Photo via Flickr user Franck Berthelet
David Hooks’s death reads like a boilerplate tale of a police raid gone wrong. Around 11 PM on September 24, deputies from the Laurens County, Georgia, sheriff’s department stormed their way into his house looking, they say, for meth. A reported 16 shots later, the 59-year-old was dead, and naturally there are conflicting accounts about what happened. The cops claim Hooks brandished his shotgun at them when they came in; Hooks’s family’s lawyer says that the raid victim’s wife, Teresa, had seen cops in hoods lurking around the house and was worried they were robbers (the home had been burglarized only a couple nights before) and Hooks was merely worried about defending his property. No drugs or anything illegal was found in the home, according to the lawyer.
The complicating factor here is that the warrant was issued on the say-so of an informant, Rodney Garrett, who had stolen an SUV, a firearm, and—he claimed—a bag containing scales and 20 grams of meth from the Hooks residence. Garrett turned himself in and told the police about the alleged drugs, saying that he feared for his life.
The raid, then, can serve a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with the war on drugs: a door busted down on what, in hindsight at least, was flimsy evidence; a search warrant that was seemingly signed off on and executed in a hurry; an operation that was unnecessarily militaristic. Whoever was at fault for Hooks’s death, the man himself seems completely blameless—if his wife’s account is accurate, he was merely defending himself against what he thought was a home invasion.
Dubious informants are a familiar catalyst for this kind of raid. Virginian Ryan Frederick is currently serving ten years for manslaughter because he shot the cop who broke down his door during a 2008 narcotics raid that was the result of a tip from a man who said Frederick was growing pot. The informant saw plants that resembled a marijuana grow, Frederick’s supporters told Radley Balko, when he broke into the man’s house.
Not all informants are as obviously suspect as that, but many of them have ulterior motives—and too often their half-baked or biased information leads to guns-out raids on old women or emotionally damaged veterans. Then there’s the phenomenon of pranksters “swatting” people they don’t like, which can result in confused operations that are dangerous for both the cops and their confused civilian targets—who, as the Hooks case reminds us, might very well have guns in their homes. As long as judges sign warrants on flimsy evidence and cops eagerly bust down doors, people like Hooks will keep dying.
Now onto this week’s bad cops:
–On Thursday, former Chicago police officer Jon Burge was released to a halfway house after only three years and change in prison. Burge is infamous for overseeing a 30-year reign of terror during which (mostly black) suspects were tortured and false confessions were extracted. Several men who were sent to prison because of Burge’s misdeeds have won their freedom, including Anthony Holmes, who lost 30 years of his life after what he says was an electrocution-induced murder confession. Unlike some victims, Holmes never got a cent for the misery he suffered, while Burge—who was convicted only of lying to federal investigators about his actions, not the actions themselves, hence his short stay behind bars—is getting a $4,000-a-month pension.
–A Georgia man was surprised by a drug task force on Wednesday morning because he was growing okra. Dwayne Perry woke up to Barlow County deputies (including a K-9 unit) at his door and a helicopter hovering over his house because the cops mistook his five-leafed crop for seven-leafed weed plants. Thankfully, nobody was injured or killed during this incident, but it seems bizarre that the police in Georgia would be unfamiliar with the traditional soul food green. Perry got an apology for his trouble, but he told local media that the raid made his neighbors suspicious.
–Most people agree that freedom of speech is important; similarly, most would say that police officers who are out-and-out racists should find other work. So it’s probably for the best that Charleston, South Carolina, cop Shawn Williams was put on leave when police found videos on his computer that showed, according to a local media account, “Williams’s young daughter dressed in what appear to be articles of a police uniform and dancing to an anthem of the Ku Klux Klan. The refrain of the song repeats the words, ‘Stand up and be counted, show the world that you’re a man. Stand up and be counted, go with the Ku Klux Klan.’”
–The Flordell Hills, Missouri, police department came into being on October 1. On that very day, officer Jeremy Quate was arrested for stealing prescription medication from the evidence room. Maybe shut the whole thing down and start over?
–Luddites, start your whimpering: On September 26, while pursuing four underage drunk driving suspects who had fled from their car, police in Grand Forks, North Dakota, decided to let their drone do the work for them. Don't picture a Predator or Reaper drone hovering over the drunken pipsqueaks; the flying robot was a simple quadcopter—basically, a remote-controlled helicopter. Let’s remind ourselves that drones in the hands of police can serve a useful purpose—like finding a lost child or hiker—while not losing sight of the fact that they’ll probably end up butting into the private affairs of citizens and monitoring okra-grow operations.
–Last Monday, a Red Hook, New York, cop saved a toddler in cinematic fashion. After Matt Morgan’s 22-month-old son Matthew had a seizure and fell unconscious, Morgan began speeding frantically to the hospital, but stopped his car when he spotted officer Patrick Hildenbrand. The officer took both Morgans into his car, then rushed to the nearest hospital while simultaneously performing CPR on the little boy. Matt was taken care of at the hospital, and will be fine, but the emergency room doctor said it would have been too late without Hildenbrand, who is one of our most deserving Good Cops of the Week in a while.
Follow Lucy Steigerwald on Twitter.