Scalia’s New Police Professionalism

In his odd opinion in the Hudson v. Michigan case, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed the exclusionary rule as an effective remedy when police conduct an illegal no-knock raid because, Scalia argued, police departments across the country have implemented better internal review procedures and oversight functions to deal with officer misconduct. In making that argument, Scalia went so far as to cite the work of respected criminologist Prof. Sam Walker, who later asserted that Scalia had misappropriated his work.

A scan of recent headlines suggests that when it comes to holding police accountable for botched raids, excessive force, and misconduct, Scalia’s “new professionalism” is nowhere to be found. A few examples:

• Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the SWAT raid on Anthony Diotaiuto, a Florida man shot and killed during an early-morning raid. The man’s bullet-riddled body was found in a bedroom closet. Police found all of an ounce of marijuana, and witnesses say they made no announcement before entering, as required by Florida law (police insist they announced). Diotaiuto’s death is the lead case in the introduction to my recent paper on paramilitary police raids. Gun rights advocates may want to take note: Diotaiuto’s possession of a legal conceal-carry permit was cited as a “major factor” in the police department’s decision to use a SWAT team and forced entry.

One year later, law enforcement officials still refuse to share any information about the raid with the media or with lawyers for Diotaiuto’s family. They’ve been met with stony silence when they’ve attempted to access copies of the police report, the internal police investigation, or Diotaiuto’s autopsy. The grand jury investigating the case has been cancelled twice. The internal police investigation apparently cleared the raiding officers of any wrongdoing, but the details are still under wraps.

• It’s been six months since the Fairfax, Va., shooting death of local optometrist Salvatore Culosi, also during a SWAT raid. Culosi was being investigated for placing wagers on sporting events. Once again, Culosi’s family has found only silence and resistance when they’ve attempted to gain access to documents related to internal police investigations into their son’s death. County and police officials won’t even give Culosi’s family a timetable as to when the results of the investigative report they were promised might be available. Fairfax County prosecutor Robert Horan announced last spring that he wouldn’t seek charges against the officer who wrongly shot and killed Culosi, though that’s hardly a surprise. Horan hasn’t brought charges against a police officer a single time in his 40 years on the job.

• 51-year-old Kenneth Jamar, a semi-invalid with severe gout and a pacemaker, was shot several times and nearly killed in a SWAT raid on his home last June. Jamar, asleep and behind two doors when police announced themselves, was holding a gun when the SWAT team kicked down his bedroom door. Police were apparently looking for Jamar’s nephew. Despite the fact that the address on the search warrant was incorrect (the address listed was that of the suspect’s father), police insisted that the raid on Jamar’s home was legal and that his home was the home they’d intended to raid all along.

Last week, an internal review cleared the raiding officers of all wrongdoing and blamed Jamar — who is still in the hospital recovering from the gunshots — for the entire incident. Despite the fact that he could barely walk, was hard of hearing, and not suspected of any crime, a police spokesman insisted, “If he had not done what he did, he wouldn’t have been shot,” and that, “He was only shot because he did not comply with the police officers commands.”

So, officials decide to use a SWAT team and forced entry on a sick man not suspected of any crime and whose only “transgression” was to be related to a drug suspected, somehow mistakenly have the address of the suspect’s father on the search warrant, shoot the man multiple times when he mistakes them for criminal intruders, then announce that the entire episode is the victim’s fault.

• Last February, deputies in Harrison County, Miss., beat a man to death while he was in their custody. Jesse Lee Williams, Jr. was brought in on misdemeanor charges, savagely beaten in a holding cell, then died after being belatedly transported to the hospital. The entire incident was witnessed by several people and captured on at least four jailhouse video cameras.

Six months later, there have been no arrests in Williams’ death. Lawyers for Williams’ estate and the media have been denied access to investigatory documents related to his death, including the videotaped accounts of the beating. Their civil suit has been postponed by a judge, in deference to the criminal investigation, which continues at a sloth’s pace. The officer who is said to have led the beating has been fired, but he hasn’t been arrested. Officers who assisted in the beating are still on the job.

In all of the above cases, one can’t help but wonder if the wheels of justice would be turning as slowly if the victim were a law enforcement officer and the assailant a civilian, instead of the other way around.