When Drug Raids Go Bad, Cops Die and Homeowners Get Sent to Prison

It's only natural to freak out when gunmen appear at your door at odd hours.

by Lucy Steigerwald
09 February 2015, 3:17pm

Photo via Flickr user Ryan Lackey

Joel Robinson of Columbia, South Carolina, is due to be tried on Monday over the October shooting of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent during a raid on his house. During the "early morning raid" in October, Robinson, 32, shot Agent Barry Wilson in the elbow, breaking his arm.

Robinson was suspected of manufacturing and selling PCP. He fired at least five shots at the agents surrounding his house, but surrendered after injuring Wilson. No PCP was found in his home, just a small amount of marijuana and a bunch of guns. Robinson faces charges for drug manufacturing conspiracy, assaulting individuals executing a search warrant, and using a firearm during a drug crime.

He is expected to plead self defense, claiming he didn't know it was federal officers at the door. Recent precedents suggest Robinson has a decent chance of pulling off that argument: It worked for Texan Henry Magee, who killed a police sergeant in December 2013, and resulted in Virginian Ryan Frederick serving a decade in prison for killing a member of the SWAT team who came to his door—instead of life or worse.

This idea isn't pretty intuitive: It's only natural to freak out when gunmen appear at your door at odd hours, and even if they announce themselves as police you might still be concerned enough to reach for your guns. But given that so many targets of narcotics raids surrender after shooting a single officer and realizing their mistake, police departments should recognize that these are accidents, not malicious crimes. It's good that these defendants are being treated mercifully by the courts, but police policies surrounding these raids need to change to avoid further deaths.

Now for the rest of this week's bad cops:

-On Saturday, police in Gastonia, North Carolina fatally shot a 74-year-old man during a health welfare check. Police were sent to the home of James Howard Allen by a relative because the man had recently had heart surgery. Allen wasn't responsive to a knock around 10 PM, so at 11, police opened the door themselves. Allen had a pistol, and according to the Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton, "He was challenged to lower the gun down. The gun was pointed in the direction of the officers, and a shot was fired that fatally wounded him." That passive voice means Officer Josh Lefevers fired. In this case, as opposed to a narcotics raid, police actually meant well in checking on Allen, which just makes the whole thing that much more depressing.

-A Fayetteville, Arkansas, man who was basically arrested for not wanting a cop to check his Arizona iced tea for booze had all charges against him dismissed on Thursday. Christopher Lamont Beatty was in a state liquor store parking lot in April 2013 when Rick Libero of the Cumberland County Alcoholic Beverage Control began pestering him about the drink, which Beatty had purchased from the store earlier. Beatty said the plainclothes law enforcement officer, who actually worked at the store, didn't identify himself all that clearly, and eventually cuffed him and shoved him on the ground. The judge tossed out the suit because the stop was baseless. This was justice, but slow in coming, and without the video footage of the incident it seems rather unlikely that Beatty would still have a clean record.

-Asheville, North Carolina, cop Jonathan Collins has been suspended without pay for eight weeks because he spit on a 17-year-old in April. Collins is appealing the sentence, which is unsurprising, but it's amazing that he got such a serious punishment. The officer says the teen got in his way, and he just happened to be spitting at the moment their paths crossed.

-Niles, Ohio, patrolman Todd Mobley is back on the job after being suspended for a month when an internal affairs investigation revealed he pulled over a couple he knew, accused them of stealing gasoline from his mother, and searched their car illegally. Mobley also messed with his dashcam, committed an unlawful use of force, and threatened to kill the man. Nothing about the case suggests that Mobley has any business being a police officer—or that he shouldn't be charged with a crime—but it's so hard to fire a cop that it's difficult to imagine him suffering serious consequences.

-Thanks to newly released surveillance video, Philadelphia police officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson were charged with assault, conspiracy, and filing a false report over their May 2013 arrest of Najee Rivera. They have been suspended from the force, and are likely to be fired. Rivera was pulled off his scooter by the officers and beaten hard enough to fracture his orbital socket—but he was the one charged with assault. (Rivera said he was scared of McKnight and Robinson when they yelled at him and gestured with their batons so he drove his scooter away.) The officers claim Rivera fought them, but the video completely contradicts that story. Philly District Attorney Seth Williams had some seriously harsh words for the two officers, saying, "I will prosecute these two officers to the fullest extent of the law. Simply put, no one—not even police officers—is above the law." Right on.

-Richmond officers managed to set a man on fire on Saturday. The DUI suspect reportedly drove away from police when they attempted to pull him over, then crashed his car. After he was rescued from the vehicle, the man fought against police and firefighters. An officer Tasered the guy, which set him on fire, presumably because of gasoline on his clothes. The man was extinguished and taken to the hospital.

-A lawsuit filed in Austin, Texas, alleges that police put a hood over DUI suspect Caroline Callaway's head, choked her, strapped her down, and took blood after she refused a breathalyzer. DUIs are a serious problem, but there is unquestionably a less Guantanamo Bay-ish way of nailing someone on that charge.

-Bad cops shoot dogs. Good Cops of the Week like Fort Worth, Texas officers Allen Speed and Paul Garcia rescue dogs that don't have an owner to miss them. After briefly blocking traffic, Speed and Garcia coaxed a little dog named "Beach" into their cruiser. Far from being peeved, pedestrians demonstrated their approval with claps and honks. Everyone loves a good dog rescue tale.

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