By Rosalind S. Helderman and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Prince George's County police announced yesterday that they have arrested a deliveryman and another man who they say are involved in a scheme to smuggle marijuana by shipping packages addressed to unsuspecting recipients, including a delivery last week to the wife of the mayor of Berwyn Heights.
The county Sheriff's Office SWAT team and narcotics officers raided the home of Mayor Cheye Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, after intercepting a package addressed to her that was filled with 32 pounds of marijuana. During the raid, officers broke down Calvo's door and fatally shot the family's two black Labrador retrievers.
Police said the package was one of about a half-dozen retrieved by authorities in the past week along the route of a deliveryman in northern Prince George's. The packages contained a combined 417 pounds of marijuana valued at about $3.6 million.
Police Chief Melvin C. High would not rule out that Calvo and Tomsic had some involvement in the delivery. Asked whether police had cleared them, he said: "From all the indications at the moment, they had an unlikely involvement, but we don't want to draw that definite conclusion at the moment." He later said, "Most likely, they were innocent victims."
Neither he nor Sheriff Michael A. Jackson apologized for the raid, which they said was conducted responsibly, given what deputies and officers knew at the time.
Calvo declined to comment. Timothy Maloney, an attorney for Calvo and Tomsic, said the arrests confirm that Tomsic was a "random victim of identity theft at the hands of major drug traffickers."
"This crime was compounded by law enforcement when it illegally invaded the Calvo home, tied up the mayor and his mother-in-law, and killed the family dogs," he said in an e-mail. "The Calvo family is still waiting for an explanation from law enforcement as to how this could possibly have happened."
Police had been tracking the package since a drug-sniffing dog in Arizona drew attention to it. Calvo has said law enforcement officers burst into his home moments after he picked up the package from his porch and brought it in. It had been left on the porch on the instructions of his mother-in-law by police posing as deliverymen. Calvo has said sheriff's deputies entered without knocking and began shooting immediately.
High said one of the men arrested was an independent contractor who worked as a package deliveryman. The police chief did not release the name of either man.
High and Maj. Mark Magaw, commander of the county's narcotics enforcement division, said the two suspects worked in tandem. The officials said that the deliveryman would drop off the package and that the other man would come by shortly thereafter and retrieve it.
At other times, the officials said, the suspects exchanged packages face to face in parking lots. In two instances, Magaw said, the deliveryman mistakenly took drugs to the wrong address, then went to the houses and asked for the packages.
He said police investigating the case uncovered a separate and parallel scheme to use the package delivery system to send marijuana. They arrested two other men yesterday in connection with that conspiracy and seized about 100 pounds of marijuana.
High and Jackson spent much of a news conference yesterday defending the raid on Calvo's home. They said using a SWAT team was appropriate because guns and violence are often associated with drug rings.
"In some quarters, this has been viewed as a flawed police operation and an attack on the mayor, which it is not," High said. "This was about an address, this was about a name on a package . . . and, in fact, our people did not know that this was the home of the mayor and his family until after the fact."
High said Jackson's team was responsible for determining how "dynamic" an entry was required. Jackson said that the search warrant authorizing the raid was obtained by the police department and that his team was there only because the police's SWAT team was busy on another assignment.
Neither explained why police spokesmen initially said a "no knock" warrant had been authorized, giving law enforcement officers permission from a judge to raid the home without announcing their presence. Magaw said there was no such thing as a no-knock warrant and denied telling public information officers that one exists. Legal experts say a law adopted in 2005 created such a warrant.
Police are allowed to enter without announcing themselves even without the authorization, but only if specific circumstances at the scene lead them to reasonably suspect that evidence might be destroyed or officers' lives endangered.
Jackson said yesterday that his team was justified in entering the home as forcefully as it did because Calvo's mother-in-law screamed when she saw the officers approaching the house. The noise, he said, could have alerted any armed occupants of the home or allowed time for destruction of any evidence.
He also defended the shooting of the dogs. He said his deputies were "engaged" by the dogs, by one as they entered the house and by the other as they made their way through it. Neither dog bit a deputy, he said.
Calvo maintains that his dogs were peaceful.
Maloney said yesterday that it was "demonstrably false" to suggest the dogs were threatening law enforcement, and on the whole called the law enforcement's statement about the raid "defensive" and "outrageous."
Neither agency has asked for the family's version of the raid, he said.
"It is clear that neither agency can conduct an independent review into the law enforcement misconduct that occurred here, nor are they willing to review their policies involving no-knock entry and the killing of innocent family pets," Maloney said.
The family will hold a news conference today to address the issues. Calvo, 37, works part time as the mayor and serves as director of expansion for the SEED Foundation, a national nonprofit group that runs urban public boarding schools. Tomsic is a finance officer for the state.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.