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NO-KNOCK RAIDS SHOULD BE BANNED EXCEPT IN CASES OF IMMINENT THREAT TO LIFE: Police raid the wrong home? If the innocent homeowner is lawfully armed, he could end up dead.

I’d ban “qualified immunity” — a creature of judicial activism with no basis in the Constitution — entirely. But short of that, it should never be available when police have failed to knock, announce themselves, and wait for the homeowner to answer the door.

And in the case of anyone who breaks down your door — whether in a police uniform or not — the presumption should be that you did the right thing by shooting them. Door-breakers should bear that risk. Likewise, if they shoot someone in the house, the presumption should be that they acted improperly.

Homeowners whose doors are broken down without good reason should be able to proceed against the assets of the law enforcement agency involved. Why should forefeiture only work in one direction?

CHANGE: Odd Couples Push Criminal Justice Overhauls. “John Cornyn and Sheldon Whitehouse. Mike Lee and Richard J. Durbin. Rand Paul and Harry Reid. Those three Senate odd couples have been spearheading the rollout legislation this week that, taken together, would affect prison sentences for convicted criminals, how long they might serve and what happens to them when they’ve paid their debt to society. That follows Paul teaming up with Judiciary Ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy earlier this month.” Personally, I’d like to see limitations on no-knock raids.


Let me explain. Or actually, in the case of Burger King’s planned acquisition of Tim Hortons, let my colleague Matt Levine explain, because he is smarter and funnier and a better writer than I am, and has already nicely summed things up:

The purpose of an inversion has never been, and never could be, and never will be, “ooh, Canada has a 15 percent tax rate, and the U.S. has a 35 percent tax rate, so we can save 20 points of taxes on all our income by moving.” Instead the main purpose is always: “If we’re incorporated in the U.S., we’ll pay 35 percent taxes on our income in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and Ireland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, but if we’re incorporated in Canada, we’ll pay 35 percent on our income in the U.S. but 15 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Mexico and 12.5 percent in Ireland and zero percent in Bermuda and zero percent in the Cayman Islands.”

What is he talking about? The U.S., unlike most developed-world governments, insists on taxing the global income of its citizens and corporations that have U.S. headquarters. And because the U.S. has some of the highest tax rates in the world, especially on corporate income, this amounts to demanding that everyone who got their start here owes us taxes, forever, on anything they earn abroad.

This is a great deal for the U.S. government, which gets to collect income tax even though it’s not providing the companies sewers or roads or courts or no-knock raids on their abodes. On the other hand, it’s not a very good deal for said citizens and corporations, especially because our government has made increasingly obnoxious demands on foreign institutions to help them collect that tax. Both private citizens and corporations who have a lot of income abroad are deciding that they’d rather renounce their ties to the U.S. than deal with the expense and hassle of letting it tap into income that they have earned using some other country’s roads and sewers and police protection.

Taxing people on income earned elsewhere is a human rights violation. Someone should complain to the UN.

And no, I’m not exactly kidding. The United States has been able to get away with this kind of intrusiveness because we’re powerful. As Obama makes us less powerful, there’s increased incentive for other countries to band together against this practice. Though on the other hand, they may favor it as a way to get businesses to relocate outside the United States.

Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s have a business climate that would make people want to headquarter their businesses here.

UPDATE: From the comments: “The global community has spoken: don’t tax income earned overseas. That cowboy Obama is going it alone.”

REASON TV: Police Shoot, Kill, 80-Year-Old Man In His Own Bed, Don’t Find Drugs They Were Looking For.

Deputies approached the house, and what happened next is where things get murky. The deputies said they announced their presence upon entering and were met in the hallway by the 80-year-old man, wielding a gun and stumbling towards them. The deputies later changed the story when the massive bloodstains on Mallory’s mattress indicated to investigators that he’d most likely been in bed at the time of the shooting. Investigators also found that an audio recording of the incident revealed a discrepancy in the deputies’ original narrative: Before listening to the audio recording, [Sgt. John] Bones believed that he told Mallory to “Drop the gun” prior to the shooting. The recording revealed, however, that his commands to “Drop the gun” occurred immediately after the shooting.

No-knock raids should be executed at the government’s peril, and only when someone’s life is reasonably believed to be in immediate danger.

LAW: Man Charged With Killing Burleson County Deputy No Billed by Grand Jury.

McGee admitted to shooting Sowders before sunrise on December 19th while the deputy and other investigators were serving a no knock search warrant for drugs at McGee’s mobile home near Snook.

Magee’s Defense Attorney Dick DeGuerin says his client thought someone was breaking into his home and fired to protect his pregnant girlfriend and himself.

“Well we feel that the grand jury acted fairly and reasonably and had all of the information that it needed to make the decision that it did. That is that this was a justified shooting and, but we need to say that this is a tragedy,” Dick DeGuerin said.

The dangers of no-knock raids. One of the reasons for the knock-and-announce rule is so that homeowners can assure themselves that their home isn’t being invaded. Sounds like this grand jury did the right thing, but if the sheriff’s department had been more sensible, the deputy would be alive now.

REASON NUMBER 173,321 FOR ABOLISHING OFFICIAL IMMUNITY: Scenes from a militarized America: Iowa family ‘terrorized.’

Watch this video, taken from a police raid in Des Moines, Iowa. Send it to some people. When critics (like me) warn about the dangers of police militarization, this is what we’re talking about. You’ll see the raid team, dressed in battle-dress uniforms, helmets and face-covering balaclava hoods take down the family’s door with a battering ram. You’ll see them storm the home with ballistics shields, guns at the ready. More troubling still, you’ll see not one but two officers attempt to prevent the family from having an independent record of the raid, one by destroying a surveillance camera, another by blocking another camera’s lens.

From the images in the video, you’d think they were looking for an escaped murderer or a house full of hit men. No, none of that. They were looking for a few people suspected of credit card fraud. None of the people they were looking for were inside of the house, nor was any of the stolen property they were looking for. They did arrest two houseguests of the family on what the news report says were unrelated charges, one for a probation violation and one for possession of illegal drugs.

A couple other points about this story. First, note that the police say they knocked and announced themselves before the raid. The knock and announce requirement has a long history in U.S. and English common law. Its purpose was to give the occupants of a home the opportunity to avoid property damage and unnecessary violence by giving them time to come to the door and let the police in peacefully. As you can see from the video, the knock and announce today is largely a formality. The original purpose is gone. From the perspective of the people inside, there’s really no difference between this sort of “knock and announce” and a no-knock raid.

I think I’m building an AI-directed facial-recognition taser setup that will tase anyone whose face is obscured. If the police knock and identify themselves, I’ll turn it off, of course.

ANOTHER WRONG-HOUSE RAID: Police Shoot, Kill Dog When Going To A Home By Mistake.

UPDATE: A reader objects: “During my years working patrol, bad information from radio calls was common. Also, I love dogs, and I never had to shoot one, but I did have some very close calls. A common theme in your blog is to point out and ridicule errors made by law enforcement. Certainly there are instances where such scorn is earned (e.g., a wrong-door no-knock SWAT raid), but I don’t see how you can conclude that this cop made a mistake from the information provided. Though it may offend your sensibilities, sometimes cops encounter aggressive dogs, and sometimes the only way to stop one is deadly force.”

Fair enough — as long as you’d cut a private citizen the same slack.

WE NEED FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS LEGISLATION IMPOSING STRICT LIABILITY FOR NO-KNOCK RAIDS: St. Paul Cops Shoot Dog in Wrong-Door Raid, Force Handcuffed Kids to Sit Near the Corpse.

David Bernstein comments: “The family has filed a $30 million lawsuit, but tar and feathers would be more appropriate.” The remedies are not mutually exclusive.

And actually, I think remedies involving public humiliation are particularly appropriate for this kind of official misconduct. Just be sure the supervisors are included.

ANOTHER WRONG-HOUSE NO-KNOCK RAID: Beauty Queen Dragged Out of Bed Naked by Deputies. “A former beauty queen is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after she says deputies kicked down the wrong apartment door, pointed guns at her and her fiancee and watched as she got out of bed, naked. . . . Manos and her fiancee, Eric Otto Ryder, say deputies had a search warrant for apartment ‘C’ but entered their unit — clearly marked as apartment ‘A.'”

There should be strict liability for no-knock raids.


Imagine you’re sitting at home, comfortable on the couch, watching the Food Network, when all of a sudden a heavily armed SWAT team breaks down your door and storms into your living room.

That’s what happened to 18-year-old Stephanie Milan, who was watching TV in her family’s Evansville, Ind., home last Thursday (June 22), when a team of police officers broke down her storm door — the front door was already open — and tossed a flash-bang stun grenade into the room.

“The front door was open,” Ira Milan, Stephanie’s grandfather and the property owner, told the Evansvile Courier & Press. “To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive.”

Turns out, however, that the SWAT team had the address wrong.

We should abolish official immunity for no-knock raids. Police are clearly unable to handle this function responsibly.

UPDATE: More here.

ANOTHER WRONG-HOUSE RAID: Ninth Circuit to DEA: Putting a Gun to an 11-Year-Old’s Head Is Not OK. No, but it’s standard operating procedure, apparently.

There should be no official immunity for no-knock raids.

Plus: “While this raid was conducted under President George W. Bush, the deputy administrator of the DEA at that time was Michele Leonhart. She is now the administrator of the DEA, thanks to an appointment by President Barack Obama. Furthermore, the Obama Administration could have declined to defend the DEA in this case. Instead, Obama’s Justice Department has decided to make the case that federal agents should be allowed to hold guns to the heads of children.” (Emphasis added.)

And why aren’t the names of all the agents published? They should be publicly shamed for their error, and their behavior. From the opinion: “At the time the warrant was issued, DEA Agents believed that a vehicle belonging to suspected drug trafficker Luis Alvarez was registered at the Avina residence. After executing the search warrant on January 20, 2007, the agents discovered they had inadvertently written down a license number of a vehicle belonging to Thomas Avina instead of a vehicle belonging to Luis Alvarez.”

No ordinary citizen who made such an error, and then threatened children with guns, would enjoy anonymity.

ANOTHER DRUG RAID FAILURE: FBI Raids Wrong House, Enters Using Chain Saw. There should be no official immunity for no-knock raids.

HERSCHEL SMITH ON NO-KNOCK RAIDS: “Do SWAT teams want to play soldier so badly that they are willing to endanger the public, and are judges concerned enough about a ‘small amount of marijuana’ that they are willing to see military tactics used against U.S. citizens?” Yes. Next question?

Meanwhile, Vox Day achieves an almost-Steynian degree of pessimism, while others go farther. I, on the other hand, think America will not only survive, but flourish in the coming decades, most likely without hanging even a single politician from a lamppost. But I’m just one of those Pollyannas.

Meanwhile, one day I’m going to have to actually read Pollyanna. It’s one of those books that nobody reads, but that has become an expression. I’ve never even seen the movie, which as a Disney item likely took liberties. The popular usage is probably unfair. On the other hand, I’m pretty well-known for my sunny disposition. . . .

OF COURSE, NOBODY WILL GO TO JAIL: Botched raid costs Minneapolis $1 million.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a $1 million settlement Friday after a botched drug raid in 2010 in which an officer threw a “flash-bang” grenade into a south Minneapolis apartment burning the flesh off a woman’s leg.

The payout to Rickia Russell, who suffered permanent injuries, was the third largest payout for alleged Minneapolis police misconduct on record.

Flash grenades are intended to distract and intimidate, not to injure people, but during the raid the device rolled under the legs of Russell, who was seated on a sofa, and exploded. The police were looking that day for a drug dealer, narcotics and a firearm, but found nothing.

Russell, now 31, suffered third- and fourth-degree burns that caused a deep indentation on the back of one leg, requiring skin grafts from her scalp. She is still undergoing physical therapy.

“What happened in this case was an accident,” Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal said in a statement. “It’s very unfortunate that Ms. Russell suffered serious injuries, however, accidents like this are rare.”

Yet incidents of fires, injuries and even deaths caused by the devices have led to costly settlements and policy changes in cities nationwide, including Minneapolis, where a 1989 fire started by a police grenade killed two people.

You throw a grenade, there had better be a credible threat to someone’s life, not just some bullshit drug raid. The supervisors on this raid should be in jail for reckless endangerment.

And note this: “In what Bennett called ‘a cascading series of errors,’ a Minneapolis police SWAT team smashed down the door with a battering ram without warning, when the search warrant police had obtained required officers to announce themselves before entering.”

Jail time and bankruptcy should be the result, not just a civil judgment against the city. And there should be no official immunity for no-knock raids.

MIKE RIGGS: Update on Wrong-House Raid in Alameda: “I remember the guns pointing at my face when I look at my front door. Every. Single. Time.” There should be no official immunity for no-knock raids. Get the wrong house, and you’re naked.

UPDATE: Reader Ron Shrewsbury corrects me, noting that this was a wrong-house raid, but that they did pound on the door according to the report, adding: “It’s not clear if he answered the door or if they then broke in. The real question in this story is whether or not it’s proper to have firearms drawn and ready to use when conducting an arrest of someone who ‘…made bail after being arrested in August in connection with an indoor marijuana-growing operation….'” And who wasn’t there, which they could have discovered with a little basic pre-raid research.

STANDING UP FOR FREEDOM: Virginia Tea Party organization fights planning commision issuance of search warrants for suspected “code violations.”

In a semi-related matter, reader Damian Burch emails: “I was about to e-mail you to suggest that you post something about Cory Maye, but I see that you already have. Now I have a question for you: Is there a (reputable) charity that we can donate to which supports citizens whose homes have been erroneously invaded by the government?” I don’t know. Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Pima County GOP Establishment Backing Sherriff Dupnik over botched no-knock raid?

Pima County Republican Party leaders voted late Thursday to take away party chairman Brian Miller’s keys to the GOP headquarters and called a special meeting to try to remove him from his post.

Miller has been under fire from party stalwarts for the past month, with meetings called in recent weeks after he criticized a SWAT raid in May that resulted in the shooting death of a man law enforcement officers suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.

Several elected officials and party leaders have complained his comments pitted the party against law enforcement at a time when city elections are looming and candidates are gearing up for bigger 2012 races.

In other words, they value political alliances with government employees over the constitutional rights of constituents. Nice to hear them make that clear.

Response: “They asked for my resignation on grounds that it is the right thing to do for the party because… well, because they say so. I declined.”

Tucson Tea Partier Robert Mayer adds: “Pima GOP chairman Brian Miller, who leans libertarian as we do, criticized the raid. Now, the old guard GOP that makes up the executive committee has voted to take away his credit card, keys to the office, and forbids him to speak as chairman. They are planning a change to the county bylaws to allow for them to remove him from office. The president of the AZ police union also called up every Republican candidate and elected official in the state telling them ‘you’re fucked’ if you don’t condemn Brian Miller.”

Another reason why police unions shouldn’t be allowed, as if we needed one after their politicization in the Wisconsin fracas.

CORY MAYE UPDATE: SOME EXCELLENT NEWS: “After 10 years of incarceration, and seven years after a jury sentenced him to die, 30-year-old Cory Maye will soon be going home. Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell signed a plea agreement Friday morning in which Maye pled guilty to manslaughter for the 2001 death of Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr. Per the agreement, Harrell then sentenced Maye to 10 years in prison, time he has now already served. Maye will be taken to Rankin County, Mississippi, for processing and some procedural work. He is expected to be released within days.”

While personally I don’t think that Maye should have served time in prison at all for what seems to have been a tragic mistake in the course of a botched no-knock raid, this is about as good as could realistically be expected. Some background here. And here’s a collection of InstaPundit posts on the case going back several years.

QUOTE OF THE YEAR: “Do we really want to live in a country where when someone busts into your house at night you’re supposed to assume they might be cops?”

I’d rather live in a country where you get a bounty for shooting people who bust into your house illegally — one that’s doubled if they’re cops. Apparently, though, I’m more likely to get the former. And to those who want to criticize my approach to illegal breakins: Why are you so soft on criminals?

UPDATE: Reader J.A. Lyons thinks a bounty is rather drastic. Well, yes. I’d be happy with stripping official immunity in no-knock raids, so that police — and, more significantly, supervising officials — would become liable for anything that goes wrong. No-knock raids should be extraordinary measures, only used when there is imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. That’s not the case in the vast, vast majority of no-knock raids. And illegal breakins are . . . illegal. They don’t become less so, somehow, when engaged in by those sworn to uphold the law.

Meanwhile, to see what I’m talking about, watch this video.

RADLEY BALKO on problems with no-knock raids.


A federal judge who sent three fallen cops to prison for a notorious drug raid that left an elderly woman dead said Tuesday that Atlanta Police Department performance quotas unduly influenced the officers’ behavior.

“It is my fervent hope the Atlanta Police Department will take to heart what has happened here,” U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes said. At the close of an emotional two-day hearing, Carnes sentenced former officers Gregg Junnier, Jason R. Smith and Arthur Bruce Tesler to between 5 and 10 years in prison. At the hearing, Tesler’s lawyer provided examples of other Atlanta police officers breaking the rules or violating the law and said a disturbing culture of misconduct pervades the force.

Carnes imposed the most severe sentence — 10 years — on Smith, 36, who obtained the illegal, no-knock search warrant allowing officers to batter down 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston’s door.

These raids — and the law enforcement culture they embody — are a serious problem.

RADLEY BALKO: Maryland Bill Would Bring Transparency to Use of SWAT Teams. We need federal legislation limiting — and providing accountability for — no-knock raids. I’m told, though, that there’s no support, even from Democrats, for stripping sovereign immunity in the case of wrongful no-knock raids.

THE OTHER DAY, JONAH GOLDBERG responded to my New York Post column on the Herring case:

One answer—really the only answer—you hear about why we should treat criminals with more respect is that it’s the only way to make government respect the rights of the innocent. I’m all for respecting the rights of the innocent, and I think police should be required to follow strict rules, have warrants, and all the rest. But I don’t see why cops who break the rules intentionally or unintentionally should be “punished” by having objectively guilty criminals let loose on society.

Well, this is the classic argument against the exclusionary rule, and it’s a pretty good one. The other classic argument against the exclusionary rule is that if you’re actually innocent — if the police search you unreasonably and don’t find anything — the rule does you no good because you’ve got nothing to exclude anyway.

These are good arguments and I’d be happy to scrap the exclusionary rule and return to the framing-era approach that put the constable at risk for personal liability whenever there was an unreasonable search or arrest, unless he had a warrant, in which case the magistrate who issued the warrant might be at risk if the warrant was improperly issued. But modern doctrines of official immunity — which are basically judge-made, and a result of “judicial activism” of the first order — make that impossible. There’s no constitutional basis for immunity on the part of police or their supervisors; it’s just something judges think is a good idea. Nonetheless, it’s not going anywhere — as part of my efforts to get something done about no-knock raids, I was recently told that, even in the Democratic Congress, it’s not going to be possible to do anything about official immunity.

Meanwhile, if you reward negligence, by letting cops who are negligent arrest people they’d otherwise be unable to, the cops — and, more importantly, their superiors, who might otherwise look bad if a guilty person is allowed to go free — wind up incentivized to be negligent. That increases the risk that innocent people will be subjected to unreasonable searches. In this imperfect world, the exclusionary rule is pretty much all we’ve got. But hey, if Jonah wants to join me in a campaign to get official immunity abolished or cut back, I’m ready. (Bumped).

UPDATE: Jonah responds.


When the shooting stopped, two dogs lay dead. A mayor sat in his boxers, hands bound behind his back. His handcuffed mother-in-law was sprawled on the kitchen floor, lying beside the body of one of the family pets that police had killed before her eyes.

After the raid, Prince George’s County police officials who burst into the home of Berwyn Heights’ mayor last week seized the same unopened package of marijuana that an undercover officer had delivered an hour earlier.

What police left behind was a house stained with blood and a trail of questions about their conduct. No other evidence of illegal activity was found, and no one was arrested at Mayor Cheye Calvo’s home in this small bedroom community near College Park.

This week Prince George’s police arrested two men for orchestrating a plot to deliver marijuana to the addresses of unsuspecting recipients — among them, Calvo’s wife, Trinity Tomsic.

Yet neither county Police Chief Melvin C. High nor Sheriff Michael A. Jackson have apologized to him, his wife or her mother, Georgia Porter, for the raid that traumatized the family and killed their black Labrador retrievers, Payton and Chase.

Thursday, Calvo called on the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division to investigate the raid and other similar actions by Prince George’s law enforcement. He said officers burst into his house without knocking or announcing themselves, in violation of the warrant they had.

We need federal civil rights legislation stripping officials of immunity in cases like this. Maybe now that they’re raiding politicians’ houses, we’ll see some action.

UPDATE: Radley Balko has much more. Plus this: “I guess I’d just add that the national media coverage of the Berwyn Heights raid seems to be predicated on the assumption that the most troubling aspects of the raid—the killing of the dogs, the violent tactics, the lax investigation, the likely innocent victims, and the police obstinacy after the fact—are unusual. They aren’t. The only thing unusual about this raid is that its victim happened to be an elected politician.”


An Atlanta police officer convicted of lying to investigators about the Kathryn Johnston shooting was sentenced Thursday to four years and six months in prison, as well as six months on probation. . . .

Police detective Arthur Bruce Tesler, 42, spoke on his own behalf at the sentencing hearing. Earlier this week, he was convicted of lying but acquitted of two other charges stemming from the botched drug raid in which the 92-year-old Johnston was killed in a hail of police gunfire.

“I’m truly sorry for what happened,” Tesler said. “I want to do as much as I can to see that it never happens again.” Tesler said he hopes the community around Johnston’s Neal Street home and her family can heal. . . . Johnston was fatally shot after she fired at police as they burst into her residence using a “no-knock” warrant. Tesler, stationed at the rear of the house, fired no shots but admitted in court that he participated in a cover-up of the illegal warrant and of the planting of narcotics in the house to hide the wrongdoing.

The raid wasn’t just botched. It was corrupt. Nobody who killed a cop under similar circumstances would be likely to do as well.

ANOTHER NO-KNOCK OUTRAGE: “What makes the case especially egregious is not that the police may have gotten the wrong home, that they shot a man, or that they were covering it up or going silent. We’ve seen all that before. What’s mind-blowing about this one is that they’ve continued abusing the poor guy, even after it should have been clear for some time now that they made a mistake.”

JOEL ROSENBERG has been on top of that Minneapolis wrong-house no-knock raid. And yes, he’s the same guy who writes fantasy/science fiction novels, but he’s also a handgun instructor.

TWO MORE WRONG-HOUSE NO-KNOCK RAIDS: There needs to be a much, much higher price for this sort of mistake.

PATTERICO HAS MORE on the Atlanta cops charged in the Kathryn Johnston no-knock raid gone wrong.

Following up on a comment, I’d also like to know more about the judge who signed the warrant in this case.

UPDATE: Here’s more from Radley Balko:

We now know that Kathryn Johnston fired only a single bullet, through the door as police were trying to break in. They responded with a storm of bullets, which apparently both wounded Johnston and the officers themselves. When they realized their fatal error, they planted cocaine and marijuana in the woman’s home. They then pressured an uninvolved informant to testify to having made controlled buys at Johnston’s home to cover their tracks.

The New York Times is now reporting that the officers have told federal investigators that their behavior was not out of the ordinary. That corruption, planting evidence, and giving false testimony are routine at APD. That’s not surprising. The only way these officers could think they’d get away with all of this is if they were operating within a system that routinely allows for—or even encourages—such behavior. APD’s focus on arrest numbers and professional rewards for the big bust apparently incentivized such short cuts.

It’s also important to remember that it’s possible we wouldn’t know any of this were it not for the uncooperative informant who admirably refused to help the cops cover their asses.

Read the whole thing.

I’d be more impressed with the Democratic candidates if they had united in their opposition to the War on Drugs, which has done the country much more harm, over much more time, than the one in Iraq.

POLICE INDICTED in the Kathryn Johnston no-knock raid in Atlanta.


A group of lawmakers wants to make it harder for police to use “no-knock” warrants in the wake of a shootout that left an elderly woman dead after plainclothes officers stormed her home unannounced in a search for drugs.

The measure would allow judges to grant the warrants only if officers can prove a “significant and imminent danger to human life.”

The measure was prompted by the Nov. 21 shootout between Kathryn Johnston and three police officers during a no-knock search of her Atlanta home. When the officers entered without warning, police say that Johnston, 92, fired a handgun at them and that the officers returned fire, killing her. An autopsy concluded she was shot five or six times.

Narcotics officers said an informant had claimed there was cocaine in the home, but none was found.

Democratic Sen. Vincent Fort, a sponsor of the bill, said the case was a warning that it has become too easy to obtain “no-knock” warrants.

“Every citizen ought to be safe and secure in their homes,” Fort said. “A no-knock warrant should be a special warrant, not a standard. And that’s what it’s evolved into.”

As InstaPundit readers know, I agree. I’d like to see federal legislation along these lines, too.


The Fulton County district attorney will seek felony murder charges against at least one of the Atlanta police officers involved in a botched drug raid that resulted in the shooting death of an elderly woman, said the officer’s attorney. . . .

On Nov. 21, narcotics officers went to the home of Kathryn Johnston in southwest Atlanta to execute a “no knock” search warrant. Johnston was killed and the three officers were injured in a ensuing shootout.

“No knock” warrants are frequently issued so police can get inside before suspects can destroy or dispose of drugs. When the officers kicked in the door, the elderly woman apparently fired five shots from her own revolver.

Johnston’s friends and family members contended the woman, who kept the gun for her protection, was a feeble and frightened woman who rarely ventured outside after dark. And they say that she was never involved in any drug activity. Her family says she was 92, while authorities say she was 88.

Junnier later told federal investigators that officers had lied to a magistrate judge about sending a confidential informant to Johnston’s house to purchase drugs in order to get the warrant.

I’m okay on giving cops — and anyone else caught in a life-or-death situation through no fault of their own — the benefit of the doubt. But this life-or-death situation was the cops’ fault, for lying in order to get the warrant. Plus, I think that no-knock tactics should be reserved for cases where there’s a serious threat to life or limb.


An Atlanta police narcotics officer has told federal investigators at least one member of his unit lied about making a drug buy at the home of an elderly woman killed in a subsequent raid, according to a person close to the investigation.

In an affidavit to get a search warrant at the home Nov. 21, narcotics officer Jason R. Smith told a magistrate he and Officer Arthur Tesler had a confidential informant buy $50 worth of crack at 933 Neal St. from a man named “Sam.”

But narcotics officer Gregg Junnier, who was wounded in the shootout, has since told federal investigators that did not happen, according to the person close to the investigation. Police got a no-knock warrant after claiming that “Sam” had surveillance cameras outside the Neal Street residence and they needed the element of surprise to capture him and the drugs.

The resident at the home, Kathryn Johnston, who is reported to be either 88 or 92, was startled by the sound of her burglar-bar door being battered in, and she fired her revolver at the officers. She was killed and three officers were wounded by gunfire or shrapnel.

Buddy Parker, a former federal prosecutor, said that officers who lied to the magistrate could face serious charges in addition to making false statements to a judge.

And if they lied, they should.


The nation’s largest police chiefs’ organization is calling on the federal government to re-establish a national law enforcement commission to help restore confidence in local public safety operations.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police said Thursday that recent incidents involving officers’ questionable use of force and abrupt increases in murder and robbery represent strong evidence for a panel, similar to President Lyndon Johnson’s Crime Commission, which would develop a national anti-criminal justice strategy. The panel would address a wide range of topics from police deployment to prison administration.

“We’re past the time when we’ve needed to do this,” IACP President Joseph Carter said Thursday. . . .

The IACP also cited “highly publicized” police incidents, such as the New York City shooting death of 23-year-old Sean Bell after his bachelor party and the death of an 88-year-old woman during an Atlanta drug raid.

I agree that someone needs to look at this problem. And I’ve suggested that we need legislation stripping officers and departments of official immunity in no-knock raids. I’m not sure what I think of this proposal, but at least someone besides Radley Balko is paying attention.

PATTERICO ACCUSES ME OF FAIR-WEATHER FEDERALISM for supporting Congressional legislation to rein in no-knock drug raids.

That’s silly. Congress clearly has the power to pass laws, under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, to prevent states depriving citizens of life, liberty or property without due process of law. When cops bust down your door and shoot you without — very — good reason for being there, that’s a deprivation of liberty and property, and often life, without due process, the very kind of thing Congress was empowered to address. So unless Patterico thinks that the 14th Amendment is itself an improper impediment to federalism, I don’t see the problem here. What’s more, the no-knock problem stems from federal policies — the “war on drugs” and the free distribution of military equipment to local SWAT teams — and thus further justifies a federal corrective. Under federalism, one role of the federal government is to protect citizens’ rights against unconstitutional encroachment by the states. That’s what the 14th Amendment is about. And the doctrines of official immunity that make lawsuits difficult in such cases are found nowhere in the Constitution, but are the creation of activist judges, reading their policy preferences into the law. They are worthy of no particular deference.

UPDATE: I see that Patterico has updated to say that he doesn’t think the immunity-stripping violates federalism, which makes me wonder what our disagreement really is. At any rate, Ilya Somin has some further thoughts on how this problem was mostly federal in creation anyway.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In a later update, Patterico says that I’m inconsistent on federalism in light of my Schiavo comments here:

After talking about small government and the rule of law, Republicans overwhelmingly supported a piece of legislation intended to influence a single case, that of Terri Schiavo. As former Solicitor General Charles Fried observes:

” In their intervention in the Terri Schiavo matter, Republicans in Congress and President Bush have, in a few brief legislative clauses, embraced the kind of free-floating judicial activism, disregard for orderly procedure and contempt for the integrity of state processes that they quite rightly have denounced and sought to discipline for decades.”

I think he’s right. As with Bill Hobbs, quoted below, I don’t have an opinion on what should happen to Terry Schiavo — though given the rather large numbers of judges who have looked at this case over the years I’d be especially reluctant to interfere. Can they all be deranged advocates of a “culture of death?” But regardless of the merits, Congress’s involvement in this case seems quite “unconservative” to me, at least if one believes in rules of general application. Florida has a general law, and it’s been followed. That people don’t like the result isn’t a reason for unprecedented Congressional action, unless results are all that matter.

Reading that entire post, it seems to me that my predictions of Republican problems ahead have certainly been borne out in spades, but it wasn’t really a federalism argument as such. (In fact, in an earlier post — scroll down from that link above — I noted that the bill wasn’t necessarily unconstitutional, just a bad idea.) Nonetheless, I think that the kind of legislation I’ve suggested — stripping officers of official immunity in no-knock cases, where we’ve seen that there’s a pattern of misconduct and that state remedies have proven inadequate — is at the very core of Congress’s 14th Amendment powers. On the other hand, the Schiavo intervention seems much farther from that mold.

At any rate, doesn’t this go both ways? That is, isn’t Patterico inconsistent to have supported the Schiavo legislation while regarding Congressional legislation over no-knock raids as posing troubling federalism problems?

It seems however, that the actual remedy that I’ve proposed raises no problems in his mind, so this entire disagreement is fairly abstract. I have great respect for his abilities as a blogger, but I remain convinced that no-knock raids should be limited to very narrow circumstances, and that officers — and government agencies, for that matter — who engage in them should not be able to hide behind doctrines of official immunity that themselves have little warrant in the Constitution.


Officials say the FBI will lead an investigation into the fatal shooting of an elderly Atlanta woman during a drug raid last week.

The announcement was made by Police Chief Richard Pennington at a news conference Monday afternoon, where he was joined by officials from the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office, the GBI and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. . . .

Police have said “Sam” had sold drugs from inside Johnston’s home to an informant, prompting the officers to seek a “no-knock” warrant. Such warrants are frequently used by police to get inside a home before suspects have a chance to get rid of drugs.

But a local television station aired an interview on Monday evening with a man who said he was the informant, and he said he never told officers that he bought drugs at Johnston’s house.

Pennington said at a news conference on Sunday that the department will review its policy on “no-knock” warrants and its use of confidential informants.

I think that should be happening nationwide. In fact, I think it’s time for federal legislation.

ANOTHER WRONG-HOUSE NO-KNOCK RAID. Something needs to be done.

RADLEY BALKO HAS MORE on the Atlanta no-knock raid that resulted in the death of a 92-year-old woman. Plus this useful observation:

If the police storm in and you — not being a drug dealer and consequently having no reason to think the police might break into your home — mistake them for criminal intruders and meet them with a gun, you are at fault. I guess your crime is living in an area where drug dealers could use your porch while you aren’t home, or being a too trusting, frail, old woman. Sorry about your luck.

On the other hand, if the police break into your home and they mistake the blue cup, TV remote, the t-shirt you’re holding to cover your genitals because they broke in while you were sleeping naked, or the glint off your wristwatch for a gun — and subsequently shoot you (all of these scenarios have actually happened), well, then no one is to blame. Because, you see, SWAT raids are inherently dangerous and volatile, and it’s perfectly understandable how police might mistake an innocent person holding a t-shirt for a violent drug dealer with gun.

Do you see the double standard, here? If the warrant is legit, they are allowed to make mistakes. You aren’t.

This discrepancy grows all the more absurd when you consider that they have extensive training, you don’t. They have also spent hours preparing for the raid. You were startled from your sleep, and have just seconds to make a life-or-death decision. To top it all off, many times they’ve just deployed a flashbang grenade that is designed to confuse and disorient you.

What’s the solution? It isn’t to encourage people to start shooting raiding cops to kill. That kind of talk is foolish, and needs to stop. But it isn’t to encourage to people to refrain from defending their homes, either. Both of those suggestions will lead to more people dying — both police and citizens.

The solution is actually pretty simple: Stop invading people’s homes for nonviolent offenses.

Yes. Also, the police should be held strictly liable for mistakes, without benefit of official immunity. And they should be required to record video of the entire proceedings, in a tamper-resistant format.

UPDATE: Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, an interesting comment from Tom Holsinger:

I have about 700-800 hours of experience litigating police brutality and excessive force cases as plaintiff’s counsel in private practice, and evaluating them as a trial court research attorney, mostly the former. My county, Stanislaus in California, had a tragedy occur during a no-knock raid when a police officer accidently killed a young boy in bed with the accidental discharge of a shotgun.

IMO the standard which should be used for wrongful death and injury actions by persons other than those identified in the warrant in no-knock raids should be strict liability. Ditto for even the person identified in the warrant if the items searched for are not found.

No-knock searches create an inherent major risk of harm to innocent persons such that compensation for injury should be mandated. I.e., immunity would be irrelevant. Pay immediately. Plus a reasonable attorney’s fee.

I think he’s exactly right, of course.

POLICE IN ATLANTA have shot and killed a 92-year-old woman in what appears to be another wrong-house no-knock raid. As I’ve said before, these raids should only occur when there’s reason to believe that lives are in immediate jeopardy. And police should be liable, civilly and criminally, without any shield of official immunity, in cases where these no-knock raids go wrong.

UPDATE: The police claim that they knocked and announced. However, as Radley Balko has noted, often such behavior is pretty notional, with the door being kicked down immediately thereafter. Do the police have video that would support their story? Because in cases like this, I think the burden should be on the government to demonstrate that it acted appropriately. Home, castle, and all that.

Meanwhile, reader Harold Williams emails:

Reading the reports by professional journalists confuses me about what actually happened. The 3 plainclothes men were shot “as they approached the house.” The woman shot “from the inside.” That’s different than an alternative description ‘as they broke in the door.’

For a 92 year old lady to hit 3 fast-moving with a handgun in a surprise no-knock probably means that the detectives were less than 10 feet from her. If this is the case, then I would think that the relative positioning of everyone and time/distance would have let at least one detective overwhelm her.

Anytime an innocent person is killed it is a tragedy. In this case more so by the addition of a variety of factors. Could the police have been so STUPID as to break in a door in a troubled neighborhood without at least one clearly uniformed authority figure?

Let’s give the facts a day to clarify themselves, then assign blame. And I mean heads roll if stupidity and negligence resulted in an innocent death.

Heads, alas, don’t roll nearly often enough in such cases. But we should certainly try to figure out what happened. Of course, if raids like this were routinely videotaped we wouldn’t have to wonder quite so much who to believe.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tamara K. comments:

Look, if three burly dudes in street clothes start banging on my door one night and try and force their way into my home, I don’t care if they’re yelling “Police!” or “Singing Telegram!”, that’s why I keep a loaded M4 carbine in the house. They’re not dressed like cops, and I can think of no reason the police would need to get into my house, so my natural assumption would be that these were home invaders of some sort. If the real police need to talk with me, they can get two guys in stopsign hats and 1 Adam 12 outfits to come knock on my door like civilized people. I, a civilized person myself, will then answer it.

They will either say “Miss K., we have a warrant,” in which case we’ll all go for a ride to the station, call up some lawyers, and get everything as squared away as we can, since this is obviously a mistake, or they will say “Is Mr. Gonzales here? We have a warrant for his arrest,” whereupon I will reply “Why, no; you have the wrong address. Would you like to come in for milk and cookies and to look around and reassure yourselves that there is no Mr. Gonzales here?”

That makes sense to me.

MORE: More background here. Note that the officers weren’t in uniform.

And Radley Balko has more thoughts.

STILL MORE: Radley Balko watched the press conference and reports:

According to the Atlanta assistant chief of police:

1) The search warrant was in fact a no-knock warrant.

2) Police claim there was an undercover buy at the residence. The seller was apparently a man — obviously not Ms. Johnston.

3) “Suspected narcotics” were seized from the home, and have been sent to a crime lab for analysis. The assistant chief wouldn’t say how much of the suspected narcotics they found.

4) He also wouldn’t speculate if Johnston herself was involved in dealing drugs, or knew if drugs were being dealt from her home, saying only that both were “under investigation.”

5) He maintains that despite the no-knock warrant police still announced themselves before entering, though he acknowledged moments later that the announcement came as police were battering down the door.

It isn’t at all difficult to see how a 92-year old woman may not have heard or comprehended the announcement. A reader reminds me that the incident is pretty similar to a police shooting in Alabama this past June, where an innocent, elderly man was shot when police forced entry into his home while looking for his nephew. The man — who had done nothing wrong — also mistook the officers for criminal intruders, and met them with a gun. Fortunately, he survived.

Even assuming the controlled buy, the incident still illustrates the folly of these raids. Paramilitary tactics don’t defuse violent situations, as police groups and their supporters sometimes claim. They create them. They make things more volatile for everyone — cops, suspects, and bystanders. Does anyone honestly believe that Ms. Johnson would have opened fire had a couple of uniformed officers politely knocked on her door, showed her a warrant, and asked if they could come inside?

Meanwhile, reader John McGinnis emails:

Go to Enter 933 Neal St. Atlanta, Ga in the address bar. In the house pop up click the “bird’s eye view” link. You should get a two pane display. One overview satellite shot and a tighter shot of just that house. If you are like me the first that that should pop out is that there is a wheel chair ramp right up to the front of the home. I would have hoped that that substructure would have given the cops some pause if they had done some pre-site surveillance.

This link should get you the photo. Unless crack houses are taking the handicap-accessibility laws more seriously than I had thought, this might have sounded a cautionary note.

IN THE MAIL: (Actually, delivered by a colleague) Otis Stephens’ and Richard Glenn’s Unreasonable Searches and Seizures: Rights and Liberties Under the Law — plus a copy of the Encyclopedia of American Civil Rights and Liberties.

And, in sort-of-related news, the 9th Circuit, per Kozinski, upheld a six figure damage award against police for 4th Amendment violations. An excerpt from the opinion:

The facts are remarkable. Plaintiff, Susan Frunz, and her two guests were in Frunz’s home in Tacoma, Washington, when police surrounded the house, broke down the back door and entered. The police had no warrant and had not announced their presence. Frunz first became aware of them when an officer accosted her in the kitchen and pointed his gun, bringing the barrel within two inches of her forehead. The police ordered or slammed the occupants to the floor and cuffed their hands behind their backs—Frunz for about an hour, until she proved to their satisfaction that she owned the house, at which time they said “never mind” and left.

These no-knock raids are a pet peeve of mine, and I’m glad to see some hefty damage awards. In light of the facts, in fact, this seems quite minimal. Such “dynamic entries” should be limited to cases where there’s solid reason to believe that someone’s life may be in danger, which was clearly not the case here.

ANOTHER CIVIL RIGHTS VICTORY: Reportedly, HR 5013, which prohibits gun confiscations of the sort we saw in New Orleans after Katrina, has passed Congress.

Dave Hardy observes: “If the bill as passed tracks the earlier language, then it makes another (the fifth?) time that Congress in a preamble to a bill finds the Second Amendment to be an individual right. . . . Any person affected has a right to sue for damages, and recovery of legal fees is mandatory if they win.”

That’s excellent. Now we should try the same approach for wrong-house no-knock raids.

RADLEY BALKO’S REASON ARTICLE ON CORY MAYE is now available on line and you should read the whole thing. But here’s a bit on how no-knock wrong-house raids go wrong and the double standard in prosecuting innocent citizens who respond appropriately to having their doors kicked down by unidentified strangers:

In 2000 drug cops in Modesto, California, accidentally shot 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda in the back of the head at point-blank range during a botched raid on the boy’s home. In 2003 police in New York City raided the home of 57-year-old city worker Alberta Spruill based on a bad tip from an informant. The terrified Spruill had a heart attack and died at the scene. Last year Baltimore County police shot and killed Cheryl Lynn Noel, a churchgoing wife and mother, during a no-knock raid on her home after finding some marijuana seeds while sifting through the family’s trash.

There are dozens more examples. And a botched raid needn’t end in death to do harm. It’s hard to get a firm grip on just how often it happens—police tend to be reluctant to track their mistakes, and victims can be squeamish about coming forward—but a 20-year review of press accounts, court cases, and Kraska’s research suggests that each year there are at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of “wrong door” raids. And even when everything goes right, it’s overkill to use what is essentially an urban warfare unit to apprehend a nonviolent drug suspect.

Criminal charges against police officers who accidentally kill innocent people in these raids are rare. Prosecutors almost always determine that the violent, confrontational nature of the raids and the split-second decisions made while conducting them demand that police be given a great deal of discretion. Yet it’s the policy of using volatile forced-entry raids to serve routine drug warrants that creates those circumstances in the first place.

Worse, prosecutors are much less inclined to take circumstances into account when it comes to pressing charges against civilians who make similar mistakes. When civilians who are innocent or who have no history of violence defend their homes during a mistaken raid, they have about a one in two chance of facing criminal charges if a policeman is killed or injured. When convicted, they’ve received sentences ranging from probation to life in prison to, in Maye’s case, the death penalty.

It’s a remarkable double standard. The reason these raids are often conducted late at night or very early in the morning is to catch suspects while they’re sleeping and least capable of processing what’s going on around them. Raids are often preceded by the deployment of flash-bang grenades, devices designed to confuse everyone in the vicinity. While narcotics officers have (or at least are supposed to have) extensive training in how to act during a raid, suspects don’t, and officers have the advantage of surprise. Yet prosecutors readily forgive mistaken police shootings of innocent civilians and unarmed drug suspects while expecting the people on the receiving end of late-night raids to show exemplary composure, judgment, and control in determining whether the attackers in their homes are cops or criminals.

This is wrong. It’s not only a reason why no-knock raids should be banned except in life-or-death situations, but it’s also an example of how unfettered prosecutorial discretion is unfair and dangerous. In cases like this, there should be much more accountability for decisions to prosecute, or not to prosecute.

I’d also like to see federal legislation — justified under Congress’s 14th Amendment section 5 powers — limiting such raids and providing for legal remedies, including money damages without the shield of official immunity for officers, supervisors, and agencies.

I think such legislation would be fairly popular, but I suspect that the power of the interests involved is sufficient to ensure that it doesn’t ever happen.

And Jim Henley gives Radley Balko a much-deserved pat on the back for his excellent work on this case.

CORY MAYE UPDATE: Radley Balko has been pursuing this story indefatigably, and he’s now identified the informant whose call led to the wrong-house no-knock raid:

After the guy realized the investigator was working for the defense team, he clammed up. When Bob Evans — Cory Maye’s lead attorney — called to tell him that if he didn’t talk, they’d compell his testimony with a subpeona, the informant flipped out. He called Evans, and left a rant on Evans’ answering machine that, when Evans played it for me the other night, blew my mind. It’s a 45-second clip of absolute fury, brimming with f-bombs, anger, hate, and — by my count — at least four utterances of the word “nigger.”

This is the “trustworthy” informant whose tip led to the raid on Cory Maye’s home. An unabashed bigot. Makes you wonder how many other black people have been raided, arrested, and imprisoned based on this guy’s tips.

Jeez. You have to have informants for some law enforcement tasks, of course, but the peculiar dynamics of the Drug War lead to much more reliance on these usually unsavory types, and drastically higher risks of tragic outcomes when, as here, they’re paired with no-knock raids on what turns out to be the wrong house.

Another reason, among many, for getting rid of the Drug War, of course.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH NO-KNOCK RAIDS: Radley Balko and Joel Berger have a piece in the Wall Street Journal today:

Criminologist Peter Kraska estimates that the number of SWAT team “call-outs” soared past 40,000 in 2001 (the latest year for which figures are available) from about 3,000 in 1981. The vast majority are employed for routine police work — such as serving drug warrants — not the types of situations for which SWAT teams were originally established. And because drug policing often involves tips from confidential informants — many of whom are drug dealers themselves, or convicts looking for leniency — it’s rife with bad information. As a result, hundreds of innocent families and civilians have been wrongly subjected to violent, forced-entry raids.

Last year, for example, New York City police mistakenly handcuffed Mini Matos, a deaf, asthmatic Coney Island woman during a pre-dawn raid. While her young son and daughter burst into tears, Ms. Matos’s plea to use her asthma pump was ignored until an officer realized they entered the wrong apartment.

Home invasions can also provoke deadly violence because forced-entry raids offer very little margin for error. Since SWAT teams began proliferating in the late 1980s, at least 40 innocent people have been killed in botched raids. There are dozens more cases where low-level, nonviolent offenders and police officers themselves have been killed.

Last summer a SWAT team in Sunrise, Fla., shot and killed 23-year-old Anthony Diotaiuto — a bartender and part-time student with no history of violence — during an early-morning raid on his home. Police found all of an ounce of marijuana. This January a member of the Fairfax, Va. SWAT team accidentally shot and killed Salvatore Culosi, a local optometrist with no criminal record, no history of violence and no weapons in his home. Police were investigating Culosi for wagering on sporting events with friends.

Public officials are rarely held accountable when mistakes happen. The Culosi family has yet to be given access to documents related to the investigation of his death, including why a SWAT team was sent to apprehend him in the first place. More than a year after Diotaiuto’s death, his family too has been denied access to any of the documents it needs to move forward with a lawsuit.

What’s more, New York, after promising to reform its practices, hasn’t actually delivered:

In 2003, acting on a bad tip from an informant, police mistakenly raided the Harlem home of Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old city worker. The violence of the incursion literally scared Spruill to death; she died of a heart attack at the scene. The raid spurred public outrage, calls for reform, and promises from the city to change its ways. The NYPD published new guidelines calling for more reliability when taking tips from informants. The city also promised greater vigilance in conducting surveillance and double-checking addresses before a SWAT team was sent in.

But later, during the course of a lawsuit stemming from another, mistaken raid — in 1992, on corrections officer Edward Garrison, his elderly mother and two young daughters — the city declared that all of the post-Spruill reforms it had promised were merely discretionary, not enforceable in court, and could be revoked at will by any future mayor or police commissioner.

In any case, botched raids have not stopped. In 2004, police arrested a Brooklyn father of two in a drug raid and held him for six months at Riker’s Island. In March of this year they dropped all the charges, conceding that he had been wrongly targeted. The man’s lawyer called it the worst case of malicious prosecution she’d ever seen. Also in 2004, police mistakenly raided the home of Martin and Leona Goldberg, a Brooklyn couple in their 80s, when an informant provided bad information. “It was the most frightening experience of my life,” Mrs. Goldberg later said. “I thought it was a terrorist attack.”

I’d like to see federal legislation making the officers, and the officials who supervise them, strictly liable in all such cases, without benefit of official immunity. No-knock raids should be reserved only for cases where there’s an immediate threat to people’s lives.

Link to the full piece should work for non-subscribers for the next week.

TIM CAVANAUGH LOOKS AT No-Knock raids after Hudson and sees more danger for innocent civilians and police alike:

Ironically, part of the impetus for the no-knock raid is the safety of police and civilians. There’s a certain logic to that: A quick and efficient raid, in which the power of the police is immediately established and no resistance is possible, would seem like the quickest means of assuring domestic tranquility. But what happens when a citizen with a legally purchased handgun reacts to a home invasion, by people who have not knocked and are less than prompt in identifying themselves as police officers, in the most reasonable manner available—by shooting one of the invaders? The Mississippian Cory Maye is famously sitting on death row for shooting a cop who didn’t identify himself before trespassing on Maye’s residence. But Officer Ron Jones, by all accounts an excellent cop and standup guy, is dead. This case is not directly applicable (Maye’s home was not part of the search Jones was conducting), but the principle is the same: A violent home invasion increases the likelihood that somebody will get hurt, and the Supreme Court ought to proceed with caution before raising the likelihood of an event like that. We can take a charitable view and assume that Scalia and the high court majority are committed to reducing the amount of violence in America. But the best way to avoid a fight is not to start it.

Armed people breaking into homes unannounced ought to be in danger of being shot at. Police shouldn’t put themselves in that situation except in extraordinary cases — where, for example, someone’s being held hostage. Worries that someone might flush a bag of reefer don’t qualify, in my opinion.

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ARE COMPLAINING about the FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s office. The separation of powers argument seems to be pretty weak to me: The actual scope of Congressional immunity under the speech and debate clause is quite narrow (narrower, oddly, than the judically-created immunities enjoyed by judges and prosecutors) and certainly doesn’t include immunity from search in a bribery case.

At any rate, members of Congress who are offended by an unannounced late-night raid on an office might profitably be asked what they think about late-night unannounced raids on private homes, which happen all the time as part of the Congressionally-mandated War on Drugs.

If anything, it ought to work the other way. I think if you searched 435 randomly selected American homes, and 435 Congressional offices, you just might find more evidence of crime in the latter. . . .

UPDATE: Roger Simon wonders what got into Newt Gingrich.

Meanwhile, here’s more on that whole culture of corruption thing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Via Radley Balko, a whole series of blog posts about no-knock SWAT-type raids that make the search of Rep. Jefferson’s office look rather mild.

Any member of Congress objecting to the Jefferson search without having a problem with raids like these is a hypocrite.

MORE: Heh:

One can almost hear Speaker Hastert trying to defend himself: ”Look, I said something about executive branch overreaching just this morning. Ya know, I’ve signed off on some extraordinary police powers over the years, but there’s gotta be a limit to those powers. The Constitution is clear: The right of members of Congress to be secure in their offices and homes shall not be violated!”

Yeah, screw the rest of us.

RADLEY BALKO writes on the Supreme Court and “no-knock” raids.

I think that no-knock raids should be illegal absent a clear and present danger to life and limb. The remedy, however, shouldn’t be the exclusionary rule. It should be absolute liability for damages on the part of the officers and the law enforcement agency, without benefit of any legal immunities.

ANOTHER REASON, BESIDES CORY MAYE, why no-knock raids are a bad idea.

MAYE CASE UPDATE: Radley Balko has done a lot more reporting on this case of a no-knock raid tragically bungled. If you missed the earlier posts, read this one first.

HERE’S MORE on the Mississippi no-knock case involving Cory Maye mentioned below.

IF A COP BREAKS INTO YOUR HOUSE UNNANOUNCED, and you shoot him thinking he’s a burglar, it’s self-defense. But Radley Balko reports on a case of a wrong-house no-knock raid that has led to what sounds like a total miscarriage of justice:

As the raid on Smith commenced, some officers – including Jones — went around to what they thought was a side door to Smith’s residence, looking for a larger stash of drugs. The door was actually a door to Maye’s home. Maye was home alone with his young daughter, and asleep, when one member of the SWAT team broke down the outside door. Jones, who wasn’t armed, charged in, and made his way to Maye’s bedroom. Because police believed Maye’s side of the duplex was still part of Smith’s residence, they never announced themselves. Maye, fearing for his life and the safety of his daughter, fired at Jones, hitting him in the abdomen, just below his bulletproof vest. Jones died a short time later.

Maye had no criminal record, and wasn’t the target of the search warrant. Police initially concluded they had found no drugs in Maye’s side of the duplex. Then, mysteriously, police later announced they’d found “traces” of marijuana and cocaine. I talked to the attorney who represented Maye at trial. She said that to her knowledge, police had found one smoked marijuana cigarette in Maye’s apartment. Regardless, since Maye wasn’t the subject of the search, whether or not he had misdemeanor amounts of drugs in his possession isn’t really irrelevant. What’s relevant is whether or not he reasonably believed his life was in danger. Seems pretty clear to me that that would be a reasonable assumption.

In a way, this is the flipside of the Miami airport shooting. And I regard the shooting of a cop in this situation similarly: It’s a tragedy, but the risk is, and should be, borne by the person who’s acting unreasonably. Here, it’s the cop’s. When you break down people’s doors and charge in unannounced, you do so at your own risk, cop or not.

Radley has more reporting here, and observes:

Put yourself in Maye’s shoes. You have no criminal record. You’ve done nothing wrong. In the middle of the night, in a bad neighborhood, you awake to find someone attempting to break down your door. The door flies open, and a man in black paramilitary gear comes storming into your bedroom, where your infant daughter also happens to be sleeping.

Not only is that set of circumstances “reasonable ground” to think that someone is about to do you “great personal injury,” and that you’re in “imminent danger” of said personal injury being accomplished, you’d be crazy not to take quick action to defend yourself.

The SWAT team was in Maye’s home illegally. And they failed to exercise due dilligence in obtaining the search warrant, given that they were obviously unaware that the target of the warrant was a duplex with a second residence. These are facts.

If the facts are as he reports, this guy never should have been charged — and he should have had a lawsuit (though those, unreasonably, are usually losers) against the police for breaking down the wrong door. The cop who was shot was the police chief’s son. And there’s a racial angle, too.

More here and here.

UPDATE: Reader Steve Alexander emails:

My brother and I (both military officers and strong police supporters) were just discussing “no-knock” raids last week. A citizen has every right to defend himself in his home to unknown intruders. Not too long ago, a family was the victim of home intruders posing as cops. I’d be hard-pressed to believe anyone barging in my home in the middle of the night, especially if I KNEW I wasn’t a criminal. “No-knock” raids should be illegal in all 50 states.

Further, why doesn’t the Hollywood crowd take up the cause of a truly wronged black man on death row, instead of real criminals like Tookie and Mumia?

Excellent question. Unlike those other cases, this seems like one without a political angle. It’s unclear whether that will get it more attention, or less.

STILL MORE REASONS why “no-knock” raids are not only un-American, but criminally dangerous:

“We must do a better job of no-knock search warrants,” lawyer Norman Siegel said during an October press conference. “Otherwise, someone might wind up dead as a result of how we implement this procedure.”

Today someone is dead. Her name was Alberta Spruill.

Spruill, a 57-year-old church volunteer, suffered a heart attack and died May 16 after flak-jacketed cops broke down her door and lobbed a stun grenade into her small Harlem apartment in a mistaken search for drugs.

Marie Rogers, 62, a retiree from Springfield Gardens, had a similar experience seven months ago, although a stun grenade wasn’t used in the raid on her apartment – and she lived to talk about it.

“When I heard about what happened to this woman, I broke down and cried,” Rogers said. “You would have thought that I knew her. Then I was angry.”

On Oct. 15, Rogers and her husband, Robert, were in their home watching television – “Cops,” as it turns out – when police in riot gear plowed through their front door without warning. When Robert, 64, a retired housing cop, heard the noise, he instinctively went for his licensed revolver, dropped to a knee and waited.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I thought the people coming into my house were trying to kill me.”

Robert is certain he would have been shot if he hadn’t tossed his gun aside before the cops came in. As for the drugs and weapons they were looking for, police found nothing. They had the wrong address.

That ought to be a firing offense, the very first time it happens, for the officers involved and their superiors. If people die, the charge should be murder. If you decide to break down somebody’s door and enter with guns drawn when no one’s life is in danger, then you should be able to offer no defense if anything goes wrong. Because it’s indefensible.

UPDATE: This, on the other hand, isn’t criminal, just pathetic.


Baltimore prosecutors today dropped attempted murder and first-degree assault charges against a man who shot four police detectives during a November drug raid, saying they believe Lewis S. Cauthorne acted in self-defense when he wounded the officers as they barged into his home.

Investigators concluded detectives did not announce that they were police just before smashing down Cauthorne’s door with a battering ram and rushing in to look for drugs, State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said at a news conference this morning in Clarence Mitchell Courthouse.

These no-knock raids are absurdly dangerous, and accomplish very little. They’re yet another symptom of the Drug War’s erosion of civil liberties.