Julian Betton was in his home minding his own business when the police crashed through his front door. The cops entered without knocking or identifying themselves as law enforcement, and Betton reacted as any citizen would to masked individuals shouting threats and brandishing weapons: He confronted the armed intruders with a gun of his own. The police shot him nine times, paralyzing him from the waist down and severely damaging his internal organs.
Betton was a victim of an aggressive form of warrant service called “dynamic entry,” commonly known as “no-knock” warrants. Police officers argue that no-knock warrants are necessary to ensure their safety and to prevent suspects from destroying evidence. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that serving warrants this way is safer for either law enforcement or citizens. In fact, when police masquerade as violent home invaders, they often provoke an armed response that results in serious injury, and even death in some cases, for everyone involved.
With no-knock raids, police departments have taken a page out of the military’s playbook. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 program has promoted the militarization of law enforcement by providing cops with surplus military equipment. Adopting military tactics better suited to the battlefield than to neighborhoods radically changes the relationship between police and the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve. Citizens are seen as enemy combatants in an urban war zone. During dynamic entry, the individual inside his home becomes the intruder rather than the invading police and, from the perspective of law enforcement, does not have the right to defend himself.
Fortunately, the Castle Doctrine, based on the Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures, gives citizens the right to defend their home from invaders, even when they happen to be cops.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees. Betton filed suit against the officers who shot him. Members of the task force testified that they followed the search warrant’s specifications to knock and announce. However, Betton’s home security footage contradicted their claims. Betton won his suit, but David Belue, one of the Myrtle Beach Police Department officers involved, appealed. Belue’s attorney argued in court that the illegal entry was immaterial, and the only relevant matter in the case was Belue’s perception of how the incident unfolded. In effect, Belue’s lawyer claimed that citizens do not have the right to protect themselves from home invaders. The Fourth Circuit rejected this absurd claim and ruled in Betton’s favor.
Police officers attempt to change legal standards by claiming that simply being a cop gives them the right to act with impunity. So far, the courts have resisted tipping the scales in favor of law enforcement over citizens in such cases. For instance, in the highly publicized “wrong place, wrong time” murder of Botham Jean by Dallas patrol officer Amber Guyger in 2018, the court rejected her claim that because she was a cop, Guyger could accidentally enter Jean’s apartment and shoot him when he ignored her orders to raise his hands.
When the police are not held to the same legal standards as citizens, they no longer enforce the law but lawlessness.
Unfortunately, this double standard comes at the expense of public safety and the lives of citizens.
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