Botched police raid roundup

August 1, 2014

I’ve written before on the troubling secrecy behind the use of “Stingrays,” the portable devices police use to vacuum up cell phone information from anyone within a given radius. The federal government is allowing the technology to be used by local police departments for routine policing but is then instructing those departments to keep it all secret, ostensibly because the technology is also used for national security efforts. They’re so adamant about secrecy, in fact, that U.S. Marshals have encouraged local police to lie about the Stingrays to prosecutors and judges.

This, of course, presents huge problems for transparency, accountability and the Fourth and Sixth amendments. It will be interesting to see, for example, if this woman is able to lift through the secrecy surrounding Stingrays to get a fair hearing of her lawsuit.

In July 2013, Louise Goldsberry had just finished dinner with her boyfriend at her apartment. She was washing the dishes when she noticed something outside her kitchen window – someone was watching her.

“I caught movement out of my peripheral vision and I look up and see a guy going like this with a big assault rifle,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a home invasion.’”

Goldsberry crawled to her room, and grabbed her gun, when the intruder made his way inside.

She said the man yelled “This is the fu**ing police and we’re going to kill you if you don’t put down the gun!”

The two had a tense standoff. Turns out, it was the SWAT team looking for a sexual battery suspect.

Goldsberry and her boyfriend were handcuffed as the home was searched.

“[They] came in here and searched without a warrant, without probable cause,” she said. “I hadn’t done anything, it just blew my mind.”

But they had the wrong house, so the team released the handcuffs and left.

Goldsberry said, “As an American citizen, I’m starting to think what country do I live in, where they can have your self almost killed over a mistake.”

Here’s why Goldsberry’s house was raided:

So Goldsberry filed a lawsuit. She’s suing the SWAT team, made up of members from the US Marshals Service and the Sarasota Police Department.

She wants monetary damages and an answer as to how this could happen.

“I’m going to trial to see if we still have fourth amendment rights,” she said.

The lawsuit alleges the SWAT team used a ‘stingray device,’ a technology that traces cell phone calls.

According to the lawsuit, the stingray devices mimic cell service providers’ towers and force cell phones in the area to register their identifying information and location.

The lawsuit alleges the device led the team to Goldsberry’s apartment building.

“I think it’s an intrusion on our privacy rights,” said Goldsberry.

Meanwhile, also in Florida, another botched drug raid:

According to a Madison County family, they woke up Wednesday morning to guns drawn and their kids in handcuffs.

“I just kept hearing something, like a loud noise. I felt as if I was just dreaming,” said mother Laretta McCaskill. “Then, once I woke up, I’d seen a flashing light and a gun pointed to my head, just cops yelling, ‘hold your hands up, hold your hands up! Put your hands up!’ ”

According to the McCaskill family, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office knocked down their door, entered their home and handcuffed their 16-year-old nephew at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning.

“They told me, turn around. Turn around, turn around,” said Terrance Coleman, the nephew of the McCaskill’s. “And put my hands behind my back. So, he had snatched me off the bed and put me in the living room. So, I came in here and there were guns pointed and me and my cousin. I just feel like they had misplaced me with somebody else.”

According to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, they had a warrant to search the McCaskill’s home, but it was by mistake. According to officials, they were looking for Tommy Turner, an alleged drug dealer, who actually lived in the mobile home adjacent to the McCaskill’s.

No big deal. Carry on.

Finally, Maryland is one of the few states in the country that has a tried to get a grip on the extent of the use of these sorts of tactics. In 2009, the state legislature passed a transparency bill requiring every police agency in the state that has a SWAT team to report twice a year on how often the SWAT team is used, for what purpose, what was found during the raid and whether any shots were fired. It was passed due in large part to the efforts of Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights mayor whose dogs were shot and killed during a terrifying mistaken raid on him and his mother-in-law.

Earlier this month, a local newspaper used the reports mandated by the law to discover that SWAT deployments in Montgomery County have risen 58 percent over the last four years. Unfortunately, that sort of information will no longer be available. The original bill included a sunset provision, and the Maryland legislature has now allowed the law to expire. The Baltimore Sun reports that there are plans to reintroduce the bill next session, but there was also an attempt to renew the law this session and it died in committee.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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