Archive for May, 2008
If you’ll remember, shortly after the Kathryn Johnston raid, Assistant Atlanta Police Chief Alan Dreher sprang into action to defend the actions of the police officers. Less than 24 hours after the raid, Dreher assured us that there was nothing to see, here. The police had made a controlled buy at Johnston’s home. They arrived at her house in a marked car, and came in in marked uniforms. Johnston shot at the officers, Dreher said. He later added that Johnston “should have recognized” the men breaking into her home as police officers. The cops returned fire only in self-defense, he said. Dreher even suggested that it was a police officer, not an informant, who bought the drugs from Johnston (as it turns out, no one did, the controlled buy was a lie).
Police defenders and critics of mine were quick to jump on Dreher’s statements to show that I and others were “jumping the gun” in questioning the raid. After all, if the police said they did a buy, they did a buy. If the police say they announced, then they announced. If the police infer that this 92-year-old woman was a dope dealing criminal who got what she deserved, well, then she sure as hell got what she deserved.
Well, we all now know that just about everything Dreher said was wrong. Dreher was presiding over a corrupt narcotics unit that routinely lied on search warrant affidavits, harassed and intimidated informants, covered up mistakes, and was subject to damaging arrest and raid quotas that encouraged shortcuts and circumventing the checks in place to ensure the protection of civil rights. It was Dreher who spoke too soon, propagating the lie told to him by his officers that Johnston was some sort of dope-slinging, gun-toting granny.
Dreher was acting as spokesman just after the raid because Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington was out of town. When Pennington returned, he quickly dispensed with Dreher’s clannish, old-school, blue-wall-of-silence approach. Pennington was more forthcoming, and quickly announced he’d be conducting a thorough internal investigation. Within days, Pennington turned the investigation over to federal authorities. We now know that Johnston was innocent, that there was no drug buy, and that Johnston didn’t even get off a shot. The cops were wounded by fragments from their own bullets. When they found out they had made a mistake, the narcotics team handcuffed Johnston and left her to bleed to death in her own home while they planted marijuana in her basement.
I bring all of this up because in a police environment driven by all the professional standards and accountability Justice Scalia assured us in Hudson v. Michigan dominate police departments across the country, you’d think that Dreher would have been fired. At minimum, as APD’s chief of operations, Dreher presided over an astonishingly rogue and unaccountable narcotics department that put who knows how many innocent people in jail, and subjected who knows how many people to mistaken and botched drug raids. He was either oblivious to all of the corruption, or he was complicit in it. Neither speaks well of him as a police manager or a leader. Dreher then helped disseminate an ass-covering version of the Kathryn Johnston raid that proved to be wrong in just about every way possible. Dreher’s early press statements were not only rash and wrong-headed defenses of his officers, in the process he also sullied the name of the innocent woman his officers had just killed.
But as you might have guessed by now, Dreher didn’t lose his job. It’s even worse than that. Dreher is now one of four finalists for the police chief position in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That’s right. He’s up for a promotion. And this isn’t even the first time. He was also a finalist for police chief in Charlotte, North Carolina.
All hail the new professionalism.
UPDATE: Dreher didn’t get the job. That’s good news.
Yesterday, I briefly noted a drug raid in Connecticut in which police killed 33-year-old Gonzalo Guizan, an unarmed man they say charged at them as the raid transpired. Guizan was a guest at the home at the time of the raid. More information’s coming out, now, and it’s looking ugly. The police say they’re still looking to see if there were drugs in the home. They were apparently looking for two small pipes and a small tin of crack, none of which was found. Thus far, there have been no charges resulting from the raid.
The police make reference to a shooting at the house a few weeks ago, but oddly, those shots were fired at the house, not from it. In any case, again, the fact that an unarmed man is dead is a fairly good indicator that perhaps this show of force wasn’t the best way to handle a search for a couple of pipes and a small tin of crack.
The article itself linked above is rather one-sided, citing three criminal justice professors who take a “nothing to see here” position, who attest to the importance of using overwhelming force while serving drug warrants, and who talk about the “disadvantage” police face when they bust in unannounced to a house with a battering ram, flash grenades, body armor, and weapons. All three professors quoted in the article are former police officers.
The police department has thus far refused to release the names of the officers who fired the fatal shots. They also won’t release the affidavits leading up to the search warrants, or the personnel files of the two officers the unarmed man charged during the raid.
Is it just me, or have there been an unusually high number of botched raids in the news of late?
So quite a bit of interesting information came out at yesterday’s Ryan Frederick hearing. First, four months after the raid, special prosecutor Paul Ebert now says he plans to file felony drug charges against Frederick. On what evidence? Who knows. Ebert didn’t elaborate. All the police found in the raid was a small amount of marijuana. To my knowledge, they still haven’t disclosed how much, though the initial charge (nolle prossed today) was a misdemeanor.
The police account of the raid as portrayed in the Virginian-Pilot today also differs pretty drastically from other accounts. A few items from the hearing worth noting:
What this means is that, as I’ve written before, there’s no real difference between a no-knock and a knock and announce warrant. Once the warrant has been issued, your door is coming down.
This raises the question of what exactly you’re supposed to do when someone knocks on your door, and announces that they’re the police, and that they have a search warrant. Don’t come to the door, and they’re going to break it down and come after you. Come to the door to verify it’s really the police (and as anyone who reads this site regularly knows, that’s by no means a given)–and to let them in if it is–and your very movement toward the door can, also, be a trigger to break the door down and storm your home. Arm yourself and wait for them to come in? You’re practically begging them to shoot you. I guess your only option is stand somewhere in your own house with your hands in the air, and hope none of the raiding officers mistakes your t-shirt for a gun, or possibly trips or mistakenly fires and accidentally kills you. Be prepared to be thrown to the ground, stepped on, handcuffed, and have the barrel of a gun pointed at the back of your head.
This is just one of many conundrums posed by the proliferation of paramilitary-style police raids. The people on the receiving end of the raids in positions where it’s nearly impossible to even know what the right response is, much less be in a position to make it. Not to mention that, at the same time, they’re being subjected to trauma that makes any sort of clear-headedness or careful consideration of their options pretty much impossible.
The third possibility is that Ebert’s sitting on some new evidence that he hasn’t yet released. If you’ll remember, Chesapeake police announced several weeks ago that they had seized Frederick’s phone records. Perhaps they’re preparing to trot out a few people who will claim to have bought drugs from Frederick. Maybe Frederick did sell some marijuana here and there, though everyone I’ve talked to insists he was a no more than a recreational, small-time pot smoker. Remember too that it’s pretty easy to get an informant to say whatever you want him to, particularly if you’re willing to help him wriggle out of other charges.
In all, today’s hearing offered up a bit more of the information that the police department has been sitting on for four months, but it raised quite a few more questions than answers. The case now goes to the grand jury, which is almost certain to indict Frederick on whatever charges Ebert asks from them.
Frederick’s preliminary hearing just ended.
He was formally charged with first degree murder and with the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. So yeah. They really are going to go through with this.
The misdemeanor marijuana possession charge was nolle prossed. Which means the reason the police tried to ram their way into Frederick’s house in the first place is now pretty much moot. They didn’t even find enough marijuana to merit a charge. Now they’re trying to make him pay for the consequences of their mistake.
Over the weekend, police in Connecticut broke through windows and deployed flash grenades while conducting a drug rain on a home in Connecticut. Gonazalo Guizan, 33, who was visiting and didn’t live at the house, charged at the raiding officers, unarmed. The police shot him dead.
Early reports don’t say much about Guizan, though in this comment thread, friends and family say he wasn’t a drug dealer, wasn’t violent, and wasn’t a criminal. I suppose it’s possible that an unarmed man would knowingly charge a team of raiding police officers. But I think the far more likely explanation is that he thought the place was being robbed.
We don’t yet have details as to why the police felt it necessary to shoot Guizan, other than that he charged at them. I suspect the shooting itself will be ruled justified, as it probably should be. The question is why the paramilitary tactics were necessary in the first place, and whether yet another person has now paid with his life for the very reasonable mistake of confusing invading police officers with invading criminals.
The owner of the house was charged with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Which means there weren’t enough drugs in the place to charge him with distribution. He was released on $10,000 bond.
MORE: When I say the shooting “probably should be” justified, I’m not excusing it. I’m saying that it’s hard to see how criminal charges could be filed against the officer who fire the shot. All he needs to show is that he reasonably feared for his life. If someone is charging at you in the midst of a confrontational drug raid, that’s not a hard point to prove. My point is that the fault lies with the policy of using these tactics to police drug crimes in the first place.