The Problem With No-Knock Raidsby Doug Mataconis
There have been several posts here this week about what can go wrong when police execute a so-called no-knock search warrant, or more generally when they shoot first and ask questions later. In Atlanta, in resulted in the death of a 92 year-old woman. And, in New York, the shoot-first-ask-questions-later philosophy resulted in the death of a 23 year-old father on the eve of his wedding.
If these were only isolated incidents, we could possibly place the blame on over eager police officers in a particular jurisdiction, or perhaps a police force that doesn’t train its officers well enough on the use of deadly force. As Randy Balko, who has been on top of this issue for a long time now, points out, though, these are just the most recent incidents among many, and points to this report of another shooting in Merced, California:
Mary Silva, a 68-year-old retiree, said deputies got the wrong house when they burst into her Winton Way apartment at 6:30 a.m. on the day of the raids.
Silva said she was sleeping when she heard loud banging at her front door and a voice calling “Open up!”
Before she could answer, Silva said, deputies broke through her front door and threw a smoke bomb onto her carpet. As Silva stood in her nightgown, about 10 officers surrounded her with weapons drawn, she said.
They shouted, “Where is he? Where is he?”
Silva told deputies she lives alone. She said they responded, “Shut up! Don’t move!”
The team was looking for 24-year-old Reginaldo Ramirez, who lives next door to Silva.
But the search warrant deputies gave Silva lists an entirely different address — not Silva’s house or the house next door. Silva said deputies gave her the search warrant several hours after the initial raid.
Pazin said deputies may have transposed numbers in the address on the warrant, but that law enforcement acted in good faith when they entered Silva’s house.
The police are blaming the suspect they were looking for, who allegedly used Silva’s house when he was arrested at some point in the past. But, as Balko, points out, that’s just evading responsibility:
Police, on the other hand, are accountable to us. The least we can demand of them is that they do the necessary legwork before barging into our homes. Parzin’s men failed the people they serve in that regard. They took the word of a criminal. They did no corroborating investigation to see that the address he listed was indeed where he lived, or to see if other, innocent people may live there. Not only that, but they then transposed the numbers on the search warrant. They erred. Big time. They ought to cop to it. That is precisely where the “finger of blame” ought to be pointed.
The problem is, I think, that no-knock raids make it easy for the police to evade that responsibility. The warrant says they can go into a particular house without announcing their presence, so they do it. The fact that they may not even have the right house apparently doesn’t even enter their mind.
If nothing else Silva is lucky she didn’t have a gun in the house or that she otherwise didn’t try to defend herself, or she would’ve ended up like the woman in Atlanta.