Thursday, February 7, 2008

'Cop killer' gains neighbors' support

Via Radley Balko comes word that neighbors are rallying around Ryan Frederick, the man who shot and killed a house breaker who turned out to be a raiding police officer late at night on January 17. Detective Jarrod Shivers was among a gang of armed and armored law enforcers who appeared at Frederick's door because an informant mistook the man's Japanese maple trees for marijuana plants, triggering the sort of paramilitary assault that's become all-too-common a part of drug prohibition. Frederick has testified that all he knew was that his door was being battered down just days after his home was burglarized. He grabbed his gun and opened fire on the intruders, never suspecting they were police.

While authorities seem dead-set on making an example of Frederick -- even going so far as to appoint a high-profile prosecutor to press first-degree murder charges -- residents of the neighborhood have a different take. They're publicly signing their names to a sign located on a corner near the fatal shooting that voices support for the 28-year-old, risking vilification and even retaliation for backing a "cop killer." As Fox News put it:

With their signatures, residents are voicing their belief the accused killer, Ryan Frederick, was in the right when he fired that gun as police officers were trying to come through his front door to serve a drug search warrant.

An encouraging editorial in the Virginian-Pilot reads:

Faulty information is one thing, a faulty approach is another. Policeman storming into a house of sleeping occupants, who being legally armed is a matter of record, would seem to be an act of desperation. Surely the ordinary householder in an average neighborhood would not expect to be the target of such tactics, whether they meet the law's standards or not. And if storming has been the doctrine for narcotics raids, perhaps subtlety now should be explored.

OK -- that's a fake-out. The editorial is actually from 1972 when, in a nearly identical case, 55-year-old Lilian Davidson killed a policeman during a raid on her home based on faulty information. Authorities wisely dropped charges against Davidson in that case just two days after the shooting.

Balko is following this case closely, and I won't attempt to reinvent what he's already done. But Ryan Frederick's case raises questions for me that I doubt will ever be adequately answered.

For starters: Could this raid have ever been worth it, even if police had found the marijuana they expected?

As it turned out, Frederick had only a personal-use quantity of marijuana in his home; police information was simply wrong. But even if Frederick had been dealing in illegal drugs -- specifically, in a mild intoxicant like marijuana -- how does such a non-violent, albeit illicit activity, justify a violent attack on a private home in the dead of night? Such raids are always going to be fraught with danger, for both those on the receiving end and the raiders themselves. More than a few people targeted by raids have been shot by accident or misunderstanding, and Detective Shivers is far from the first police officer to be killed while breaking unannounced (or announced just as the battering ram is striking the door) into a private home.

I've heard police apologists argue that no-knock raids are necessary in order to minimize the peril that law-enforcement officers face in an inherently dangerous job. They're confronting low-lifes and need every advantage they can get.

But not every (suspected) law-breaker is one knock away from reenacting the siege of the Alamo. People engaged in consensual activities, however illegal, aren't necessarily looking for an opportunity to go down shooting. In encounters with non-violent suspects, violent raids introduce danger that wouldn't otherwise be there. Just ask Detective Shivers.

And, frankly, police work just isn't all that dangerous when compared to other trades. As Forbes magazine reported in 2002:

[I]n a normal year, like 2000, the most dangerous jobs do not involve firefighting or police work; they involve cutting timber and fishing. ...

The most common cause of death on the job in 2000, however, was the car accident, accounting for 23% of the total. Even police officers were slightly more likely to die behind the wheel than by homicide.

If, despite such facts, some police officers still find knocking on a door and waiting for a reply to be too frightening an activity to contemplate, perhaps they should consider a different line of work. After all, our primary concern in structuring the business of law enforcement shouldn't be peace of mind for folks who take the job -- it should be keeping the peace while respecting individual rights.

Overall, if we must enforce the ridiculous and oppressive laws against drugs, it seems blindingly obvious that openly approaching suspects with no history of violence so that there's no room for misunderstanding is the way to go.*

It's unfortunate that Jarrod Shivers died that night in January. But, if his family members and prosecutors are looking for somebody to blame, they should put Ryan Frederick out of their minds. The real culprits are prohibitionist zealots and the tactics they favor in pursuing the war on drug users.

Kudos to Ryan Frederick's neighbors for recognizing who the real victim was that dark night and coming to his defense.

*Just to be clear: Not only should we not enforce laws against manufacture, sale or use of disfavored intoxicants because these laws are intrusive and have disastrous consequences; such laws are inherently illegitimate, because they violate individual autonomy rights. People have as much right to resist the enforcement of drug laws as they have to resist a rape or a mugging.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some good news, just when I was beginning to lose all hope!

February 8, 2008 8:47 AM  
Anonymous M.J. Taylor said...

Detective Jarrod Shivers' widow needs to file a wrongful death civil suit against the Police Chief who signed the authorization for the no-knock policy.

Only the signer. Not the Police Department, not the City. And it needs to be a civil suit. That way the signer personally has to expend resources, win or lose, to fight the suit and will also face the possibility of bankruptcy if they lose the suit.

Then, and only then, will other Police Chiefs have a very real possibility of loss if they sign these mandates.

M.J. Taylor

February 8, 2008 12:15 PM  
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March 19, 2009 12:06 AM  

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