Harrison’s 11-year-old daughter was taking a shower when an officer pushed aside the curtain and pointed a gun at her, according to the mother and daughter. Police also held Harrison’s 21-year-old brother, Sterling, at gunpoint, Harrison and Sterling said.
“What they did was not right,” Harrison said. “I work hard to take care of my daughters and to protect them and raise them right, but they treated us like we committed a crime.”
James Bigelow, a retired lieutenant with the Washington, D.C. Metro Police Department, awoke early one cold, February morning to the sound of his doorbell and a knock at the door. That was quickly followed by the sound of a sledgehammer smashing into the same door. As he and his wife ran downstairs, they were met by a team of narcotics agents—and their guns. Bigelow, 58 at the time, had a brother who was a former deputy police chief in D.C. His son was still a police officer with the department. Somehow, the cops had still managed to mistakenly raid his home.Bigelow and his wife sat at gunpoint while police ransacked their home. They found nothing. They didn’t bother fixing the front door, which they had knocked clean off its frame.At about the same time — 5 a.m. on Saturday, February 22, 1986 — Thomas Timberman awoke to a sharp knock at his door. When Timberman, a career foreign service worker, answered the door, he was met by two agents dressed in dark clothes, carrying shotguns. They didn’t tell him they were police. Instead, they told him he should go look at the door to the basement apartment he was renting out. That door too had been knocked off its frame. Timberman rented the apartment to a colleague, a senior official at the State Department. He was on vacation at the time. Eventually the officers admitted they had made a mistake. They had intended to raid the home next door.And at about the same time, narcotics agents also raided the home of Ewan Brown, who worked for The Washington Post at the time. According to Brown, the police quickly looked over the house, after which the head of the raid team said, “I think we have the wrong house.” They spent the next two hours tearing the place apart, anyway. Brown tried to point out that his house didn’t match the description of the house described in the warrant. He tried to tell them that neither he nor the nephew who lived with him fit the description of the dreadlocked Rastafarian the police were looking for. They found no drugs, apologized, and left. “It was like the allied troops at Normandy,” he’d later say.In all, 530 police officers — 12 percent of the Washington, D.C. police department, plus federal agents from the IRS, U.S. Parks Police, ATF, Immigration, and the IRS conducted 69 simultaneous raids all across the city. “Operation Caribbean Cruise” intended to target a ring of Jamaican drug smugglers. It was the largest planned police operation in Washington, D.C. history. They had anticipated making over 500 arrests, and seizing hundreds of pounds of marijuana, plus dozens of automatic weapons. The early morning raids were the culmination of a 16-month investigation.The tally: 27 arrests, 13 of them merely for possession of marijuana. The cops also seized 13 weapons, and found $20,000 in illegal drugs. They were anticipating millions. In fact, the police department had assigned more people solely to handle the paperwork of the expected arrests than the number of people who were actually arrested. They found none of the alleged Jamaican drug dealers.
The dismay of police was evidence soon after the raid began at 5 a.m., as officers, some solemn-looking and others laughing at their misfortune, congregated around police vehicles outside the targeted homes and packed away their shotguns, bulletproof vests, sledgehammers, and helmets.Deputy Chief Shugart said that police had received a number of complaints from people who said that police had mistakenly raided their homes. He said that in those cases, the police had gone back to the source of the allegations and confirmed that the information in affidavits filed in support of the search warrants was accurate.“They [the people who protested the police actions] don’t control all the people in their homestead,” he said, adding, “We will work with them to make repairs” of any unnecessary damage done during the raids.”
Harry Davis awoke to 15 police officers carrying assault weapons and wearing — as he put it to Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy — “some sort of ninja garb” breaking into his Fort Washington, Maryland home. They shoved Davis to the ground and put a shotgun to his head. They then pulled Davis’ girlfriend out of the bed, nude, and “spread her legs like she was hiding [drugs] up in her.” The search on Davis’ home was thorough. The police tore out drywall and crushed family photographs. Based on a tip from an informant, they thought he was part of a crack distributing, money laundering, murdering network called “The P Street Gang.” They found no drugs, weapons, or evidence of criminal activity.By the time he had paid legal fees and endured the bad publicity, Davis had lost his car leasing business. The police also confiscated his car under forfeiture laws. When they couldn’t prove any drug charges against him, they turned the car over the bank. Since he had lost his business, Davis had fallen behind on his payments for a car the police possessed. Davis found temporary work as a car salesman after his arrest, but was later fired after a customer recognized him as the man the TV news had (falsely) identified as a drug kingpin.It took more than a year for federal prosecutors to drop the charges against him. The assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the case later conceded, “The evidence did not have him in any actual drug transaction.” Davis protested in open court, “You break into my home, humiliate my friend, destroy my business, and after investigating me for a year, just drop the charges. What can you say to me?” The judge replied, “You’re free. Next case.”
Davis alleges that “in the vast majority of cases in which MPD officers execute search warrants after a traffic or street stop based only on their ‘training’ and ‘experience’ and not actual evidence connecting the home to criminal activity, the warrant returns submitted by the officers themselves prove that MPD officers do not find the items that they seek.” More specifically, he submits that in the year preceding the search at issue here, MPD officers “failed to find any drugs, let alone the drugs they were looking for, in almost 66% of the cases” in which they executed training-and-experience search warrants. And “[i]f small amounts of marijuana are excluded, MPD officers failed to find illegal drugs that they were purportedly searching for in nearly 87% of cases” involving training-and-experience warrants. In Davis’s view, these dismal statistics reveal that Afari and his fellow officers “know through their training and experience that sophisticated drug dealers do not provide law enforcement with the location and address . . . where they keep their stashes and evidence of their crimes.” He further believes that Afari “knowingly and recklessly omitted from [his application] the poor success rate of such warrants” and thereby “deliberately misled the issuing judge.”