Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

August 12, 2008

A Tale of Two Drug Raids

by Stephen Littau

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For those who wore the badge, they could do no wrong. For the “badge-nots,” they could do no right.

I only wish this was a work of fiction but it is not. When it comes to drug raids (often no-knock raids), suspects (whether guilty or innocent) are treated with a different standard when a life is taken by mistake. Cory Maye was convicted for defending his home whenever the slain intruder turned out to be Officer Ron Jones who was serving a warrant.

But what happens when the police shoot the wrong person?

The AP reported on August 5, 2008 that Sgt. Joseph Chavalia was found “not guilty” on counts of negligent homicide and negligent assault which resulted in the death of Tarika Wilson and the loss of a finger of her year-old son. Wilson was carrying her son and was unarmed.

Wilson’s boyfriend was the target of the raid as he was a suspected drug dealer.

The AP article Officers cheer police shooting verdict in Lima* demonstrates this double standard and is ripe for a thorough fisking.

A jury verdict that cleared a police officer in the drug-raid shooting death of an unarmed woman will allow other officers to do their job without hesitation, police union officials said.

Is the police union advocating a “shoot now, ask questions later” policy? If this is the lesson the Lima Police Department is getting from this verdict, then I am very frightened for the residents of Lima (or residents anywhere in the U.S. for that matter). I thought that the police were supposed to identify their target before shooting; this would necessarily require some hesitation.

Officers throughout the state closely watched the trial, fearing that a guilty judgment would have changed how they react in the line of fire.

If police officers are afraid of being in this situation here’s an idea: how about not raiding a person’s home whenever there is no immediate threat of danger to others? (such as a hostage situation). Also, before police officers “react in the line of fire” there ought to be “a line of fire.” In this instance, no shots were ever fired by anyone other than the police.

Jurors on Monday acquitted Sgt. Joseph Chavalia on charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault in the death of Tarika Wilson seven months ago. Her year-old son also was injured.

Compare the charges against Sgt. Joseph Chavalia versus the charges against Cory Maye**. For the police officer, the death penalty or life in prison wasn’t even on the table. Had Chavalia been convicted on both counts, he would have served a maximum of eight months in jail. For Cory Maye (a civilian), a person who just as Sgt. Chavalia did, shot someone who he thought was a threat when he pulled the trigger, received the death penalty!***

According to the prosecution in Maye’s case, an individual cannot claim self defense unless s/he has identified the target. Here’s an excerpt from the State’s closing argument in the case:

“If you take everything he [Cory Maye] said as being true, he’s at least guilty of murder. He just shoots in the direction of the noise without looking, without calling out, without doing anything. I submit to you that’s totally unreasonable. But if you take what he says to be true, he’s at the very least guilty of murder.”

When a citizen “just shoots” “without looking” its murder but when a police officer shoots because s/he is “reacting in the line of fire” its “Oh well, shit happens” (as his/her fellow police officer cheer when the verdict reads “not guilty.”)

The article continues:

Chavalia had testified that he thought his life was in danger when he fired the shots. He said he saw a shadow coming from behind the partially open bedroom door and heard gunshots that he thought were aimed at him.

It turned out that Wilson didn’t have a weapon and that the gunfire Chavalia heard was coming from downstairs, where officers shot two charging pit bulls.

I wonder what would happen if a citizen shot a police dog if s/he were threatened?

Prosecutor Jeffrey Strausbaugh repeatedly pointed out during the trial that Wilson was shot even though she didn’t have a gun.

But jurors were told by visiting Judge Richard Knepper during jury instructions that they could not consider the fact that she was unarmed because that was known only after the shooting.

Citing a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that set guidelines for use of force by police, the jurors were told they could only judge Chavalia’s actions based on what he was aware of when he fired into the bedroom where Wilson was with her six children.

Once again: one standard for the police and one for the citizen. If the Judge in Cory Maye’s case had given similar instructions to that jury, we probably wouldn’t even know Cory Maye’s name.

“It was an important distinction and one that had to be upheld,” said Michael Watkins, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Lima.

“If the rules are changed, officers are going to react later,” Watkins said. “You’re going to have them hesitating, and there are more who are going to be injured or killed.”

Ugh. What can I say that I haven’t already? All I am asking is that the rules are the same for the citizen as the police. Is that really too much to ask?

During the trial, a Columbus SWAT officer and a retired FBI agent both testified that Chavalia had no choice but to shoot because he thought his life was in danger. They also said Chavalia should have fired sooner.

“Thank God it wasn’t me there and every officer feels the same way,” said James Scanlon, who has been with the Columbus police since 1978.

Watkins, who joined the Lima department a year before Chavalia in 1976, said he understands why Chavalia shot after hearing the gunfire.

“I knew there had to be more to it,” he said. “Joe isn’t a trigger happy officer.”

And I am sure that those who shoot police officers attempting to defend their homes aren’t trigger happy either. It seems to me that it doesn’t much matter if the intruder is a police officer or a violent criminal busting down your door. Either way, your life is in grave danger.

The verdict further angered Wilson’s family and others in Lima’s black community.

“The message I got out of all this is that it’s OK for police to go and kill in a drug raid,” said Arnold Manley, pastor of Pilgrim Rescue Missionary Baptist Church.

That message couldn’t be clearer if it was up in neon lights in Times Square.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Toledo, Wilson’s mother said police could have waited until the woman and her children were out of the house to try and arrest Wilson’s boyfriend, Anthony Terry, the target of the raid.

No they couldn’t. That would make too much sense. If they would have chosen a more peaceful method, they wouldn’t have been able to wear their spiffy paramilitary SWAT gear.

The shooting on Jan. 4 led to protests about how police treat minorities in the city where one in four residents is black. Chavalia is white and Wilson was black.

Chavalia’s lead attorney, Bill Kluge, said he thinks the only reason the officer was charged was because of the reaction within the community.

I’m not quite sure what to do with that. I’m not one to play the race card but how in the hell did Chavalia get a jury in 2008 without a single black person serving?

“Had this case waited two or three months going to the grand jury, it might have been different,” he said.

I know that the public has a short attention span but this is insulting. The citizens of Lima are outraged because of this double standard I’ve described here.

Chavalia’s career with the city’s police department is essentially over despite the verdict, Kluge said. He would not say what the officer planned to do next.

I should hope so! Whatever Chavalia decides to do next, it shouldn’t have anything at all to do with law enforcement.

Related by others:

Reason TV’s Drew Carey Project “Mississippi Drug War Blues

The Agitator “Police Militarization


* The title of the article in itself is disgusting

**I am aware that these cases happened in different parts of the country but I have no doubts that the criminal justice system of Lima would treat a citizen with a different standard than a police officer.

***Maye’s sentence was reduced from the death penalty to a life sentence on appeal.

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  • Pingback: The Agitator » Blog Archive » Cory Maye vs. Sgt. Joseph Chavalia

  • tfr

    Seems to me there’s two double standards: one concerning police conduct in “drug raids” vs other operations, the other concerning rights and privileges of police vs common citizens. If your conduct happens to fall on the losing side of both, heaven help you.

  • mark

    you can’t compare a police raid to an average citizen.

    he feared he was being shot at after the dogs were released and shot.

    It’s not the boyfriends fault for releasing the dogs, its not he fault for selling drugs, it’s not his fault for putting those kids and woman in a dangerous situation. always the cops fault, never the people who create these situations.

  • GiveMeLiberTea

    Yeah Mark’s right…

    They (citizens) are all guilty we just haven’t caught them yet and remember it’s always their fault for being them.

    Us (the paid employees) are ALWAYS right and enjoy having our boots licked by our inferiors after we kill their pets, shoot their wives and destroy their property. Opps it may be our fault, but it sucks for you.

    Zieg Heil Mark in a BrownShirt all the way. WTF?

  • Pingback: Liberty Papers Shows Double Standard « Reclaim Your Republic

  • buzz

    “you can’t compare a police raid to an average citizen.”
    Mark is correct. When the average citizen shoots he /she has just been awaken by people breaking into the house and shooting dogs. On the police raid,the police know what is going on,and are supposed to be trained. Clearly there is a huge difference.

  • Aimee

    Buzz,
    Exactly, the police are supposed to be trained. Did this officer identify himself? Did he call out to the shadow to come out? Doesn’t sound like it.
    Don’t you think it is even remotely possible this girlfriend didn’t know what her boyfriend was up to? There are people that live double lives for years (having two families) before it catches up with them.

    @Mark:
    It is the officers fault, all of them. They should have identified themselves before barging in. There is no chance for anyone to come out with their hands up or let the officers know they are unarmed, all this is because they don’t knock, they don’t identify themselves. The officers deserve to be shot at barging in in the middle of night knowing full well they would probably startle someone who was probably sleeping. If someone did try to surrender, there could be a reflection off of a ring or a watch making the officer think there is a weapon, BANG, “oh my bad, I was scared for my life”.

    Fuck that.

    The officers that shot the dogs are as much to blame. They should have called something out. They could have yelled “DOGS”, or some code that would prevent another officer from shooting, because remember, they are trained after all. By shooting those dogs, it gave the officer the impression that his life was in danger causing him to go off and take the life of an innocent person and hurting a baby.

    It is also the fault of the government. These raids shouldn’t even be taking place.

  • Pingback: The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Barr Weighs in on No-Knock Raids

  • Mike Schneider

    A nice chart is worth a thousand words.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    Mark,

    You realize that at the time that woman was shot:
    1) The boyfriend had been arrested earlier in the evening after a traffic stop.

    2) The policeman fired blindly through a door and struck the woman, who was kneeling and obeying police instructions.

    I would bet that if she had been the one firing blindly through the door and killed the police officer, she would be facing capital murder charges. That policeman is guilty, at a minimum of manslaughter. I would say that his actions arise to murder through depraved indifference.

    ***

    Let’s set aside the inherent immorality and unconstitutionality of the drug war for a minute, Let’s instead look at this from the point of the Castle doctrine for a minute.

    Under the castle doctrine, when a constable is given a warrant to affect an arrest or to search a property, the warrant is to be executed with the minimum of damage. It means that the constable was once required to knock on the door, and provide occupant with a chance to open the door prior to smashing down the door.

    The drug warriors justify their violations of this doctrine by claiming that
    1) this gives people a chance to destroy evidence
    2) this gives people a chance to set up ambushes for law enforcement.

    However, both claims really don’t stand up to serious analysis:
    1) While your casual user can easily flush an incriminating stash of drugs, a distributor has too much to flush.
    2) The drug dealer who ambushes law enforcement, while popular in movies and on TV is very rare. In fact, police serving a warrant are far more likely to be killed by someone who is unaware that they have a warrant and mistakes them for unlawful home invaders than from the occasional drug dealer who has decided to die in a blaze of glory rather than go to the joint again.

    In fact, when SWAT teams fear the possibility of ambush, they refuse to enter a property at all. The suicide of the eponymously named and slightly unbalanced Libertarian Larry leaps immediately to mind – for hours the police laid siege to his house which was empty except for his slowly cooling corpse; the police had heard he had a hand gun, and limited themselves to firing numerous tear gas grenades into his house.

    Law enforcement teams seem to only launch these invasions under one of two conditions:
    1) Exigent circumstances , i.e. someone’s life is in danger and unless the target location is stormed immediately someone is about to be seriously hurt or killed. This is, of course, proper.

    2) There is no danger to law enforcement whatsoever. These are cases that show up on shows like Dallas SWAT, where the camera crew tags along, knowing that they really face little danger.

    It is clear from Radley Balko’s paper titled Overkill the vast majority of these assaults on people’s property to serve warrants are the latter case. Hell, in some parts of Virginia, *every* warrant was served by the county SWAT team. That’s how that quiet, nonviolent optometrist named Sal Culosi ended up dead.

  • Pingback: Double Standard for SWAT Shootings: Police Need to Address It, Not Just Deny It « The Bad Idea Blog

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