Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lucy Steigerwald. She is a contributing editor for AntiWar.com and a columnist for VICE and Rare.
On Thursday afternoon at around 1 p.m., King Solomon Baker, Jr. of Kissimmee, Florida was awakened in a very unpleasant manner, thanks to a mistake by the local police department. As Baker, 29, wrote in a Facebook chat with me, “They woke me by breaking the glass. I jump out of my sleep. Once I realize it was the SWAT, not a burglar, I lay face down — that’s when they place their feet on me while I was on the ground!!!”
He also wrote that all he could think about was what if his two- and three-year-old daughters had been with him, like they usually are. It was a narcotics raid, but it was the wrong apartment. About two dozen officers were present including the SWAT team and members of the street crimes unit, as well as crisis negotiators. From WFTV Orlando:
“I hear, ‘boom, boom, boom,’ two to three times,” said Baker. […]
“It scared me. I was asleep. You know, it really scares me, bothers me,” said Baker.
“When I told them my name and they was like, ‘Oh (expletive), we have the wrong house,'” said Baker.
Kissimmee officials told Channel 9’s Ryan Hughes that they messed up.
“Unfortunately a huge mistake was made and our SWAT team went into the adjacent apartment,” said Stacie Miller, with the Kissimmee Police Department.
Police blamed the mistake on their informant, according to WFTV. Miller, who is the media spokesperson for Kissimmee, said she couldn’t speak to that information and that it had not been released by them. She clarified to me that police were indeed supposed to go to Apartment B, across the hall, and ended up busting into Apartment A instead.
Now, anyone who has studied ill-advised SWAT raids — wrong-door and otherwise — like this might see a big, flashing “Could Have Been Worse” sign. Kissimmee police broke windows and part of Baker’s front door, but they “quickly repaired” it. Miller said that indeed meant that Baker’s door and windows had already been replaced. Baker backed this up. They even bought Baker a hotel room for the night which was, Miller told me “the least we could do.” But Baker, who says he works three jobs, is unhappy about police presence making him look bad, and the fact that he had to wake up with a firearm in his face. Elaborating on their policy, Miller said her department always has crisis negotiators outside who say it is police who are at the door. Police then knock and announce as well. The Kissimmee Police Department has deployed SWAT units around 20 times this year, the majority of which were over drug warrants. In order to decide whether to use SWAT, Kissimmee has “a scoring system” where police look at who is supposed to be in the house, whether there are reports of a weapon, whether the resident has an arrest record, and how many times undercover officers or informants have bought drugs from them. Promisingly, department policy is to never deploy a no-knock raid. There is, however, no policy on how long police wait, or how many times they knock before they enter an apartment.
But the lack of a no-knock raid did little good since Baker was asleep. SWAT raids of any kind can endanger sleeping persons, who may confuse police for intruders, either leading to them firing their weapons and/or potentially having police fire on them.
Who tipped off police to the drugs in this apartment is still unknown, as is who made the address error. Miller said that the department has used confidential informants in the past. That doesn’t bode well. Potentially, police may have trusted the word of an informant whose reliability is completely unknown to the public (or to Baker — or to the residents of Apartment B, who were arrested, though Miller said she didn’t know if drugs were found or not.)
Fundamentally, we should congratulate the Kissimmee Police Department (with some caveats) for using “knock and announce” tactics for sending police in the afternoon (not the middle of the night or early morning) and for realizing their error relatively quickly. They get extra credit for apologizing, and for repairing the damage they caused — and for even getting Baker a hotel room. But they don’t get congratulated for following the status quo policing error of deploying ill-advised SWAT raids over narcotics.
In many ways, Kissimmee is responding admirably to their error. Until the war on drugs entirely ends, perhaps all we can hope for is to have a police department polite enough to fix the door they just broke, and to apologize for terrifying an innocent man who was napping. Miller stressed that “the safety of the citizens and our officers” (yes, in that order!) are the highest priority. She also assured me that the raid was being internally investigated, and that “we are going to be the first ones to own up to it and say ‘yes, it was a mistake.’ It gives us an opportunity to stop, look, and if we need to change policy because of this, we absolutely will.”
It certainly appears that Kissimmee is taking this error seriously. They apologized, but King Baker is still unhappy, and it’s hard to blame him for being upset and jumpy, which made him unable to sleep last night. He writes, “I don’t have anything against the police, but now I’m in fear of them more so than feeling protected with them around.”