught her cheating on him, they broke up, and it ended really badly. She was angry with him. He was heartbroken. She tried to get him fired from his job. She really had it out for him."

. . .

According to police documents, Wilson called the tip line in November 2010, two months before the raid, and spoke with Officer Jason Vanderwarf. Vanderwarf visited Stewart's house three times, but no one answered. After finding what he described as signs of a marijuana grow, however, he filed an affidavit to get the warrant.

That appears to be the extent of the investigation. The police never ran a background check on Wilson to assess her credibility. In fact, after their initial conversation, Vanderwarf said that he was "unable to contact her." He later told investigators that "She kinda fell off the face of the earth."

While there has been outrage over the death of the officer and the wounding of five others, there is also outrage over the use of military-style, life-or-death tactics employed in response to a victimless, non-violent crime such as growing marijuana. 

In the months following the raid, a number of other controversial police actions hit the news. Police in Salt Lake City broke into the home of a 76-year-old woman during a mistaken drug raid. A SWAT team in Ogden went to the wrong address in search of a man who had gone AWOL from the Army and ended up pointing its guns at an innocent family of four. Two narcotics detectives shot and killed a young woman in a suburb of Salt Lake City as she sat in her car.

Together, these incidents have spawned a budding police reform movement in Utah. At the head of it, Stewart's family members have been joined by a political odd couple: Jesse Fruhwirth, a longtime progressive activist rabble-rouser, and Connor Boyack, a wonky libertarian with a background in Republican politics. And independently, in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, the police chief and lead prosecutor have already begun to adopt some unconventional, reform-minded approaches to crime and punishment.

In the Ken Burns documentary "Prohibition", Burns interviews the son of a law enforcement officer shot and killed in an alcohol raid during Prohibition, just a few years before alcohol was re-legalized.  I would wager that years from now, the loved ones of this officer will look back and question why officers were expected to risk their lives over something like marijuana prohibition.  Applying a cost-benefit analysis, I question whether it is worth it.

This is one of a six-part series on the Utah movement to reform aggressive police tactics in drug cases.  

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Cops Raid Home; Find Fruit

Not much different than the Gwinnett County man who had his home raided for his own indoor garden, a Kansas couple has gotten a tough lesson in the War on Drugs and how none of us are safe

Two former CIA employees whose Kansas home was fruitlessly searched for marijuana during a two-state drug sweep claim they were illegally targeted, possibly because they had bought indoor growing supplies to raise vegetables.

. . .

April 20 long has been used by marijuana enthusiasts to celebrate the illegal drug and more recently by law enforcement for raids and crackdowns. But the Hartes' attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said she suspects the couple's 1,825-square-foot split level was targeted because they had bought hydroponic equipment to grow a small number of tomatoes and squash plants in their basement.

"With little or no other evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors," the couple's lawsuit says.

How are these officers getting search warrants with no evidence of illegal activity?  The article should name the judge that issued the warrant and print the affidavit upon which it was issued.  But it gets worse:

"If this can happen to us and we are educated and have reasonable resources, how does somebody who maybe hasn't led a perfect life supposed to be free in this country?" Adlynn Harte said in an interview Friday.

Excellent question, Ms. Harte.

The suit filed in Johnson County District Court said the couple and their two children — a 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son — were "shocked and frightened" when deputies armed with assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests pounded on the door of their home around 7:30 a.m. last April 20.

I'll bet they were.  Is this the same sort of "home invasion" the police are supposed to protect people from?

"It was just like on the cops TV shows," Robert Harte told The Associated Press. "It was like 'Zero Dark Thirty' ready to storm the compound."

Much like the local Gwinnett County case, police found nothing but edible fruits and became hostile and accusatory when it became obvious they wouldn't find anything:

When law enforcement arrived, the family had just six plants — three tomato plants, one melon plant and two butternut squash plants — growing in the basement, Harte said.

What do these police have against tasty indoor fruits?

The suit also said deputies "made rude comments" and implied their son was using marijuana. A drug-sniffing dog was brought in to help, but deputies ultimately left after providing a receipt stating, "No items taken."

Pilate said no one in the Harte family uses illegal drugs and no charges were filed. The lawsuit noted Adlynn Harte, who works for a financial planning firm, and Robert Harte, who cares for the couple's children, each were required to pass rigorous background checks for their previous jobs working for the CIA in Washington, D.C. Pilate said she couldn't provide any other details about their CIA employment.

Preventing these things would be alot easier if more courts would allow aggrieved citizens to sue the officers individually.

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Fourth Circuit Denies Immunity For SWAT Officers

Fourth Circuit Denies Immunity For SWAT Officers

This is interesting.  The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's ruling that the police involved in a S.W.A.T. raid are not immune, meaning they can be sued personally.   Typically, when you try to sue an officer, you sue them as an officer of the police force, not as an individual person.  Individually, police officers are generally considered immune because of a doctrine called "qualified immunity."  If by slim chance you win your suit, it isn't the officer who pays you.  It's the city or county that has the police force.

Not so in this case: 

On May 31, 2007, Sam Bellotte printed some photographs from a memory card at a self-service station in a Winchester, Virginia Wal-Mart. When he went to pay for the prints, a clerk insisted on inspecting the photos. Mr. Bellotte admitted that some contained nudity and surrendered them, then made other purchases and left the store.

This isn't the first time I've pointed out that Wal-Mart will look at your photos and call the police on you.  I think it's pretty safe to say that people shouldn't take their photos to Wal-Mart.  

The Wal-Mart employees charged with discarding the photos noticed one depicting male genitalia seemingly next to a child's face. Concerned that the photograph was child pornography, the employees notified the Frederick County police.

Who empowered Wal-Mart to decide what is and isn't child pornography?

An investigation of the surveillance camera footage and credit card receipts showed that Mr. Bellotte, a resident of Jefferson County, West Virginia, had printed the photo in question. A Frederick County police officer placed the photo in a file container and notified the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, which then took responsibility for the investigation. After reviewing the file, verifying Mr. Bellotte's address, and learning that both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte held concealed carry permits, Detective Tracy Edwards sought a search warrant for the Bellotte residence. Around 9:00 that evening, the magistrate reviewed the application and signed the warrant.

I'm not sure how turning in "seeming child pornography" to Wal-Mart has anything to do with this guy's house. What is the evidence that the "seeming child pornograpny" was produced in the house or that there is any other such material in the house?

In order to execute the warrant, Detective Edwards sought and received approval from the ranking Jefferson County law enforcement officer for the assistance of the Jefferson County Special Operations Team ("SORT Team"). The SORT Team leaders decided that their involvement was justified due to the possibility of a violent reaction from Mr. Bellotte and the concealed carry permits held by both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte. After the three SORT squads were assembled and briefed, they arrived at the Bellotte residence around 10:15 p.m.

Also, how does having a CC permit indicate that the person has a gun and that the gun is in the house and that the person with the gun in the house will use it against officers? It doesn't. This is just anti-gun-owner bias. Owning a gun and having a firearm in your home doesn't mean the 4th Amendment no longer applies to you.  Apparently in this jurisdiction, not only does exercising your 2nd Amendment rights sacrifice your 4th Amendment rights, but that determination is made by a "SORT Team leader."  

Did anyone consider just walking up to this door, knocking, and saying "Hi. We have a search warrant.  Step aside."  That's all they needed to do.

The three squads took positions around the house, wearing tactical vests and helmets and armed with flashlight-equipped .45 caliber Sig Sauer pistols and "hooligan" pry bars for a possible forced entry. Then, the Bellottes claim, the SORT squads opened the unlocked front and rear doors without knocking or announcing their presence. They immediately executed a dynamic entry—a technique that the SORT Team had recently been trained in—by which all squads simultaneously rushed into the home from multiple entry points. After the SORT squads were inside the house, they repeatedly identified themselves as law enforcement officers executing a search warrant.

It's not a violent raid, it's a "dynamic entry."  And cops don't throw people down.  They "assist them to the pavement."

The first member of the family to encounter the SORT Team was E.B., the Bellottes' teenage son. When the officers found him upstairs walking out of his bedroom and talking on a cell phone, they subdued and handcuffed him. E.B. asserts that the officers also poked a gun at the back of his head. In another bedroom, the team found C.B., the Bellottes' young daughter, and led her downstairs unhandcuffed.
When the SORT Team came to the parents' bedroom, Tametta Bellotte raced out of bed and ran screaming toward the closet. When she reached for a gun bag, the officers forced her to the ground and handcuffed her. Later, when the house was secured, the SORT Team allowed Mrs. Bellotte to get fully dressed under the supervision of a female officer. The search of the Bellotte residence concluded shortly before midnight.

And the child pornography?  None. 

Mr. Bellotte, it turns out, had spent that night in his hunting cabin in Hampshire County, West Virginia. The next morning, when his wife told him what happened, he went to see Detective Edwards at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. He gave a recorded statement and later produced a passport and birth certificate showing that the female in the photo was not a child, but in fact a 35-year-old woman who lived in the Philippines. Thus Mr. Bellotte did not in fact possess any child pornography, and no charges were ever filed against him.

Why did he have a photo of a 35-year-old woman from the Philippines?  It's irrelevant, because it isn't a crime and it certainly didn't justify a botched, no-knock raid of his home.  The danger that evidence will be suppressed doesn't discourage sloppy police work.  The danger of getting shot by a homeowner doesn't discourage sloppy police work.  But the danger that sloppy police work will lead to an officer getting sued personally may encourage officers to think twice before raiding someone's home with no reason.

Full story here.



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"SWATting" is the act of convincing a heavily-armed band of local law enforcement that they need to raid a house.  Sometimes this is done as a prank.  Sometimes it is done maliciously.  Everytime it happens, innocent lives are placed in danger.

 Imagine you're sitting at home, comfortable on the couch, watching the Food Network, when all of a sudden a heavily armed SWAT team breaks down your door and storms into your living room.

That's what happened to 18-year-old Stephanie Milan, who was watching TV in her family's Evansville, Ind., home last Thursday (June 22), when a team of police officers broke down her storm door — the front door was already open — and tossed a flash-bang stun grenade into the room.

"The front door was open," Ira Milan, Stephanie's grandfather and the property owner, told the Evansvile Courier & Press. "To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive."

Turns out, however, that the SWAT team had the address wrong.

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SWAT For All

SWAT For All

Over at the National Review Online, Deroy Murdock suggests that the real "gun control" we need is control of government guns:

Overarmed federal officials increasingly employ military tactics as a first resort in routine law enforcement. From food-safety cases to mundane financial matters, battle-ready public employees are turning America into the United States of SWAT.

Read the whole thing for some examples of SWAT Gone Wild. 

And of course, no discussion of SWAT and drug raids would be complete without Lindy's "No-Knock Raid" (NSFW or kids):


City of Paragould Proposes Suspicionless Stops By Armed SWAT Agents



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St. Paul Cops Shoot Dog in Wrong-Door Raid, Force Handcuffed Kids to Sit Near the Corpse

<a href="http://reason.com/blog/2012/08/10/st-paul-cops-shoot-dog-in-wrong-door-rai">St. Paul Cops Shoot Dog in Wrong-Door Raid, Force Handcuffed Kids to Sit Near the Corpse</a>

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