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SWAT Fever: It's Epidemic (Sorry About The Dogs)

It's sad, of course, that Cheye Calvo's dogs were blown away, left for hours in two pools of blood on the floors of his living and dining rooms. It's unfortunate, to be sure, that Calvo's front door had to be burst open, that it was necessary to plant his mother-in-law on the floor, arms bound, a high-caliber weapon pointed at her head, or that his house had to be trashed, every drawer flipped over, his belongings strewn about. Tragic, really.

But no apology is necessary, you see. Even though Calvo and his wife were exonerated of any criminal act almost instantly after their house was raided in July, even though the officers had done next to zero investigative work before smashing into the Calvo house, "The guys did what they were supposed to do," Prince George's County Sheriff Michael Jackson says. "They had a legitimate court order to be there."

Never mind that the dozen or so officers from the county police and sheriff's SWAT team didn't have a warrant with them when they stormed Calvo's house in Berwyn Heights. Never mind that the authorities seem unaware that a 2005 Maryland law spells out exactly when "no-knock" raids are permitted.

No, an internal review concluded by the sheriff's office last week has -- surprise, surprise -- cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, even though no investigator had spoken with Calvo, his wife or his mother-in-law. "Unfortunately, we had to engage the animals, but that engagement was justified," Jackson says.

The story of the raid on Calvo's house -- a 32-pound box of marijuana had been FedExed there, part of a drug dealer's scheme to intercept the package before the innocent residents got home -- was appalling enough when it first broke. But as we learn more about what happened, and as the authorities deflect questions, it becomes a much deeper scandal.

Anyone in town, especially the Berwyn Heights police, who were never consulted about the plan to raid the Calvo house, could have told the county authorities that they were raiding the home of the town's mayor, who seems as straight as they come, who works at an education foundation downtown, and whose wife is a Medicaid finance expert.

But this isn't an argument that police ought to back off when important or middle-class people are involved. This is about what they already knew -- and failed to act upon.

That night, more than three hours into his ordeal, after Calvo had begged to be allowed to put on pants or to wipe his tears, he says one officer told him that drug dealers in the area had been drawing package deliverymen into their operations, directing drug shipments to the homes of innocent people, where dealers could intercept the stuff.

"The more I think about that, the angrier I get," Calvo says. "They knew this scheme was going on, yet it never occurred to them from the moment they found out about that package that we were anything but drug dealers."

Once investigators knew that the box of pot was addressed to Calvo's wife, Trinity Tomsic, Calvo says they were obliged to question the couple. But he says there was no legal or tactical cause for a no-knock raid.

Ah, but it's so much easier and so much more fun to barrel into someone's house with big guns and storm trooper uniforms. The proliferation of SWAT deployments in this country is stunning, up from 3,000 a year in the mid-1980s to more than 40,000 now, according to Peter Kraske, who studies the militarization of policing as a criminal justice professor at Eastern Kentucky University.

Kraske's studies detail the spread of SWAT teams even to small towns -- 75 percent of communities with a population under 50,000 have squads, he found. He attributes the growth to federal grants that help outfit the teams, surplus military equipment given to local police by the Pentagon, and seizure laws that let police cash in or keep contraband found during raids.

Maryland lawmakers, recognizing that SWAT teams are overused, have limited no-knock raids to cases in which a suspect is fleeing into a house, is considered to be armed or may be destroying evidence.

"SWAT should be a last resort," Calvo says. "But they did it first -- no investigation, no questions." Calvo says officers told him they didn't even know there was a law specifying when no-knock raids are permitted.

Critics of no-knock raids say they not only result in too many errors, sometimes with tragic results, but undermine efforts at community policing, the building of trust and relationships that is critical to effective crime-fighting, such as Berwyn Heights' requirement that its officers go to every local youth ballgame, get out of the car and walk around chatting with people.

"Telling the people that these officers followed procedure and did nothing wrong sends a chilling message," Calvo says. "And then we wonder why people who live in high-crime areas don't trust the police. They treated us like animals. They were not there to protect and serve, they were there to search and destroy."

Calvo intends to seek stronger county oversight of SWAT deployments, and that would certainly help. But as long as we continue to glamourize the police when they take on the trappings of the military, more people will be shocked out of bed in the middle of the night, more dogs will be shot on sight, and we'll have ever more reason to wonder why the police are treated like enemy occupiers.

By Marc Fisher |  September 14, 2008; 11:13 AM ET
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Well? What do you expect from a Government that spy's on Americans illegally, then suspends Habeas corpus. Face it we are all guilty until found innocent in America....

Posted by: nallcando | September 14, 2008 12:43 PM

They would have just as willingly shot Calvo, and his mother, as the dogs. And then hidden behind a Judges signture.

It is policy, training, practice that these things are done for "officer safety".

The police have a very strong Union that gives them 3-5 days to lawyer up (for free) and develop a story line, even to colaborate with other police involved. They also get paid administrative leave (vacation) during an investigation.

One hand washes the other. Much like with Salvatore J. Culosi, where the Fairfax County SWAT Team shot an unarmed man, no charges are likely to be filed.

These are not "Isolated Incedents". Which is how they are described. Other key words to look for are "Furtive movements", officer felt "in danger of his safety", and "Criminal Informant".

As long as the SWAT/Police have a Judges signature, or a "Probable Cause", they will bring to bear all available resources. ANd that includes SWAT and their Military tactics. Police receive the same Military training at Blackwater as the Marine Corps door kickers in Iraq. And use the same methods.

For once something of real importance has caught the attention of Marc Fisher. However, does he have the guts to connect the dots. I doubt any reporter wants to be viewed as not supporting law enforcement, so I say, no he doesn't.

For those that are interested, and those that may feel that a 19yo Springfield, VA man should not be dead (made that way by an of duty Fairfax County Cop) for failure to pay $3 on a $11 tab at IHOP (again NO CHARGES), then please see the Police actions at the Republican National Convention, and the Alberto Gonzales's "FALCON" project.

Police "Serve" the politicians. And "Protect" those in power.

Feel safer now?

Posted by: mds | September 14, 2008 12:54 PM

Fisher - why do you hate the police?

Posted by: dc | September 14, 2008 2:11 PM

"Fisher - why do you hate the police?"

He doesn't hate the police. He hates abusive and illegal police TACTICS that sometimes make innocent people dead.

Posted by: Ernie Mercer | September 14, 2008 2:37 PM

They "did what they were supposed to do." In other words, this WILL happen again.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2008 4:04 PM

Why do I hate the police? (Being a Fisher, I will answer the question although it was directed to Marc.) Apart from the fact that the question is of a typical republican red-herring type (like when someone objects to the war in Iraq and is asked "why do you hate America",) it is because the police are culled from a particular set of people who have no conscience other than to obey authority. In every country in the world, the police regularly beat, shoot, kill, and otherwise abuse people at the behest of their superiors. The police will gladly fire into a crowd to "maintain public order." They will gladly torture prisoners as long as it's out of public sight and should it ever be revealed, then the standard excuses are trotted out to defend their criminal misdeeeds. The roots of Abu Ghraib can be found in every single police station and county jail in America, but when the abuses come to light it's always "an aberration" caused by "bad apples" instead of telling it like it is: the standard operating procedure for anyone unfortunate enough to fall into the clutches of the police and their moron cousins, the jail screws.

The police is not our friend, but the tool of the state and enemy of the citizens, hired guns who enforce laws written to favor certain political and economic groups. What an idiotic question, why do I hate the police, when we have more than 2 million Americans in prison and jail, when the ruling cliques are building prisons as fast as they can and cramming them full in order to use prisoners as a commodity so the private prison fat-cats can make big bucks from our tax money. But most of all, I hate the police because it has become a state within the state now that the "law-enforcement community," so-called, has been granted the last word on everything, and nothing is done without asking the police their opinion. Such is contemporary America, a collection of craven, cowardly, spineless sheeple who put up with the SWAT rampages in the damned war on drugs that the lousy government has foisted on us through its rotten and execrable lies.

That is why I hate the police, the fecking pigs that they are. Pigs, d'ye hear? Did that explain it to your satisfaction?

Posted by: Harry Fisher | September 14, 2008 4:30 PM

To Fisher: I checked your piece and all the other you linked, but I couldn't find a specific mention of the caliber of gun the officers pointed at Calvo's mother in law. Can you cite a source for that or were you just making an assumption? I'm not a fan of the use of no-knock warrants in most cases, but please don't distort or create facts simply to sensationalize your account.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2008 4:30 PM

Mr. Fisher, what is a "high-caliber weapon"?

Is that like an "assault rifle" with "cop-killer bullets"?

What happened to the Calvo, et al. was appalling. However, you trivialize the incident with your meaningless rhetoric. "High-caliber weapons" didn't kill these dogs, cops with poor training,poor judgment and poor supervision did. It isn't the equipment, it is the mindset. Two deputies in their Smoky the Bear hats could have blasted these dogs just the same with their sidearms, no SWAT team required.

It is the same old liberal mindset that confuses guns with gun violence. Guns are inanimate objects, they are incapable of decision making or any culpability. The blame lies squarely with the human holding the gun.

Posted by: DC Civil Rights Attorney | September 14, 2008 4:38 PM

I want to thank Marc Fisher for the update on this important story, I just can not believe that this horrific action was considered justified especially the killing of two innocent dogs. The Calvo's could be like anyone of us that are going about their day and something like this could happen, I always support Police but this incident should not be swept under the carpet and needs an investigation. I hope that the Calvo's will receive some justice, those dogs were like children to them and as an animal lover I understand how heartbreaking this was to them.

Posted by: Rebecca | September 14, 2008 4:42 PM

My inclination, were I King of Prince Geo. county, would be to remove every last vestige of law enforcement in the county and replace it with competent people. Being in the military, or, later in life, the para-military, means you never admit mistakes. Knowing that some drug thug is abusing commercial delivery services to move drug shipments to innocent addresses and then behaving as if that knowledge is absent is a sign that nobody in charge is using their brains. Abuse of authority should be a capital offense.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | September 14, 2008 4:52 PM

Do not question the organs of the state comrade.

Posted by: Nym | September 14, 2008 5:11 PM

All of you who criticize the police should remember that police SWAT teams exist to serve and protect the donuts, their fellow officers, their chain of command, and the government that employs them. SWAT teams see ordinary citizens as targets or as camouflage for targets. They are little more than a government-licensed mafia. Who needs Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban here when we already police SWAT teams?

Posted by: Officer Donut | September 14, 2008 5:20 PM

This commentary should have been appeared on Page 1 of the print edition in large type. What has happened to the Post of the Watergate Era? (Now we now get warmed-over Chandra Levy.)

The SWAT concept does have its place in police work, but not with the Calvos.

I have experienced several traffic encounters; those w/ non-SWAT mentality police were safer for my wife and me. Two of the stops were in PG County where my totaly legitimate non-photo NJ driver's license was considered a fake and me a criminal.

Of course, the SWAT-mentality is nothing new in PG County. In 1970/71, the owner of a Civil War Era .58 Caliber Springfield Musket was shot to death in his shower after a 'swat' team invaded his apartment because he owned an assult weapon.

Just realized that the perfect answer to this pervasive mentality exists. Sarah Palin. Or at least her mentality that said the OLD have to be tossed out when they can't get with the plan. And I generally vote Democratic.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2008 5:57 PM

Why haven't the names of the SWAT team been published? the public has a right to know the identity of these uniformed thugs.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2008 6:16 PM

This is another reason to be heavily armed in your home. You could take one, maybe two of these invaders out before they get you. Better to go out taking the bad guys (i.e., the stinking cops) with you.

Posted by: johng1 | September 14, 2008 6:38 PM

My theory is that PG County was created to make DC government look good. And, if I'm correct, it's doing a bang-up job, so to speak.

Posted by: Stays out of PG | September 14, 2008 7:42 PM

I talked to my wife's cousin, who is a Philly cop, and he's already running into criminals yelling at him about these cops in PG County. These Philly cops are putting the lives of other officers at risk by their illegal behavior. If they think that other cops are going to stand by and watch them ruin the name of law enforcement?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 14, 2008 8:45 PM

Yes, it most certainly is epidemic, SWAT FEVER is everywhere is this country. Innocent people and minor offenders are having their homes crashed into in the middle of the night, flash bang/stun grenades thrown into their homes, sometimes burning the people they strike or burning up the house, armed creatures dressed up like ninjas pointing high powered weapons at you.....and if you are startled and make a move they shoot you!
This is what SWAT FEVER is.....police serving arrest warrants to minor offenders, innocent people, or just the wrong houses altogether. The police get "tips" and instead of investigating the information, they bust out the "Team, and go storming into someone's home causing chaos, destruction of private property and death....all over nothing.
And when they botch it and get it wrong they lie and lie (they even have their own word for it "testilying".) Don't be expecting the police investigation to find any wrong doing on the part of their officers and don't expect anyone to pay for the damage they do to your home....that is NOT going to happen.

This atrocity is going on all over this country all the time. People are blogging about it. Check out the Baltimore Sun Sept 2 article "None of Us Is Safe From Police Raids" and check out the comments. A terrible injustice is going on....Will Congress,the Newspapers and the Media (60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline etc) help the American people and expose this situation to the nation? Who will have the guts and integrity to help us little people fight this outrage in "the home of the brave and the land of the free"?

Posted by: shay | September 14, 2008 8:52 PM

There is a major error in your column. You identify the PGC sheriff's deputies as member of a "SWAT team." Wrong. Special Weapons And Tactics Teams are comprised of carefully selected and screened experienced law enforcement officers. They are highly trained and disciplined and known for their courage, judgement, and calm demeanor. These morons dressed up like SWAT are no more members of a SWAT team than you or I would be members of the NFL just because we put on pads and a jersey.

Therein lies the heart of "SWAT fever." Too many jurisdictions are arming and equiping inexperienced wannabes, many of whom have personality deficiencies if not borderline psychiatric disorders. They are set loose on the public with inadequate training and no real discipline. Until the voters and taxpayers hold their elected leaders accountable for this (esp. Sheriff Michael Jackson) it will only get worse rather than better. And, you know what? If it get worse than the citizens of PGC should look in the mirror and curse the person they see.

Posted by: NoVa | September 14, 2008 9:20 PM

Please, Marc, do not let this story die. More research on your part would be especially appreciated since many of the comments had contradictory perceptions. I'm still smiling over your AARP expo observations.

Posted by: bbriston1 | September 14, 2008 10:04 PM

Setting aside the criminal blundering of the PG "police" for a moment, let's think of what a good law enforcement tactic would have been: stake out the house, wait for the people who shipped the drugs there to show up to take the box, then arrest them.
Simple, eh? Effective, eh?
Yet in PG County, nothing is easy. Barge in, kill dogs, assault the innocent, then try to cover it up with a blizzard of denials & lies. From what some of the Neanderthal cretins have posted here, that's the way they want the police to operate - don't worry about catching the bad guys, just do whatever the hell it is you want to do, & if anyone doesn't approve of every single step the police take, you're a commie & a pinko & unAmerican. Smart, perceptive, thinking people, eh?

Posted by: al gonzales | September 14, 2008 10:13 PM

To give an idea just how widespread is the pernicious practice of SWAT raids, check out this map by the Cato Institute, titled ' An Epidemic of "Isolated Incidents" .'

Posted by: Harry Fisher | September 14, 2008 10:29 PM

Mr. Fisher you should consult a lawyer or research the law before making legal pronouncements about that with which you are not familiar. The hindsight analysis of this case, especially by people like you who know little about the subject matter, does a disservice to the officers involved and to the public which has little or no understanding of police procedure and rely on TWP for information.

You write: "Never mind that the dozen or so officers from the county police and sheriff's SWAT team didn't have a warrant with them when they stormed Calvo's house in Berwyn Heights." Contrary to what you may believe, it is neither illegal nor uncommon for police to execute a warrant without the actual warrant being in hand. So long as the warrant has been signed by a judge before the warrant is executed the search is valid under the Fourth Amendment.

You also write: "Never mind that the authorities seem unaware that a 2005 Maryland law spells out exactly when "no-knock" raids are permitted." The statute to which you refer is not the sole source of authority for the execution of no knock warrants. Federal and Maryland court decisions have held that it is permissible for officers to enter a home without knocking if they have reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime. Here, according to the police, the SWAT officers were seen by the mayor's mother as they approached and she screamed. This is sufficient for officers to believe that a no knock entry was necessary to secure the premises before people inside could destroy evidence or prepare to resist police by force.

Posted by: Laurel | September 14, 2008 10:49 PM

Laurel, your excuses are lame. This will not be another fine mess you drag me into. Death to all future home invaders.

Posted by: Hardy | September 14, 2008 11:00 PM

Laurel's points are well taken - the SWAT teams can raid if they have a warrant, and they can raid if they don't have one. And the police may or may not knock on the door before breaking it in, depending on whether they think knocking may be "futile." Great stuff this, the minutiae of a police state; how the rules are always bent to benefit the police at the expense of liberty. I wish Laurel would comment on the Cato map, which is where his legal technicalities meet the actual victims of the police rampages.

Actually, the situation reminds me of a line from the Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, written shortly before the French Revolution. "Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes, rugir des feroces soldats? Ils viennent jusq'ue dans vos bras, egorger vos fils, vos compagnes!" ("Do you hear the raging of the ferocious soldiers out in the countryside? They come into your very arms to murder your sons and wives!") The contemporary SWAT teams are today's equivalent of the King's troops sent to harass the peasants and burn their villages.

Posted by: Harry Fisher | September 15, 2008 12:13 AM

This is sufficient for officers to believe that a no knock entry was necessary to secure the premises before people inside could destroy evidence or prepare to resist police by force.

That's an abuse of the law that resulted in continuous abuse of the law during that whole police riot that Calvo was subject to.

Fear of armed men does not constitute what you think it constitutes, period. You are very much incorrect in your supposed analysis of the situation. In fact, you're interpreting events so broadly that anything becomes potentially illegal. What's your dayjob, because that's affecting your rationality and fueling your misunderstanding of the law.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 15, 2008 1:06 AM

Only good pig is a dead pig. This why law abiding citizens need fire arms to include assault rifles.

PG Cty pigs have been this way for over 40 years. Nothing has changed.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 15, 2008 7:01 AM

Just remember if Marc had his way only the police and criminals would have guns. Then what would life be like?

Posted by: Stick | September 15, 2008 8:32 AM

(The only thing different about this case is that some of the police officers got fired or transfered....a RARE occurance!)

Alleged victims of false arrest seek $15 million
By J.J. Stambaugh (Contact)
Originally published 05:11 p.m., September 12, 2008
Updated 05:11 p.m., September 12, 2008 Two people who were arrested by police who misidentified them as drug dealers have filed lawsuits against several East Tennessee counties, law enforcement agencies and officers.

The lawsuits claiming false arrest were filed Thursday in the circuit courts of Hamblen Sevier, and Jefferson counties by attorneys Bryan Delius and Herbert S. Moncier.

Both of the wrongly accused people, Patty Diane Yates, 38, of Morristown and James Russell Kitts, 44, of Seymour were accused of trafficking in prescription narcotic painkillers by agents of the Fourth Judicial Drug Task Force. All the charges against Yates and Kitts were dropped once it became clear that agents couldn't positively identify them as the people who allegedly were selling drugs.

Task force agents aren't technically employed by the task force. They are assigned to work in the unit by the law enforcement agencies that employ them, which includes municipal departments and sheriff's departments from Cocke, Jefferson, Sevier and Grainger counties. Some agencies, however, such as the Sevier County Sheriff's Office, don't participate in the task force.

Kitts, a UPS worker and youth athletics coach, is asking for up to $5 million from a slew of defendants including the Task Force's executive director, Mack Smith; the agents who investigated the case; and the cities and counties that employed the agents.

Yates, a factory worker who ended up losing her house and filing bankruptcy after she was falsely accused twice of being a drug dealer, is asking for $10 million.

Both Kitts and Yates became law enforcement targets during secret counter-drug operations that used confidential informants in addition to police acting in undercover roles.

Neither was arrested at the time of the alleged drug sales, which were not related to each other. Authorities instead waited several months to arrest them, a tactic that's frequently used to protect the identities of undercover officers and allow police to develop comprehensive information about drug networks.

Task force director Smith recently allowed the News Sentinel to review documents generated during the investigations against Yates and Kitts. The documentation provided by Smith consisted primarily of reports filed by agents in which they detailed meeting with suspects, driver's license information and audio recordings of the transactions.

The News Sentinel was unable to copy the files or listen to the audio CDs, however, because Smith produced the records for review in his pickup truck.

Smith said the case files are the only type of investigative records generated by the agency. Personnel files, which contain information on the officers assigned to the task force, are maintained by the police departments they come from, he said.

Kitts, a UPS worker and youth athletics coach, was arrested June 25 on multiple charges of trafficking in prescription painkillers after task force agents apparently misidentified him in a series of drug buys involving another man and an unnamed confidential informant who apparently facilitated the deals.

Although the suspect believed to be Kitts identified himself instead as "Larry" during the first transaction, the agents apparently obtained a license tag number and phone number that they traced back to Kitts, leading them to conclude he was the man known as "Larry," according to records and Smith.

Within days of Kitts' arrest, the charges against him were dropped and he received an apology from Smith because an internal probe indicated that he'd been misidentified.

One of the task force agents involved in Kitts' case, a Jefferson County Sheriff's Office deputy assigned to the task force named Wanda Watson, was removed from the task force because of Kitts' arrest. Watson hadn't been named publicly as being the agent who was booted from the task force until the News Sentinel identified her through the case file. Jefferson County officials declined to comment.

The other agent, a Gatlinburg police officer, is not being named in this story because Smith said he's still working as an undercover Drug Task Force agent.

Yates, a Morristown factory worker, was wrongly arrested twice last year on drug charges. During the nine months it took to clear her name, she was suspended without pay from her $10.86-an-hour factory job, which caused her and her husband to lose their house and go into bankruptcy, she said.

Yates' first arrest took place in Jefferson County, while the second took place at her home. Drug Task Force agents Ron Barrett and Neal Seals identified her as a woman who was trafficking pills, according to records, but Smith said he later determined the dealer might actually have been a woman named "Patty" who had children with the last name of "Yates."

"I had some doubt and that doubt made me want to err on the side of caution," Smith said.

The confidential informant who could have clarified the situation has disappeared, Smith said, and Seals adamantly maintains that Yates was the woman who sold drugs.

Seals was assigned to the task force from the Sevierville Police Department but has since left law enforcement for a career in the private sector. Smith said Barrett is a Gatlinburg officer no longer with the task force.

More details as they develop online and in Saturday's News Sentinel.

Posted by: shay | September 15, 2008 10:16 AM

Anonymous, you question my analysis but fail to point out how it is "incorrect." I stated what the law is. If I am wrong, I challenge you to cite a federal or state case or law to the contrary. I didn't say a generalized "fear of armed men" was sufficient for a no knock entry. Re-read my posts, Mr. Mayor.

From my armchair, I agree that the execution of the warrant was by no means perfect. But officers' actions are not judged with 20/20 hindsight. They are to be judged from the perspective of a reasonable police officer on the scene at the time of the police action being questioned.

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 12:31 PM

Mr. Harry Fisher, that Cato map is by no means dispositive of anything. It only shows raids that were questioned or received media coverage. What about the other hundreds of SWAT-type raids conducted everyday without loss of life or injury of any kind?

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 12:39 PM

Here's how it's wrong, Laurel: the standard is "REASONABLE suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime."

There's nothing reasonable about how an old lady uttering an exclamation of surprise at the sudden appearance of unidentified heavily armed men and then seeking safety within her own home that could lead a reasonable person to the conclusion that granny was going to get her AK and/or flush the pot, particularly absent any other previous evidence from surveillance, etc. that the occupants of the dwelling were engaged in drug activity or that weapons were on the premises.

What everybody seems to be forgetting here is that there's no evidence that the mayor's house had ever been used as a "drug drop" before, and, therefore, the only thing that the police were relying on in conducting their heavy-handed raid, was an unsuspecting address. Therein lies a lot of the blame. How hard would it have been for the police to actually conduct an iota of pre-surveillance on the premises prior to the arrival of the package so that they could have understood the environment into which they were charging, guns blazing. Merely assuming that every address that is being sent a shipment is going to be a fortified crack house stocked with AK's and Uzis is an unforgivable fallacy of law enforcement, especially when said law enforcement has a deep history of making fatal mistakes.

Posted by: Laurel's an idiot. | September 15, 2008 1:29 PM

the phrase people are looking for is - exigent circumstance

An "exigent circumstance" can be pretty much anything an officer says it is.

Posted by: mds | September 15, 2008 1:57 PM

As a military officer, I take offense at the term "militarization" of the police. A professional military force, e.g., the US Army, etc., is a trained and DISCIPLINED organization. The goons in PGC apparently are neither.

Posted by: Bob | September 15, 2008 2:16 PM

Internet tough guy, why the emotional response? I'm an idiot but you cannot engage in discourse without resorting to name calling. A court will decide whether it was reasonable for officers to fear - at that moment; not after the fact - that the mother's scream would alert others in the home that police were present and give those persons an opportunity to destroy evidence.

Posted by: Laurel the idiot | September 15, 2008 2:48 PM

And it was the Sheriff's Department, which does not have a "deep history of making fatal mistakes," that conducted the raid and did the shooting and not the PG Police.

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 2:52 PM

Mr. Harry Fisher, that Cato map is by no means dispositive of anything. It only shows raids that were questioned or received media coverage. What about the other hundreds of SWAT-type raids conducted everyday without loss of life or injury of any kind?

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 12:39 PM

Yep, that's what the Cato Map shows alright. And you don't see any problem that people have been wrongly maimed or killed in these raids? Do you believe that the media shouldn't report these botched raids and the citizens shouldn't question what is going on? Should we just ignore all the innocent people killed in these raids and just focus on the raids that go well? Are all these poor victims of botched SWAT raids just collateral damage?
What would you say if it was your house or you that was wrongly targeted? Hey, that's okay boys, no hard feelings?
BTW, SWAT Teams were created to handle hostage, terrorist, and very violent situations, not to serve arrest warrants.

Posted by: shay | September 15, 2008 3:37 PM

The Idiot Wrote:

"A court will decide whether it was reasonable for officers to fear - at that moment; not after the fact - that the mother's scream would alert others in the home that police were present and give those persons an opportunity to destroy evidence."

You are insane. Can you please explain exactly how the "evidence" could have been destroyed. Did they have an industrial shredder/ disposal in their living room?

The swatanazi's planted the evidence on the door step and waited for someone to bring the large package into the house. Then they attacked.

And then the woman screamed.

And, "at the moment" do you think those homeowners were not in fear for their lives? Yes, they were - and therefore had every right to defend themselves to include the use of deadly force.

The cops argument of we were just following their own (stupid, inept, and inherently dangerous) policies is the same argument used by the Nazi's at the Nuremburg Trials. I believe they were hung for crimes against humanity, were they not?

Posted by: TrapperJohn | September 15, 2008 4:14 PM

shay, this may come as a surprise but humans, even the most highly trained, are fallible. Ask Bob the military officer. I am sure he can tell you how highly trained US Army Rangers killed Pat Tillman by mistake. Bottom line: I only wrote to correct Mr. Fisher - not to defend every single raid that has ever occurred. I do, however, recognize that police work is dangerous and difficult and I am not willing to make blanket statements about all police based upon the actions of a few.

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 4:23 PM

It is of utmost importance that the judicial official who approved the home invasion be brought up on the carpet. He is not a secretary who just signs his name on pieces of paper. He should be demanding to know the allegations and the current intelligence the police have on the suspects. He should know who the suspect is if it's a member of the municipal governmen t simply to help decide if a full blown attack on these people is necessary or whether a visit with two pail clothes officers could accomplish the same thing. In other words did the suspects have a rap sheet? Were they known to carry weapons? Were they considered dangerous? Hardly something the mayor would normally fall under. Perhaps letting a judge decide if justice prevailed here would help along with several hundreds of thousands of dollars of damages.

Posted by: Archie1954 | September 15, 2008 4:46 PM

The fact that the County Police/Sheriff's Office didn't even know that this was the Mayor's house proves they did absolutely zero investigation before the raid. 30 seconds on Google would have told you who the homeowner was. And claiming that the elderly mother's cry when she saw a dozen men with M4 assault rifles storming her house was justification for a no-knock entry is circular logic. The raid caused the fearful reaction which becomes the justification for the raid. If this elderly lady was a drug dealer why did she refuse to accept the package and leave it on the porch all afternoon. The Sheriff's office has lost almost all its police powers over the years and they saw this as their chance to play with the big boys. I'm sure this was a lot cooler than serving eviction notices and domestic restraining orders.

Posted by: PG Resident | September 15, 2008 4:51 PM

Great article, Marc. If you do a followup--and I sincerely hope you do--I recommend talking to Radley Balko. He's a senior editor for Reason magazine and also a biweekly columnist with FoxNews.(Yes, he's a libertarian. And so am I. And proud of it.) He's written a white paper on the militarization of SWAT teams and the preponderance of violence by them against innocent citizens titled Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. The SWAT map Mr Fisher mentioned was based on his research for that paper.
BTW, here's that URL again:
and the URL for Mr Balko's blog:
Again, thanks for the great story and shedding light on what is a growing problem in this country.

Posted by: Andrew Williams | September 15, 2008 5:16 PM

The Idiot Wrote:

“shay, this may come as a surprise but humans, even the most highly trained, are fallible. Ask Bob the military officer. I am sure he can tell you how highly trained US Army Rangers killed Pat Tillman by mistake. Bottom line: I only wrote to correct Mr. Fisher - not to defend every single raid that has ever occurred. I do, however, recognize that police work is dangerous and difficult and I am not willing to make blanket statements about all police based upon the actions of a few.”

So odd that you picked Pat Tillman.

You DO realize ( for example, as per “60 Minutes” detailed expose’), that the Army conducted a massive cover-up as to what really happened. Soldiers there, including Pat’s brother, testified how Pat’s memory had been dishonored and his family (and the nation) directly lied to.

The coroner refused to sign the death certificate because he could tell that Army’s story was not true. Pat’s clothes were burned and replaced (direct violation of law) so as to destroy evidence of how he was shot. “Gag” orders were issued to the soldiers.

His death, like SWAT murders, was caused by command incompetence and then covered-up by the chain of command. Sound remotely familiar?

And what you fail to get is that these SWAT abuses are not “isolated cases”, they are not a “few rogues” it is a systemic problem.

Read Balko, Kappler, Kraska, Police Chief Norm Stamper, Officer Mike Quinn’s (to name just a few) works and studies on SWAT abuse and educate yourself.

(Hint: there IS a real problem, when long term, highly decorated Police Officers are writing vehemently about it and starting nationwide organizations to stop SWAT).

I know ignorance is bliss – but people are being killed, maimed and their private property wantonly destroyed by SWAT on a daily basis. Educate yourself.

(Second Hint: Serving warrants is regular civilian police work.

Under our system of laws and two hundred years of legal tradition, a person is “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”.

A warrant is not a declaration of guilt under any circumstances.

So that translates into what, exactly?

How about full scale military home invasion assaults against the citizens of the U.S.A..?)

Posted by: TrapperJohn | September 15, 2008 6:23 PM

Laurel - So how many wrong raids are justified? If you say anything more than zero, you deserve whatever the state is willing to give you and they have no fear of any wrong doing, no matter the cicumstances.

Posted by: Jerry | September 15, 2008 6:54 PM

Question: How many deaths does it take, Laurel, before it becomes wrong?

Posted by: Andrew Williams | September 15, 2008 6:59 PM

I was already to reply to Laurel, but I see that Trapper, Andrew, and Jerry have done just fine so there's no need to wear out my fingers. Thanks!

Posted by: shay | September 15, 2008 8:11 PM

Trapper John you obviously have difficulty with reading comprehension. Therefore, I will heed the age old advice regarding arguing with a fool.

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 8:30 PM

Police “Testilying” Outrages Judges

A great New York Times report about the often used practice of police lying on the courtroom stand.

Below are some quotes. Full article here:

“But a closer look at those prosecutions reveals something that has not been trumpeted: more than 20 cases in which judges found police officers’ testimony to be unreliable, inconsistent, twisting the truth, or just plain false. The judges’ language was often withering:“patently incredible,”“riddled with exaggerations,”“unworthy of belief.”

The lack of consequences for officers may seem surprising, given that a city commission on police corruption … pinpointed tainted testimony as a problem so pervasive that the police even had a word for it:“testilying.”

Whatever one makes of the legal debate, these cases offer a revealing glimpse into some police practices — in the street and on the witness stand — that have gone largely unexamined outside the courtroom.

Questions about police credibility can also hamper other cases. When a judge finds, for example, that an officer has lied, prosecutors must alert defense lawyers in other cases involving that officer.

Judge David G. Trager of Brooklyn federal court was so indignant over what he called an officer’s “blatantly false” testimony in an October 2005 suppression hearing that he told prosecutors,“I hope you won’t darken my courtroom with this police officer’s testimony again.”

The Police Department never learned of his criticism, and the officers — like many others whose word has been called into question — faced no disciplinary action or inquiry.

Judge, John E. Sprizzo of United States District Court in Manhattan, concluded that the police had simply reached into the pack without cause, found the gun, then “tailored” testimony to justify the illegal search.”

Posted by: shay | September 15, 2008 8:48 PM

Laurel--if the occupants becoming aware of the raid is a reason to break in without making an announcement, then how would knocking and announcing ever be justified? Knocking does, after all, tend to alert the occupants to your presence. Orwell called this doublespeak.

You're right that everyone makes mistakes. But we also suffer the consequences of our mistakes. If these "officers" didn't pay for their mistake by armed retaliation when they initially attacked these innocent people, and before they killed those pets, then they are supposed to be held accountable by the judicial system. In this case, as in many similar cases, THEY were a much greater threat to society than the criminals they were trying to catch.

Posted by: Bill | September 15, 2008 10:17 PM

I'm just glad my government cares so much for me, they're willing to spend billions in cash, hundreds of thousands in lives and put millions in jail, just to keep me safe from drugs. Y'all are too hard on the police. Sure they're raiding our houses Gestapo style, but you have to admit they've been very effective in getting drugs off our streets. That's worth the cost here, right?

Posted by: Robert | September 15, 2008 11:08 PM

Bill, even under the "knock and announce" requirement, police don't have to actually wait for a homeowner to open the door. It is neither unlawful nor uncommon for police to knock and announce their presence and then break the door after a few seconds if no response is received, especially if they hear people scrambling about inside. Read Hudson v. Michigan and Wilson v. Arkansas.

This is our country's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Everyone is complaining about the police but the current Supreme Court has weakened the knock and announce requirement by removing the penalty of evidence suppression when the rule is violated.

I am sure the Calvos plan to sue. If a judge or jury believes the deputies violated the Calvos' rights the officers and/or their employers will be held accountable by the award of money damages.

Posted by: Laurel | September 15, 2008 11:10 PM

It is just so wrong that persons who have been assaulted by the police must go through the ordeal of seeking redress through the legal system, the system that unleashed the feral police in the first place. With even the best intentions I cannot see how someone possessing drugs, even the ones reputed to have the most diabolical effects on the user, can justify the pervasive practice of assaulting people's homes in storm-trooper fashion and brutalize, sometimes even kill the residents and destroy their possessions. This is the type of thing that the nazi storm troopers did when informers had pointed out a house with suspected Jews. I have a really hard time understanding how my fellow Americans can condone such vicious, oppressive conduct by our government towards our own citizens. Have things not gone far enough? Since when is the police allowed to treat our people as if they were an occupied enemy, rampaging at will on the flimsiest of accusations? Laurel, you should be ashamed of yourself to support these practices. It is not as if the drug defendants are a ticking bomb, about to blow up the nearest government building. The SWAT raids are an abuse, except in the few circumstances when they are really warranted.

Posted by: Harry Fisher | September 15, 2008 11:55 PM

Either Laurel is a PG Cty pig or DA. Or more likely a PG Cty pig groupie who enjoys servicing the pigs in PG and hearing their stories of daring and bravado against innocent residents as he swallows and is topped.

PG Cty has had a reputation of being a bunch of undisciplined storm troopers with little regard for citizens rights since my uncle the PG Cty judge told me Boy dont F with the cops back in 1965.

I fault PG cty residents for not demanding a professional police force and sheriff's dept along with politicians that arent corrupt. Listening Jackie!

Laurel you have a great day taking protein shots you hear me bubba!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 16, 2008 6:43 AM

Harry are so absolutely right! And I find it all so sad and so disappointing that on this issue things in my country are no better than they are in many of the countries around the world; you know the countries that the USA sanctimoniously criticizes for human rights violations.

How is ridding my neighborhood of a few joints and the people who smoke them going to do ANYTHING to make me safer?
With all the fire power of these SWAT Teams isn't it amazing that they don't go after the "Big" guys and not some person sitting in their home basically bothering no one? Why is that?
I have never done any of these drugs in my life and I have never and still do not condone using them. But even a straight arrow like me can see that this minutia that the police are wasting time, money and most importantly, lives on, is so wrong.
Another very sad thing is that most of these police officers and police departments are never sanctioned and never prosecuted by the DA. Why is that?
The people who argue 'for' the police are certainly entitled to their opinion. These are good people, too, but you will find every time that these are people who have no clue about what is going on in their own backyards. These are also people who are 100% sure that none of this could ever happen to them. Just like all the innocent victims of SWAT FEVER and police brutality once thought.

Posted by: shay | September 16, 2008 10:03 AM

The Idiot Wrote:

"even under the "knock and announce" requirement, police don't have to actually wait for a homeowner to open the door. It is neither unlawful nor uncommon for police to knock and announce their presence and then break the door after a few seconds if no response is received, especially if they hear people scrambling about inside. Read Hudson v. Michigan and Wilson v. Arkansas."

Just so happens "Idiot", I am very, very well versed in this case law. Perhaps you'd like to explain why you left out the part about "exigent circumstances" being a requirement?

Perhaps you'd like to detail the justice's reasoning why "exigent circumstances" encountered on the scene (read the last 3 words again) is required so as to protect the civil rights of the citizens?

Could you explain the "exigent circumstances" that existed in Calvo case - you know the one where SWAT planted the box on the doorstep?

(Hint #3: Part of comprehension, honey, is to entirely read the text.)

Posted by: TrapperJohn | September 16, 2008 2:40 PM

Serious critiques of the use of SWAT teams is past due. The proliferation of these paramilitary units is unnecessary. Their presence at an incidient set the dynamics in motion for shots to be fired, and the mayor's case was no exception. When will political leaders put a stop to these overheated police units? Marc Fisher, hit 'em harder!

Posted by: Charles S | September 16, 2008 5:48 PM

Guess how many of the 1 million law enforcement officers in this country are killed each year by felony?

Go to the FBI's website and look at the facts.

In the last 5 or so years the average is about 55 out of a million. (Way more people die from smoking or simply crossing the street each year.)

They were sadly killed in the line of duty almost exclusively by illegal hand guns.

They were not killed by militarized crimminals. That line of bull is a lie and always has been a lie to justify SWAT.

Posted by: Fun Facts | September 16, 2008 7:22 PM

What a money maker SWAT raids are! Who knew!

Go to the

scroll down to

"Good Piece on Forfeiture" and click on link

Posted by: shay | September 16, 2008 11:19 PM


Posted by: PAULA QUEEN | September 17, 2008 9:56 AM

This same thing happened to my wife and I shortly after we moved into our house ten years ago. I am a Lieutenant Firefighter on the City of Tacoma. I have worked for the Fire Department for approximately 20 years. My wife is a nurse.

My wife was home alone recovering from foot surgery with a cast on her leg. She heard loud beating on our front door. She hobbled down the stairs as quickly as she could and opened the door just as the swat team was about to bash the door in with a ram.

They were heavily armed and all dressed in black. They never identified themselves. They shoved her against the wall and shouted at her to stand back. Fortunately our three wiener dogs were confined, but my wife was still sure that they were going to shoot them all. They ran all around the house opening up everything and tracking dirt and pine needles everywhere.

I never was able to get a good explanation from anyone as to why they raided our house and scared my wife practically to death. The closest thing I got to an explanation was that there was a guy who had been just been released from jail for having a relationship with an underage girl. He reportedly had made some attempt to contact the girl again. He had at one time given the authorities a phone number that had been associated with our home at some time before we moved in. Apparently it is too much trouble for detectives to research whether such information is current or valid before getting a judge to rubber stamp some sort of court order.

It is probably fortunate that I wasn't home at the time. Me being a man, I probably would have been close enough to what they were looking for to take me down. A bunch of trigger happy hopped up police running around in their Swat team costumes are just a recipe for disaster as far as I am concerned.

Posted by: Steven Miller | September 19, 2008 11:51 AM

"Apparently it is too much trouble for detectives to research whether such information is current or valid before getting a judge to rubber stamp some sort of court order."
Posted by: Steven Miller | September 19, 2008 11:51 AM

Which is why the informed citizen has come to understand that these SWAT Teams are running around like idiots, bulked up on steroids, trying to find SOMETHING, ANYTHING,to do to justify their existence. If they actually INVESTIGATED their information before they went off like mad men they would probably find out that there was no reason to break out the "Team"
and run around wreaking havoc and death. Now how can they play Army Men or Rambo if there isn't a reason...what fun is that?

Posted by: shay | September 19, 2008 2:43 PM


Lloyd Smalley and Lillian Weiss

Minneapolis, Minnesota

(SWAT: Burnin Down Da House!- with people inside)

Police in Minneapolis, Minnesota conduct a drug raid at the home of elderly African-American couple Lloyd Smalley and Lillian Weiss after a bad tip from an informant.

The stun grenades police use in the raid set the home on fire.

Police are certain no one is inside, and so at first make no attempt at rescue.

Smalley and Weiss die of smoke inhalation.

Police had raided the WRONG house.

Years later, the same police department would make a similar mistake.

The deployment of a stun grenade during a drug raid on a triplex would cause the entire building to catch fire, ruining the two homes surrounding the target of the raid.


Karren Mills, "City Image Tarnished By Allegations of Police Racism," Associated Press.

David Chanen, "Police device used in search is considered safe, official says," Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Posted by: shay | September 19, 2008 4:51 PM

Laurel wrote: Here, according to the police, the SWAT officers were seen by the mayor's mother as they approached and she screamed. This is sufficient for officers to believe that a no knock entry was necessary to secure the premises before people inside could destroy evidence or prepare to resist police by force.

So how is it 'sufficient' to conclude that 32 pounds of pot would be destroyed? That's not exactly a flushable amount in so short a time. The pseudo-SWAT keystone kops were smart enough to act in a manner they thought would preserve the intent of their mission, yet ignorant of their mission's basic details, such as whose home they were about to enter? The package was addressed to Ms. Calvo, but 2.5 seconds on Google would have provided sufficient enlightenment that perhaps deadly force was not justified.

Is such a botched raid, which is detrimental to the officers' community standing, not at the very least of minor concern PR-wise for a county whose law enforcement institutions have already had more than their own share of negative publicity?

If their mission is to "serve and protect" why do they so often disregard both tenets to ensure it is only themselves who are intended to be served and protected?

Posted by: stumbler | September 19, 2008 5:30 PM

And another travesty...Just think that this could have been the fate of Mayor Calvo, his mother-in-law and wife..not only their dogs....This HAPPENS more than you think.

"Undercover narcotics police storm the San Diego home of Tommie C. Dubose, a 56-year-old civilian instructor at a Naval station.

Dubose, who friends say was staunchly opposed to drug use, charges the invading plain clothed and masked officer, tosses a glass of wine in his face and goes for the invaders gun.

Another officer shoots Dubose once in the face and four times in the back, killing him.

Police find no drugs in the home.

They had raided after suspecting Dubose's son of drug trafficking.

The San Diego County district attorney would later find the police shooting justifiable,


would criticize the way the undercover police served the search warrant, including the number of times they knocked on the door, how they announced themselves, and how quickly they burst inside.


Alan Abrahamson, "City, widow reach tentative pact in Dubose killing," Los Angeles Times.'

Posted by: Rose | September 20, 2008 2:56 PM

From an Expert who has been there, Al Lorentz, former Marine sniper; former Airborne Ranger in the Texas National Guard who trains SWAT teams, comes expert words of wisdom:

"SWAT teams usually deploy with tremendous odds assuring the success and safety of the officers involved, but also creating a climate of fear, intimidation, hostility, and danger for the innocent-until-proven-guilty suspects.

Too often, the SWAT team instead becomes judge, jury and executioner.…SWAT teams only like to ‘play’ when they are assured of an easy victory.

When was the last time you ever heard of the SWAT teams taking on the Hells Angels? Usually we read about them taking out some innocent and elderly citizen instead.

SWAT teams are deployed to kill and destroy, which is not the mission of the police department.

…The goal of the military is to kill and destroy, something that is in direct contradiction to the stated mission of the police department to ‘protect and serve’.

Because of this, SWAT teams tend to attract police officers who are tired of protecting and serving and want to kick some tail…"

"SWAT teams also get military training and afford the sociopaths who apply the opportunity to pretend they are warriors (or to re-live their "adrenaline rush" days as former soldiers) which they are not.

Warriors fight other warriors; cowards and thugs attack civilians.

SWAT teams afford the cowardly or unqualified the opportunity to live out their Walter Mitty fantasies of military conquest, glory and heroism; all without having to take significant risks or suffer the personal hardship involved with being a real soldier."

Also from another Expert whose actually been there: David Doddridge, a 20-year veteran of LAPD, a former narcotics officer:, when asked if using SWAT teams to serve warrant makes things safer:

Doddridge: Laughs.“Oh, no. Of course not. SWAT teams are trained to deal with dangerous people.

When you bring a SWAT team to serve a drug warrant, a drug offender, you're escalating the situation, not de-escalating it.

One thing you have to understand: Cops love action. They crave action.

You have thousands of these SWAT teams across the country, now.

You've got these guys in some small town in Idaho with nothing better to do just looking at each other.

"What do we do with this warrant? Well, might as well give it to the SWAT team!"

It isn't necessary.”

Posted by: Experts | September 20, 2008 3:15 PM

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