Tag: radley balko

From Hell to Heaven

Cory Maye was in his home one evening minding his own business when his front door came crashing down.  Frightened that criminals were going to harm him and his child, Maye quickly retrieved a gun.  When his bedroom door came crashing down next, Maye fired.  When the lights came on, it turned out that the intruders were police officers and that Maye had killed one of them.  The nightmare had only just begun for Maye.  Police and prosecutors twisted a case of self-defense into a “murder” charge and they sought the death penalty.  Cato fellow Radley Balko read about the case when he was researching a paper concerning the militarization of police tactics and no-knock raids.  Radley then wrote about the injustice of Maye’s situation and word spread via the internet.  A new legal team took up the case and appeals followed.  When a court ordered a new trial for Maye, prosecutors offered a deal–plead guilty to a lesser charge and Maye would be set free because he had already served years in a Mississippi prison.  Maye took the deal even though many thought he should not have any criminal conviction on his record for what happened that night.  Still, it is hard to blame a guy for wanting to get out of prison to see his children just as fast as he possibly could.  Maye was released a few days ago and here’s a snap of him playing around with his son. 

Congrats to Maye.  Congrats to Radley.  And congrats to Maye’s lawyers at Covington and Burling.

Previous coverage here and here.

“Cory Maye Will Soon Be Free”

…that’s what former Cato policy analyst, Reason senior editor and now Huffington Post reporter Radley Balko reports:

I’m in Monticello, Mississippi, this morning, where Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell has just signed a plea agreement between Cory Maye and the state. Maye has plead guilty to a reduced charged of manslaughter, and has been resentenced to 10 years in prison, time he has already served. He’ll be sent to Rankin County for processing. He should be released and home with his family in a matter of days.

Cory Maye’s is a story about a paramilitary-style drug raid gone grotesquely wrong, a cautionary tale about the human costs of the War on Drugs, and a lesson in how a dedicated investigative reporter can throw a wrench in the ever-grinding wheels of injustice. If you’re unfamiliar with the case, and Radley’s role in it, watch the terrific Reason.tv video, “Mississippi Drug War Blues” below, and read this blogpost I wrote a couple of years ago, when Radley’s work first started drawing attention to the case: “The Cato Policy Analyst Who (May Have) Saved a Man’s Life.” We can remove the “may have” now.

And here’s Radley’s update at the Huffington Post.

Department of Education SWAT Raid for Unpaid Student Loans

Department of Education officers employed a SWAT team because of unpaid student loans. I am not making this up:

Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday…

As it turned out, the person law enforcement was looking for was not there - Wright’s estranged wife.

“They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” Wright said.

Wright said he later went to the mayor and Stockton Police Department, but the City of Stockton had nothing to do with Wright’s search warrant.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in the S.W.A.T for his wife’s defaulted student loans.

This, along with the Jose Guerena case, demonstrates how the militarization of police terminology and tactics is incompatible with a free society. Police officers aren’t “operators” like Green Berets or Navy SEALs.

This is just one more reason to abolish the Department of Education and oppose police militarization and federal overcriminalization.

Operator Disconnect

My latest op-ed, now available at Politico, highlights the continued militarization of American police forces. I focus on the statements of officers involved in the fatal shooting of Marine combat veteran Jose Guerena.

After the SWAT team entered Guerena’s home, the supervisor left one or two “operators” with the body while the rest searched the house.

What did he mean by operator? Well, a police officer. But the term connotes something entirely different.

“Operator” is a term of art in the special operations community. Green Berets, SEALs and other special operations personnel often refer to themselves as operators. It’s a recognition of both the elite standards of their units and the hybrid nature of their duties — part soldier, part spy, part diplomat. But importing operator terminology into domestic law enforcement is not a benign turn of the phrase.

Perceiving yourself as an operator plasters over the difference between a law enforcement officer serving a warrant and a commando in a war zone. The former Mirandizes, the latter vaporizes, as the saying goes — and as the recent Osama bin Laden raid vividly illustrated.

Language matters, and importing military terminology into peace officer lingo contributes to police militarization. There are plenty of alternative terms for SWAT officers that would carry elite connotations, such as “tactical officer,” as in the National Tactical Officers Association. Unfortunately, the NTOA website could use a good operator scrubbing (start here, here, and here).

Video of the Guerena raid:

The Guerena raid is posted over at the Raidmap, and Radley Balko provided an excellent write-up. Balko’s Overkill is essential reading on this topic.

The War on Cameras Continues

High drama in Miami. Carlos Miller provides a good summary (H/T Radley):

Miami Beach police did their best to destroy a citizen video that shows them shooting a man to death in a hail of bullets Memorial Day.

First, police pointed their guns at the man who shot the video, according to a Miami Herald interview with the videographer.

Then they ordered the man and his girlfriend out the car and threw them down to the ground, yelling “you want to be fucking paparazzi?”

Then they snatched the cell phone from his hand and slammed it to the ground before stomping on it. Then they placed the smashed phone in the videographer’s back pocket as he was laying down on the ground.

And finally, they took him to a mobile command center where they snapped his photo and demanded the phone again, then took him to police headquarters where they conducted a recorded interview with him before releasing him.

But what they didn’t know was that Narces Benoit had removed the SIM card and hid it in his mouth, which means the video survived.

Here is the video:

There’s more at the Miami Herald. For more on this trend, check out Reason’s coverage of the war on cameras and this Cato forum with the Maryland prosecutor who tried to prosecute a motorcyclist for recording a state police officer that performed a traffic stop at gunpoint. Cato’s video Cops on Camera discusses the accountability that citizen journalism can bring to law enforcement.

Monday Links

  • “Sadly, in Egypt’s case, a freely elected civilian government may prove powerless in the face of the deeply entrenched and well-organized military.”
  • “Washington politicians from both parties, and bureaucrats, have for decades successfully decreased our freedom and liberties as they have regulated more and more of our lives, including our retirement.”
  • “The Ryan proposal correctly focuses on achieving debt reduction through spending cuts, but this very gradual debt reduction schedule is a weakness that could lead to its downfall.”
  • “Nearly two years ago Sen. McCain, along with Senators Graham and Lieberman, was supping with Qaddafi in Tripoli, discussing the possibility of Washington providing military aid.”
  • Cato media fellow Radley Balko joined FOX Business Network’s Stossel recently to discuss your right to make video recordings of police, and why exercising that right frequently is vital to liberty:


Cops on Camera: LAPD Edition

The L.A. Times has an article highlighting the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King beating and how video of that event introduced the LAPD to modern citizen journalism.

Today, things are far different and the tape that so tainted the LAPD has a clear legacy in how officers think about their jobs. Police now work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching.

“Early on in their training, I always tell them, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a bathroom taking care of your personal business…. Whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video,’ ” said Sgt. Heather Fungaroli, who supervises recruits at the LAPD’s academy. “We tell them if they’re doing the right thing then they have no reason to worry.”

That’s progress, and as I’ve said before, a video camera is an honest cop’s best friend.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. The LAPD paid $1.7 million to a news camera operator injured by its officers at the 2007 May Day melee. LAPD officers have also been caught on camera assaulting a bicyclist and illegally detaining a man for taking photographs on a public sidewalk. You can track police intimidation of citizen journalists at Cop Block’s War on Cameras interactive map, patterned after Cato’s own Raidmap.

Here is the Cato video, Cops on Camera:

For more on cops and cameras, check out the event Cato hosted last year and Radley Balko’s feature at Reason, “The War on Cameras.”

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