Judges Siding with SWAT Tactics

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 8 months ago

From Columbia Daily Tribune:

A federal judge yesterday dismissed all 18 causes of action in a civil lawsuit filed against Columbia police officers involved in a February 2010 raid.

The suit filed by Jonathan Whitworth, his wife, Brittany Whitworth, and her son was scheduled for a Jan. 23 trial in federal court in Jefferson City. U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted the defendants’ request for a summary judgment, dismissing all counts alleged against the city of Columbia and the 12 police officers who were on the scene during the SWAT raid.

“We always knew this was a tough case, but that doesn’t mean we will shy away from tough cases,” said Jeff Hilbrenner, the Whitworths’ attorney. “The conduct of Columbia police was so extreme we thought it needed to be reviewed by a court. The Whitworths will evaluate whether they want to appeal the judge’s ruling.”

[ ... ]

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit stemmed from a Columbia police SWAT raid of the Whitworths’ home in southwest Columbia. Police believed Jonathan Whitworth was a major distributor of marijuana. Two of the family’s dogs were shot, one fatally, during the SWAT team’s entry, and a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia were found. Whitworth pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia in April 2010 and was issued a $300 fine.

His wife and her son, who was 7 at the time, were present during the raid. Bullet holes, a dead dog and another wounded dog allegedly amounted to thousands of dollars in damages, the suit claimed.

The lawsuit was seeking restitution for damages to personal property and medical and veterinary expenses. It was filed in September 2010 against the 12 police officers who were at the raid for their contribution toward an alleged violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Here is video of the SWAT raid.

Let’s summarize this.  A “small amount of marijuana,” one dead and one wounded dog, a shot-up house, and endangerment of a family.  The use of SWAT tactics is inherently dangerous, which is why [innocent] 68 year old Eurie Stamps was shot and killed by a SWAT team member who tripped with his finger on the trigger of his weapon causing him to fire it due to sympathetic muscle reflexes.

These tactics are dangerous for the team members too.  Let me be clear about this.  I have weapons.  If I think my home is being invaded, I’m not slowing down to figure out by whom.  The home invader is going to get shot.  Period.  So the salient question is this: why would anyone voluntarily choose to implement such tactics when there is another choice?

They could have chosen to wait until everyone left the home, bring along animal control to safely handle the dogs, and searched the home in assured peace and safety.  If anything was found that warranted further legal action, then wait until the individual comes home and arrest him in the driveway.

But they chose to endanger themselves, the targeted individual, his wife, his child, and his two dogs.  Why?  What good reason could there possibly be for making this choice?  Do SWAT teams want to play soldier so badly that they are willing to endanger the public, and are judges concerned enough about a “small amount of marijuana” that they are willing to see military tactics used against U.S. citizens?



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  • bigfingo

    It’s more of that “use it or loose it” Government think. Hey, we got this here SWAT team and they’s costing us a lot o’ money so we cain’t have them ‘er SWAT dudes sitting on their asses. I know, lets send out to kick in a few doors and earn their keep. It’s what happens in all Government bureaucracys. “Use it, or loose it” is every bureaucrats mantra and since these Judges are part of the big ‘G’ Government they understand how the game is played

  • JeremyR

    I think a homeowner putting up a fight would make their day. That’s exactly why they have military gear – tactical rifles (with flashlights to blind people), body armor, flash grenades. They’re more than happy to shoot anyone and anything they can, as the trail of dead dogs left by them illustrates. Or people, like the guy in Arizona.

    Make no mistake – the police view themselves as the military, and whoever they raid are insurgents.

    Yet they’re only playing soldiers. The actual people who have the ability and desire to protect the citizen are actually in the armed forces. Police are bullies; police in SWAT teams are the same as stormtroopers, living out their fantasies.

    It amaze me that the US has more people in the world in jail than anyone else, and yet no one seems to realize that if a police state exists anywhere in the world, it’s us. We’ve lost all our rights to the phony drug war. (Which as news stories have shown, actively cooperates with the cartels, giving them guns and laundering money, all in exchange for a few token busts)

  • Randy

    What good reason could there possibly be for making this choice?

    Shock snd awe is part of it. After all, it is a war, the war on drugs, and Mr. Whitworth is the enemy in the minds of drug warriors. It gets attention and let’s the good folk know that officers are out there bringing down the bad guys!

    But the truth is that 20-30 years ago the powers that be changed the rules of engagement for executing search warrants. Until the change, the authorities were often unable to bring drug possession charges against users and small-time dealers because they would destroy their stash while the cops waited at the door with a search warrant. No drugs, no arrest or conviction.

    In response to this reality, “no knock” or dynamic entry raids were authorized. So the authorities decided that getting a hold of the drug evidence was more important than the safety of the officers, the suspects, their families, and the suspect’s property. In adopting these tactics, they also set aside centuries of accepted police practice.

    It’s time to end this war.

  • willem

    And this couldn’t have been done as he left for work? This couldn’t have been done after the children were at school?

    What is most shocking is how this policy degrades Law Enforcement. How do they look in the mirror? What do the do with the shame of this — the collective shame.

    And if they feel no shame, will only sociopaths be suitable for the culture of local policing? There is certainly nothing professional here; no decency; no reason; no good faith attempt “do no harm”. This is an act of malice arising from mere suspicion.

    If they came to arrest and search, they would have come at a different time. But instead they came to kill when the chances of getting to kill were most promising; when the making of mistakes were most likely; when the chances of error were greatest.

    Are militarized police using Special Forces tactics? No. Nada.

    SF would have captured the father outside the home when he least expected it. SF would have taken the mother outside the home fully prepared to put the children in protective custody. Then, SF would have returned to the home for entry and through search. That is SF tactics.

    The mis-education of our police in “militarized” tactics is both farce and fraud.

    What is even more dangerous to our families? Our judiciary and our prosecutorial cultures are wholly without competence to effectively or appropriately supervise or measure the reasonable use of these midnight antics by amateurs playing dress-up soldier. They are also playing. They are playing dress-up CIA and dress-up General.

    What a lethal clown show. What total humiliation of our judiciary, our prosecutorial traditions and our jurisprudence. This is SLOTH, not excellence.

    There is one unshakable fact that does not go away.

    Not one judge, not one prosecutor, not one cop, can meet a reasonable test of military or command fitness necessary to professionally operate or supervise a modern military operation … particularly Special Forces operations these tactics were created for use by expert, professional soldiers operating under an expert and sophisticated military command structure.

    Note that last little technicality. The conspicuous absence of expert, professional soldiers operating under an expert and sophisticated military command structure proves the lethal farce. These midnight antics are paraded with a malignant narcissism of sorts, a malignancy that creates a internally destructive phenomenon; an unhealthy narcissism reinforced by least mentally healthy in the LEO community.

    What a shame that community police should degrade their noble profession with the sloth and depravity shown in this video example.

    WWSFD? Not what these pretenders did. Their command structure would never allow such a stupid display of unnecessary force.

  • http://elmtreeforge.blogspot.com Firehand

    Let’s not forget: they could have knocked on the door and said “Sir, we have a search warrant” and then- IF NECESSARY- slammed in the door. But oh no, they don’t get to kick doors and shoot dogs and terrorize people if they do it that way.

    And I’m sick beyond describing of hearing some chief or prosecutor announce “The officers were following procedure, so no action will be taken.” If crap like this is following it, then your procedure sucks.

  • Michael Chaney

    I think a homeowner putting up a fight would make their day. That’s exactly why they have military gear – tactical rifles (with flashlights to blind people), body armor, flash grenades. They’re more than happy to shoot anyone and anything they can, as the trail of dead dogs left by them illustrates. Or people, like the guy in Arizona.

    Actually, if you read Radley Balko at all, you’ll find that the police use completely different tactics if they think the victim will be armed. The sad thing is they only play soldier if they think there isn’t going to be any resistance.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    JeremyR, I’m not saying that I would knowingly put up a fight against police. I’m saying that defending your home against a home invasion is necessarily a violent and rapidly progressing situation. Reaction alone will ensure that no one stops to figure out if the person who has just busted down your door is a threat. To me, if a person has just busted down my door, they are by definition a threat. I’m going to defend my home, especially now that my state has recently strengthened our Castle laws.

    And as castle laws are more and more common, the danger (to the police) increases with these tactics (while it’s still true that the danger level is high for homeowners in ANY home invasion). To me, the fact that it is the police doing the home invasion doesn’t legitimize it. It’s still a home invasion.

    The tactics are thus stupid. There can be no good argument for them – at least, if there are any good arguments, I haven’t seen them in print or heard them.

  • searched

    My home was invaded by cops with a search warrant last spring. They knocked at 6:30 a.m., I answered the door. They may or may not have shown me identification, I do not–cannot–remember. I do not know how many of them came in–eight? twelve? The first one in aimed his gun at our dog when she came toward the door, growling. I threw myself at the dog, screaming, “Don’t shoot the dog!” They all had their guns drawn. I remember black jackets and guns. I asked, demanded, shouted for them to show me the search warrant but they said they couldn’t show it to me “until the premises have been secured, ma’am.” Funny, but my house was plenty secure until they came in. No one was hurt in our raid. The cops were done searching in three hours. No arrests were made. The anger and fear remain, all these months later.

    Among the many, many shitty pieces of this story is the fact that the cops come in knowing everything about us and we know nothing about them. They know who we are, they know who lives in the house, they know the kids have to go to school, they even knew that I am the one to drive them to school. They know all of that, and we know NOTHING. Even though we knew nothing and were terrorized, terrified, angry beyond belief (no awe…you bastards), whatever we said, whatever we agreed to…it’s all legally binding. Yes, I let them in. Maybe they showed me ID, I don’t know. Doesn’t matter, anyway, does it? A dozen cops say they did this, they did that, and one terrified woman says something else. Who wins that one? Of course my husband and I made bad decisions that morning but we have to live with what we did. The cops cause the chaos for exactly that reason: Confused and terrified, the homeowners will do something stupid, something the cops can use.

    People think they know what they would do if the cops came to the door but you are not prepared for the chaos and sheer terror of the situation. Dogs, kids, guns, cops pretending we are dangerous…no wonder so many of these raids go bad.

  • jerome

    >> The home invader is going to get shot.

    and then you’ll get shot and anyone else in your home with be slaughtered. Once these guys start shooting, they don’t stop. Take a look at the footage of these raids that has been made public. This puts the lie to the idea that these actions are in any way similar to military tactics – actual soldiers would show more control, precision, and restraint. SWAT teams are typically a bunch of poorly trained cops in tactical gear who’d otherwise be harassing teenagers and handing out speeding tickets. That’s one of the major reasons that the results of these raids are often catastrophic for the victims.

  • searched

    Jerome is correct. As I said, you think you know what you will do. The chaos they bring in with them is not something you can manage. Once they are in the house, they are in charge. Not because you let them be in charge but because they are twelve, you are one, because they know what the plan is, you don’t. Their plan is to make it impossible for you to be in charge.

    One correction, Jerome. These are not usually city cops doing these raids. They are ICE agents from DHS. DHS has plenty of money and the locals like to use them.

  • peter north

    >> These are not usually city cops doing these raids. They are ICE agents from DHS.

    This is going to depend on where you live, and the nature of the warrant. You’d be surprised at how many little suburban PD’s have SWAT units.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Every little PD in po-dunk USA has a SWAT team, and all PDs have fully auto guns that they don’t need. The SWAT teams like to be called “operators” and wear drop holsters and tactical gear around town to show everyone who they are.

  • Michael Chaney

    Via Radley Balko this morning, here’s what police do when they know the target actually does have the ability to fight back:

    “The homeowners, Deborah and Anthony Toloczko, were arrested at Logan Airport Thursday after vacationing in Las Vegas.

    Police say the search on Monday could have been more dangerous if the couple was home considering police were met by a dog and found 33 firearms, several improvised explosive devices and at least a gallon of ammonium nitrate.”

    http://www.necn.com/12/12/11/Mass-police-seize-firearms-explosives-50/landing_newengland.html?blockID=610792&feedID=4206

    The bottom line is that they only terrorize people with a “SWAT raid” when they know the victim won’t be able to fight back. And, yes, that makes them cowards.

  • carl

    One thing people don’t realize if many officers are afraid of dogs. They are not taught how evaluate what dogs are likely to do in various situations nor are they taught simple things that allow you to handle dogs without resorting to shooting them, like snapping an umbrella open in the dogs face. This is a simple thing to teach and demonstrate but I don’t know if it done anywhere. It would save a lot of trouble and ill feelings if it were.

    It would not eliminate the harm caused by no-knock warrant serving but it would lessen it a little bit.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Police,SWAT Raids and was published December 11th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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