13 hours, 9 minutes ago
The Burlington police officer who obtained a search warrant for the wrong house in a drug investigation was present when the warrant was executed, but wasn’t able to stop deputies before they entered the house, police officials said Tuesday.
Burlington Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe called into Talkline, a local morning radio show on AM station WBAG, on Tuesday to discuss the incident, which occurred April 4 at a Mebane house outside of the police department’s jurisdiction, thus requiring the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office to execute the warrant.
Though the Times-News previously tried to get information from police on where Officer R.D. Hebden, who obtained the warrant, was while deputies entered the wrong house, Smythe explained on the radio show that the officer was present but was in the last of four cars to pull up to the site.
Smythe said sheriff’s deputies had already entered the house, located at 3264 Maplewood Ave., before Hebden could inform the ACSO lieutenant overseeing the operation that he had put the wrong address on the warrant, but that the officer immediately did so.
On the show, Smythe admitted the Burlington Police Department accepts the blame for the error, and mentioned that he had already apologized multiple times to the two residents of the house.
“It was due to a mistake on our officer’s part,” said Assistant Chief Chris Verdeck. “We’ve repeatedly apologized for our mistake and are investigating it thoroughly, internally, to try to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
The Sheriff’s Office has maintained that its deputies acted properly, and followed normal procedure for entering a residence at the address listed on a search warrant — which included a team of nine deputies from the vice and special operations units who went inside the house with guns drawn, ordering the residents on the ground and handcuffing them, said Randy Jones, public information officer.
Jones said one of the deputies carried a shotgun, one carried an AR-15 assault rifle and the others carried handguns. He said deputies knocked on the back door and announced their presence multiple times, to no response, before ramming through the door.
Once inside, the residents were ordered to get down and were both handcuffed while deputies conducted a walkthrough to ensure no one else was inside. He said once the scene was secured, Lt. Brandon Wilkerson, of the sheriff’s office, began to question whether they were at the correct location and went out to confer with Hebden.
The mistake of address on the search warrant was a result of Hebden selecting the wrong parcel while using an Alamance County geographic information system, said Lt. Brian Long, of the Burlington Police Department.
“Entered the wrong home …,” “apologized …,” “no response …,” and so on the clinically worded prose goes. But there is nothing clinical about this. Nine law enforcement officers crushed in a door and pointed weapons at innocent victims, thus endangering their lives, all over a mistaken address.
As a sidebar comment, if one of my readers does something like this, you would get charged with assault, reckless endangerment and brandishing a weapon. And properly so. But my readers wouldn’t do this. They would ensure proper muzzle discipline at all times when in possession of a weapon.
The solution isn’t more apologies or radio talk shows. The solution is to find another way to obtain evidence in criminal investigations that doesn’t involve ramming doors in or pointing weapons at people. Note to LEOs: I couldn’t care less if you lose some of your evidence. Use your heads and find another way.