How Can We Stop Unnecessary and Dangerous SWAT Raids?

A Georgia reform bill proposed in the wake of a police operation that put an 18-month-old in the hospital is a step in the right direction.

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Jan 26 2015, 7:20pm

SWAT team members in Oregon during an exercise. Photo via the Oregon Department of Transportation's Flickr

Last May, Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh was gravely injured by a flash-bang grenade thrown by a Habersham County, Georgia, SWAT team during a no-knock raid. The target was a relative of little Bou Bou's parents, who were only staying in the home because their house had burned down. But the toddler was the one who suffered. He was hospitalized and briefly got put in a medically induced coma, and the bills for all that—which neither the city nor the police will pay—hit $1 million.

All of this was so shocking and awful that it received more media attention than most disastrous police raids. When government employees put an 18-month-old in a hospital, that's bound to make waves. And now there's a bill making its way through the Georgia legislature that aims to make sure this tragedy isn't repeated.

State Senator Vincent Fort, a Democrat from Atlanta, has introduced Senate Bill 45, known as "Bou Bou's Law," which would, as VICE News reports, "require police to show probable cause that there is imminent potential for life endangerment or destruction of evidence if they knocked and declared their presence at a suspect's door prior to arrest. A separate House Bill 56 would put a stop to unannounced arrests between 10 PM and 6 AM, unless a judge specifically grants a warrant."

Bill 56 is arguably the more important of the two measures. Bou Bou's Law is a step in the right direction, but since cops already normally use no-knock raids when there's a gun in the house—and since most drug suspects would destroy evidence if given the chance—the probable-cause requirement won't be that hard to surmount. But stopping cops from busting down doors late at night and early in the morning, when there's a lot of potential for confusion and violence on both sides, is a common-sense reform that would have saved the lives of people like David Hooks, who was killed by a Georgia SWAT team searching for narcotics last year.

More fundamental changes must be made to how SWAT teams are deployed, however. Last year an ACLU report found that only 7 percent of such deployments were "for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios"—which are, of course, the scenarios SWAT teams are designed for. In most other cases, heavily armed cops with flash-bang grenades will just make it more likely that people will end up critically injured or dead. Until departments around the country accept that, there remains the chance for more cases like Bou Bou's.

Now on to this week's bad cops:

–In 2009, an internal CIA review suggested that the importance of information uncovered by torture was being overstressed. The CIA didn't see fit to share this with the rest of the class, however, and the agency continues to dispute the Senate's torture report, which was released in December and made similar claims. Guys, it's OK to admit that waterboarding was both ineffective and immoral.

–Earlier this month, Eric McDavid, who was sent to prison for eco-terrorism, was freed after serving almost half of his 20-year-old sentence thanks to the FBI's shady dealings being revealed. According to McDavid the bureau used a 19-year-old mole in a sort of honeypot operation, but what's even more damning is that the government withheld thousands of pages of evidence at the trial that would have exonerated him.

–In other federal agency news, the Department of Justice and the DEA paid the New York woman whose Facebook identity they used for drug stings a settlement of $134,000. The authorities did not, however, admit to having done anything wrong. Nor did they promise not to ever do it again.

–There is a warrant out for the arrest of a Detroit man who owes $30,000 in back child support—even though the DNA evidence says that Carnell Alexander is not the father of the kid in question. That sure seems like a mistake someone should have caught!

–Details are scarce on this one, but a 17-year-old girl was apparently shot and killed by the cops in Longview, Texas, after coming into the police station brandishing a knife. It sure seems like the police would be able to handle that threat without resorting to legal force.

–On Sunday, a 17-year-old Brooklyn teen was arrested for making threats against NYPD officers via Facebook. The weird part is that Osiris Aristy's threats were in Emoji form. He posted photos of himself with guns and drugs when he already had a rap sheet, so he's clearly not all that bright, but his arrest shows just how easy it to be arrested for saying stuff on social media. Be careful out there.

–Bayonne, New Jersey, cop Domenico Lillo was charged on January 23 with excessive force and falsification of records over his arrest of a suspect who he allegedly beat with a flashlight to the point of disfigurement. The plaintiff, Brandon Walsh, has also sued the Bayonne Police Department, and alleges that other officers did not help him during the December 2013 arrest. Walsh's mother and her grandchildren were also pepper-sprayed. Lillio was arrested by the FBI and suspended without pay once the charges were filed. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

–On Thursday, a Dearborn, Michigan, woman sued the local police department, alleging religious discrimination. Malak Kazan, a 27-year-old Muslim woman, was booked on a traffic violation and driving with a suspended license on July 9, which is ordinary enough, but at the police department she was told she had to remove her headscarf. Kazan said police ignored her pleas to be allowed to keep her scarf on, and even her request for a female officer to take the photo.

–Another Thursday lawsuit alleges that an unnamed woman was forced to show her genitals to prison guards after she tried to visit an inmate at a Tennessee prison while she was menstruating. The women, who is a frequent visitor to the privately run facility, says the presence of a sanitary pad made guards suspicious she was smuggling in contraband. She says she was not allowed to leave, or to show the pad to guards, or to take it out, but was actually forced to show her genitals in the bathroom.

–A nameless, apparently modest cop in Weymouth, Massachusetts went above and beyond the call of duty in responding to a woman's report of a stolen wallet on Thursday. Shannah Shea was shopping at Stop and Shop when she discovered that her wallet had been stolen, meaning her $300 was gone. Shea called 911, and the cop who responded purchased the $75 worth of groceries and gifts for her daughter she had in her cart. The cop didn't want the clerk to tell the tale, or even mention that he had paid for the groceries, which makes him humble as well as an extremely good cop.

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