After the Boston Marathon bombing, Watertown MA was basically shut down in order to search for the suspects. People in the town were forced from their homes at gun point, before their houses were raided and searched. This was done without a warrant, because a dangerous criminal was loose in the area. At the time I predicted that this would be a growing trend; police using a fugitive on the run as an excuse to raid homes, and conduct illegal searches. Unfortunately just that happened last week, and it is a miracle that no one got killed. A nurse from Florida, Louise Goldsberry, was washing dishes when she looked out the window and saw a man pointing a gun at her. Having no indication that this was a police officer, the women alerted her boyfriend, and the two armed themselves with their legally owned firearms, believing a home invasion was about to take place. When the officer did identify himself, it was laced with profanity, leaving Goldsberry confused and skeptical that this was a real police officer, since he was acting in such an unprofessional manner.
Goldsberry, who had never been arrested before, wondered if they could really be police and if they would speak this way. She had no idea as to why the police would be trying to force their way into her apartment with their weapons drawn.
As the couple stayed huddled in the hallway, Goldsberry still clutching her weapon, watched in horror as the unidentified man pushed open the front door, which they swore had been locked.
A man crept around the corner aiming his weapon at them both and shouted, “Drop the f—- gun or I’ll f—- shoot you,” he ordered.
These police officers and U.S. Marshals were searching for a suspect and had received a tip that he was in that apartment complex. The Marshal in charge claimed that he thought the suspect was inside the apartment because “Nobody in the other units reacted that way”. Even after her boyfriend surrendered and was cuffed it took minutes longer to convince Goldsberry to drop her gun and come out of the house. When she did drop her firearm, she was rushed and apprehended like a criminal in her own home. There was no warrant, and the Marshal in charge, Wiggins claimed “I went above and beyond. I have to go home at night”. He has to go home at night, which somehow justifies a “legal” home invasion where the culprits who violently victimized Goldsberry and her boyfriend have the full force of the U.S. government behind them. What happened to Fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure?
But according to the Wall Street Journal this “whatever it takes to make it through my shift” attitude of police officers leads to unnecessary force against innocents, and even deaths of innocent bystanders, un-convicted suspects, and police officers. Matthew Stewart was veteran whose ex-girlfriend tipped off narcotics police that the man had marijuana plants. Stewart’s father has said the plants were used to self medicate to treat post traumatic stress disorder–there were 16 small plants in all and police uncovered no evidence that he was selling weed. Due in no small part to police increasingly insisting on military-style raids for non-violent and even victimless crimes, the search of the man’s home went extremely wrong.
The police say that they knocked and identified themselves, though Mr. Stewart and his neighbors said they heard no such announcement. Mr. Stewart fired 31 rounds, the police more than 250. Six of the officers were wounded, and Officer Jared Francom was killed. Mr. Stewart himself was shot twice before he was arrested. He was charged with several crimes, including the murder of Officer Francom… after losing a hearing last May on the legality of the search warrant, Mr. Stewart hanged himself in his jail cell.
All this, the death of an officer and the death of the suspect, just because he had a few demonized plants. No victim in the original crime, but never-the-less a military style unit of police initiated an unjust amount of force, and now people are dead. And this is not so isolated of an event. According to the Wall Street Journal in the 1970’s there were hundreds of SWAT raids throughout the United States, but by the 1980’s that number grew to 3,000 annually. In 2005 there were approximately 50,000 military style SWAT raids by police in the United States. And for all the questioning our government gives its citizens who want to protect themselves (why do you need a 30 round magazine?) would it not be an appropriate question towards various local state and U.S. government agencies, “Why do you need a military style raiding unit?”, especially when involving non-violent and victimless crimes. The death toll of innocent civilians during these raids almost suggests that the police are as dangerous as some of the criminals they are “protecting” us from.
In my own research, I have collected over 50 examples in which innocent people were killed in raids to enforce warrants for crimes that are either nonviolent or consensual (that is, crimes such as drug use or gambling, in which all parties participate voluntarily). These victims were bystanders, or the police later found no evidence of the crime for which the victim was being investigated. They include Katherine Johnston, a 92-year-old woman killed by an Atlanta narcotics team acting on a bad tip from an informant in 2006; Alberto Sepulveda, an 11-year-old accidentally shot by a California SWAT officer during a 2000 drug raid; and Eurie Stamps, killed in a 2011 raid on his home in Framingham, Mass., when an officer says his gun mistakenly discharged. Mr. Stamps wasn’t a suspect in the investigation…
In 2006, 38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi was shot and killed by a Fairfax County, Va., SWAT officer. The investigation began when an undercover detective overheard Mr. Culosi wagering on college football games with some buddies at a bar. The department sent a SWAT team after Mr. Culosi, who had no prior criminal record or any history of violence. As the SWAT team descended, one officer fired a single bullet that pierced Mr. Culosi’s heart. The police say that the shot was an accident. Mr. Culosi’s family suspects the officer saw Mr. Culosi reaching for his cellphone and thought he had a gun.
It is a problem when police can break down your door with impunity when no crime has been committed. It is a problem when police think that violence and military force raids are a proper way to deal with non-violent crimes and victimless crimes. And it is scary when the excuses of the police, “I was just doing my job”, echo the Nuremberg defense of, “I was just following orders”. As an individual you are responsible for your own actions; wanting to keep your job is not an excuse for state sanctioned murder and home invasion. Check out the full WSJ article that goes into detail about the militarization of American police over the last 50 years, starting with the first SWAT team in LA during the 1960’s. To read more that I have written on this subject check out “Don’t Worry, It’s All About National Security” and “Agents Illegally Search and Detain Innocent UVA Student”.