FBI to Review Raid That Killed Mayor's Dogs

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 8, 2008; B01

The FBI has launched a review of the violent law enforcement raid of the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo in Prince George's County last week that resulted in the deaths of the family's two dogs.

The agency has begun "reviewing the events that occurred at Mr. Calvo's residence," said Richard J. Wolf, spokesman for the FBI in Baltimore, which has jurisdiction over federal civil rights investigations in Maryland.

The FBI announcement came in response to a call yesterday by Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, for such a probe. Calvo and Tomsic suggested a systemic problem might exist in county law enforcement.

"We have witnessed a frightening law enforcement culture in which the law is disregarded, the rights of innocent occupants are ignored and the rights of innocent animals mean nothing," Calvo said, surrounded by county elected leaders and friends on the front lawn of his house. "A shadow was cast over our good names. We were harmed by the very people who took an oath to protect us."

June White Dillard, president of the NAACP's local chapter, also called for a thorough investigation and said Calvo experienced police action familiar to many young black men in the county.

County police said they would cooperate with the FBI review. "We've tried to establish a pattern of transparency and clarity about the way in which we do our work, and I'm sure the chief will be cooperative and forthcoming in any investigation," Prince George's police spokeswoman Sharon Taylor said yesterday.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Mario Ellis said the department had not been informed of the FBI's plans. "If they deem it necessary to do that, we welcome it," Ellis said, adding that the department has also begun the standard review it conducts any time a deputy fires a weapon.

The Prince George's Sheriff's Office SWAT team and county narcotics officers raided the home after Calvo brought in a 32-pound marijuana-filled package addressed to his wife. They tied up Tomsic's mother and Calvo, and they interrogated the mayor for hours.

On Wednesday, police announced they had arrested a package deliveryman and another man in connection with a scheme to smuggle marijuana by intercepting packages addressed to unsuspecting recipients.

Police Chief Melvin C. High said that Calvo and his wife were probably innocent victims of the conspiracy but that the case remained under investigation. He and Sheriff Michael Jackson defended the actions of deputies and officers who carried out the raid.

FBI reviews precede investigations and are used to determine if law enforcement agencies followed procedures. The agents will likely look at both the forceful entry of the mayor's home by sheriff's deputies and the narcotics investigation by county police that led to the search, legal experts said.

They will examine "what information did the police have about the residence at the time they went there, what justification did they have to enter under those circumstances," said Jim Sotos, a lawyer who has written about evolving search and seizure law.

Sotos said they will also probably review other search warrants served by the sheriff's office and county police in recent years.

An attorney came forward yesterday to allege a possible pattern of animal abuse by the sheriff's department. Michael Winkleman said he is representing another family whose dog was shot by sheriff's deputies in November, along with a woman who is suing the department for searching her home without a warrant and threatening to shoot her dog.

In the first case, Winkleman said, sheriff's deputies arrived at the Accokeek home of Frank and Pamela Myers with a warrant for another house on their street. After the couple informed the deputies of their error, they continued to question the couple and looked around their home.

As they spoke, the couple's 5-year-old German boxer began barking in a yard, out of sight. Soon after, according to Winkleman, the couple heard gunshots, and they found the dog shot to death. He said the family is preparing to file suit.

In another case, Upper Marlboro resident Amber James has filed a $4 million lawsuit accusing sheriff's deputies of searching her home without a warrant in May 2007 while looking for her sister, who lived in Capitol Heights. According to the suit, deputies falsely claimed to have a warrant and searched every room of the home. When they did not find the sister, the suit alleges, they threatened to return the next day and search again, saying that if they did, James's dog would be dead.

Some lawyers and leading law enforcement groups said deputies should have known to do everything possible to avoid killing Calvo's dogs.

Courts across the country in recent years have ruled that it is almost always unacceptable for police to kill pets in the course of searching a home. Cases in three federal circuits have found that killing pets amounts to unreasonable seizure.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop a lawsuit by the Hells Angels motorcycle club after police in San Jose killed three guard dogs during a 1998 raid. That case, which also involved police taking items from the group's clubhouse, resulted in $1.8 million in settlements.

"It was the fact that the dogs were shot that made the public sympathetic to the Hells Angels," said Karen Snell, who was the club's attorney during the case and has since successfully tried similar cases.

Killing dogs is considered a "last resort," said John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, a group that provides tactical training for police departments and is advocating a national accreditation system for SWAT programs.

The group recommends that SWAT teams develop multiple plans for dealing with animals during a raid. "You have a plan so that, first, maybe you hit it with a fire extinguisher, and if that doesn't work, maybe you give it a good swift kick into an adjoining room and close the door," Gnagey said.

Yesterday, Calvo also called on the sheriff's office to release photos taken the night of the raid of the two black Labrador retrievers, which he said would prove the dogs did not engage deputies as Jackson said Wednesday. He said the children of 3,000-person Berwyn Heights would testify to the dogs' gentle nature, and he said deputies had killed them "for sport."

He also asked Jackson to take back his suggestion that the SWAT team was justified in raiding the home without knocking first, ordinarily required by law, because his mother-in-law had screamed upon spotting officers. That suggestion shifted blame for the no-knock entry onto her, Calvo said.

Police had been tracking the package since Arizona, where a police dog had alerted them to the presence of drugs. It had been left on the porch by police posing as deliverymen and was later seized unopened from inside the home.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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