Phillip Smith at the Drug War Chronicle sums up the news reports detailing the latest casualty in the never-ending U.S. war on drugs.
A Georgia SWAT team shot and killed an armed homeowner during a September 24 drug raid sparked by the word of a self-confessed meth addict and burglar who had robbed the property the previous day. No drugs were found. David Hooks, 59, becomes the 34th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
According to WMAZ TV 13, Laurens County sheriff’s deputies with the drug task force and special response team (SWAT team) conducted a no-knock search on Hooks’ home in East Dublin on the evening of the 24th. When the raiders burst through the back door of the residence, they encountered Hooks’ carrying a shotgun. Multiple deputies opened fire, shooting [and] killing Hooks.
According to his family, Hooks was not a drug user or seller, but was a successful businessman who ran a construction company that, among other things, did work on US military bases. Hooks had passed background checks and had a security clearance.
The search warrant to raid Hooks’ home came about after a local meth addict named Rodney Garrett came onto the property two nights earlier and stole one of Hooks’ vehicles. Garrett claimed that before he stole the vehicle, he broke into another vehicle on the property and stole a plastic bag. Garrett claimed he thought the bag contained money, but when he later examined it and discovered it contained 20 grams of meth and a digital scale, he “became scared for his safety” and turned himself in to the sheriff’s office.
(Hooks’ family, however, said that Garrett had been identified as the burglar and a warrant issued for his arrest the day after the burglary. He was arrested the following day; the raid happened that same night.)
Garrett’s claims were the primary basis for the search warrant. But investigators also claimed they were familiar with the address from a 2009 investigation in which a suspect claimed he had supplied ounces of meth to Hooks, who resold it. Nothing apparently ever came of that investigation, but the five-year-old uncorroborated tip made it into the search warrant application.
And it was enough to get a search warrant from a compliant magistrate. Hooks family attorney Mitchell Shook said that even though the warrant was not a no-knock warrant, the Laurens County SWAT team did not announce its presence, but just broke down the back door of the residence.
Mitchell Shook, an attorney for Hooks’s family, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that deputies spent 44 hours searching Hooks’s home for drugs — yet they found nothing. The attorney also told the Macon Telegraph that the shooting didn’t happen the way the police say it did.
According to the family attorney’s account, Hooks was asleep when armed deputies arrived at his house at 1184 Ga. 319 just before 11 p.m. Sept. 24. His wife, Teresa, was upstairs in her craft room when she heard a car drive fast up the driveway, and she looked out the window.
“She saw several men all in black and camo with hoods on,” Shook said. “She ran downstairs, woke David and said, ‘The burglars are back.’ ”
Hooks retrieved a gun and headed out of the bedroom as the officers broke down the back door, Shook said. He said Hooks was not wounded at the door but behind a wall in his house.
“They may have seen him with a weapon, but it appears at that point in time it was chaos,” Shook said. “They were shooting everywhere. There’s a lot more to it than law enforcement has reported.”
He believes deputies fired 16 to 18 shots from multiple guns and assault rifles. Shook also questioned the wisdom of serving the warrant so late at night.
The [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] is investigating the shooting, as is customary when officers are involved in wounding or killing a suspect.
The police are doing what they usually do after one of these raids goes wrong: They’re bunkering down.
Laurens County Sheriff Bill Harrell indicated last week his department would not be releasing any information beyond the initial news release. He also did not immediately return Wednesday’s inquiries concerning the attorney’s allegations.
So add another body to the pile. Four years ago, I described another fatality at the hands of a Georgia anti-drug task force — the death of pastor Jonathan Ayers. Eight years ago, a narcotics team from Atlanta killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a drug raid on her home, then attempted to plant drugs in her basement to cover its mistake. The team had been relying on a tip from an informant and did no corroborating investigation. In 2010, a Polk County, Ga., drug raid team put a 76-year-old woman in intensive care with congestive heart failure after raiding the wrong house. In 2008, a Gwinnett County tactical team terrified a couple and a baby when they raided the wrong home. In 2000, a Georgia police raid team shot and killed Lynette Gayle Jackson when she held up a gun as they broke into her home. Jackson had recently been robbed. In 2006, Deputy Joseph Whitehead was shot and killed during a surprise raid on a suspected drug house. The men who shot him, Antron Fair and Damon Jolly, argued that they thought they were being robbed by a gang. They later pleaded guilty to murder to avoid the death penalty. And, of course, last May, 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh was critically wounded when officers deployed a flash grenade in his crib during a drug raid on his home. That raid, too, lacked much in the way of investigation.
Meanwhile, last week, a heavily armed team of Bartow County, Ga., cops and the Georgia governor’s anti-drug task force raided a man’s home after mistaking the okra in his garden for marijuana. No one was harmed, but the gardener, Dwayne Perry, described the cops as “armed to the gills” and told the Journal-Constitution, “The more I thought about it, what could have happened? Anything could have happened.” He’s right. Just ask the family of David Hooks.
That’s all just Georgia. Other things that have triggered raids after police mistook them for pot: tomatoes (many times), loose leaf tea, sunflowers, fish, elderberry bushes, kenaf plants, hibiscus, ragweed, yellow bell peppers, daisies, the scent of a skunk, the scent of guinea pigs and a plastic plant purchased for a pet lizard’s terrarium.
And, of course, people are dying outside of Georgia, too. Like Jason Westcott in May. In fact, by my count, 11 people have been killed in drug raids this year — nine civilians and two cops.