Bad Cop Blotter

Stop SWAT Raids

By Lucy Steigerwald


Photo by author

How many dead and injured cops and civilians will it take for police to reevaluate how SWAT raids are conducted? There are almost 150 such raids a day, mostly over drugs, and many take place in the wee hours and include potentially lethal flash-bang grenades, military-like tactics, and plenty of chances for violence to escalate. Unless it’s a true hostage situation, using SWAT teams, especially against people in their homes, means you’re either scaring the hell out of a nonviolent person or making a violent one believe he’s being attacked. Bloodshed can occur in either case.

When these raids go wrong, lives are destroyed. One example is Matthew David Stewart, who committed suicide in his jail cell last month, apparently to avoid potentially facing the death sentence over his killing one officer and injuring five more in a 2012 Utah marijuana raid (he said that he opened fire on police because he thought he was being robbed). In the last decade, other cops have died at the hands of other targets of similar operations like Cory Maye and Ryan Frederick, both of whom plausibly claimed that they didn’t know who was busting down their doors.

When SWAT tactics go really wrong, civilians who haven’t even committed a crime end up being killed by cops. Some of the recent dead include Iraq veteran Jose Guerena, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, and seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, all of whom were killed in their homes by police in horrifically botched raids.

Detroit cop Joseph Weekley, who is currently on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the 2010 death of Stanley-Jones, admits he accidentally shot the young girl. But he says it happened while he fought with the girl’s grandmother in a confused, post–flash-bang-grenade struggle. (The raid was part of a search for a murder suspect who was eventually found in the above duplex; the police were being trailed by a TV crew from the reality show The First 48.)

Weekley’s account was surprisingly—what with the famous “blue line” code of silence that officers adopt when one of their own is charged with wrongdoing—disputed by fellow cop Shawn Stallard, who testified that he didn’t see any scuffling when he entered the home close behind Weekley.

If all officers on the stand were as honest as Stallard seems to be, that would be a hell of a start in reforming police misconduct. But to hold cops accountable, we would have to change—among other things—drug laws, Homeland Security military-tech grants, overcriminalization in general, biased judges and prosecutors, and immunity laws that let cops get away with murder if they were on duty at the time. There’s a whole lot rotten in the state of American policing—much more than any one cop, or even one department, can claim credit for. But this doesn’t excuse those officers who fail spectacularly at the whole protect-and-serve thing.

To point out at least some of those failures, today marks the start of the Bad Cop Blotter, a new VICE column where dangerous, arrogant, and stupid police behavior gets shamed, and good officers—on occasion—get praised (even if that praise is damningly faint). Here are the worst things cops have done in the past week:

- A grand jury won’t bring charges against Matthew Marin, a Houston cop who fatally shot 45-year-old Brian Claunch last September. Marin killed Claunch, a schizophrenic wheelchair-bound double amputee living in a group home, after he backed Marin’s partner into a corner, and refused to reveal what turned out to be a ballpoint pen.

- Forty-year-old Christopher Self was sentenced to 18 years in prison for shooting a member of a team of SWAT officers and narcotics detectives in June 2011. Officers threw a flash-bang grenade through Self’s window and Self responded by firing a single shot, which hit a cop in the arm. Throughout the trial, Self argued that he didn’t know the identity of these morning intruders.

- There are lingering controversies—enough to warrant a grand jury hearing—in the case of 19-year-old Daniel Vail, a suspect in a weed-related home invasion who was killed by cops in a 1 AM no-knock SWAT raid on January 10. Vail’s family says that the cops should have just knocked on the front door rather than storming the house with weapons drawn in the middle of the night.

- A homeless, mentally ill man was fatally shot by Lancaster, Pennsylvania, police on Monday, June 8, after allegedly waving a nine-inch knife, running away, and then coming toward cops and not dropping his weapon. Witnesses dispute some of this, including whether he had a knife at all.

- Buffalo, New York, narcotics cops raided the wrong apartment earlier this month, which wouldn't have been so newsworthy had the resident, Adam Arroyo, not come home to a busted door, multiple bullet holes in his kitchen wall, and a dead dog.

- The family of David Silva filed a lawsuit this past weekend stemming from Silva’s May 8 death in police custody. The autopsy claims that the 33-year-old died of heart disease, but the family disputes this and says that he was beaten to death. Cops took several witnesses’ cellphones after the incident.

- A 14-year-old who got suspended from school for refusing to change out of his National Rifle Association shirt was also arrested; he’s been charged with obstructing an officer.

- The police chief in Provincetown, Massachusetts, is looking into why a bar played NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police” while he was present. (That bar, by the way, is called the Squealing Pig.) Good use of police resources there.

- USA Today reported this week on the police giving tickets to a 20-year-old from New Jersey named Dan Langley for having a heart attack while driving, thereby causing a minor traffic accident.

- On the other hand, a different police officer probably saved Langley’s life by performing CPR on the scene. VICE salutes Sergeant Andrew O'Neill for that good work, and we grant him—and Shawn Stallard—our Good Cop of the Week award.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag

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