“Dynamic entry” raids meant to exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of drug dealers have been used thousands of times a year. However, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants. These have caused staggering levels of violence into actions that might be accomplished through stakeouts or simple knocks at the door.
An investigation by The New York Times found that these types of raids have led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, tainted reputations, and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense.
The Times’s investigation found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Countless others were maimed or wounded. These casualties occurred in the execution of no-knock warrants, which allow the police prior judicial authority to force entry without notice, as well as warrants that require the police to knock and announce themselves prior to breaking down doors. Often, there is little difference.
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Mistaken Addresses and Dire Consequences
In the case of wrong addresses, innocent people have died in these ‘surprise’ attacks. This was the case with a seven-year-old girl in Detroit, as well as a 68-year-old grandfather in Framingham, Massachusetts, while police pursued other residents. Stray bullets have been fired through neighboring homes, and in dozens of instances the victims of police gunfire have included a family dog.
The difference from other risky interactions between police and citizens, such as domestic disputes, hostage-taking, or confrontations with mentally ill individuals, is that they are initiated by law enforcement.
Predictable However Unintentional Tragic Outcomes
In the United States, where four in 10 adults have guns in their homes, the raids incite foreseeable collisions between forces that hurtle toward each other. Officers with a license to invade private homes are pitted against residents convinced of their right to self-defense.
Being awakened by the shattering of doors, half-asleep suspects may reach for nearby weapons, at times mistaking police for intruders, and shooting begins. A Utah man grabbed a golf club on the way out of his bedroom, was shot to death by officers five seconds after entering. The officers had perceived a greater threat than actually existed.
Of course, probable cause of criminal activity must justify a search warrant. Police tacticians maintain that dynamic entry provides the safest means to clear out heavily armed drug houses and to catch alleged suspects with the contraband needed for felony prosecutions.
However, critics of the forcible-entry raids question if benefits outweigh the risks. It does not forgive the propensity of the police to err in the planning or execution of raids that are by definition, chaotic and place bystanders in harm’s way, The Times reports.
Racially Charged Components
Many raids occur in low-income neighborhoods. Shooting deaths like one in November of a 22-year-old black man in Salisbury, North Carolina, have exacerbated racial tensions already raw from a rash of high-profile police killings. The American Civil Liberties Union concluded in a recent study of 20 cities that 42 percent of those subjected to SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) search warrant raids were black and 12 percent Hispanic. Of the 81 civilian deaths noted by The Times, half were members of minority groups.
In one particularly highly unfortunate raid, an affidavit had included inaccuracies and hyperbole with an erroneous conclusion that despite a lack of surveillance, it had been “confirmed that there is heavy traffic in and out of the residence.” A county magistrate read an affidavit with allegations involving previous arrests including weapons possession, and in what he considered good faith, signed a warrant giving a constitutional purpose to enter a premises under suspicion and that there was a right to enter without knocking.
After forming their plan, and erroneously ascertaining there were no children or pets, the raid began. When the flash-bang detonated with a concussive boom, a blinding white light filled the room. The entry team screamed for the occupants to get to the ground. A deputy peered into a playpen with a flashlight and found a 19-month-old baby. The child had a long laceration and burns across his chest, exposing his ribs, and another gash between his upper lip and nose. His face was bloodied and blistered, spackled with shrapnel and soot. The heat had singed away much of his pillow and dissolved the mesh side of the playpen.
The family of the severely injured baby received $3.6 million in settlements to the federal lawsuit they filed against members of the drug and SWAT teams. All but $200,000, the mother said, has been spent on medical and legal bills. “They didn’t mean to hurt my son, but they could’ve done a lot more to prevent this.”
Legal Information and Advice
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