No-Knock Warrants Leave Trail of Terror, Property Damage, and Deaths
In June 2020, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) introduced legislation to prohibit this invasive and dangerous practice nationwide. Though firmly rooted in the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee of protection from unreasonable search and seizure, the bill is expected to face an uphill battle from lobbyists hired by police unions, whose focus on police protection has been a driving force behind the militarization of modern law enforcement departments.
Demonstrators for criminal justice reform cite systematic racism as the root evil that has resulted in so many deaths and injuries for people of color at the hands of police. An analysis by the Louisville Journal-Courier of the 22 unsealed “no-knock” warrants obtained by police in that city in the two years prior to Taylor’s death found that 82 percent listed Black residents. But how did we devolve to this point, where police executing a search warrant can crash through the door of a citizen’s home without even announcing who they are or why they are there?
A Tool for the War on Drugs
It started with a suggestion by a 28-year-old former Senate staffer working on the first Presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon (R) in 1968. Designed to demonstrate how serious he was about eradicating America’s drug epidemic, this one idea off the campaign trail eventually led to legislation passed in 1970 that authorized federal magistrates to issue no-knock warrants to federal law enforcement officers.
Proponents said the measure was necessary because adherence to the old knock-and-announce rule would give drug dealers time to destroy evidence, endangering police as well by taking away their element of surprise. Almost unnoticed at the time was how commonplace it became to accept that all drug cases involved dangerous, violent criminals.
Federal incentives also encouraged state and local law enforcement to become involved in drug interdiction. Special Weapons and Tactical (“SWAT”) units became a tool of this “War on Drugs.”
The brainchild of Los Angeles police officer and future Chief Daryl Gates, SWAT units were designed to respond to riots, like those that had torched L.A.’s Watts neighborhood in 1965. But police realized they could also be used in any situation involving barricaded suspects, hostages, or active shooters. Soon they came to be the primary means to execute drug-search warrants.
The violence and danger wrought by SWAT teams gained pop culture status through TV shows such as COPS. “Bad boys, bad boys, what’cha gonna to do when they come for you?” the show’s theme song asked. SWAT teams changed the public’s perception of police considerably. When the Gallup Poll asked, “Do you think there is police brutality in your area?” in 1967, only 6% of Americans said yes. By 1991, that figure had ballooned to 39%.
By 1974, Congress was so disturbed by news reports describing mistaken, violent, and illegal raids by police executing drug-search warrants that it repealed the statute authorizing no-knock warrants. But allowing them in the first place had been a monumental failure to follow the wisdom of English common law.
Origins of the Fourth Amendment and ‘Knock-and-Announce’
The Fourth Amendment provides, in part, that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….” The Amendment was adopted by the early American Congress in response to abuses by the British government during colonial times.
Of special concern to the Constitution’s framers were general warrants, which authorized searches for persons or papers not specified by the warrant. The British government used such warrants to suppress seditious publications. A prominent case concerned the North Briton, a series of pamphlets criticizing British government policies that was published anonymously beginning in 1762. A general warrant was issued the next year to seize the publication and its publisher, generally known to be Parliament member John Wilkes. After three days and 49 arrests, Wilkes prevailed in convincing King’s Bench Court that the warrant was illegal.
Closely aligned with the requirement for specificity in warrants was a “knock-and-announce” rule for serving them, judicially recognized in England in 1603’s Semayne’s Case, 5 Co. 91a, 77 Eng. Rep. 194. Relying on statutes that dated to 1275, Semayne’s Case court held that before police could break down a home’s door, they must announce themselves as a precondition, “for the law without default in the owner abhors destruction or breaking of any house (which is the habitation and safety of man) by which great damage and inconvenience might ensue to the party, when no default is in him.” The court presumed that if the party had notice of the process, “he would obey.”
Despite these precedents, general warrants were used by the British in colonial America to uncover smugglers. Known as writs of assistance, the warrants allowed customs officials to break open containers suspected of containing smuggled goods. And because they were valid for six months after the death of the reigning sovereign, they were effectively permanent search warrants.
While the framers of the Fourth Amendment in the early U.S. were inspired by this history, congressional debates demonstrate their focus went beyond general warrants. Unannounced forcible entries, searches, and arrests were an evil that was deemed a violation of a person’s rights. As a result, Congress ratified the Fourth Amendment with its protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Seven of the 13 original states also enacted constitutional provisions against general warrants, and the knock-and-announce rule also was widely embraced. After passage of the Fourth Amendment, manuals passed out to justices of the peace described how it prohibited unannounced forced entries.
Between 1777 and 1786, 10 states passed laws requiring announcement prior to a forcible entry into a home, and it became the general rule for both minor infractions and serious crimes. The federal government adopted this so-called “knock-and-announce” rule by statute in 1917. In 2019, 34 states and the District of Columbia still had the rule enshrined in their statutes. The rule’s purpose is three-fold.
Firstly, it reduces the risk of violence during a police entry. In Duke v. Superior Court, 461 P.2d 628 (Cal. 1969), the court found a forced, unannounced entry is “conducive to a violent confrontation between the occupant and individuals who enter his home without proper notice.”
Secondly, the rule protects the privacy interests of the occupants. In addition to assuring the occupants are able to put clothes on, it minimizes the possibility of mistaken entry into the wrong home.
Finally, the rule protects the homeowner’s property interest by allowing voluntary entry before the property is damaged.
Erosion of the Fourth Amendment and No-Knock Raids
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) used a “reasonableness” standard to determine the scope of a search incident to arrest. In Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301 (1958), Justice Brennan explained that the knock-and-announce rule is “deeply rooted in our heritage and should not be given grudging application.” However, he noted that some state cases had carved out exceptions to the rule.
Legal historians believe that SCOTUS had adopted the knock-and-announce rule in its opinions in Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23 (1963), and Sabbath v. United States, 391 U.S. 585 (1968). Lower courts, however, split on whether the rule was constitutionally mandated. With the SCOTUS decision in Wilson v. Arkansas, 115 S. Ct. 1915 (1995), the tide turned in that direction at the federal level, too, and erosion of the Fourth Amendment began.
On December 31, 1992, Sharlene Wilson was the subject of a drug-search warrant that had been obtained by Arkansas State Police after she sold marijuana to a confidential informant (“CI”) on two occasions and methamphetamine on another occasion. When officers came to her home to serve the warrant, they found the front screen door unlocked and the main door open.
As they entered the home, the officers identified themselves and announced they had a warrant. They did not have their weapons drawn. Their subsequent search uncovered marijuana, methamphetamine, Valium, drug paraphernalia, a pistol that Wilson allegedly used to threaten the informant, and ammunition. Wilson was also found in the bathroom flushing marijuana down the toilet.
Before trial, Wilson’s attorneys moved to suppress the evidence that had been collected, arguing that the Fourth Amendment required the state police officers to knock and announce their purpose prior to entering the residence. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury convicted Wilson on multiple drug charges. She was sentenced to 32 years in prison and fined $11,000.
On appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that suppression of the evidence was not required, finding that neither the Fourth Amendment nor Arkansas law required officers to knock-and-announce before forcibly entering a residence.
On final appeal, SCOTUS unanimously reversed that decision. The opinion, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, detailed the history of the knock-and-announce rule, declaring it is “embedded in Anglo-American law.” But Thomas also emphasized that the “Fourth Amendment’s flexible requirement on reasonableness” does not mandate that officers must knock and announce before every search. In doing so, Thomas carved out an exception for countervailing interests that “may well provide the necessary justification for the unannounced entry.”
He sent the case back to the Arkansas Supreme Court with instructions to look for any of three “exigent circumstances” that could justify a no-knock search:
• apprehension of peril, meaning that officers executing a warrant have reason to believe announcement will increase the likelihood of injury to themselves or others; or
• useless gesture, such as when the dwelling is vacant or unoccupied, or the occupants of the house know the officers’ purpose and authority; or
• destruction of evidence, meaning the delay imposed by knocking and announcing would give time for the occupant to dispose of incriminating evidence – the circumstance that has since been used to justify no-knock warrants in most drug cases.
Two years later, SCOTUS implicitly reversed Congress’ 1974 repeal of the no-knock warrant statute by holding magistrates had authority to issue such warrants. Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1997), involved a search warrant where the state magistrate had determined the facts of the case were “insufficient to justify a no-knock warrant.”
Police, however, kicked in Steiney J. Richard’s hotel room door when he quickly closed it after seeing them. The trial court determined the forcible entry was justified because Richard’s strange behavior indicated he may destroy evidence or escape. The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed.
On appeal, SCOTUS declared there is no blanket exception to the knock-and-announce rule for felony drug investigations. But it then concluded the requirement can give way to circumstances presenting a threat of physical violence or where officers believe that evidence would be destroyed if advance notice were given.
Most importantly, the Court further held that even if a no-knock warrant had been explicitly denied them, officers serving the warrant may be justified in dispensing with the knock-and-announce requirement due to “exigent circumstances” – effectively extending to police the power of determining those circumstances previously reserved for a magistrate judge. While a magistrate can issue no-knock warrants, the Court said that:
“A magistrate’s decision not to authorize a no-knock enter should not be interpreted to remove the officers’ authority to exercise independent judgment concerning the wisdom of a no-knock entry at the time the warrant is executed.”
The Richards case concerned a state court warrant. But it soon expanded to federal courts, an evolution of judicial law that seemed inconsistent with 18 U.S.C. § 3109. That federal statute expressly limits door-and-window breaking authorization to circumstances where either (a) officers have been refused admittance after announcing their authority and purpose, or (b) forcible entry is necessary to liberate officers or those assisting them in the execution of the warrant.
Using the “exigent circumstances” it carved out of the Fourth Amendment, SCOTUS extended its no-knock warrant jurisprudence to § 3109 in United States v. Ramirez, 523 U.S. 65 (1998). In that case, U.S. Marshals relying on a CI obtained a no-knock warrant to search the Oregon home of Hernan Ramirez, looking for escaped prisoner Alan Shelby. At the same time they announced themselves outside the residence on a loudspeaker, they broke a window in Ramirez’s garage and aimed a gun through it to prevent anyone inside from accessing a gun stash the CI had reported was there.
Ramirez argued that § 3109 protected his window because he had not refused the Marshals’ admittance between the time they announced themselves and the time they broke it. But SCOTUS, applying the “apprehension of peril” exception to the Fourth Amendment, ruled against him. As a result, despite the high court’s rejection of a blanket exception to the knock-and-announce requirement for felony investigations, no-knock warrants are the type primarily used in drug investigations.
Current Status of No-Knock Warrants in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has been asked by its Drug Enforcement Agency whether its officers have authority to seek no-knock warrants. Based on SCOTUS jurisprudence, DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel has determined “that express statutory authority is not required for federal magistrates to issue search warrants authorizing no-knock entries when the government makes an adequate showing of exigent circumstances.”
Only two states ban no-knock warrants: Florida, whose Supreme Court in 1994 declared forcible entry warrants unconstitutional, and Oregon, where statute prohibits no-knock warrants. Thirteen other states have laws that specifically allow no-knock warrants. The other 35 states allow them to be issued at a judge’s discretion.
Utah amended its law in 2014 to prohibit no-knock warrants when the only suspected crime is drug use, drug possession, or possession of drug paraphernalia. The city of Louisville also banned no-knock warrants in 2020 following Breonna Taylor’s death.
On the state level, evidence indicates that such warrant requests are frequently and easily obtained. The Denver Post found that state judges refused to issue only five of 163 no-knock warrants that police requested in 2000. The Washington Post found that between 2016 and 2018, police in Little Rock, Arkansas, requested 105 search warrants, 103 of them seeking no-knock entry. Judges approved all but two – that is, 101 unannounced, forcible entries. In some cases, justification for the warrant was based on its subject’s previous criminal history. In other cases, possession of a legally registered firearm was sufficient persuasion for a judge.
Knock-and-announce was dealt a final death blow with another SCOTUS ruling in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006). Booker Hudson’s home was the subject of a warrant authorizing a search for drugs and firearms. Large quantities of drugs were found, including cocaine rocks in Hudson’s pocket. A loaded gun was lodged between the cushion and armrest of the chair Hudson was sitting in. He was convicted of unlawful drug and firearm possession. The case reached SCOTUS because of the method of entry to the house.
“When police arrived to execute the warrant, they announced their presence, but waited a short time – perhaps ‘three to five seconds’ before turning the knob of the unlocked front door and entering Hudson’s home,” Justice Scalia wrote in detailing the facts.
Michigan courts conceded the knock-and-announce rule was violated. The issue before SCOTUS was the remedy, which put it in the position of determining whether violating the requirement meant that courts must exclude clearly incriminating evidence – or as Scalia phrased it, “whether the exclusionary rule is appropriate for violation of the knock-and-announce requirement.”
Scalia noted that the Court had adopted the federal exclusionary rule for evidence that was unlawfully seized from a home without a warrant in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), but had noted that “suppression of evidence, however, has always been our last resort, not our first impulse.”
Based on that, Scalia concluded that the knock-and-announce rule had never protected “one’s interest in preventing the government from seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant.”
“Since the interests that were violated in this case have nothing to do with the seizure of the evidence, the exclusionary rule is inapplicable,” he decided.
Deterrence is the linchpin behind the exclusionary rule prohibiting illegally obtained evidence from being admitted at trial. The rule was already on shaky ground before the Hudson decision, in which Scalia concluded that “[m]assive deterrence is hardly required” when it comes to violations of the knock-and-announce rule.
Numerous other decisions demonstrate that SCOTUS is likely to take the side of police, as are courts on the state and federal level. Oren Bar-Gill and Barry Friedman, writing in the Northwestern University Law Review, suggest that the problem can be traced to the types of cases that end up before the judiciary. The “vast majority,” they note, are cases like Hudson that involve “people who have been caught red handed violating the law.”
“If judges also saw false positives – illegal searches that uncovered no evidence of criminal conduct – they would be quicker to condemn those very same policies,” they surmise.
Then, there is the problem of police who shade “the facts that might move a search from the bad to good column,” Bar-Gill and Friedman write. “The problem is so acute it even has a clever name: testilying.”
A 1992 study by University of Minnesota law professor Myron Orfield sent a questionnaire to Chicago judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. A shocking 92 percent of judges said police “lie some of the time.” More troubling, 38 percent of judges believed police superiors encouraged officers to lie in court. Half of all the respondents believed that “half the time” the prosecutor “knows or has reason to know” that police fabricate evidence. An astounding 93 percent of respondents reported that prosecutors know of perjury “at least some of the time,” and 63 percent – including half of prosecutors – believed police fabricate evidence in case reports and in obtaining warrants.
SCOTUS has determined that monetary damages and professional discipline are sufficient deterrents to misconduct when it comes to searches. Yet police officers are often defended by the departments that employ them. Then, too, there is the fundamental question of the value of a constitutional violation – how much should be paid to compensate a person subjected to an unnecessary no-knock warrant that gave police entry into his home?
“[I]t is virtually impossible to imagine an alternative damages measure that could non-arbitrarily convert these types of intangible harms into dollars,” said Daryl Levinson in a University of Chicago Law Review article.
SWAT Teams: Militarizing
Peter Kraska, a professor with the School of Social Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, found that by 1995, 89 percent of American cities with 50,000 or more people had at least one SWAT team. That was double the percentage from 1980. He also found that 65 percent of smaller cities with 25,000 to 50,000 people had a SWAT team by 1995. That was a 257 percent increase in just 10 years. By 2007, about 80 percent of these smaller agencies had SWAT units, or police paramilitary units (“PPUs”), Kraska found. Noting this was an increase from 20 percent that had them in the mid-1980s, he dubbed the phenomenon “the militarization of Mayberry.”
The number of SWAT unit deployments has also increased substantially. In the early 1980s, SWAT teams were deployed fewer than 3,000 times annually. That jumped to about 30,000 deployments in 1995. Kraska estimated that by 2010, there were 60,000 to 70,000 no-knock or quick-knock raids conducted by local police.
Kraska spent hundreds of hours training with SWAT teams as part of his research, noting in his 2007 article that “PPUs derive their appearance, tactics, operations, weaponry, and culture to a significant extent from military special operations units (e.g. Navy Seals).”
“The ‘military special operations’ culture – characterized by a distinct warrior garb, heavy weaponry, sophisticated technology, hypermasculinity, and dangerous function – was nothing less than intoxicating for its participants,” he observed.
A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) report found that some police officers fully embrace this militarism, quoting one SWAT unit trainer who said that he and his peers had “spent the past decade trying to ingrain in our students the concept that the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector.”
The problem has been federalized through initiatives such as the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, which allows local law enforcement to receive military equipment at no cost. It is operated by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office, whose motto is “from warfighter to crimefighter.” As of 2014, the 1033 Program had transferred $4.3 billion worth of weaponry and tactical gear to more than 17,000 local and state law enforcement agencies, including night vision glasses, armored vehicles, automatic assault weapons, flashbang grenades, combat vests and Kevlar helmets, helicopters, and utility vehicles.
There is also a requirement to receive this equipment: It must be used within a year, providing additional incentive for SWAT unit deployments, especially in the drug cases that also easily meet the “exigent circumstances” allowing for a no-knock warrant.
Since 2002, the federal Department of Homeland Security has also provided grants to local law enforcement to purchase military equipment to prepare for acts of terrorism. Thus, the “War on Terror” has also been used in the push to militarize police. In addition, DOJ’s Byrne JAG (Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant) helps police purchase paramilitary weapons and training. Asset forfeiture laws also act as an incentive for drug raids.
As retired Redondo Beach, California, police Lt. Diane Goldstein summarized, “[the] ever-increasing federalization of what traditionally had been a state and local law enforcement effort received massive funding as politicians, presidents, and the Drug Czar increased the rhetoric of War.”
Not a Raid but ‘Dynamic Entry’
Critics say the use of the term “war” – as in War on Drugs or War on Terror – results in police seeing citizens as the enemy rather than people they are sworn to serve and protect. Supervisors are often pressured to call in SWAT teams to justify “the costs of maintaining the units,” said Lt. Tom Gabor, an officer with the Culver City, California, Police Department, writing in a 1993 article in the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin.
“[I]n many organizations, patrol leaders feel pressured to call for SWAT assistance on borderline cases, even though field supervisors believe that patrol personnel could resolve the incident,” he added.
With military training and equipment, police armed with a no-knock warrant make a surprise “dynamic entry” into a private residence, Kraska said, placing “citizens and police in an extremely volatile position.”
Often conducted “during the predawn hours, usually in black military BDUs (battle dress uniforms), hoods, and military helmets,” he added, these searches are marked by “a rapid entry into the residence using specialized battering rams or entry explosives; the occasional use of flashbang grenades designed to temporarily disorient the occupants; a frantic room-by-room search of the entire residence where all occupants are expected to immediately comply with the officers’ urgent demands to get into a prone position; and handcuffing all occupants.”
“If a citizen does not comply immediately[,] more extreme measures are taken,” Kraska continued, using both “non-lethal and lethal weaponry” before police finally “aggressively search the entire residence for contraband.”
“I receive at least two phone calls per week,” he noted, “from journalists, lawyers, or police departments reporting a new botched raid, generally where a citizen has been killed under highly questionable circumstances.”
As a result, Kraska says he has recorded “more than 275 instances of seriously botched SWAT raids on private residences.”
‘Kick Some Ass and Have Some Fun’
Every drug raid does not involve a violent, dangerous suspect. But that seems to be the belief upon which judges base their findings of exigent circumstances to grant so many no-knock warrants. With SCOTUS also giving police on-site, independent authority to convert a knock-and-announce warrant into a no-knock warrant, the result has more and more have been a “dynamic entry,” which has more appeal to SWAT police officers, too.
“Why serve an arrest warrant to some crack dealer with a .38?” a trainer asked Kraska. “With full armor, the right shit, and training, you can kick some ass and have fun.”
Another trainer jumped in to say, “Most of these guys like to play war; they get a rush out of search-and-destroy missions instead of the bullshit they do normally.”
“[D]eterrence of knock-and-announce violations is not worth a lot,” the Hudson Court stated. “[I]gnoring knock-and-announce can realistically be expected to achieve absolutely nothing except the prevention of destruction of evidence and the avoidance of life threatening resistance by occupants of the premises.”
Those who have been subjected to botched raids would likely disagree with that rationale. Consider the no-knock warrant that ended in Breonna Taylor’s death. At 12:40 a.m. on March 13, 2020, she was in bed watching a movie on TV with her 28-year-old boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, when they heard a loud banging at the door of Taylor’s apartment, scaring both of them.
Walker, a registered gun owner, thought it was Taylor’s ex-boyfriend. They both called out, “Who is it?” but received no response. As he got out of bed, Walker grabbed his pistol, saying he was, “Scared to death.” Taylor again yelled “at the top of her lungs” to ask who it was.
As they headed down the hall toward the door, it “comes off its hinges,” Walker said. He fired one shot, hitting Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg. Mattingly, along with officers Brett Hankinson and Myles Cosgrove, returned fire with a total of 32 rounds. When the shooting stopped, Taylor’s body was riddled with bullets. Hit at least eight times, she died in her hallway. All three officers were in plainclothes.
The search warrant’s main targets were Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s former boyfriend, and Adrian Walker, who is no relation to Kenneth Walker. Taylor was targeted for the warrant because police said Glover was seen picking up a box that was delivered to her apartment. But the Louisville postal inspector, Tony Golden, said another agency asked the postal service to determine if Taylor’s home was receiving suspicious packages, and his office concluded the apartment was not receiving any.
Moreover, a search was simultaneously executed at the drug house where Glover was actually located. So police knew the location of Glover, their main suspect, before they entered Taylor’s home. Her apartment was considered a “soft target” with minimal threats. Yet, a dynamic entry was made.
In seeking the no-knock warrant on Taylor’s apartment, police said, “these traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on location that compromise detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and have a history of fleeing from law enforcement.” The search of Taylor’s apartment, however, failed to uncover drugs or cameras. She did not even have a criminal record.
Kenneth Walker was arrested and charged with attempted murder and assault for shooting Mattingly. The charges were dropped in May 2020, after he claimed he was defending against intruders and did not know they were police. But prosecutors said they might refile the charges depending on the results of further investigation.
Mattingly also admitted that he and his fellow officers did not announce themselves before crashing Taylor’s door. Had the Semayne Court’s presumption – that the occupants would obey when notice of process was given – still been the law in America, Taylor might still be alive.
“My son is not a drug dealer. Ms. Taylor was not a drug dealer,” said Kenneth Walker’s father. “They both worked and were law-abiding citizens. Had they known police were at the door, they would have let them in immediately and allowed them to search.”
Calling his conduct “a shock to the conscience,” interim LMPD Chief Robert Schroeder fired Hankinson for blindly firing 10 rounds into Taylor’s apartment and those of two neighbors.
“I am stunned and alarmed you used deadly force in this fashion,” the chief added.
No one was home in one of those neighboring apartments, but in the other a man was at home with a pregnant woman and a child, according to Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron (R). On September 23, 2020, his office charged the former policeman with two counts of wanton endangerment for the shots he fired into the neighbors’ homes – but not Taylor’s. If convicted, Hankinson faces up to five years in prison on each count.
That same month, Kenneth Walker filed a civil suit against LMPD seeking damages for his gunshot injury and immunity from any related civil or criminal prosecution. Prosecutors finally dropped their threat of refiling charges against him in March 2021.
Mattingly underwent surgery for the shot that hit his femoral artery. In October 2020, he filed a civil suit against Kenneth Walker seeking damages for the gunshot that hit him in the raid. He is still employed by LMPD.
Cosgrove was fired by new LMPD Chief Yvette Gentry in January 2021, along with Detective Joshua Jaynes, who obtained the no-knock warrant for Taylor’s apartment on the false pretext of the postal delivery to her address that never occurred. In her termination letter to Cosgrove, the chief noted he had fired shots in three different directions, revealing that he “did not verify a threat or have target acquisition.” Rather, she said the officer had been able to describe only “flashes” that he “did not properly evaluate as a threat.”
“A person against whom (lethal) force is used must pose ‘an immediate threat of death or serious injury,” she added, quoting LMPD Standard Operating Procedure.
In response, Cosgrove sent an email to the entire LMPD force to complain he was being made “a sacrificial lamb.” The FBI is still investigating the matter.
Dennis Tuttle and
Just over a year before Taylor died, a Houston couple was killed when police executed a no-knock warrant that was also based on bogus information. When police burst into their home unannounced on January 28, 2019, disabled Navy veteran Dennis Tuttle, 59, and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, 58, opened fire. Both were killed in an ensuing gunfight that left four police officers shot.
Afterward, the CI cited in the affidavit seeking the warrant admitted to investigators that he never bought drugs at the home. Interim Houston Police Chief Art Acevado told reporters that the affidavit written by officer Gerald Goines was based on “some untruths or lies.” Goines was fired and charged with first degree murder. His fellow officers Steven Bryant and Hodgie Armstrong were also fired and charged with tampering with a government document, along with Sgt. Clemente Reyna, Sgt. Thomas Wood, and Lt. Robert Gonzales.
The office of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is now reviewing 800 cases Bryant worked on and 1,400 cases that Goines was involved in, including one he brought against George Floyd for violating drug laws. Those charges led Floyd to leave Houston and move to Minneapolis, where he eventually died.
In January 2021, Ogg’s probe widened to include Houston police officers Frank Medina, Oscar Pardo, Nadeem Ashraf, and Felipe Gallegos, as well as now-retired officers Griff Maxwell and Cedelle Loving. The neighbor whose bogus 911 call provided the tip used to seek the warrant to raid the home of Tuttle and Nicholas, 53-year-old Patricia Ann Garcia, pleaded guilty in federal court in March 2021 to conveying false information. She told 911 operators that the couple had abducted her daughter and held a stash of drugs and guns in their home, none of which was true.
What About the Kids?
While SWAT officers may get an adrenaline rush from executing a dynamic entry, the occupants of the homes are subjected to terror and destruction of property. These types of entries are made even when children and infants are present in the home, causing lasting emotional damage.
A news team from CBS 2 in Chicago received a tip about Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) officers making a dynamic entry into an apartment and pointing guns at adults and children. Their subsequent investigation uncovered more than a dozen incidents where doors were broken, homes ransacked, and innocent families traumatized. CBS 2 said it “uncovered a routine practice of police officers failing to verify information before raiding homes.”
A November 17, 2017, raid on the Mendez family’s apartment came while they were preparing to move. Boxes lined the walls when officers rammed and smashed the front door. They pointed guns at 5-year-old Jack and 9-year-old Peter. Their father, Gilbert, was handcuffed. Their mother, Hester, grabbed the warrant and told the officers the person they were looking for lived upstairs. The police continued their search anyway. Peter has been seeing a therapist for trauma since the raid. The family has sued CPD.
What started out as a birthday party for 4-year-old T.J. Jackson, Jr., ended abruptly when CPD officers used a battering ram and sledge hammer to make a dynamic entry into his family’s home on February 10, 2019. Once inside the apartment, police surrounded the adults and children with drawn weapons. A TV was broken and T.J.’s birthday cake ended up on the floor as officers conducted their search. As it turned out, the suspect they were seeking had not lived there in five years. T.J.’s mom, Stephanie Bures, is suing CPD and the City of Chicago.
Another botched raid on August 29, 2013, terrorized 3-year-old Davianna Simmons when CPD officers pointed a gun at her chest from six inches away. While she looked on in terror, police shook and slammed her mother against a wall. Davianna was diagnosed with PTSD after the raid. The City of Chicago settled a resulting lawsuit for $2.5 million.
As Jalonda Blasingame was cooking dinner and her four sons were doing their homework, CPD officers made a dynamic entry into her home in January 2015. Throwing a flash-bang grenade into the apartment, they burst in with guns drawn and ordered everyone onto the ground. They were acting on a CI’s tip that a man named “Ace” was making weekly heroin sales. But the family did not know the man, and it turned out Ace was in prison serving a 40-year sentence for murder at the time of the raid.
In some no-knock raids on homes with children present, CPD officers have even handcuffed the kids. A 6 a.m. raid on March 15, 2019, at the home of 8-year-old Royal Wilson left him in restraints for 30 minutes while his family’s home was searched. The warrant’s target was at the residence. But no weapons were found, and no arrests were made. Police say they didn’t know Royal’s age.
When CBS 2 tried to ask former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson about the systematic failures it had uncovered, he refused to respond to over a dozen interview requests.
‘If You’re a Hammer, Everything Starts To Look Like a Nail’
Training in military tactics and outfitting cops in battle garb “feeds a mindset that you’re not a police officer serving a community, but a soldier at war,” said former New Haven, Connecticut, Police Chief Nick Pastore. “If you think everyone who uses drugs is the enemy, you’re more likely to declare war on the people.”
That warrior mentality resulted in the death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones during a May 16, 2010, dynamic entry raid at her Detroit home. Aiyana was sleeping on the couch as police made an unannounced, forced entry into the home to arrest her uncle, who was the main suspect in the murder of a teenager. With a reality television show crew in tow, they kicked the door in and threw a flashbang grenade into the house. It caused Aiyana’s blanket to catch fire.
Officer Joseph Weekly fired one shot upon entering, hitting Aiyana in the head. But he placed the blame on her grandmother, Mertilla Jones, who he said wrestled for his gun causing it to discharge the fatal shot. After two trials – one for murder that ended with a hung jury in 2013, another for a misdemeanor weapons charge the next year in which a jury also failed to convict him – Weekly returned to duty in 2015. The city of Detroit settled a wrongful death suit with Aiyana’s family in 2019 for $8.25 million.
“The problem, once police start amassing these kinds of weapons and tools and absorb a certain mentality, is it increases the probability that they are going to deploy it even when not warranted,” said Ezekiel Edwards, current director of the ACLU’s criminal law reform project. “If you’re a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.”
A Raid ‘Worth Coming
to Work For’
In Arkansas, the Little Rock Police Department (“LRPD”) has stepped up its SWAT game, using the metaphorical equivalent of a sledgehammer to pound its nails. Roderick Talley learned this first hand at around 6:30 a.m. in August 2017.
“You don’t know what fear is until you wake up and your front door is flying at you,” Talley said.
His door was blown off its hinges by explosives, landing atop him on the couch where he was sleeping. Then, 11 armed men stormed his apartment, bellowing unintelligible commands. It took several seconds for him to realize they were LRPD officers.
“Once I figured that out, I just did what I do when I’ve been pulled over,” Talley said. “I threw my hands up as far as I could. I didn’t want them to say I was reaching for something.”
When the officers noticed his security system, they asked to see the footage of their raid. Several recorded it with their cellphones after Talley instructed them how to replay it. One officer said, “That was worth coming to work for,” while another promised Talley, “Hey, we ain’t laughing at you, man.”
As Talley sat on the floor in handcuffs, two mysterious incidents in the preceding week began to make sense. In the first, his security camera system had recorded an anxious-looking man knocking on his door, waiting for a few minutes, and then leaving. A few days later, it had then captured a LRPD officer taking a cellphone picture of Talley’s door. After he read the warrant, Talley realized the anxious-looking man had been a CI.
The CI had told police he bought $100 worth of cocaine from Talley. The warrant cited the informant as a reliable snitch who had helped in 21 cases. But he also had nine convictions for theft and another five for burglary. Moreover, he had been convicted of giving a false name to police, forging another prisoner’s name on a threat and then reporting the threat in exchange for reducing his own charges.
Additionally, “his girlfriend told me that he’d get paid for each bust, so he’d take cops to the places of people he knew or had heard about, knock on the door, and then he’d just make small talk for a few minutes,” Talley said. “Then, he’d go tell the cops that he’d bought whatever drug they were looking for.” Two other people who were raided because of the same CI said this account coincides with what happened to them.
Talley was arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges after a “green leafy substance” was found on his living room floor and under the driver’s seat of his car. He was also charged with possessing an “instrument of crime” because he allegedly had three digital scales in his apartment and plastic baggies. Talley said he had only one scale, and it was broken. The baggies, he said, were for packing his lunch. His neighbors said there was no way he was a drug dealer because he had no traffic into his residence. The raid resulted in a refusal by Talley’s landlord to renew his lease. He also was charged for damage to the property from the raid.
Journalist Radley Balko reviewed the tape of Talley’s raid with Joe Key, who served 26 years with the Baltimore Police Department and started its first SWAT unit. Key now testifies in civil cases, mostly for law enforcement officers.
“For the life of me, I just don’t know what to say,” Key responded after viewing the tape. “You only use an explosive entry for emergencies or exigent circumstances. You typically use them to cut a hole in the wall or to get through a reinforced door when the suspect is violent and timing is urgent, like a hostage situation.”
“It shouldn’t have even been a no-knock warrant,” he continued. “If [Talley] had heard someone outside the door and gotten up to see who was there, he might well be dead.”
Talley sued LRPD.
“I’m not really mad at [the CI],” he said. “I think they pressured him and probably duped him. It’s the detectives I want held accountable – the ones lying. They’re ruining people’s lives. Leaving people homeless. Taking people’s savings. So, I figure it’s up to me to do something about it.”
His suit was ultimately dropped in 2019, but LRPD faces at least four other lawsuits from botched raids over a three-year period ending in August of that year. But it is more than the individuals subjected to such raids who suffer. Pastore said that in New Haven, “the whole city was suffering trauma” from SWAT raids.
Statistics show some sections of cities suffer more than others, depending upon the racial makeup of the neighborhoods. In its 2014 report, the ACLU found that 39 percent of households subjected to SWAT deployments are Black, 11 percent Latino, 20 percent White, and 30 percent unknown.
“This is not about policing,” said Dante Barry, executive director of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. “It’s about state-sanctioned violence.”
In his majority opinion for the Hudson case, Justice Scalia predicted that lawsuits or professional discipline would deter police from violating the no-knock rule.
“You can see how that worked out,” responded University of Michigan law professor David Moran. “At the time, we couldn’t find a single case in which a jury had returned anything other than nominal damages for a violation of the knock-and-announce rule. So since Hudson, there’s really been no deterrent, no incentive to prevent police from kicking down doors, even if it’s illegal.”
If the three branches of government are not taking action to put an end to searches that are “just wrong,” what is the citizenry to do? Thomas Jefferson would applaud the protestors’ efforts, but he may also question if that’s enough.
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government,” he wrote in the Declaration of Independence. “It is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”
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