Michael Slager, who was fired from the North Charleston police department after the
The South Carolina police officer who was filmed shooting a man in the back as he ran away earlier this year, prompting renewed outcry over the use of lethal force by law enforcement, was formally charged with murder on Monday.
Michael Slager was indicted by a grand jury in Charleston County for the murder of Walter Scott on 4 April, Scarlett Wilson, the solicitor for the ninth judicial circuit, announced at a press conference.
“We will move forward now in preparing our case,” said Wilson. “Really the prosecution work has just begun.”
The brief indictment alleged that Slager killed Scott “with malice aforethought”. It was both considered and returned by the grand jury on Monday morning.
If convicted, Slager could face a sentence of between 30 years and life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Wilson.
Slager, 33, was a patrolman first class for the North Charleston police department when he fatally shot Scott, 50, following a struggle that led from a traffic stop when the officer noticed that one of Scott’s car tail lights was broken.
Who is Michael Slager, the officer who shot Walter Scott?
Police initially suggested that Scott had taken Slager’s Taser and posed a threat. However, video footage filmed on the cellphone of a passerby showed Scott being shot eight times from behind as he ran away empty-handed after a physical altercation with the officer.
Slager was fired from his job by city authorities after the footage came to light. He is being held at a county jail under protection.
Chris Stewart, the Scott family’s attorney, told the Guardian his clients were pleased to see “the wheels of justice turning in the right way”.
“The Scott family is as happy as can be,” said Stewart. “But of course the indictment does not make them whole for the loss they have suffered.”
Andrew Savage, Slager’s attorney, said in an emailed statement that the grand jury’s decision was “a formal step, but just another step in the criminal process”.
Savage complained that Slager’s legal team had not been shown details of the state’s case against the former officer.
“Until we have an opportunity to fully evaluate the state’s case and to compare it with our own investigation we will not be commenting on any aspect of the case,” he said.
Amid complaints from supporters of Slager that he will be unable to enjoy a fair trial in a county where Scott’s death is already notorious, Wilson said her office had no intention of moving the prosecution elsewhere. “I feel sure the people of Charleston County can decide it,” said Wilson.
“The issue is not whether or not someone has heard of this case,” said Wilson. “The issue is whether they can put everything they’ve heard aside and make a decision based on the facts and evidence presented in court.”
Several other officers who arrived at the scene of Scott’s shooting are likely to face questioning over whether they knew about discrepancies in the official version of events released before the emergence of video footage.
Wilson said at her press conference she had seen no probable cause to charge any of Slager’s former colleagues with criminal acts.
The Scott family’s legal team said on Monday they were readying a civil lawsuit against Slager, the North Charleston police department, police chief Eddie Driggers, and anyone else they deem responsible.
“We need to work out how we ended up in a position where a grand jury has to indict a law enforcement officer with murder,” said Justin Bamberg, another of the family’s attorneys. They expect to file the lawsuit in the coming months, he said.
Stewart and Bamberg said they had not yet decided whether other patrol officers who arrived at the scene of Scott’s death and made statements about Slager’s actions would be named in their civil suit.
Is it a bird, is it a plane, or is it SuperBigBrother?
Baltimore residents noticed a light airplane circling the skies above their tottering city at the same time that it was swept by protests and acts of civil unrest over Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. They then saw another, also flying in a distinct pattern. It gradually became clear that the planes were part of a secret spying operation—and that operation has now been revealed to involve the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
WhoWhatWhy readers will be familiar with our ongoing reporting on the increasing power and authority asserted by the Bureau, and its seeming ability to do what it wishes with little or no accountability to elected officials or to the public. The airborne surveillance, however, takes things in a new, ominous direction.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) swiftly pressed the Bureau and other agencies to reveal information regarding the secret flights. In Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests sent to the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice, the US Marshals Service and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the ACLU asked for detailed information on the light aircraft and their spying capabilities.
FBI acknowledges involvement
The FBI did belatedly acknowledge, in a statement to the Post, that it was involved, but denied that anything improper was going on.
“The aircraft were specifically used to assist in providing high-altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officers on the ground,” the statement said. “The FBI aircraft were not there to monitor lawfully protected first amendment activity, and any FBI aviation support to a local law enforcement agency must receive high level approvals.”
The most troubling aspect, as indicated by the ACLU’s questions, is the apparent scope of the surveillance—as well as the Bureau’s launching of the program in secrecy. The group specifically inquires about the spying capabilities of the planes, which could be so expansive that they could easily have monitored the activities of thousands of citizens who were not doing anything illegal or out of the ordinary.
“These are not your parents’ surveillance aircraft. Today planes can carry new surveillance technologies, like cell phone trackers and high resolution cameras that can follow the movements of many people at once,” said Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst. “These are not the kinds of things that law enforcement should be using in secret. The public needs to know about the government’s use of these powerful technologies to ensure that people’s rights are protected.”
If you live in South Florida, the black military helicopters buzzing over your city were not in your imagination — regardless of what the increasingly discredited establishment press has been claiming for years. A controversial military training drill took place last week in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that spooked more than a few residents, as well as analysts. Featuring Special Forces from various branches of the military working with local law enforcement, the drill involved, among other elements, rounding up civilians. And now, the training is coming under fire from locals and national media commentators as everything from an inconvenience and safety hazard to an ominous sign of trouble to come.
The “urban warfare” exercises had been announced earlier in the month without much fanfare by authorities and local media outlets. However, last week, a dramatic video of the dangerous drill, already viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, sparked widespread alarm about the true purpose of the exercises. A spokesman for the Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command cited in media reports downplayed the exercise as merely “routine” training for overseas missions. But more than a few critics say the Obama administration is actually up to no good — potentially even training to impose martial law and overt tyranny on the American people following some sort of crisis.
In perhaps the most troubling segment of the amateur video footage of the drill, military forces can be seen marching a column of “detainees” — presumably role players who were participating in the exercise — across a street to meet their unknown fate. While the scenario was officially explained as training for military operations in foreign nations, more than a few analysts pointed to problems with that supposed explanation. Cooperation in the drills from local law-enforcement, for example, has raised concerns among critics — especially considering the federal government’s ongoing efforts to militarize and nationalize state and local police forces.
Other concerns cited by concerned critics and analysts include U.S. government documents leaked to the press in recent years. A 2010 U.S. Army publication on “Internment and Resettlement Operations,” for instance, specifically applies to U.S. citizens and outlines how Americans might be herded into camps and subjected to “psyops” (psychological operations) to change their views. The document also lists the dictator-dominated United Nations as a partner in the scheming. But that could never happen in America, right? It certainly could, according to analysts, history, and even a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Also alarming in the Fort Lauderdale training caught on video, according to analysts and even military sources, is the fact that black military helicopters can be seen maneuvering through buildings in the densely populated downtown area. One mistake could have easily resulted in widespread loss of life and massive property damage, putting taxpayers on the hook, according to critics. Officials claimed training in such environments for “urban warfare” was necessary to ready troops for overseas deployments, though few commentators on the drill seemed convinced.
News of the exercises in Miami-Dade and Broward counties was first reported in February by local outlets. Local law-enforcement officials quoted in media accounts claimed the training was designed to “ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments” and “prepare forces for upcoming overseas deployments.” In a statement by the Broward County Sherriff’s Office, residents were informed that local law enforcement agencies were “providing support” for what was described as two weeks of “routine training.” Some 200 military personnel from the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy reportedly participated as well.
While local news reports generally echoed official pronouncements downplaying the significance of the drills, a brief perusal of the comment sections reveals that residents were largely unconvinced — especially by the claim that the drills were supposed to serve as training for “overseas” missions. The story eventually went “viral” after the Fort Lauderdale training video was picked up by Infowars, which reported that the footage “shows military and law enforcement practicing the internment of citizens during martial-law style training.”
Infowars editor and reporter Paul Joseph Watson also noted concerns that the drills are serving to prepare Americans to accept martial law in a national emergency — a fear also expressed by military personnel and Americans all across the political spectrum. “The fact that preparations are being made to use the military during domestic unrest is manifestly provable,” Watson added, citing a vast array of official documents and indisputable evidence.
Concerns about the exercises in Florida came shortly after a military presentation on the upcoming “Jade Helm 15” Special Forces drills in the American Southwest led to similar alarm. Especially troubling to critics is the fact that Texas, Utah, and part of California identified are identified as “hostile” or “insurgent” territory on a map for the exercise, while other states are listed as permissive or unknown. The Special Forces drills, set to take place this summer, involve a wide array of controversial elements, ranging from trying to blend in with civilians while dressed in civilian clothes to carrying military weaponry with blank ammo in public. A former Special Forces operator alarmed by the plans theorized that the drill may be about gathering intelligence on citizens, police, and officials in the area who might oppose a potential martial-law order.
CIA to create 10 new centers, expand focus on digital espionage | 7 Mar 2015 | The CIA embarked on a sweeping restructuring Friday that will bring an end to divisions that have been in place for decades, create 10 new centers that team analysts with operators, and significantly expand the agency’s focus on digital espionage…The CIA will also create a new directorate focused exclusively on exploiting advances in computer technology and communications. The Directorate of Digital Innovation will rank alongside the agency’s operations and analysis branches, and be responsible for missions ranging from cyber-espionage to the security of the CIA’s internal email.
The plans were unveiled by CIA Director John Brennan to a workforce in which thousands of employees are likely to see changes in which departments they work for, the lines of authority they report to and even where they sit.
The overhaul is designed to foster deeper collaboration and an intensified focus on a range of security issues and threats, replacing long-standing divisions that cover the Middle East, Africa and other regions with hybrid “mission centers” that are modeled on the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.
The CIA will also create a new directorate focused exclusively on exploiting advances in computer technology and communications. The Directorate of Digital Innovation will rank alongside the agency’s operations and analysis branches, and be responsible for missions ranging from cyber-espionage to the security of the CIA’s internal email.
In a briefing with reporters, Mr. Brennan described the far-reaching changes as “part of the natural evolution of an intelligence agency” that has not seen a significant reorganization in decades. A central aim, he said, is to eliminate “seams” in coverage that lead to confusion over which part of the agency is responsible for tracking a specific issue or threat. After the reorganization, Mr. Brennan said, the CIA should be in position to “cover the entire universe, regionally and functionally, and so something that’s going on in the world falls into one of those buckets.”
The changes, however, are also likely to create turmoil at a time that Mr. Brennan and others frequently characterize as the most complicated and challenging period for intelligence agencies in a generation. He said the plan has been received enthusiastically by most at the agency, but there have also been signs of friction and disagreement.
The head of the CIA’s clandestine service recently decided to retire abruptly, in part because of opposition to a plan that would strip his position of much of its authority over the agency’s covert operations overseas and the teams of spies that it deploys.
CIA veterans and experts described the restructuring as among the most ambitious since the agency was founded in 1947.
“This is a major reorganization, one of the largest and most fundamental they’ve had,” said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior CIA officer and an expert on the history of the U.S. intelligence community. Mr. Lowenthal also expressed concern that replicating the Counterterrorism Center may also mean replicating an approach criticized at times for being too driven by short-term objectives, such as finding the next target for a drone strike.
“Where in this does John have what I would think of as his intellectual strategic reserve — people not worried about day-to-day stuff, but who think about what is going to happen two years out?” Mr. Lowenthal asked. “The centers tend not to do that. They tend to answer today’s mail.”
But Mr. Brennan defended the reforms as critical to the agency’s viability in an era of technological and social upheaval.
As part of Mr. Brennan’s plan, long-standing divisions focused on Africa, the Middle East and other regions will give way to centers of corresponding geographic boundaries. The Directorates of Intelligence and Operations — as the analysis and spying branches are known — will continue to exist, but function mainly as talent pools: recruiting and training personnel that can be deployed to the new centers.
“Some who grew up in the old structure will have heartburn with this, but those costs will be short-term,” said former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell. He said existing centers have “proven to be a very powerful combination,” and that the Counterterrorism Center is “the most successful agency component over the last decade.”
The Directorate of Digital Innovation will perform a similar role, and absorb existing entities including the Open Source Center, which monitors Twitter and other social media sites for intelligence on such adversaries as the Islamic State, as well as the Information Operations Center, a secret organization that handles missions including cyber-penetrations and sabotage and is now the second-largest center at the CIA.
But Mr. Brennan made clear that the digital directorate will have a much broader mandate, responsible not only for devising new ways to steal secrets from cellphones and other devices, but also helping CIA officers evade detection overseas in an age when their phones, computers and ATM cards leave digital trails.The head of the new directorate will be responsible for “overseeing the career development of our digital experts as well as the standards of our digital tradecraft,” he said.
Mr. Brennan did not present a timetable for the reorganization, or provide names of those who will be picked to lead the new centers.
Merely asking to file a TSA complaint got a man arrested and lied about in court.
Here is a quotation to remember and reflect upon:
I was scared to death. I have never been arrested in my life, never had handcuffs put on. Throughout the night, I was in a dark place; no one knew where I was. I thought, “I could fall off the face of the earth right now, and no one would know it.”
Thus spoke Roger Vanderklok, as quoted by a story at Philly.com: “Innocent frequent flier detained after run-in with TSA.”
Quite tellingly, this piece of arbitrary false arrest and personal brutality was enacted by TSA agents and police at the Philadelphia airport (which might sound familiar to you if you have read another story about a TSA crime). Just as in that case, the police simply arrested the man on TSA say-so and no one told him why he was being arrested. Unlike that case, instead of pretending that Arabic language cards are grounds to arrest a man as a terrorist, the TSA made up a false accusation.
How do we know it was false?
One clue was that the TSA agent, Charles Kieser, changed his story. At the time of the arrest, he told the police that, in the course of his discussion with Vanderklok, the frustrated passenger pointed out that, “Anybody could bring a bomb in here and nobody would know.” But at trial, Kieser told it differently. He claimed Vanderklok said, “I’ll bring a bomb through here any day I want. And . . . you’ll never find it.”
Does it seem reasonable that a TSA agent who had just heard a man threaten to smuggle a bomb onto a plane would tell the police a version of events that didn’t relate that fact? Or that the police would tone down what was said in their report?
But it is also important to know that Kieser gave elaborate testimony about a host of threatening gestures and physical signs of anger—that are all completely falsified by the video footage that recorded the area on that day. Furthermore, no one acted as if they had heard a bomb threat.
Neither Kieser nor his colleagues appear alarmed about the bomb threat Vanderklok has allegedly made. They chat and laugh with one another behind a desk, check their cellphones. One sips a soda, another wanders around the area, straightening bins. Two more assist an elderly couple with their wheelchairs.
They do not summon the FBI, clear passengers from the area, don protective gear or appear to do anything suggesting there’s looming danger.
Vanderklok claims he never said anything about anyone bringing a bomb anywhere. Then why was he arrested? He says he went through the turmoil of being “disappeared” and then a trial because he asked to speak to the TSA agent’s supervisor to lodge a complaint. He didn’t like the way he had been treated. (It had to do with a misunderstanding about “organic” matter and powerbars. You can read about it in the article).
Of course, while Vanderklok was terrified in his jail cell not allowed to contact anybody, his wife was terrified when he ended up missing.
When her husband travels, his routine is to call her when he boards the plane, when he lands and when he arrives at his hotel. This time, no calls. Nor did he respond to the increasingly panicked messages she left him.
She called his Miami hotel. He’d never checked in. She called the airline. He’d never boarded the plane. She called the city’s hospitals. He wasn’t in any of them. Finally, she called 9-1-1.
“I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do with myself,” says Eleanor Vanderklok. “A million scenarios go through your head.”
She was waiting for an officer to arrive at the couple’s Center City home to take her report when the phone rang. A police officer told her that her husband had been arrested and was awaiting arraignment. When she learned why, she was shocked.
“My husband has been on planes hundreds of times,” she says. “Not once was there a problem. This was out of the blue.”
This is not about one bad agent; this is about the TSA as an organization. Kieser is still employed by the TSA for the same job. He has never been charged with perjury (the judge rushed to acquit Vanderklok just after Kieser testified so that his defense attorney never got to enter the testimony of the videotapes and the contradictory accusations).
And this is one of the agencies that the Republicans would rather continue funding than defund Obama’s executive order on amnesty.
The shooting and killing of James Boyd, a homeless camper who was shot dead last March at the Sandia foothills in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has brought murder charges against two former police officers. Boyd, 38, had been living at an illegal campsite and initially threatened officers with a small camping knife. After appearing to surrender, he was gunned down after a four-hour standoff. His killing set off a string of protests – some turning violent – across Albuquerque.
Writes USA Today on Jan. 12: “District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said former detective Keith Sandy and SWAT officer Dominique Perez are each charged with one open murder count in the death of James Boyd. An open murder charge allows the prosecutor to decide later whether a first-degree or second-degree charge will be brought.”
According to a report from The Associated Press on March 28, Boyd, who when confronted initially claimed to be a federal agent, “died after officers fired stun guns, bean bags and six live rounds, authorities said. But a helmet-camera video showed Boyd… agreeing to walk down the mountain with them, gathering his things and taking a step toward officers just before they fired.”
Video of the incident, watched over a million times, shows police tossing a “flash bang” grenade, which disoriented Boyd, who appeared confused and unable to hear officers shouting at him to stand down and lay on the ground. As Boyd puts his arms at his side and turns around, appearing to gather his things, he is shot. Police move in, turning their canine on him. Video shows Boyd was clutching a small knife after he was shot.
In April, the U.S. Department of Justice ripped Albuquerque police in a scathing assessment over its use of excessive force. Citing the unit’s “pattern or practice of use of excessive force,” the DOJ said the Albuquerque police department was noted for “often acting recklessly and violating people’s constitutional rights.” Since 2010, over three dozen separate incidents have occurred where Albuquerque police have discharged their weapons. In 23 of those shootings, the suspect has died.
Adds USA Today: “Brandenburg filed criminal information papers, which means a grand jury investigation won’t be required. Recent grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, Mo., not to charge police officers in the deaths of suspects resulted in protests across the nation and an outcry against the grand jury system.”
A lawyer for Keith Sandy said his client, “as a police officer, had not only the right but the duty to defend a fellow officer from a mentally unstable, violent man wielding two knives. Luis Robles, an attorney for Perez, mirrored those words and added he was “confident that the facts will vindicate Officer Perez’s actions in this case.”
A screenshot from a video shared on social media shows Eric Garner being choked by an NYPD police officer. A grand jury declined to to indict the officer involved in the death, but a grand jury did indict the man who filmed the video over weapons charges stemming from a separate incident. Getty Images
As protesters took to the streets of New York over the decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold shortly before he died, one person involved in the incident has not escaped indictment — the man who filmed the incident.
Ramsey Orta, who filmed the incident that resulted in Garner’s death, was indicted on weapons charges stemming from an Aug. 2 arrest, according to the Staten Island Advance. Police allege that Orta, 22, placed a .25-caliber handgun in the waistband of Alba Lekaj, 17, in an area near where Garner died, that is known for drug-related activity. Orta claims that the charges are a retaliatory measure by the police for his testimony in the Garner case.
“When they searched me, they didn’t find nothing on me,” Orta said to the Advance regarding his arrest. “And the same cop that searched me, he told me clearly himself, that karma’s a b***h, what goes around comes around,” Orta said.
“I had nothing to do with this. I would be stupid to walk around with a gun after me being in the spotlight,” he said later, according to Rawstory.
Orta pleaded not guilty according to Mediaite. At the time of his arrest, Orta reportedly told police: “You’re just mad because I filmed your boy.”
A grand jury did not believe Orta’s account, charging him with single felony counts of third-degree criminal weapon possession and criminal firearm possession, according to The Huffington Post.
By contrast, a Staten Island grand jury seemingly accepted the account of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was seen applying a chokehold to Garner in the video (see below), but whose lawyer claimed that “it was never his intention to harm anyone,” according to the New York Times.
The protests over Garner’s death come on the heels of a spate of controversial killings of black men by U.S. police officers. The shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, resulted in a grand jury declining to indict the officer, and sparked protests across the U.S. and abroad.
After John Crawford III, a 22-year-old black man, was shot dead by Ohio police in a Walmart in August while carrying a BB gun that the store sold, a grand jury in the state also declined to pursue charges against officers, according to the Washington Post.
In addition, the shooting by Ohio police of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was reportedly brandishing a replica handgun when shot by a police officer whose capabilities had been previously questioned by his superiors, has further inflamed tensions in recent months.
It is incredibly rare for US grand juries not to return indictments, except in cases where the person facing charges is a police officer. In 2010, the most recent year for which data exist, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases, and grand juries declined to return an indictment in only 11 of them, according to FiveThirtyEight.
While less complete data on officer-involved shootings exist, FiveThirtyEight cites the example of the U.S. city of Dallas, where grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment.
President Obama on Monday will announce executive action to bolster oversight of the rapid militarization of local police departments and propose additional spending on body cameras for officers.
However, the president will leave to Congress the broader reforms of the military weapons program demanded in the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama, hosting a trio of meetings at the White House on Monday devoted to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, will instruct his staff to draft an executive order improving safeguards of a federal government program that allows local police departments to claim unused military weapons, senior administration officials said.
The images of heavily armed officers in combat gear patrolling the streets in Ferguson invited comparisons to war settings, with some lawmakers suggesting that such equipment should not be used to break up violent protests.
However, the president’s reforms would not halt the practice of supplying police officers with weapons usually reserved for full-blown military conflicts. Congress has been largely silent on the issue.
“The vast majority of the equipment that gets purchased or transferred is not military style,” said a senior administration official, previewing the president’s announcement to reporters. “It’s office-related.”
When asked why the president wasn’t taking a more proactive position on the military weapons program, the official replied, “These are programs that Congress directed the agencies to implement … congressional intent is really at issue here.”
Obama later Monday will call for guidelines that ensure all weapons have a legitimate law enforcement purpose, implement local, civilian reviews of such acquisitions, bolster training for using military equipment, and develop a database that tracks the gear.
The president also will propose a three-year, $263 million package that would supply more body cameras to police departments.
Obama is under growing pressure to issue a more forceful response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s killing. The White House on Monday would not say whether the president planned to visit the St. Louis suburb.
Instead, Obama decided to put the spotlight back on the militarization of local police departments.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program has supplied $4.3 billion of weapons, aircraft and tactical vehicles to local law enforcement agencies, including a half-billion dollars just last year.
The president also will create a task force, headed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, to study best policing methods.
Since the Ferguson grand jury announced its decision, protesters have taken to the streets nationwide to criticize the lack of criminal charges against Wilson, who recently resigned from the police force.
Protesters have shut down streets and stores in major cities but have mostly refrained from type of looting and arson that marked the demonstrations in Ferguson last week.
Obama on Monday is meeting with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials to discuss his recommendations.
Most of the time, when a person kills an intruder who breaks into his home, dressed in all black and screaming, the homeowner will avoid jail time. But what happens when the break-in was a no-knock SWAT raid, the intruder was a police officer, and the homeowner has a record?
A recent pair of cases in Texas are an example of how wrong no-knock raids can go, for both police and civilians, and how dangerously subjective the SWAT raid process can be. In December 2013, Henry Magee shot and killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid on his home. He was initially charged with capital murder, but he argued that he shot the police officer, who he thought was an intruder, to protect his pregnant girlfriend. In February, a grand jury declined to indict him, and charges were dropped.
In May, a Texas man named Marvin Guy also killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock raid on his home. Guy, too, was charged with capital murder. Unlike Magee’s grand jury, a grand jury in Septemberallowed the capital murder charge against Guy to stand. Guy, who is black, now faces the death penalty. Magee is white.
THERE ARE OVER 20,000 NO-KNOCK RAIDS IN AMERICA EVERY YEAR
Magee’s case wasn’t completely identical to Guy’s — the latter had done prison time on robbery and weapons charges, while Magee’s previous arrests were for marijuana possession and DUI. But the circumstances of the raids, if anything, made Guy’s reaction more justifiable. Police were trying to enter McGee’s house through the door when he shot at them, while, in Guy’s case, they were trying to climb in through the window. And during the raid on McGee’s house, the cops did in fact find a few pounds of marijuana plants. In the raid on Guy’s house, they found nothing.
Advocates say these cases highlight racial bias in the criminal justice system, particularly when the victim is a police officer. But they also highlight the bizarre nature of no-knock raids, which have been criticized for causing unnecessary confusion and endangering innocent adults and children.
In theory, no-knock raids are supposed to be used in only the most dangerous situations. So what might be most surprising about them is how infrequently police officers get killed when they bust into suspected criminals’ homes unannounced.
In reality, though, no-knock raids are a common tactic, even in less-than-dangerous circumstances. There are a staggering 20,000 or more estimated no-knock raids every year across America. By the numbers, it’s clear that no-knock SWAT raids are far more dangerous to civilians than they are to police.
Here’s what you need to know about why no-knock raids happen, why police think they’re necessary, and what happens when things go wrong.
A SWAT team enters a Denver house after using explosives to bust down the door. (Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty)
How did no-knock raids become a thing?
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable search,” meaning police can’t bust into your home whenever they feel like it — they need a warrant, granted by a judge. Even a search warrant doesn’t give police the right to enter your home by force — they’re supposed to knock, announce themselves, and give you a chance to open the door.
But as the war on drugs ramped up in the 1970s and 1980s, police argued that criminals and drug dealers were too dangerous to be granted the typical courtesy of knocking first. In the early 1970s, the federal government made it legal for federal law enforcement agents to conduct no-knock raids — but the law was so widely abused that it was repealed a few years later.
Since then, though, a series of court decisions and state laws have carved out a set of circumstances that make it legal for police to raid a house without announcing their presence beforehand. This has happened at the same time that SWAT teams have proliferated around the country. (For more on the history behind SWAT teams and no-knock raids, check out Radley Balko’s definitive book on the subject, Rise of the Warrior Cop.)
MOST SWAT TEAMS SPEND THEIR TIME CARRYING OUT HOME RAIDS
Most SWAT teams spend their time carrying out home raids. The ACLU analyzed 818 records of SWAT exercises from police departments around the country in 2011 and 2012. They found that 80 percent of the time, SWAT teams were deployed to execute a search warrant — instead of crises such as hostage situations or active shooters.
Not all SWAT raids are no-knock raids; police are supposed to jump through an extra set of legal hoops before they can raid someone’s house without knocking. But the line between regular SWAT raids and no-knock raids can get a little blurry.
SWAT teams often use quick-knock raids during which they might not give the suspect a whole lot of time to answer the door after they announce their presence. The legal standards for no-knock and quick-knock raids are different, but to someone whose house is being raided, they can seem pretty similar.
A SWAT team enters a house during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers. (Mario Tama/Getty)
Why do police use no-knock raids?
It’s rare that police really need to raid a home in order to bust someone for drugs. They could always set up a drug buy on the street and surround the suspect there. But police have focused on drug busts in stash houses, or in dealer’s homes, for a few reasons.
For one thing, busting the house where drugs are stored in bulk disrupts the drug supply chain, in theory. For another, if they can charge a dealer with not just the drugs he happens to have on him or in his car when he’s arrested, but with anything he’s keeping in his house, they can slap him with a longer prison sentence. And finally, thanks to civil asset forfeiture, raiding a home lets cops seize whatever drug money (or other illegal money) is being stored there — and perhaps even the home itself — and use it for their own departments.
Over the last few decades, police have also argued successfully that there are some circumstances in which a standard “knock and announce” raid would either jeopardize police safety or make it impossible for them to fight crime.
Police during a SWAT team training. (Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe via Getty)
What are the rules for a no-knock raid?
To get a special no-knock warrant signed by a judge, police have to show that a standard “knock-and-announce” raid wouldn’t work. There are two different arguments police can use for this:
The suspect is too dangerous. If police knocked and announced their presence, the suspect would have more time to get a weapon and fight.
If police knocked and announced their presence, the suspect would have time to destroy evidence of a crime before the cops got to him.
The first of those sounds pretty straightforward. The second is rather broad. If they think there are drugs in the house, and the drugs could get flushed down the toilet, police have a case for a no-knock raid. (It’s been argued that this actually makes police more likely to use no-knock raids on small-time dealers rather than major ones, because major dealers would likely have too much product to flush down the toilet.)
For a more detailed, but easy-to-follow, explanation of the legal standards for raids, check out webcomic artist Nathan Burney’s Illustrated Guide to Law.
Is it hard for police to meet those standards?
Nope. It’s rare that judges deny warrants for no-knock raids.
St Louis County police has spent $172,669 since August on teargas, grenades, pepper balls and other civil disobedience equipment Ferguson police
Police in Ferguson use a variety of crowd-control equipment including teargas following the killing of teenager Michael Brown in
The police department overseeing the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old has spent tens of thousands of dollars replenishing their stocks of teargas, “less lethal” ammunition and riot gear in advance of a potential revival in demonstrations.
St Louis County police made the purchases amid concerns that hundreds of demonstrators will return to the streets if Darren Wilson, the officer who shot dead Michael Brown in August, is not indicted on criminal charges by a grand jury currently considering the case.
A breakdown of the department’s spending since August on equipment intended for the policing of crowds and civil disobedience, which totals $172,669, was obtained by the Guardian from the county force.
Since the height of the protests, the department has spent almost $25,000 buying 650 teargas grenades, smoke-and-gas grenades, smoke canisters and “hornets nest” CS sting grenades, which shoot out dozens of rubber bullets and a powdered chemical agent upon detonation.
It has spent a further $18,000 on 1,500 “beanbag rounds” and 6,000 pepper balls, paintball-style projectiles that explode with a chemical irritant when they strike a protester. The department uses LiveX branded pepper balls, which are billed as ten times hotter than standard pepper rounds.
Another $77,500 has been spent on 235 riot gear helmets, 135 shields, 25 batons and 60 sets of shin guards, and other “uniform items”. A further $2,300 was used to buy another 2,000 sets of the plastic handcuffs that have been used to detain dozens of demonstrators plucked from crowds on West Florissant Avenue.
In addition, an estimated $50,000 has been set aside by the department for repair work for damaged police vehicles. However, in a sign that further clashes are expected, they are in fact “not repairing any vehicles until unrest is over”, a department inventory said.
“We purchase these items in hopes that we never have to use any of them,” said Sergeant Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the county police department. “But it is our responsibility to have proper equipment to keep our police officers and all citizens safe should violence break out anywhere at any time.”
In the event of further unrest, the new equipment is likely to be used alongside new purchases made by the city of St Louis’s metropolitan police force and the Missouri state highway patrol, which was handed temporary control of policing the protests at the height of August’s unrest, following criticism of the county force’s tactics by regional and national leaders.
Captain Tim Hull of the state highway patrol confirmed to the Guardian that the force had bought new crowd control equipment since then. “However, the specific information is [a] closed record” under Missouri state law, Hull said in an email.
The Associated Press previously reported that Chief Sam Dotson of the St Louis metropolitan police said his force recently spent $325,000 on “civil disobedience equipment”. Asked by the Guardian to confirm this total and to provide details of what was bought, a spokeswoman for the force said in an email that this would take several weeks.
The military-style police response to the demonstrations in August, which attracted intense global media coverage, led to calls for restraint from figures such as President Barack Obama and Claire McCaskill, Missouri’s senior US senator.
Observers from Amnesty International said in a report earlier this month that an excessive police reaction to a small minority of violent protesters who threw bottles in Ferguson had run the risk of killing demonstrators and impinged on their human rights.
They noted that the so-called “less-lethal” ammunition shot at crowds in Ferguson – such as wooden bullets, beanbag rounds, and rubber bullets – “can result in serious injury and even death”. The report found that “at least two children were treated for exposure to teargas” during the protests.
“Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict is inevitable rather than possible, escalating tensions between protesters and police,” said the report.