Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Maybe shooting a politician's dogs isn't such a great idea

The excruciating, blood-soaked ordeal suffered last summer by Cheye Calvo, his wife, Trinity Tomsic, and Trinity's mother, Georgia Porter at the hands of out-of-control law-enforcement officers received the in-depth treatment it deserves this past Sunday in the Washington Post. If April Witt's story of an utterly pointless marijuana raid that resulted in the deaths of two dogs doesn't make your blood boil, you're either bloodless, or part of the problem of paramilitary law-enforcement. But will this be the case that finally convinces Americans the problem needs to be addressed before matters get even worse?

Without going into detail -- the Washington Post story does that, and you need to read it -- Calvo was targeted because Prince George's County police had intercepted a box of marijuana addressed to his home. Even though police knew that smugglers often pick addresses at random, intending to divert the shipment before it ever arrives, they used the marijuana -- which would have been a non-violent transgression even if it belonged to Calvo -- as a pretext for a violent raid. Calvo's dogs, Payton and Chase, were killed and his family terrorized before county police -- who never checked with their local counterparts -- conceded that they might have made an error.

Calvo's story isn't unique. People have been terrorized, injured and killed in similar raids across the country. Salvatore Culosi was killed during a SWAT raid over sports gambling, Ryan Frederick is about to discover his fate after fatally shooting a police officer in a panic as people who turned out to be police broke down his door while investigating charges that he was growing marijuana. Ninety-two-year-old Kathryn Johnston was murdered by uniformed raiders who planted drugs in her house after the fact to conceal their error. All too many cases like this were documented in Radley Balko's book, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. The Cato Institute maintains an interactive map of similar incidents on the Web.

But Cheye Calvo is the mayor of his town of Berwyn Heights, he's squeaky clean, an extremely able public speaker who is fighting mad over the incident, and the raid occurred almost within spitting distance of the nation's capital, within the orbit of major media. So Cheye Calvo is, for the moment, the poster child for reforming law-enforcement tactics.

And reform is needed. Take, for example, this account of the initial moments of the raid from Witt's story.

It was past 7 p.m., but late sun still streamed through the large kitchen window as Georgia stood at the stove stirring her simmering tomato-artichoke sauce. Georgia turned, catching a glimpse of something out the window that sent a jolt of fear through her. Hooded, armed men, dressed in black, were fanning across the back yard. Still more men, crouching low, moved around the side of the house. Georgia's mind raced to make sense of the strange tableau. Was someone playing an elaborate practical joke?

One of the men spotted Georgia gaping out the window. He lifted his high-powered assault rifle and pointed it directly at her, she recalled. Georgia -- still clutching her wooden spoon -- threw both hands up in the air and screamed. "Cheye, I think it's SWAT!"

Cheye was sitting on the edge of his bed in his boxers. He was just about to put on his black dress socks, when he heard Georgia scream something that made absolutely no sense. He looked out a bedroom window to see armed, masked men running. He was still wondering if they were home invaders when he heard his front door shatter.

In the kitchen, Georgia spun to face the sound of the splintering door. Men in black burst through the front door and into the living room.

Georgia stood trembling in front of the kitchen stove. Payton, who had been stretched out in a corner of the living room farthest from the front door, his head resting near the threshold to the kitchen "turned toward the front door when I turned," Georgia recalled. "He didn't have time to do anything else." Almost instantly, men in black ran forward and shot Payton in the face, Georgia said. "They kept shooting," she recalled. "I didn't know how many times they shot Payton because there was so much gunfire."

"Down on the ground!" Georgia recalled someone screaming at her. She was too terrified to move.

Chase, always timid even when there was nothing to fear, did what he did best -- he ran. He ran away from the men in black, zipped past Georgia at the stove, Georgia recalled. The screaming, running men followed Chase, shooting as he tried escaping into the dining room, Georgia said. She watched in horror as men in black rushed the dining room from all directions. "I could hear Chase whimpering," Georgia said. Then she heard someone shoot at Chase again, she said.

Note that this raid took place during an investigation into the smuggling of 32 pounds of marijuana. There's no suspicion of crimes against people or property. There's no talk of the threats against police or the presence of weapons. Yet police stormed in like it was D-Day with guns blazing. Beloved animals died. People could have died, as they have elsewhere.

Is it that hard to knock on the door, which is still, in this country, supposed to be the default means of serving search warrants?

Apparently it is. In many places in the country, including Prince George's County, most drug warrants are served with a sound of splintering wood and a rush of armed and armored members of SWAT. Is it any surpise that the practice comes with a body count?

The natural reaction for many innocent people, when they are under attack, is to fight back. Kathryn Johnston opened fire, so did Ryan Frederick, so did Vang Khang, and so did Cory Maye. All too often, police point to these incidents of people resisting armed assault as further evidence that SWAT needs to be deployed for every interaction with the public.

But here's the unpleasant truth: People have the moral right to defend themselves against violent attack, even if their attackers are wearing uniforms. The level of force used in these raid is unjustifiable, and the potential for injury or death at the hands of the raiders is all too real. There is no moral obligation on anybody's part, no matter what the law says, to submit to brutal treatment. It would have been unwise for Cheye Calvo to shoot police officers as they stormed into his home, but he would have been perfectly justified in doing so.

And if his neighors, seeing his distress, had rallied to his support with shotguns in hand, they would have been in the right, too.

A badge is not, and cannot be, a license to abuse and kill. If the law says otherwise, than the law becomes illegitimate. Really. The natural right to protect yourself and your loved ones trumps any vote ever taken by a legislative body.

It doesn't need to come to this. People shouldn't have to rely on the gun in the nightstand as a deterrent against those who are supposed to be protectors.

One of the people who came to Calvo's assistance during and after the raid was Berwyn Heights Officer Amir Johnson. Troubled by what he saw, he parked himself in the middle, saying, "I wanted to personally witness what is going to happen to my mayor, so if they try to say this guy went for a gun -- and he didn't -- it's not going to happen on my watch."

Even the police know the situation is out of control, and the good ones are starting to keep at least an occasional watch on the stormtroopers.

But an Officer Johnson here and there won't keep peaceful people's doors on their hinges, or keep humans and animals from ending up in pools of their own blood. That will have to come from a change in policy and culture at the nation's police departments.

Police and politicians can do that on their own, or they can wait for the day when the neighbors of a future Cheye Calvo take matters into their own hands.

In the video below, Cheye Calvo tells his own story.


Blogger George Donnelly said...

Not too long after this happened, I read that a police informant actually placed the box of - insert appropriate provocative substance here - at the direction of police. Don't remember where I read it.

February 4, 2009 11:56 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Oh yes. The marijuana that ended up at the Calvo house was delivered to the house by a police officer. That's documented. It makes the use of a SWAT team even more bizarre.

February 4, 2009 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In other words, police can do what they did to us with impunity" Cheye concluded. "There are no consequences, not for them."

February 4, 2009 3:55 PM  
Anonymous MacK said...

Is there a link to the full video of this?
I have looked on and have only found this shortened version.

Isn't it amazing how many crimes the police create, to catch criminals? Remember they were placing wallets, and purses around subways in NYC then busting people after they picked them up, they even put real credit cards in them to up the charges to grand theft.

There is not enough car theft so they came up with bait cars, which they could remotely turn off. This worked out so well an innocent person was killed, because the thief could not control the stalled car.

Now they deliver dope to your door, so they can raid you when you except the package!

Lastly we have a stupid sheriff in SC wanting to bust Micheal Phelps, because there is a picture of him with a bong, some unknown substance, and Phelps saying he made a mistake? Would a DA laugh the sheriff out of town? Must be no other important crime in SC these days.

February 4, 2009 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When he asked Cheye asked to see the warrant, one of the officers said, "It's on the way..."

I'm no legal genius here, but absent the actual warrant, as in the _serving_ of a warrant, the raid was patently unlawful.

During the 1999 Seattle WTO I learned firsthand the REAL cop mentality. It is not to protect and serve, or even uphold the law. Time and again when I asked cops at the WTO why they were doing what they were doing (ignoring vandals smashing property, assaulting non-violent protesters, gassing random pedestrians, refusing to identify themselves etc.), the cops said... "we're following orders."

That's not some baloney I pulled out of some 1943 Nazi book, those are QUOTES from Seattle Police Department officers in 1999. Over 900 people were arrested during 3 days of the Seattle WTO. Only 2 persons were ever found guilty of anything in subsequent trials... virtually ALL the arrests were dismissed later... it's what they call "freedom of speech."

February 5, 2009 4:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several years ago I was arrested on an old warrant for growing medicinal cannabis,charges later dismissed. The SWAT teams grenade blew up one of my cats.
My landlord however racked up a real high score on my remaining 2 dogs and 8 cats. Despite being paid to almost $5,000 dollars to put the animals into a no-kill shelter and to put our property into storage,he shot my dogs,let my cats starve to death in the pen and oh yeah helped himself to my household goods.
The property has been replaced,but for the life of me I ca'nt resurrect my animals.

February 5, 2009 5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your Right of Defense Against Unlawful Arrest

“Citizens may resist unlawful arrest to the point of taking an arresting officer's life if necessary.” Plummer v. State, 136 Ind. 306. This premise was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case: John Bad Elk v. U.S., 177 U.S. 529. The Court stated: “Where the officer is killed in the course of the disorder which naturally accompanies an attempted arrest that is resisted, the law looks with very different eyes upon the transaction, when the officer had the right to make the arrest, from what it does if the officer had no right. What may be murder in the first case might be nothing more than manslaughter in the other, or the facts might show that no offense had been committed.”

“An arrest made with a defective warrant, or one issued without affidavit, or one that fails to allege a crime is within jurisdiction, and one who is being arrested, may resist arrest and break away. lf the arresting officer is killed by one who is so resisting, the killing will be no more than an involuntary manslaughter.” Housh v. People, 75 111. 491; reaffirmed and quoted in State v. Leach, 7 Conn. 452; State v. Gleason, 32 Kan. 245; Ballard v. State, 43 Ohio 349; State v Rousseau, 241 P. 2d 447; State v. Spaulding, 34 Minn. 3621.

“When a person, being without fault, is in a place where he has a right to be, is violently assaulted, he may, without retreating, repel by force, and if, in the reasonable exercise of his right of self defense, his assailant is killed, he is justified.” Runyan v. State, 57 Ind. 80; Miller v. State, 74 Ind. 1.

“These principles apply as well to an officer attempting to make an arrest, who abuses his authority and transcends the bounds thereof by the use of unnecessary force and violence, as they do to a private individual who unlawfully uses such force and violence.” Jones v. State, 26 Tex. App. I; Beaverts v. State, 4 Tex. App. 1 75; Skidmore v. State, 43 Tex. 93, 903.

“An illegal arrest is an assault and battery. The person so attempted to be restrained of his liberty has the same right to use force in defending himself as he would in repelling any other assault and battery.” (State v. Robinson, 145 ME. 77, 72 ATL. 260).

“Each person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest. In such a case, the person attempting the arrest stands in the position of a wrongdoer and may be resisted by the use of force, as in self- defense.” (State v. Mobley, 240 N.C. 476, 83 S.E. 2d 100).

“One may come to the aid of another being unlawfully arrested, just as he may where one is being assaulted, molested, raped or kidnapped. Thus it is not an offense to liberate one from the unlawful custody of an officer, even though he may have submitted to such custody, without resistance.” (Adams v. State, 121 Ga. 16, 48 S.E. 910).

“Story affirmed the right of self-defense by persons held illegally. In his own writings, he had admitted that ‘a situation could arise in which the checks-and-balances principle ceased to work and the various branches of government concurred in a gross usurpation.’ There would be no usual remedy by changing the law or passing an amendment to the Constitution, should the oppressed party be a minority. Story concluded, ‘If there be any remedy at all ... it is a remedy never provided for by human institutions.’ That was the ‘ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases to resist oppression, and to apply force against ruinous injustice.’” (From Mutiny on the Amistad by Howard Jones, Oxford University Press, 1987, an account of the reading of the decision in the case by Justice Joseph Story of the Supreme Court.

As for grounds for arrest: “The carrying of arms in a quiet, peaceable, and orderly manner, concealed on or about the person, is not a breach of the peace. Nor does such an act of itself, lead to a breach of the peace.” (Wharton’s Criminal and Civil Procedure, 12th Ed., Vol.2: Judy v. Lashley, 5 W. Va. 628, 41 S.E. 197)

February 5, 2009 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Frank said...

The mayor is standing with MD lawmakers demanding oversight over SWAT operations in the state.

February 5, 2009 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I am hideously disgusted by this flagrant attack by the State on an individual, that disgust is mainly directed at the concept, in this case. My sympathy for C. Calvo and his wife is limited, at most. First, he is a politician, a willing accomplice to the daily violence of Leviathan against individuals. Second, according to the article I read the other night (I'm pretty certain it is the Post story to which J. D. refers, but I did not confirm), Calvo is quoted that when he saw the SWAT vehicles parked illegally on his street (before he knew what was really happening) he was hoping that his pals the police would come along and deal with them. Third, while neither one has come right out and said so (and I'd like to be wrong about this), I get a fairly strong sense from the interviews with and quotes from Calvo and his wife that they wouldn't really have much of a problem if the violence that they endured was visited on someone who was Really Selling Marijuana.


February 5, 2009 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...or they can wait for the day when the neighbors of a future Cheye Calvo take matters into their own hands."

That day will be sooner than later. I am an American. I was born to resist tyranny in every form it presents itself.

February 15, 2009 7:26 PM  

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