Door-Busting Drug Raids Leave a Trail of Blood
Kevin Sack reports in the NY Times, with some graphic videos included at the link. The article begins:
CORNELIA, Ga. — This town on the edge of the Appalachians has fewer than 5,000 residents, but the SWAT team was outfitted for war.
At 2:15 a.m. on a moonless night in May 2014, 10 officers rolled up a driveway in an armored Humvee, three of them poised to leap off the running boards. They carried Colt submachine guns, light-mounted AR-15 rifles and Glock .40-caliber sidearms. Many wore green body armor and Kevlar helmets. They had a door-breaching shotgun, a battering ram, sledgehammers, Halligan bars for smashing windows, a ballistic shield and a potent flash-bang grenade.
The target was a single-story ranch-style house about 50 yards off Lakeview Heights Circle. Not even four hours earlier, three informants had bought $50 worth of methamphetamine in the front yard. That was enough to persuade the county’s chief magistrate to approve a no-knock search warrant authorizing the SWAT operators to storm the house without warning.
The point man on the entry team found the side door locked, and nodded to Deputy Jason Stribling, who took two swings with the metal battering ram. As the door splintered near the deadbolt, he yelled, “Sheriff’s department, search warrant!” Another deputy, Charles Long, had already pulled the pin on the flash-bang. He placed his left hand on Deputy Stribling’s back for stability, peered quickly into the dark and tossed the armed explosive about three feet inside the door.
It landed in a portable playpen.
As policing has militarized to fight a faltering war on drugs, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants, which regularly introduce staggering levels of violence into missions that might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocks at the door.
Thousands of times a year, these “dynamic entry” raids exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of neighborhood drug dealers. But they have also led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, blackened reputations and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, an investigation by The New York Times found.
For the most part, governments at all levels have chosen not to quantify the toll by requiring reporting on SWAT operations. But The Times’s investigation, which relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files, found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Scores of others were maimed or wounded.
The casualties have occurred in the execution of no-knock warrants, which give the police prior judicial authority to force entry without notice, as well as warrants that require the police to knock and announce themselves before breaking down doors. Often, there is little difference.
Innocents have died in attacks on wrong addresses, including a 7-year-old girl in Detroit, and collaterally as the police pursued other residents, among them a 68-year-old grandfather in Framingham, Mass. Stray bullets have whizzed through neighboring homes, and in dozens of instances the victims of police gunfire have included the family dog.
Search warrant raids account for a small share of the nearly 1,000 fatalities each year in officer-involved shootings. But what distinguishes them from other risky interactions between the police and citizens, like domestic disputes, hostage-takings and confrontations with mentally ill people, is that they are initiated by law enforcement.
In a country where four in 10 adults have guns in their homes, the raids incite predictable collisions between forces that hurtle toward each other like speeding cars in a passing lane — officers with a license to invade private homes and residents convinced of their right to self-defense.
After being awakened by the shattering of doors and the detonation of stun grenades, bleary suspects reach for nearby weapons — at times realizing it is the police, at others mistaking them for intruders — and the shooting begins. In some cases, victims like Todd Blair, a Utah man who grabbed a golf club on the way out of his bedroom, have been slain by officers who perceived a greater threat than existed. . .