This is just one half of a lawsuit. So all the usual caveats apply. But man. From the Riverfront Times:
On Tuesday, a South County woman filed a federal lawsuit that dog lovers should read with caution — the allegations are pretty disturbing.
In the lawsuit, Angela Zorich claims that St. Louis County Police tactical officers — aka the department’s SWAT team — raided her house in April 2014 and killed Kiya, her four-year-old pit bull.
The reason for the raid: to check if her home had electricity and natural gas service . . .
. . . here’s a run-down of Zorich’s story, as told in the lawsuit:
On April 25, 2014, St. Louis County Police officers came to her house. Her son cussed at them. They inspected the home’s exterior and placed a “Problem Properties” sticker on the front window.
On April 28, Zorich called the police to follow up on the matter. An officer told her they were investigating the home for failing to have natural gas or electric service, as required by county ordinance. She admitted that the gas had been shut off, but said the claim about electricity was “[bulls—].” The officer hung up on her . . .
. . .
The next day, around 12:41 p.m., Zorich was at home with several family members and her pit bull, Kiya, when a St. Louis County Police Tactical Response Unit burst through the door without knocking, according to her suit. The unit had at least five officers with M-4 rifles, supported by at least eight uniformed officers.
The officers entered so quickly, Zorich’s suit alleges, that Kiya didn’t even have time to bark. A tactical officer fired three shots into the dog, and the dog’s “bladder and bowels released and she fell to the floor.” The dog “was laying on the floor in her own waste and blood struggling to breathe. She had a gaping hole in her chest.”
Zorich claims the officers kept trying to talk to her about the natural gas, but she was focused on her dog, whom she’d raised as a puppy and who (she says) had “never shown agression to any person.”
At one point in the raid, Zorich alleges, an officer pointed his firearm at her son’s head and said “One word, [motherf—–,] and I’ll put three in you.”
Zorich was taken into custody and later given a notice of violation from the Housing Inspector. It listed citations concerning her siding, guard rail, screens, window glass and deck.
When she returned home, she found beds overturned and items that had been on her shelves thrown to the floor.
You can read the entire complaint here.
This story is the convergence of a couple of trends. The first, of course, is police militarization. Because this is St. Louis County, there are, of course, Ferguson storylines here. But back in 2013, there was a little-noticed report from a local TV station that’s pertinent to this lawsuit. From KTVI-TV (Fox 2) in St. Louis:
Residents were alarmed after a SWAT team lined a South County neighborhood Tuesday night.
The quiet South County street was crawling with SWAT officers, an unnerving situation which turns out to have been the relatively routing service of a warrant.
An unidentified man pulled up around 8:15 p.m. was frisked by police and then detained for questioning, but what got neighbors here very upset happened a few minutes earlier. It was the presence of a SWAT team, complete with officers wearing armor and carrying assault rifles surrounding the man’s home as police went to the door. One woman frantically told her husband, the army’s here.
As it turns out, St. Louis County police say the use of the SWAT team is standard procedure in serving a felony warrant, no matter what it’s for. In this case officers say it was an administrative warrant, though they wouldn’t elaborate . . .
Officers will not go into any greater detail, though SWAT team members were downplaying it again saying that their presence on any felony warrant search is standard practice.
The other storylines converging here are the ongoing cops-shoot-dogs problem, and the report from last week that St. Louis County municipalities are increasingly turning to code violations to fund city government.
There was a time when SWAT teams were used in America only for dire emergencies, such as hostage-takings, bank robberies or active shooters. The drug war made SWAT teams and tactical units the routine way to serve search warrants for drug crimes, allegedly because of the threat posed to police by drug dealers. It’s been a steady case of mission creep every since.
And so now here we are. In St. Louis County (and I doubt it’s the only jurisdiction), the police department straight up admits that it’s now “standard practice” to serve all felony warrants with SWAT tactics, regardless of the crime. And it appears that the SWAT mission creep is now making its way into regulatory violations and code enforcement, too, and just as local governments in the area are looking to those codes to generate money. (This too is happening in places other than just St. Louis County.)
I think we tend to overuse the term police state. But when police agencies are sending SWAT teams to batter down doors to enforce regulations about siding, windows, and utilities, I don’t know what else you would call it.
How about “Brazil”?