For nine years, DEA withholds names of masked agents who violently raided two innocent women. Federal court shrugs.
This seems to be the very definition of a police state. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:
A few years ago, I wrote about the raid on Geraldine and Caroline Burleyfor the Huffington Post:
When Caroline Burley, now 51, first heard the boom around 5:30 on the evening of June 13,  it sounded like it had come from outside her bedroom window. She rushed to investigate, and as she came out of the room, a man with a gun confronted her, threw her into a wall and then hurled her to the floor. A SWAT team had burst through her front door. Wearing only her nightgown, she asked for mercy. She recently had back surgery, she explained. Instead, one officer, then another kept her close to the floor by putting a boot in her back, according to court filings.
Caroline’s mother, Geraldine Burley, was sitting at her computer in the basement when she heard a loud thud overhead, followed by a scream from her daughter and a man’s voice ordering Caroline Burley to the floor. When she ascended the stairs, she too found a gun pointed at her head, and a man ordered her to get on the floor as well. She thought at first that she was being robbed.
Geraldine, now 70, pleaded with the man to let her move to the floor slowly, explaining to him that she’d had both of her knees replaced. Instead, another officer approached, grabbed her by the face, demanded that she “get the [f–––] on the floor,” then threw her into a table. She tumbled to the ground. At that point, she said later in a deposition, everything turned to “a fire, white and ringing in my ear.” Another officer came up from the basement with her grandson, stepping on her knees in the process. She cried out again in pain.
The officers searched the home but found no drugs, weapons or any other contraband. (They arrested Geraldine’s grandson on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant.)
This was part of Operation Eight Mile, a three-day period in 2007 in which drug cops from 21 federal, state and local police agencies conducted hundreds of raids on the famously crime-ridden road. (For all that manpower, the raids didn’t turn up much: 50 ounces of marijuana, 6.5 ounces of cocaine and 19 guns.)
The Burleys tried to get the officers’ names and badge numbers to file a complaint. This presented a problem:
According to the Burleys’ accounts, the officers who raided their home were clad in black. Some wore balaclava masks or face shields that hid all but their eyes. Others pulled their hats down low to shield their identities. They had also obscured their names and badge numbers. Once the Burleys’ house had been thoroughly searched, both women asked the officers for their names. After holding an impromptu meeting, the officers told the Burleys that they wouldn’t divulge any information that could identify them individually. Instead, they told the women that they had just been raided by “Team 11.” The women weren’t given a search warrant.
“Team 11″ didn’t actually exist. It was part of a Drug Enforcement Administration squad called “Team 6.” But for the Eight Mile operation, the team was partially split up and reorganized with members of state and local police agencies, then renamed just for that particular operation.
The entire operation was coordinated by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. When the Burleys asked the office for the names of the officers who raided their home, the office said it had no record of that raid, directing them instead to the DEA. The DEA told the Burleys that the agency was transitioning to a new administration and couldn’t respond, but that it would eventually get back to them. It never did. The Burleys finally filed a lawsuit in state court, which forced the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department to give them the records of the raid that the office previously said didn’t exist. Included in those records was a DEA report with the names of the agents who participated in the raid.
For their lawsuit, the Burleys sent the named agents questionnaires. The agents filled them out, denying that they ever violated the women’s civil rights. But notably, none of the agents denied that they had participated in the raid.
That all changed during depositions for the lawsuit. In what was a complete surprise to the Burleys’ attorneys, every agent named in the report denied participating in the raid. Instead, they claimed that “Team 11″ had actually been split into two on that particular day. One team raided the Burleys, while the other raided a home nearby. The agents claimed that the DEA report must have included the names of the wrong half of “Team 11″ by mistake. They were all in the other house.
So the Burleys’ attorneys did what you’d expect them to do: They deposed the other half of the team. You probably know where this is going. All of those agents also claimed to have been in the other house. No one denies that the Burleys were raided. No one denies that one half of “Team 11″ conducted that raid. But both halves of “Team 11″ insist it was the other half that was in in the Burleys’ home. Deputies from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department were also on the raid, but apparently stood outside the home while the DEA agents did the dirty work. Yet none of the deputies on the Burley raid could remember which DEA agents were with them.
“It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen,” Burley attorney Stanley Okoli told me a few years ago. “I asked, ‘which amongst you went to one address?’ and they said they couldn’t remember. So I asked, ‘which amongst you went to the other address?’ and they said they couldn’t remember.”
To file a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement officers, you need to know the names of the actual officers. The courts won’t allow you to file a civil rights claim against a police or government agency in general. By the time the DEA agents sprang their surprise on the Burleys, the statute of limitations on their lawsuit had nearly run out.
The Burleys filed their lawsuit anyway, hoping they could persuade a court to compel the DEA to name the officers who participated in the raid. It just got worse from there:
In June 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman first dismissed the Burleys’ claims against Wayne County, then preempted a jury verdict in the trial against the federal agents. He ruled that, given the evidence, no reasonable jury could find in the plaintiffs’ favor, and in addition ordered the Burleys to pay the DEA agents $5,000 to compensate them for court costs.
“These women are destitute,” Okoli told HuffPost. “That was completely discretionary. He didn’t have to do that.” Because the women couldn’t pay, the government moved to garnish their Social Security disability checks to cover the fine.
The following year, a panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the sheriff’s deputies from the lawsuit, but reinstated the claims against the federal agents and vacated the order for the Burleys to pay court costs. The panel found that “the agents’ intent to conceal contributed to the plaintiffs’ impaired ability to identify them.”
The problem: . . .
This is where the US is headed: police operating as a paramilitary force with no accountability and no transparency. (Recall that the NYPD has just proclaimed that it will release no information about disciplinary proceedings against any officer. Their position is that the public has no right to know and that the public should simply trust the NYPD to discipline or terminate officers guilty of misconduct.
What happened in this raid seems to amount to little more than terrorism of citizens by government officials.
And do read the rest of the report. Kafka would be proud.