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Police Forced-Entry Raids Result in Civilian Injuries and Deaths

Mar 21, 2017
Police Forced-Entry Raids Result in Civilian Injuries

In pursuing the war on drugs, police have increasingly been resorting to forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants. This tactic has introduced significant violence into missions that the New York Times says might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocking at the door.

According to the Times, police use the element of surprise in "dynamic entry" raids to make seizures and arrest drug dealers. But such raids have also led to numerous to avoidable deaths, serious injuries and trauma, and destruction of property. Some of these violent raids have resulted in multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, the Times found in its investigation.

The Times found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. The casualties have occurred while police were executing no-knock warrants, which give them the authority to force entry without notice. Injuries and deaths also occurred in situations when police were required to knock and announce themselves before breaking down doors.

National law firm Parker Waichman notes that innocent people have died in raids executed at the wrong address. These deaths include a 7-year-old girl in Detroit and a 68-year-old grandfather in Framingham, Mass.

Forcible-entry Raids Can Turn Violent

Deaths in search warrant raids are only a small share of the nearly 1,000 fatalities each year in officer-involved shootings. But unlike domestic disputes, hostage situations, and confrontations with mentally ill people, police not citizens initiate no-knock raids.

Forced-entry encounters have a potential to quickly turn violent. Four in 10 adults in this country have guns in their homes, and in an unexpected raid, residents often say they use their guns in self-defense. People awakened in the middle of the night by shattering doors and stun grenades often reach for a weapon and use it before they realize the intruders are police. A Utah who man grabbed a golf club on the way out of his bedroom was killed by officers who "perceived a greater threat than existed," according to the Times.

To justify a search warrant, police officers and judges must find probable cause of criminal activity. But because police forces do not have the resources for lengthy stakeouts, police argue that dynamic entry gives them the safest means to clear out heavily fortified drug houses and to catch suspects with the drugs and contraband necessary for felony prosecutions.

Critics of forcible-entry raids question whether the benefits of the raids outweigh the risks. The drug crimes cited to justify many raids are not capital offenses. And even if they were capital offenses, critics say this would not justify the chaotic nature of many raids that puts bystanders at risk. But support for dynamic entry raids has been bolstered by the epidemic of opioid abuse and the threat of domestic terrorism.

Raids Raise Racial Tension

Many of these raids take place in low-income and minority neighborhoods, exacerbating racial tensions raised by recent high-profile police killings. According to a 20-city study by the American Civil Liberties Union, 42 percent of those subjected to SWAT search warrant raids were black and 12 percent Hispanic. Half of the 81 civilian deaths tallied by Times were members of minority groups.

In some instances when officers have been killed, a suspect with no history of violence has ended up facing capital murder charges, and a possible death sentence. In December, a Texas jury acquitted a man who spent 664 days in jail after being charged with attempted capital murder. He wounded three SWAT officers during a no-knock raid that targeted his nephew, but the jury concluded that when the man fired through a window, he did not know police were on the other side of the blinds.

In these raids, police are usually seeking narcotics, but deaths and injuries have happened when police were serving warrants on lesser charges like running an illegal poker game, or brewing moonshine. In a 2011 raid in Marine City, Michigan, police were looking for evidence pertaining to graffiti like cans of spray paint and markers. After forcing residents to the floor at gunpoint, they found nothing, according to depositions by the residents.

The Times found that from 2010 to 2015, an average of least 30 federal civil rights lawsuits were filed a year to protest residential search warrants executed with dynamic entries. Residents describe terrifying scenes in which children, elderly residents and people with disabilities were manhandled at gunpoint. Residents have been rousted from bed and the home ransacked without recompense or apology. An Indiana woman alleged that she and her 18-year-old daughter were handcuffed in front of neighbors during a raid prompted by threats against the police made by someone who had pirated her wireless Internet.

Lawsuits and Settlements

Lawsuits and Settlements

In the last five years, at least seven federal lawsuits have been settled for more than $1 million, including the Massachusetts grandfather who was shot while lying on his stomach complying with police commands. In 2013, $3.4 million was paid to the family of a 26-year-old former Marine who was shot more than 20 times as agents broke into his house. No drugs were found, the Times reports. In almost all the botched raids, prosecutors declined to press charges against the officers involved.

The Times notes that the use of heavily militarized police teams has coincided with a "stark shift toward law enforcement in the Supreme Court's search for the proper balance between public safety and individual rights." "Castle doctrine" from English common law once protected residents from unannounced government intrusions. But a series of court rulings in the 1990s enabled police officers to obtain a warrant to forcibly enter a house with merely a "reasonable suspicion" that announcing themselves would be dangerous or allow suspects to destroy evidence.

Many factors can contribute to botched raids. Inadequate scrutiny has led to warrants being issued for an address where the suspect does not live or no longer lives. The warrant may contain the wrong address or the police may go to the wrong house or apartment. Police have broken down doors without knocking or announcing even when the warrant does not grant them that right.

Legal Help for Those Harmed in Police Raids

If you have been injured or had your rights violated in a police dynamic entry raid or if a family member was killed in a raid, the attorneys at Parker Waichman to provide a free, no obligation case evaluation. To reach the firm, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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