Misconduct Prevention Workshop
“I was scared to death,” says Paul Brown. “I felt like a hostage.”
On Sept. 14, 2012, Mr. Brown was working on his own computer… in his home… in Beach Park, Ill. Suddenly, a gang of thugs smashed in his front door, pointed guns at him and several family members — including his 77-year-old mother-in-law — handcuffed them and ransacked his house.
Wayward drug lords?
Nah. The local SWAT team. Yes, they were looking for drugs. But they didn’t find any. Nor did they make any arrests.
WTF: Plywood takes the place of lead and stained glass in Paul Brown’s front door…
“The authorities had burst in immediately after a postal worker delivered a package to the home that they said contained marijuana,” the Chicago Tribune reports. Brown’s son-in-law accepted the package. It was addressed to someone named “Oscar.” No one by that name lives there.
The cops aren’t saying much. They believe they had the right house and the target of their investigation wasn’t home at the time. They are not going to repair the door… or help with the $3,000 in damages.
It was “just another day in the war on drugs,” excuses the Trib, unwittingly kicking off a disturbing episode of the 5 in which we try to highlight and detail what we’ve been affectionately referring to as the War on You.
Like the troubling collapse of municipal services, the increased militarization of domestic life in the U.S. is a visceral symptom of the collapse of a wayward empire. It’s not a topic we take up lightly.
Back in 2008, in a now infamous example in these parts, a SWAT team raided the home of Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Md.
“The raid,” Wikipedia recalls, “was the culmination of an investigation that began in Arizona, where a package containing 32 pounds of marijuana was intercepted in a FedEx warehouse, addressed to the mayor’s residence.
“In spite of intercepting the package in transit, the police allowed the package to be delivered, and once the package arrived at the house, a SWAT team raided and held the mayor and his mother-in-law at gunpoint, and shot and killed his two Labrador retrievers, one while it attempted to run away.”
It turns out drug runners frequently address packages to innocent homeowners, figuring FedEx will leave the package on the doorstep when no one’s home… and the traffickers can retrieve it before anyone who lives there shows up.
That turned out to be the case in the Calvo incident. As a result, the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office fired several officers, implemented new procedures and conducted workshops with other police agencies from around the country to prevent innocent people from ever being terrorized again – like Mr. Brown in Illinois.
Just kidding: An internal investigation found the raid was justified. No one was punished. Prince George’s County Sheriff Michael Jackson, running for reelection in 2010, said, “We′ve apologized for the incident, but we will never apologize for taking drugs off our streets… Quite frankly, we′d do it again. Tonight.”
They must have been conferring with the Billings, Mont., police department Tuesday morning of last week. During an early morning raid, a SWAT team, looking for a meth lab, broke into the home of the Fasching family.
The cops found no meth lab and made no arrests… but they did set off a “flash-bang” grenade that aims to disorient the people inside before the officers storm the house. The grenade was tossed through the window of a bedroom where Jackie Fasching’s 12-year-old daughter was asleep. The girl suffered first- and second-degree burns in the attack.
“A simple knock on the door and I would’ve let them in,” says Jackie.
As in the suburban Chicago case, the Billings Police aren’t backing down. “If we’re wrong or made a mistake,” Chief Rich St. John says, “then we’re going to take care of it,” he said. “But if [the department’s claims process] determines we’re not, then we’ll go with that.”
Chicago… Billings… suburban D.C.… we mentioned the family in Delaware last week. There’s another case this month in Salt Lake City.
“I saw them crashing through the door,” recalled Paul Fracasso. “There were guns and flashlights going everywhere [and police] telling them: ‘Get down. Get down. Get down.'”
Fracasso was lucky: He’s the next-door neighbor.
Once police burst inside, the only person they saw was a 76-year-old woman. Her son says she was asked if she had a gun or drugs. “She was petrified,” Raymond Zaelit told the Salt Lake Tribune. “She didn’t know what to think. This was traumatizing for her.” At least in this case the police apologized.
By the way, USA Today has followed up on the research we cited last week on the number of SWAT raids that take place nationwide. From a mere 3,000 per year in the early 1980s, the number has exploded to as many as 80,000. That’s an average of 228 per day.
Here in Maryland, a study commissioned by the governor found that a full one-third of those raids don’t even result in an arrest.