*This is another essay I wrote for one of my classes. So, again instead of links, there are in text citations and a works cited page at the bottom.*
The War on Americans
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 is a law that prohibits the American government from using the federal military to enforce state laws. That law may as well be null and void as America’s police forces have been overtly militarized. Armed with fully automatic weapons and wearing the latest in urban camouflage, these storm troopers force their way into residences and businesses - and all too often, make mistakes - and innocent people get killed. Fueled almost entirely by the so-called “War on Drugs,” we no longer have peace officers to serve and protect citizens; we have an army of policy enforcers who frequently flout the law without consequence. America is now a war zone, and your home could be the next battlefield.
On May 11th, 2011, Jose Guerena, a Marine veteran with two tours in Iraq, was sleeping at his home in Tuscon, Arizona when the war came to him. His wife had awoken him, visibly scared, telling him she saw men in camouflage with guns outside their house. Even after only three hours sleep after a twelve hour day in a copper mine, Guerena still had the presence of mind to tell his wife to take their two young boys and hide in the closet. They heard the loud pop of flash bang grenades being deployed in their backyard. He grabbed his AR-15 and stood in the hallway between the front door and where his family was hiding. Seconds later, the splinters that had once been his front door came flying inward as the invading army fired 71 rounds at Guerena, hitting him 22 times. It would take him over an hour to bleed out and die. That is when Vanessa Guerena learned that the army at her door was the Pima County Sheriff’s SWAT Team (Grigg).
The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (US Const. Amend. 4). Every single word of this is important when looking at not only the raid on Guerena’s home, but several other instances as well. In Guerena’s case, the search warrant that the SWAT team used to execute him was invalid; it failed to name the crime he was accused of, nor did it specify items being sought. This, compounded with a series of false statements from the Sheriff’s office, highlights the fact that Jose Guerena was indeed murdered by the very government he had fought for. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik claimed that Guerena was not only the muscle for a violent drug smuggling gang, but that he was also a suspect in a double homicide. There has been absolutely no evidence to corroborate Dupnik’s claims, but it pales in comparison to the justification for Guerena’s execution: Dupnik claimed that Guerena had opened fire on his officers; a very difficult thing to accomplish while the safety on his rifle was still engaged (Grigg).
After settling a lawsuit with the widow Guerena - one that the tax payers will be on the hook for - Dupnik’s deputy Tracy Suitt wrote: “The Pima County Sheriff’s Department strongly believes the events of May 5, 2011, were unfortunate and tragic, but the officers performed that day in accordance with their training and nationally recognized standards” (Ferguson). If acting on an invalid warrant and unloading 71 bullets into a suburban house (several bullets hit neighboring houses) that children are in, and then allowing the suspect to bleed out while preventing EMT’s from providing assistance, then maybe the training and standards need to be fixed.
There are many more egregious cases of SWAT teams using the “no knock raid” technique that end with innocent people being killed. A “no knock” is a raid that occurs most often when the police are looking for drugs; the justification being that if the police officers knock and announce themselves, valuable evidence could be flushed down the toilet. However, they are also used when the suspect that the individual inside might respond violently. This was the logic employedon March 28th, 1992, when Snohomish County police in Washington conducted a pre-dawn no-knock raid on the residence of Larry Pratt, who had been implicated in an armed robbery by an informant who would later admit that he lied. Even though police knew that Pratt and his wife had children, even though they knew where he lived and worked, and even though they had obtained a key to the residence from the landlord, the SWAT team figured that “slamming a 50-pound battering ram through a sliding glass door” was the best tactical maneuver (Balko). Glass shards rained down on the Pratt’s six-year-old daughter and five-year-old niece who were sleeping in the room. Robin Pratt came running out of her bedroom to see what was happening. As she dropped to her knees, she looked at Deputy Anthony Aston and said, “Please don’t hurt my children.” Aston responded by firing a single round through her neck, leaving her to bleed out in front of her daughter (Balko). Despite the fact that she was unarmed, on her knees, and pleading for mercy, Washington’s assistant attorney general said that there was not enough evidence that Aston “intentionally, recklessly or negligently fired the shot that killed Robin Marie Pratt,” and that he would not be facing charges (Houtz, Koch).
Even in cases where no one dies, these dangerous SWAT raids cause serious damage to lives and property. In October of 2012, Jackie Fasching’s two daughters were asleep in their room when a SWAT team unit dropped a flash grenade (an incendiary device) into the bedroom, severely burning the 12-year-old. Seconds later, the front door was broken down, as the SWAT team threw another grenade into the house that “blew the nails out of the drywall” and created a “large bowl-shaped dent in the wall,” according to Fasching’s husband (Grigg). The police thought they were raiding a methamphetamine lab, which calls into question the level of intelligence in the police department; meth labs have a tendency to explode, so lobbing multiple grenades into one would almost certainly have disastrous results. Police Chief Rich St. John further calls into question the intelligence of the police when he told the Billings Gazette that they had done plenty of homework on the residence, yet somehow thought it was a meth lab that had no children inside. Chief St. John also seemed to have a loose understanding of the word “evidence” when he said, “Every bit of information and intelligence that we have comes together and we determine what kind of risk is there. The warrant was based on some hard evidence and everything we knew at the time” (Benoit). Keep in mind, no drugs, let alone a meth lab, were found in the house.
In my research, I have found only one case where police officers were held to account for their actions, and even then, only after more than a year of public outrage. In November of 2006, plain clothes officers from the Atlanta police, who would later claim to be acting on the tip of a man with a long criminal history, forced their way into Kathryn Johnston’s home. While we may never know what she was thinking, it may be safe to assume that she thought she was being robbed, as the officers were not in any kind of recognizable uniform. She had an old revolver with which she fired a single shot, which the police would later claim was multiple shots that wounded two officers (it was later determined that the officers were hit by friendly fire). The police returned almost forty shots, five or six hitting the 92-year-old Johnston. As she lay bleeding on the floor, the officers handcuffed her, and then searched the house for drugs. Finding none, Officer Jason Smith would later admit to planting 3 bags of marijuana in the grandmother’s house. The informant who the police based their information on claims that the police lied, and that he had never bought drugs from Johnston or anyone else at that address. Three of the officers involved in that raid are serving ten, six, and five years for manslaughter. Johnston was still alive when the officers handcuffed her and left her to die (Balko). How that doesn’t qualify as at least negligent homicide is beyond this writer.
These raids don’t just endanger the innocent lives of American citizens, they can also be deadly for the officers involved. While serving a search warrant on his neighbor the day after Christmas in 2001, police also raided Cory Maye’s apartment. Maye had fallen asleep in his easy chair after putting his 11-month-old daughter to bed, when he heard a loud crash outside his door. Terrified, he reached for his pistol and moved toward the back of the house where his daughter was. That’s when Officer Ron Jones came crashing through his back door. After squeezing off a few rounds, Maye heard a voice screaming, “Police! Police! You just shot an officer!” and dropped his gun, sliding it away from himself. One of Maye’s rounds missed the bulletproof vest Jones was wearing, and he died from his injuries on the way to the hospital. Cory Maye was originally sentenced to death before an investigative journalist named Radley Balko saw the case, and worked to get Maye a new trial. After 10 years in prison, Maye is a free man (Balko).
The CATO Institute, a Libertarian think-tank, has put together an interactive map of “botched paramilitary police raids” (www.cato.org/raidmap) and the picture is absolutely frightening. These are only the raids were something has gone terribly wrong; categories range from wrong house raids to deaths of police officers and innocent people. Unfortunately, there are no hard numbers for how many times police searched the wrong house or raided a house by using false information because police departments don’t keep records of that sort of thing (the same is true for whenever an officer shoots a dog, but that’s another six page essay).
In almost every case I found while researching this paper, the department behind the botched raid would release a statement about how “procedure was followed” and “officers acted accordingly,” even when someone died as a result of a wrong house raid. In one case, deputies knocked on the wrong door of the wrong house at 1:30 in the morning on July 15th, 2012, without identifying themselves; when Andrew Lee Scott answered the door with a gun in his hand, officers shot and killed him. The officers didn’t announce themselves because they wanted to have the element of surprise when apprehending their suspect. However, the police apparently also expected Scott to be a member of the Psychic Friends Network, because Lt. John Herrell placed the blame solely on the victim’s lifeless corpse: “The bottom line is, you point a gun at a deputy sheriff or police officer, you’re going to get shot” (wesh.com). It obviously hasn’t occurred to him that pounding on doors in the middle of the night without announcing yourselves is a good way to end up on the business end of a scared homeowner’s shotgun. So, they need the element of surprise, but he should have known they were police, and procedures were followed. I think I might be getting to the root of the problem here.
This can literally happen to anyone. There needs to be a repeal of such doctrines as “qualified immunity,” which allows state and federal officials to brazenly violate constitutional and natural law. The so-called “thin blue line” must be obliterated, and the citizenry must stop granting special rights to those who carry a badge. Those we entrust with protecting us must be held to a higher standard of justice, and if they break the law they should be punished to the fullest extent. As it stands now, police routinely violate not only civil liberties but the very letter of the law as well, and they almost always get away with it. The Roman poet Juvenal saw the root of the problem centuries ago, when he asked, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or, “Who will watch the watchers?”
Balko, Radley. “The Case of Cory Maye.” Reason Magazine. Oct, 2006. Web. Nov 21. 2013
Balko, Radley. “Kathryn Johnston: A Year Later.” Reason Magazine. Nov 23, 2007. Web. Nov 15, 2013.
Balko, Radley. “Raid of the Day: Robin Pratt, Shot and Killed In Front Of Her Daughter.” The Huffington Post. Feb 21, 2013. Web. Nov. 15, 2013
Benoit, Zach. “Grenade Burns Sleeping Girl As SWAT Team Raids Home.” The Billings Gazette. Oct. 12, 2012. Web. Nov. 25, 2013
Ferguson, Joe. “$3.4M Settlement In Deadly 2011 SWAT Raid Near Tuscon.” The Arizona Star. Sept. 20, 2013. Web. Nov. 17, 2013
Grigg, William Norman. “Good Morning Sweetheart: Now You’re On Fire, Courtesy Of The Local Police.” Lew Rockwell Online. Oct. 12, 2012. Web. Nov. 15, 2013
Grigg, William Norman. “Pima County Tax Victims to Indemnify Murder Of Jose Guerena.” Lew Rockwell Online. Sept 9, 2013. Web. Nov 17, 2013
Houtz, Jolayne and Anne Koch. “SWAT Killing: No Charges - State Finds No Negligence Despite Split Inquest Jury.” Seattle Times. Aug. 8, 1992. Web. Nov. 17, 2013
“Deputies Shoot, Kill Man After Knocking On Wrong Door.” wesh.com. July 16, 2012. Web. Nov. 21, 2013.