Habersham County drug raid disaster highlights need for police reform

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Americans have long trusted law enforcement to keep the public safe in dangerous situations. Sadly, one unnecessary drug raid in Georgia recently, leaving a 19-month-old toddler injured, erodes confidence in local governments’ use of force.

On May 28, 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh suffered severe burns when a Habersham County SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into his playpen while executing a 3 a.m. “no-knock” raid, tearing the infant’s chest open. Police were acting on an informant tip that they had received not even 24 hours prior to the raid.

IN THEIR HASTE, they failed to notice both a minivan parked in the driveway and children’s’ toys scattered across the front yard. When investigators concluded their search, they found nothing more than a small amount of drug residue.

Had police spent more time investigating the case and surveying the house, they undoubtedly would have been aware that children were residing in the home, and the toddler’s injuries could have been prevented. Unfortunately, this lapse in good judgment and lack of careful investigation is all too common in the inordinately militarized police force of the United States.

Since 2001, the Department of Homeland Security has spent $34 billion funding law enforcement agencies with what some would characterize as weapons of war – assault rifles, explosive devices, machine guns and other tactical equipment.

While police continue to stockpile such paramilitary armament, they also are increasingly deploying SWAT team forces nationwide. Since 1981, the number of SWAT team deployments has risen 1,400 percent to an average of 50,000
annually. More troubling is the fact that the majority of these deployments were for drug raids, many of which were conducted without police announcing their presence.

As police have been granted more power to conduct unannounced no-knock drug raids, they have taken a more cursory, and even deadly, approach to drug investigations. While just one unnecessary injury should be reason enough for a widespread re-evaluation of the procedure, no-knock raids continue to be conducted recklessly.

IN MAY 2011, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona killed a 26-year-old former Marine and father of two after executing a no-knock raid on his Tucson home. When police plowed through the door of José Guerena’s home, they saw him holding a legally-owned rifle and fired 71 bullets, claiming that the Iraq War veteran had discharged his weapon. Later investigation revealed that Guerena’s gun was never fired, and that the safety feature had been engaged.

Nothing illegal was ever found in his home. Though Guerena’s family later received a settlement from the four police departments involved in the shooting, law enforcement officials never admitted any wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, it’s not just innocent bystanders who are harmed by drug raids. Impetuous conduct has turned noxious for the police officers who burst into homes in the middle of the night, as frightened homeowners find it difficult to distinguish between burglars and law enforcement officers.

This past May, one police officer was killed and another injured after a 5:30 a.m. no-knock raid in Killeen, Texas, went awry. Police were slinking outside the home of suspected cocaine dealer Marvin Louis Guy when he opened fire on the intruders. The 12-hour search that ensued returned nothing more than a glass pipe. Still, Guy was charged with three counts of attempted capital murder.

As the number of drug raid casualties continues to escalate, law enforcement must dutifully examine current protocol and logically prioritize what crimes truly warrant maximum attention. While law enforcement agents arrest 1.5 million Americans on drug charges each year, an estimated 100,000 untested rape kits remain in police storage nationwide because of lack of resources. Perhaps police should shift their focus to more exigent cases such as murders, robberies and sex offenses.

Above all, however, police must be held more accountable for their actions and handle future raids with more care, intelligence and responsibility. Speculative informant claims must be carefully investigated, and the residences of criminal suspects must be meticulously monitored prior to executing raids. If an investigation returns enough concrete evidence to warrant a search, then law enforcement should do so in daylight hours once they have determined that a suspect’s home is empty. This practice would obviate any confusion from homeowners over whether those marauding their homes are law enforcement officers or armed burglars. It also would ensure that sought-after evidence is not destroyed upon the arrival of police.

REGARDLESS OF HOW drug raid policy is amended, government and law enforcement must ensure that innocent Americans remain safe. How many more casualties must the drug war claim before public officials finally agree that enough is enough?

(The writer is an advocate for Young Voices, an organization that disseminates the concerns and viewpoints of students and young professionals worldwide.)

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Little Lamb
45398
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Little Lamb 07/13/14 - 06:58 am
3
0
Police

I, too, worry about police overreach and heavy-handed tactics. But for Mr. Gargano to cherry-pick from the few raids-gone-bad anecdotes and then draw a conclusion that we are in a police state is bad reasoning. There are far more "good" arrests than bad made across the country each year.

It is good to expose the bad ones, but let's put everything into perspective.

deestafford
26627
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deestafford 07/13/14 - 08:57 am
2
0
I agree with Little Lamb.....

I agree with Little Lamb.

We must keep in mind that the vast, vast majority of police are good upstanding people who put their lives in danger everyday to protect us.

No matter how good and professional the police are there are times when a small few incidents our of the thousands of actions they take will go array. It's just like when one is in combat mistakes are made no matter how carefully one plans. In hectic situations things can go wrong no matter how well trained and professional people maybe.

Why are the police agencies increasing the weapons and gear from what they had just a few years ago? The answer is simple---the criminals have been outgunning the police with superior weapons. It is only best that our law enforcement is better armed that the criminals otherwise they lose and get killed.

As far as SWAT's are concerned they saved lives by deploying highly trained personnel who are more capable of handling many situations that are beyond the capabilities of the normal law enforcement.

Organizations such as representative by the writer are in reality anti-law enforcement and live in a Utopian world without believing and understanding that there are some extremely evil and dangerous people out there and only strong, legal, well trained, well equipped law enforcement protect us from them and anarchy.

oldredneckman96
5080
Points
oldredneckman96 07/13/14 - 09:26 am
1
0
Drug dealers
Unpublished

Drug dealers have ramped up the war to the point that our law enforcement people are up against the most deadly enemy we have ever seen. These criminals will hide behind children, use the media to promote their cause and destroy neighborhoods in their quest for profit. Why everyone is not screaming for this element to be removed permanently from society with life sentences on conviction is a very bad comment on our country.

Bizkit
30906
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Bizkit 07/13/14 - 09:59 am
3
1
It is everywhere. Just travel

It is everywhere. Just travel in interstate 75 and you will find a police state of speed traps. So much construction the speed goes up and down and not adequately marked. These counties on the highway are making millions. But the problem I see is the just don't pull you over but almost 90 percentage being searched. Then I saw a man and his wive being patted down as their little kids watched. You could tell just a regular family going on vacation heading to Florida. The police are very aggressive now immediately treating you like criminal. I use to feel the were here to protect and serve but that is no longer the case in many areas. Now if call in a crime you witnessed you would likely be charged with the crime. I don't trust the police at all anymore.

Riverman1
82451
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Riverman1 07/13/14 - 12:53 pm
4
1
When Did The No-Knock Tactic Come About?

It's the procedure that's at fault. A no-knock raid should only be done in cases of danger to victims being held hostage. A no-knock raid because drugs are suspected is dangerous and wrong. In the old days warrants were required for any intrusion by law enforcement unless an active violent crime was known to be in progress. Where did this idea of no-knock raids in the middle of the night come from?

Think how dangerous this is to all concerned. Common sense says an armed home owner awakening to his front door being smashed in is going to start firing. The no-knock procedures need to be stopped now unless a victim is in imminent danger.

MrClen1944
210
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MrClen1944 07/13/14 - 01:54 pm
1
0
Bizkit should be hired to

Bizkit should be hired to ride by and look at people since he can apparently discern just regular people from those who are not.

OJP
6470
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OJP 07/13/14 - 02:21 pm
5
0
@Riverman1

A jury recently acquitted a home owner who shot at police when they raided his home (with his wife and small child) in the middle of the night using "no knock".

I'm not sure why anyone would think it's unjustified to defend your home against ANYONE barging in with guns in the dead of night. A criminal can shout "Police!" just as easily as a cop can.

It's insane. If you raid a house unannounced with guns, don't be surprised when you get shot at.

itsanotherday1
42296
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itsanotherday1 07/13/14 - 03:30 pm
2
1
Exaggeration:

"who put their lives in danger everyday to protect us."

Police cannot protect you, and the danger of their job barely makes the top ten most dangerous jobs. You would be more accurate thanking the people who caught the fish you eat next time, for the danger they incurred catching them.

That said, I AM GRATEFUL to the men and women in LE. They do a difficult and somewhat thankless job, for substandard pay in some instances. Without them, there would be anarchy; so in that sense they do protect us.

corgimom
31535
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corgimom 07/13/14 - 03:40 pm
1
0
"On May 28, 19-month-old

"On May 28, 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh suffered severe burns when a Habersham County SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into his playpen while executing a 3 a.m. “no-knock” raid, tearing the infant’s chest open. Police were acting on an informant tip that they had received not even 24 hours prior to the raid."

The mother of that child KNEW that a member of that household was selling drugs. So what did she THINK would happen?

I get so tired of this nonsense. If you live with drug dealers, you can expect to either get raided by the police or shot by a rival.

Don't blame the police for this. BLAME THE DRUG DEALER. The CRIMINAL, who thought he was safe because there were kids in the house.

And I get tired of people like Andrew Gargano that wants to blame police when events like this happen.

itsanotherday1
42296
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itsanotherday1 07/13/14 - 03:46 pm
0
0
"I do this to protect and serve"

I really wonder about that statement too. It would be very interesting to see a true breakdown of motivations for being a police officer.

1. "Out of a sense of altruism." I wager that number, which would dovetail with my subject line, is smaller than you think. I've known and known of some that I think do it out of a sense of public service, but many don't.

2. "I enjoy getting bad guys off the street." That would be my main motivation, 'cause I despise criminals.

3. " I like the excitement of the hunt and chase"

4. "I like having authority over people". They won't admit it, but the actions of too many point to this one.

5. " I could not find a job doing anything else". This does not apply too much anymore, but in the days when all you had to do was sign on, it was common; particularly in small towns. We had two different police chiefs who had no more qualifications for that than they did dogcatcher.

corgimom
31535
Points
corgimom 07/13/14 - 03:44 pm
1
1
Bizkit, how do you know that

Bizkit, how do you know that it was just a regular family going on a vacation to Florida?

For all you know, that couple had previous drug convictions and had their 4th Amendment rights revoked. Or maybe they were on probation or on parole. Do you think that criminals never travel without children in their car?

As for speed traps on an interstate, when there is road construction, you have to slow down to 55. That too is common sense. When people get stopped for speeding, it's THEIR FAULT, not the police.

corgimom
31535
Points
corgimom 07/13/14 - 03:47 pm
1
1
itsa, it takes a very special

itsa, it takes a very special kind of person to walk into danger, rather than flee it. Both police officers and firefighters have unique personality traits that enable them to do this.

Your idea of "I like having authority over people" is incorrect. They have to have leadership skills, but you ask any police officer- they don't enjoy arresting people, but they also aren't the ones that commit the crimes.

Many police officers want a safe community to live in and to raise a family in. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

burninater
9444
Points
burninater 07/13/14 - 05:16 pm
3
2
"Where did this idea of

"Where did this idea of no-knock raids in the middle of the night come from?"
------
The Nazis and the KGB were pretty good at it, I hear. I don't know if the idea came from them though.

itsanotherday1
42296
Points
itsanotherday1 07/13/14 - 05:46 pm
1
0
CM

Your opinion, which isn't worth more than anyone elses. Nothing special about any first responder, they enjoy the thrill. If you think that most do it for YOU, it is a delusion. Some get their satisfaction by BASE jumping, others by diving with sharks, others by climbing mountains, etc. I'm not saying they aren't selfless, just look at those brave souls who went into the WTC's; but day in and day out their lives are routine.

As I pointed out, if you want to look at it from the "danger" POV, nine other professions are more dangerous than LE statistically. Are they "special" kinds of people too, or just people doing what they like and are good at?

nocnoc
41486
Points
nocnoc 07/13/14 - 07:18 pm
2
1
While I support the LEO's

When they go Ape S@@@ and fail to use logic I cannot support them.

Since when did our Law Enforcement Dept.'s become a Tactical Breaching Military Assault Teams?

We ain't living in Mega-City One, or the future where LEO's are also uniformed Judges empowered to arrest, sentence, and if necessary execute criminals at the scene of crime.

As much as I wish sometimes they could, and think they should it is best they follow the law and proper procedures. Especially when to use narrowly justified and allowed Tactical Assault as a option.

Regarding Drug Residue
While this is likely not the case (I hope) some agencies PR teams, I have worked around, have commonly use the Drug Residue statement as a deflection. Since 4 of of 5 US Dollars have drug residue on them it is a sneaky way of casting guilt to deflect away from a Dept screw up situation.

I wonder who the informant was that tipped them and wonder how the informant failed mention (if he did) that a baby was in the house.

MAY I ALSO SAY
These screw-ups are still a rare abnormality.
The North GA. Wild West Tactical team likely is also rare abnormality.

nocnoc
41486
Points
nocnoc 07/13/14 - 07:26 pm
3
0
BTW: the War on Drugs

The USA has spent over $400 Billion Dollars on the war without success over the last 20 years.

See the Cost of the War on Drugs
http://www.drugsense.org/cms/wodclock

We should make drug dealing a death Sentence crime of all Addictive and harmful drugs and use the $10B to $20+B a year to treat the addicts instead of building more jails for them.

Gage Creed
16818
Points
Gage Creed 07/13/14 - 08:20 pm
1
0
Andrew Gargano...

Just wasted about 15 minutes of my life reviewing highlights of his "work."

Thanks, but no thanks...

JRC2024
8607
Points
JRC2024 07/13/14 - 11:02 pm
1
1
No Knock raids are just plain

No Knock raids are just plain crazy. A person defending their home should never ever be charged.

flipa1
1286
Points
flipa1 07/13/14 - 11:32 pm
1
1
Bad guys give licence to authorities.

If bad buys weren't doing bad things police would have NO reason to be there in the first place. If you don't want bad guys in your area to give the authorities LICENCE to do these things call the bad guys in to 800-222-TIPS, BEFORE they ruin you neighborhood otherwise you will have given the police LICENCE "IN" "your NEIGBORHOOD".

JRC2024
8607
Points
JRC2024 07/14/14 - 08:10 am
1
0
After watching the video,

After watching the video, swat team shoots innocent man 22 times. I am suprised that all of the team were not charged with a homicide. That is what they did.

nocnoc
41486
Points
nocnoc 07/14/14 - 11:05 am
1
0
When thugs are thugs

I am still a NON-THUG and a US Citizen protected by a Bill of Rights unless the Magic Pen has an ink eraser also.

I don't mean this wrong or against any LEO's.
But at 2AM in the morning I am grabbing my 12 GA with steel 00 buck shot and shooting first. I won't be able to hear them yelling "POLICE" over the gun fire nor see them in the darken living room or other entry point.

JRC2024
8607
Points
JRC2024 07/14/14 - 11:53 pm
0
1
The police should in no way

The police should in no way be immune from charges when they use a no knock policy and break into the wrong house and the homeowner or renter gets killed defending his home. They should also not be immune from a civil lawsuit when they make a MISTAKE like that. The homeowner should never be charged if they kill or wound a police officer breaking into their home at 2 in the morning using the no knock policy. But you know the homeowner would never have a chance. All hell would break loose.

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