4 years, 5 months ago
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has issued an apology after narcotics detectives raided the wrong home and pointed a gun at its 76-year-old female resident.
Burbank said the woman was not injured when the search warrant was executed late Wednesday night, but one officer was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
“She’s certainly had the event of a lifetime, and one that I am very sorry that she had to experience at all,” Burbank said.
“This was a mistake. It should not have happened,” he added.
A police task force used a battering ram to knock down the door and execute a “no-knock” search warrant.
Burbank said his department has protocols in place to prevent such mistakes, but officers did not follow them. He declined to elaborate.
The chief said he met with family members, apologized and assured them the department would repair all damage to the home.
The woman’s adult son, Raymond Zaelit, told The Salt Lake Tribune that a police officer pointed a gun at her, then asked if she had a gun or drugs. His mother, who was home alone, answered no to both.
“She was petrified. She didn’t know what to think,” Zaelit said. “This was traumatizing for her.”
Stephen Cook, an attorney representing the woman and her family, told the Deseret News that they remain focused “on helping her deal with the consequences of the traumatic incident.”
The family is reviewing the official account of the events provided Friday by police and will make a statement when appropriate, Cook added.
Paul Fracasso, a next-door neighbor of the woman, watched as police raided the wrong home.
“I saw them going through the door, crashing through the door,” he recalled. “There were guns and flashlights going everywhere, (and police) telling them: ‘Get down. Get down. Get down.'”
Fracasso said he knew immediately that police had made a mistake.
“I knew they were there for no reason,” he said. “She’s a sweet old lady, just like my grandma. I think they should have done their homework. I can’t believe it actually happened.”
Burbank declined to comment on the actual target of the warrant other than to say it was “very close” to the woman’s home. Detectives did not go there after the erroneous search, feeling they had lost the element of surprise, the chief said.
This raid is “yet another example of poor muzzle discipline, and the incident may have included poor trigger discipline. When anyone who doesn’t happen to be a law enforcement officer does something like this, it’s called trespassing, brandishing a firearm, and assault with a deadly weapon (a felony offense that generally includes ”the intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm”). And bodily harm often does result, as with the case of Mr. Eurie Stamps, prone on the floor after his home had been mistakenly invaded, and who was shot dead by an officer who had his finger on the trigger of his weapon and stumbled, firing as a sympathetic muscle reflex.
I’ve also remarked that based on my own friends who are law enforcement officers, one who is a Captain and who has effected hundreds of felony arrests, it just isn’t that difficult to ensure safety. A little OC spray makes the worst offenders very compliant while officers maintain stand-off distance. Furthermore, a little investigative work goes a long way. Stake out a home, effect the arrests in driveways, ensure that it’s the correct address, and so on.
It’s not only the reasonable and sensible thing to do, it’s the moral approach. Invading homes (when as far as the homeowner knows, the invader is posing as a LEO and intends his family harm) is the immoral approach, and pointing weapons at women and children is the behavior of cowards.”
It will continue as long as the courts defend these tactics, or as long as we tolerate judges exonerating such behavior, and as long as we hire LEOs who want to do this, and as long as we elect city councils and county commissioners who back this kind of behavior with policy statements and money.