There have been a rash of police raid-related stories in the news of late. Here’s a quick rundown:
The grandson of a New Hampshire woman who was shot by police during a drug raid says she was reaching for her 18-month-old grandchild when the police fired at her. The bullet ripped through her arm and lodged in her abdomen. Two of the woman’s daughters were arrested on drug charges during simultaneous raids, but neither lived with the woman. According to the grandson, the police then tore the woman’s home apart but did not find any contraband.
In a case we’ve been following here at The Watch, an Illinois judge just ruled that police in Peoria did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they raided a home to unmask the identity of the person who had been operating a Twitter account that parodied the town’s mayor. Let me reiterate to highlight the absurdity: A judge has ruled that the police did nothing wrong when they raided a home because someone making fun of the mayor on Twitter. The local prosecutor has already announced that he won’t be seeking charges for the parody, because Illinois doesn’t have any law against impersonating a public official. (They’d almost certainly be protected by the First Amendment even if it did.) But the police did find a small amount of pot during the raid. This ruling means that local officials can proceed on charges related to the pot. There is also a federal lawsuit pending against the town for violating the residents’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Utah has ruled that the government isn’t obligated to compensate you when the police damage your home during a mistaken raid. There’s nothing particularly unusual about this ruling. It’s consistent with a long line of qualified immunity rulings when it comes to these raids. But as with the previous item, it’s worth reiterating: The government can send armed men to raid a home, they can then raid the wrong home, and the government is under no obligation to compensate the people who were wrongly raided.
New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield adds some commentary to my post Friday about a federal appeals court ruling which found that using SWAT-like tactics to enforce regulatory law is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Greenfield points out that the ruling only addressed the amount of force used in the raids; it did not curb the troubling use of regulatory law as a pretext for criminal search, thus getting around the Fourth Amendment.
Two Florida men have filed a lawsuit that claims they suffered sustained injuries after a violent drug raid in St. Petersburg, Florida. Neither of the men were arrested in the raid, although others were. The men were visiting a relative. They say the police told them they just happened to be “at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
Finally, in another case previously mentioned here at The Watch, Bell County, Texas, District Attorney Henry Garza has announced that he will seek the death penalty against Marvin Louis Guy, who shot and killed a police officer during an early morning, no-knock drug raid on his home last May. The police found no drugs in Guy’s house, although they say they did find drug paraphernalia. As I noted in May, it seems far more likely that Guy thought the police were criminal intruders than police. Even if he was in fact a drug dealer, it’s hard to see why a guy with no drug supply in his home would knowingly take on a raiding police team. When compared with some of the cases above, the case also illustrates that the criminal justice system is far more willing to forgive law enforcement errors during these raids than errors made by citizens, even though the police are the ones who insist on employing such volatile tactics. The case is also an interesting contrast to the case of Henry Magee, also in Texas. As I wrote in February, late last year a Burelson County Grand Jury declined to indict Magee for killing a police officer during a drug raid on his home. Unlike with Guy, the police actually did find marijuana in Magee’s home. Guy is black. Magee is white. Make of that what you will.