Christian Science Monitor [article cited in amicus brief to Supreme Court]

May 24, 1994, Tuesday


LENGTH: 948 words

HEADLINE: No-Knock Entries by Police Take Their Toll on Innocent

BYLINE: James Bovard; James Bovard is the author of the just-published
''Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty'' (St. Martin's

WHILE Congress debates exactly how much to increase the power of
law enforcement officials in the crime bill it is considering,
little attention is being paid to the abuses already occurring at
the hands of zealous, unrestrained government agents.
The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1994

People's lives are increasingly being ruined as a result of
unsubstantiated ''tips'' by anonymous government informants.

On March 25, 13 heavily armed Boston police smashed into the
apartment of Rev. Accelynne Williams, a retired Methodist minister.
Reverend Williams apparently ran into his bedroom when the raid
began; police smashed down the bedroom door, struggled with him,
and handcuffed him. Minutes later, Williams was dead of a heart
attack. No drugs were found in his apartment. Boston police carried
out the raid on a tip from an anonymous informant who did not even
give a specific apartment number.

At 2 a.m. on Jan. 25, 1993, police broke down the door and
rushed into the home of Manuel Ramirez of Stockton, Calif. Mr.
Ramirez awoke, grabbed a pistol, and shot and killed one policeman
by his bedroom door before the other police killed him.

The police were raiding the house based on a tip that drugs were
on the premises, but they found no drugs.

Lt. Dan Lewis, of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department
later sought to justify the raid's methods: ''Our problem is that
The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1994

a lot of times you're dealing with drug dealers, and their thought
process is not always right from the start. That's when things get
real dangerous for us.''

On Aug. 25, 1992, Customs Service and Drug Enforcement
Administration agents raided the San Diego home of businessman
Donald Carlson, setting off a bomb in his backyard, smashing
through his front door, and shooting him three times after he tried
to defend himself with a gun. Police even shot Mr. Carlson in the
back after he had given up his gun and was lying wounded on his
bedroom floor. The Customs Service believed that there were four
machine guns and a large cache of illegal narcotics in Carlson's
home - but federal attorneys finally admitted in early 1993 that
Carlson was completely innocent.

The raid was launched based on a tip from a paid informant named
Ron, who later told the Los Angeles Times that he had never
formally identified any specific house to be searched.

In March 1992, a police SWAT team killed Robin Pratt, an
Everett, Wash., mother in a no-knock raid to serve an arrest
warrant on her husband. (Her husband was later released after the
The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1994

allegations upon which the arrest warrant was based turned out to
be false.)

The Seattle Times reported that the raid began as SWAT team
members threw a 50 pound battering ram through a sliding glass
door; Pratt was shot in the neck at close range by an officer as
she was crouched on her knees, begging the police not to harm her

Police planning no-knock raids often can be as incompetent and
inaccurate as the Postal Service can be in delivering letters. DEA
agents used an ax to break down the door of an innocent Guthrie,
Okla., man in 1991 and then handcuffed and kicked him in front of
his wife and daughters before they realized they were at the wrong
address; the agents left without apologizing.

Unfortunately, no-knock raids are becoming more common as
federal, state, and local politicians and law enforcement officials
decide that the war on drugs justifies nullifying the Fourth
The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1994

As Charles Patrick Garcia noted in a 1993 Columbia Law Review
article, ''Seven states, favoring strong law enforcement, have
chosen a 'blanket approach,' which holds that once police have
probable cause to search a home for drugs, they are not required to
follow the constitutional 'knock and announce' requirement.''

Even liberal states are jumping on the no-knock bandwagon. The
Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 8 that police could forcibly
enter people's homes without knocking in any case in which there
was ''evidence of drug dealing.'' Unfortunately, ''evidence of drug
dealing'' can be the uncorroborated assertion of a single anonymous
paid government informant.

The Wisconsin court said that the ''possibility of violence''
can be minimized by allowing police to rely on ''unannounced,
dynamic entry'' - though it is probably safe to assume that the
judges don't expect the police to be carrying out such raids in
their own neighborhoods.

The proliferation of no-knock raids constitutes a vast narrowing
of the traditional concept of American liberty.
The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1994

Such raids in response to alleged narcotics violations presume
that the government should have practically unlimited power to
endanger people's lives in order to control what other people

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle
Association have jointly called on President Clinton to appoint a
national commission to investigate ''lawlessness in law

The ACLU-NRA proposal has gone nowhere, but the time is ripe to,
at a minimum, attach a requirement for such a commission to the
congressional crime bill. Better yet, Congress should establish
explicit rules to limit the arbitrary and violent behavior of
federal agents carrying out searches and raids, and state
legislatures should repeal laws granting unlimited no-knock search
powers to police in their jurisdictions.