Tag: drug raid

The 4th Amendment Is Another Victim of the Drug War

Over at the Washington Post, Radley Balko details a recent Fourth Circuit ruling overturning an award for a father whose son was shot and killed in a military-style SWAT raid after marijuana residue was found in an outside garbage bag. A jury awarded the father $250,000 after it was shown that the police failed to comply with their obligation to knock and announce their presence before barging in and that they lied about several aspects of the raid.

Without repeating the entirety of Balko’s excellent analysis, a particularly troubling aspect of the ruling is the nonchalant way in which the Fourth Circuit judges, even in dissent, treat the militarized raid over marijuana residue and dispense with any suggestion that such escalated violence is constitutionally questionable:

Let’s first start by noting one very important issue that is not in dispute—whether the massive amount of force the police brought to bear in this case was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. As far as the federal courts are concerned, it was. As Judge Pamela Harris points out in her dissent, “The point here, to be clear, is not to take issue with the Officers’ decision to execute a search warrant based on marijuana traces by way of a military-style nighttime raid.”

Harris is correct. The courts long ago decided that dangerous, punishing SWAT-style raids to search for pot—even when there is no evidence of distribution—are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. A lawsuit arguing otherwise will be promptly tossed.

Balko then points out that such behavior is precisely what the Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent:

Another Life Taken

Bad enough that people get arrested and jailed for drug offenses, but the proliferation of SWAT teams and the tactic of breaking into homes, especially during the night, is reckless.  In this case, the break-in did not lead to any shooting, but as the 68-year old suspect was lying on the ground, complying with all the police commands, he was accidently shot and killed.

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.—A Framingham police officer who shot and killed a 68-year-old man during an early morning drug raid will not face criminal charges.

Prosecutors say the shooting was an accident and Duncan’s actions “do not rise to the level of criminal conduct.”

But attorneys for the family of Eurie Stamps said Wednesday that they will launch a civil rights investigation because the shooting was unjustifiable, his rights were violated and those responsible must be held accountable for his death.

Authorities say Duncan lost his balance while preparing to handcuff Stamps after members of the SWAT team stormed the Fountain Street home just after midnight on Jan. 5.

The Middlesex district attorney’s office says officer Paul Duncan stumbled and accidentally fired his rifle, hitting Stamps as he lay on the floor on his stomach with his hands up.

More here.

Behind Every Law Is Force

That’s one lesson that this video of a drug raid should drive home.

Warning: Graphic Language and Material

In America today, lawmaking is discussed much too casually.  The consequences are not seriously considered.  We allow agencies to issue regulations without having a formal vote in the legislature.  “Too cumbersome.”  Compliance is automatically assumed.  Few want to consider whether the use of brute force can be justified against someone who resists, or the danger that might be created for the innocent who get swept up in investigations.   We now have thousands of rules and regulations on the books.

We suffered through the painful lessons of liquor prohibition, but have been slow to see the parallels in the drug war.  A few years ago, Cato published a report on these paramilitary raids, called Overkill. The author of that study, Radley Balko, has been vigilant about highlighting these raids and dispelling the idea that they are just a few “isolated incidents.”

More on the drug war here.