Tag Archives: police militarization

Family calls Ankeny police raid excessive

(Source: “Family calls Ankeny police raid excessive,” Des Moines Register, 4 February 2014, by Grant Rodgers and Jens Manuel Krogstad)

Justin Ross was in the bathroom next to his bedroom when a squad of Ankeny police officers rammed through a side door of his home.

It was just before 10:20 a.m. Thursday, and the officers — wearing body armor and carrying rifles — used a battering ram to enter the house on the east side of Des Moines. According to a search warrant, they were looking for cellphones, a television, other electronics and clothes they say might have been purchased with stolen credit cards.

“I want to know why they didn’t just knock, why they didn’t communicate with anybody outside of taking a battering ram to the door,” Ross, 24, said. “I’ve never been anything but cooperative so they had no reason to believe anybody was going to resist … If they’d have just knocked and said, ‘Hey, can I search,’ we would have let them.”

Critics say the search, which is gaining national attention, was an excessive, military-style raid for a credit card theft case. Ankeny police are defending the raid, saying they needed to use that approach to protect officers’ safety.

Ankeny police Capt. Makai Echer said officers knew at least one person in the house had a permit to carry a firearm. She said the department isn’t currently investigating how officers handled the search, nor does the department have a written policy for executing warrants.

“Every warrant that we do is based on information we have about the subjects in the residence we’re entering,” she said.

No one had been charged by Tuesday with crimes stemming from the credit card theft, but Echer said police have requested arrest warrants after finding items purchased illegally. She would not say how many warrants were requested, for what specific charges or what items police believe were purchased with the cards.

Radley Balko, a journalist who blogged about the incident on WashingtonPost.com, said the type of force used by Ankeny police is on the rise nationally.

“I think there is cause for great concern when it comes to the idea of state and local governments using more and more force for increasingly petty crimes,” said Balko, the author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.”

At least two doors kicked open by police were damaged, as well as a side door that police used a battering ram to open, said Ross, who lives at the east Des Moines house.

He and three others were in the house in the 2100 block of East 41st Street, where he lives with his mother, when the officers arrived. Ross said he originally thought people were in the house fighting.

Ross said he had his 9mm handgun with him and took it out, but quickly holstered it when he heard someone call out “police.”

Ross said he handed the weapon to an officer who entered the bathroom and was handcuffed as police began their search.

Experts question if tactic was necessary

The search has sparked debate over whether the show of force was necessary or violated civil liberties.

A search warrant given to Ross indicates officers were looking for a variety of electronic devices and clothes. It does not detail what led officers to the east-side home or its occupants; such information is regularly provided when warrants are filed in Polk County District Court.

Drake University law professor Mark Kende, who watched video of the incident, questioned whether a group of armed officers was necessary and “professional” for a simple credit card theft case. Bringing so many firearms into the house could have caused more danger unless officers believed the people inside would be combative, he said.

“As a matter of common sense, it’s really bad policy, even though we expect police officers to take extra precautions to protect themselves,“ Kende said. “To come in with that much firepower and in that particular way is just an invitation to a terrible, tragic accident, which fortunately didn’t occur in what appears to be a credit card case.”

Credit card fraud cases typically involve a detective or two knocking on the door, said police consultant and former Des Moines Police Chief William Moulder.

However, the number of officers involved in last week’s incident and a quick entry with a battering ram suggests Ankeny police believed the team was searching a dangerous home, he said.

“What I observed is a high-risk entry plan that’s usually associated with knowing there are armed and dangerous people on the inside,” Moulder said. “None of us know — outside of the Ankeny police — what information they had going in.”

Two arrested on unrelated warrants

Two of the people in the house, Richard Forstier Adair, 35, and Miranda Nikol Scigliano, 27, were arrested on unrelated warrants, Ross said.

Adair faces charges of narcotics possession with intent to deliver, while Scigliano was charged with a probation violation. The couple has lived at the house for about a month.

Ross said he and his mother took the couple in but did not know about the outstanding warrants.

As police entered the house, one officer tore out one of the security cameras Ross installed to monitor the property. He said they had cameras because he and his mother had trouble with car burglaries.

In the basement, Ross said, an officer tried to cover another camera with blankets.

He questioned why police didn’t want to be taped.

Covering or disabling cameras is standard procedure for officers executing a search warrant or raid to ensure people inside can’t monitor approaching officers, Moulder said.

Ross, who has a clean criminal record except for traffic violations, said that he feels lucky that he realized the commotion was coming from police officers and put down his gun before the door was opened.

He said he also gets nervous when he hears the doorbell ring or a knock now.

“Every time somebody knocks on the door, every time somebody’s here, I have to wonder, ‘Are they coming back?’” he said. “Have they found a reason they want to arrest me?”

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Troubling new details about the violent police raid in Iowa

(Source: “Troubling new details about the violent police raid in Iowa,” Washington Post, 5 February 2014, by Radley Balko)

The Des Moines Register has the latest on that volatile police raid that I wrote about yesterday. The raid was apparently for suspected credit card fraud. Ankeny Police Department officials are now speaking out. But I’m not sure they’re helping their cause:

Ankeny police are defending the raid, saying they needed to use that approach to protect officers’ safety.

Ankeny police Capt. Makai Echer said officers knew at least one person in the house had a permit to carry a firearm. She said the department isn’t currently investigating how officers handled the search, nor does the department have a written policy for executing warrants.

So they see nothing wrong with how the raid was handled, and the department has no stated policy for executing warrants. All of that is troubling enough. (The lack of a written policy also suggests a lack of training.) As is the “officer safety” justification, as if that in itself trumps the rights of the people inside the house.

But citing the fact that one of the occupants in the house — Justin Ross — had applied and was approved for a gun permit  is probably most disturbing of all. First, hardened criminals who are a threat to kill cops tend not to be the sort of people who bother with permits, or to register their firearms with the government. I don’t think that point needs more elaboration.

Second, Ross was not one of the suspects for whom the police were looking. It seems highly, highly unlikely that had the police knocked on the door, announced themselves and waited for someone to answer it, a law-abiding citizen like Justin Ross would be a threat to suddenly decide to kill some cops. But it’s much more likely that Justin Ross might feel the need to defend himself upon hearing unidentified parties break down two doors, followed by the sight of several armed men in his home. Indeed, that’s very nearly what happened.

Finally, think of the implications if this were the policy everywhere. It would mean that if you’re a gun owner, the police could cite that fact in and of itself as justification for them to violently tear down your door, rush your house with guns and point those guns at your family — even if their warrant is for a nonviolent crime, even if it’s for a white collar crime, even if you’ve dutifully registered your gun with the government. In fact, given that Ross’s permit is how the police knew he was armed in the first place, especially if you’ve dutifully registered your guns with the government. If I were a gun owner in Des Moines, I’d be asking some questions.

Aside from the gun issue, the paper also asked William Moulder, Ankeny’s police chief, about how the officers dealt with the family’s security cameras:

Covering or disabling cameras is standard procedure for officers executing a search warrant or raid to ensure people inside can’t monitor approaching officers, Moulder said.

I don’t know that this is true. It might be reasonable to cover an outside camera as they approach if they had a no-knock warrant. But this wasn’t a no-knock raid. They had a knock-and-announce warrant. The entire point of a knock-and-announce warrant, at least in theory, is to give the occupants of the home the opportunity to answer the door peacefully, thus avoiding damage to their property and violence to their persons. (As I pointed out in the previous post, in many jurisdictions the knock and announcement have become perfunctory, but at least we’re supposed to have that protection.)

Even conceding the point, I’m not sure how it justifies ripping a camera from the wall, or covering a camera once they’ve already broken into the house. That suggests more that they didn’t want an independent account of how the raid was conducted. And with good reason.

CORRECTION: The police cited Ross’ permit to carry a gun, not to won one. So the language in my post about him registering his gun with the government is technically incorrect. But the general point still stands. It was Ross’s decision to get a government-issue permit that the police say justified the raid.

Scenes from a militarized America: Iowa family ‘terrorized’

(Source: “Scenes from a militarized America: Iowa family ‘terrorized’,” Washington Post, 4 February 2014, by Radley Balko)

Watch this video, taken from a police raid in Des Moines, Iowa. Send it to some people. When critics (like me) warn about the dangers of police militarization, this is what we’re talking about. You’ll see the raid team, dressed in battle-dress uniforms, helmets and face-covering balaclava hoods take down the family’s door with a battering ram. You’ll see them storm the home with ballistics shields, guns at the ready. More troubling still, you’ll see not one but two officers attempt to prevent the family from having an independent record of the raid, one by destroying a surveillance camera, another by blocking another camera’s lens.

From the images in the video, you’d think they were looking for an escaped murderer or a house full of hit men. No, none of that. They were looking for a few people suspected of credit card fraud. None of the people they were looking for were inside of the house, nor was any of the stolen property they were looking for. They did arrest two houseguests of the family on what the news report says were unrelated charges, one for a probation violation and one for possession of illegal drugs.

(UPDATE: Troubling new details in Iowa police raid)

A couple other points about this story. First, note that the police say they knocked and announced themselves before the raid. The knock and announce requirement has a long history in U.S. and English common law. Its purpose was to give the occupants of a home the opportunity to avoid property damage and unnecessary violence by giving them time to come to the door and let the police in peacefully. As you can see from the video, the knock and announce today is largely a formality. The original purpose is gone. From the perspective of the people inside, there’s really no difference between this sort of “knock and announce” and a no-knock raid. (The covering of the officers’ faces is also troubling, though also not uncommon.)

Historically, the other purpose of the knock-and-announce requirement is to avoid the inevitable tragedy that can result if homeowners mistake raiding police for criminal intruders. As the requirement has been eroded, allegedly to protect the safety of police officers, we’ve seen plenty of tragedy — and many of those tragedies have been the deaths of police officers. There was another one just last December. And it almost happened here:

Prince’s son, Justin Ross, was in the bathroom when police burst in, and he was carrying a gun that he has the legal right to carry. “I stood up, I drew my weapon, I started to get myself together to get out the door, I heard someone in the main room say police. I re-holstered my weapon sat back down and put my hands in my lap,” Ross recalls.

Ross says he didn’t hear the police announcement until after one officer had already attempted to kick in the door. Had that officer been successful, there’s a good chance that Ross, the police officer, or both would be dead. The police department would then have inevitably argued that Ross should have known that they were law enforcement. But you can’t simultaneously argue that these violent, volatile tactics are necessary to take suspects by surprise and that the same suspects you’re taking by surprise should have known all along that they were being raided by police. Well you can, and police do, and judges and prosecutors usually support them. But the arguments don’t logically coexist.

Finally, note that police department officials say they “do not have a written policy governing how search warrants are executed.” That’s inexcusable. Most police departments do. But whether or not they’re governed by a formal policy, the use of these kinds of tactics for nonviolent crimes like credit card fraud is hardly unusual, and it’s happening more often, not less. I’ve reported on jurisdictions where allfelony search warrants are now served with a SWAT team. At least one federal appeals court has now ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, there’s nothing unreasonable about using a SWAT team to perform regulatory inspections. To be fair, two others have ruled that such tactics are not reasonable. But it’s concerning that this would even be up for debate. We have plenty of discussion and analysis about when searches are appropriate. We also need to start talking about how.

Washington Post civil liberties blogger Radley Balko is author of the book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.