The Washington Post

Troubling new details about the violent police raid in Iowa

The Des Moines Register has the latest on that volatile police raid that I wrote about yesterday. The raid was apparently for suspected credit card fraud. Ankeny Police Department officials are now speaking out. But I’m not sure they’re helping their cause:

Ankeny police are defending the raid, saying they needed to use that approach to protect officers’ safety.

Ankeny police Capt. Makai Echer said officers knew at least one person in the house had a permit to carry a firearm. She said the department isn’t currently investigating how officers handled the search, nor does the department have a written policy for executing warrants.

So they see nothing wrong with how the raid was handled, and the department has no stated policy for executing warrants. All of that is troubling enough. (The lack of a written policy also suggests a lack of training.) As is the “officer safety” justification, as if that in itself trumps the rights of the people inside the house.

But citing the fact that one of the occupants in the house — Justin Ross — had applied and was approved for a gun permit  is probably most disturbing of all. First, hardened criminals who are a threat to kill cops tend not to be the sort of people who bother with permits, or to register their firearms with the government. I don’t think that point needs more elaboration.

Second, Ross was not one of the suspects for whom the police were looking. It seems highly, highly unlikely that had the police knocked on the door, announced themselves and waited for someone to answer it, a law-abiding citizen like Justin Ross would be a threat to suddenly decide to kill some cops. But it’s much more likely that Justin Ross might feel the need to defend himself upon hearing unidentified parties break down two doors, followed by the sight of several armed men in his home. Indeed, that’s very nearly what happened.

Finally, think of the implications if this were the policy everywhere. It would mean that if you’re a gun owner, the police could cite that fact in and of itself as justification for them to violently tear down your door, rush your house with guns and point those guns at your family — even if their warrant is for a nonviolent crime, even if it’s for a white collar crime, even if you’ve dutifully registered your gun with the government. In fact, given that Ross’s permit is how the police knew he was armed in the first place, especially if you’ve dutifully registered your guns with the government. If I were a gun owner in Des Moines, I’d be asking some questions.

Aside from the gun issue, the paper also asked William Moulder, Ankeny’s police chief, about how the officers dealt with the family’s security cameras:

Covering or disabling cameras is standard procedure for officers executing a search warrant or raid to ensure people inside can’t monitor approaching officers, Moulder said.

I don’t know that this is true. It might be reasonable to cover an outside camera as they approach if they had a no-knock warrant. But this wasn’t a no-knock raid. They had a knock-and-announce warrant. The entire point of a knock-and-announce warrant, at least in theory, is to give the occupants of the home the opportunity to answer the door peacefully, thus avoiding damage to their property and violence to their persons. (As I pointed out in the previous post, in many jurisdictions the knock and announcement have become perfunctory, but at least we’re supposed to have that protection.)

Even conceding the point, I’m not sure how it justifies ripping a camera from the wall, or covering a camera once they’ve already broken into the house. That suggests more that they didn’t want an independent account of how the raid was conducted. And with good reason.

CORRECTION: The police cited Ross’ permit to carry a gun, not to own one. So the language in my post about him registering his gun with the government is technically incorrect. But the general point still stands. It was Ross’s decision to get a government-issue permit that the police say justified the raid.

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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Radley Balko · February 5, 2014