Thursday, July 30, 2009

Behind the spin on Cottonwood's SWAT raid

Referring to the controversial deployment of a SWAT team on July 20, the Cottonwood, Arizona, Police Department issued the following statement:

On Monday Cottonwood Police Department conducted a search warrant at 404 N. Main Street, Wild West Express, and the residence conjoined with that business. Officers of the Verde Valley SWAT team assisted in the warrant service due to the unknown number of individuals residing there. After being notified of the search warrant through a public address system, all occupants exited the residence without incident. SWAT officers deployed a noise flash diversion device to help curtail an aggressive dog within the residence. Numerous items of evidence were obtained in regard to the search warrant and are currently being examined. No arrests were made in regard to the search warrant. This incident remains under investigation pending the results of the examination of evidence.

Returning home to discover that Police Commander Tim Pierce had authorized a paramilitary raid over allegations of child abuse on a business in his absence, and that business owner David Carl was protesting the raid, including the use of a grenade on his dog, to everybody who would listen, Police Chief Jody Fanning has gone into instant there's-nothing-to-see-here mode. Fanning told the Verde Independent, "I had confidence that Commander Pierce made the right decision."

Well ... maybe. But it's easy to imagine that Chief Fanning's homecoming went something like this:

Commander Tim Pierce: Hey Chief! Welcome back. We had a little excitement in your absence.

Chief Jody Fanning: Yeah, Tim. I heard. Look, I have a few questions.

Pierce: Ask away, Chief. We covered our bases on this one.

Fanning: About that ... Why exactly did you send SWAT?

Pierce: Hey, child abuse is a serious matter. We couldn't leave those girls at risk if the allegations are true.

Fanning: Don't you think sending an armed team through the door might have put the girls at risk all by itself? And the flash-bang grenade could have torched the place. That's a little risky.

Pierce: Oh. Well, there was the dog. We had to neutralize the dog.

Fanning: Didn't everybody walk out peacefully? Why didn't you have the owner leash the dog and lead it out?

Pierce: But Carl owns guns! We couldn't let him near the guns.

Fanning: Tim, this is Arizona. Everybody owns guns. Send a cop with the owner to watch him. Speaking of which, where are the guns now?

Pierce: Umm ... Carl still has them. I mean, they're his guns.

Fanning: That doesn't really help the "Carl is dangerous" case, though, does it?

Pierce: Well ... Carl has had run-ins with city inspectors. He even threatened them.

Fanning: Really? Was he ever charged?

Pierce: Well ... no. But somebody mentioned to me that he got in their faces--

Fanning: So David Carl is so dangerous that he was never arrested for the threats he supposedly made and we let him keep his guns?

Pierce: Oh ...

Fanning: And has he been charged with child abuse yet?

Pierce: Not yet. CPS says they still have to put together a case--

Fanning: Look, this isn't going to go well unless we spin it right. Tell you what, instead of focusing on what Carl did, let's talk about what he might have done.

How about this. I'll say ... umm ... "We didn't know if he had a safe house or fortress inside the building. We would rather be prepared than have a barricade." I'll even throw in those supposed threats he made to the inspectors. We'll make him out as a hothead and a menace.

Pierce: Hey, can't we say, "We didn't know that he wasn't a potential terrorist?" Terrorism is big, and we don't know that he's not a terrorist.

Fanning: Tim, If I call the guy a terrorist, we'll have the feds here in no time.

Pierce: You think they'll give us trouble about the use of SWAT?

Fanning: No, I think they'll kick in doors right and left looking for mad bombers. They're crazier than you are.

Pierce: Uh ... Sorry.

Fanning: The idea here is to minimize the damage and make this situation look as reasonable as possible.

Oh, and Tim.

Pierce: Yeah?

Fanning: The next time you send out SWAT when there's no good reason, I'm going to stuff a flash-bang grenade up your ass.

Of course, the above exchange is pure fantasy. I have no way of knowing whether Chief Fanning and Commander Pierce ever really conspired to put the best face on a bad situation. In fact, my encounters with Cottonwood police have so far been positive, and the officers I've met have been professional.

But the Cottonwood raid illustrates just how rote the use of paramilitary tactics has become. Not to minimize the seriousness child abuse, but there's no particular reason why an investigation into allegations of such a crime should involve violent and risky tactics that, all too often result in injury and death for innocent people. If you're worried about mistreated children, wouldn't you try to minimize further trauma to the kids by keeping official intervention as peaceful as possible?

In the absence of an actual barricade, send a couple of cops and a CPS worker to knock on the door. "We didn't know if he had a safe house" is an all-purpose excuse that could apply to anybody. They also didn't know if he had a nuke, a platoon of North Korean troops or an orbital death ray. But there was no evidence that David Carl had any of the above.

Frankly, if "we would rather be prepared than have a barricade" and "we were told he was a gun collector and enthusiast" are good enough reasons to send SWAT, then flash-bangs could be tossed at just about anybody cutting a traffic light too close.

And, once again, what is it with cops and dogs?



Blogger MichaelK said...

But sometimes, they do the right thing:

The girlfriend who reportedly had been threatened had left the home, and the man inside was not threatening anyone else. Police did not witness any crime, and the woman did not want to file charges. Police needed a search warrant to enter the home, and the prosecutor’s office – wisely – did not pursue the warrant.

With no crime to investigate, no one to protect and no justification for entering the home, the right call was made.

July 30, 2009 5:11 PM  
Blogger rdmadden said...

What is it with cops lately? This morning, there was a report on ABC about cops in Florida lying about a cop rear-ending a drunk drive and trying to frame the woman for the accident.

Or maybe it's not just "lately"...

July 31, 2009 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


August 1, 2009 7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is clear to me that none of the commentators have ever met the victim "David Carl".

August 5, 2009 3:58 PM  

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