Showing posts with label SWAT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SWAT. Show all posts

30 September 2020

A Data Point in Maryland

I don't think I have ever placed a trigger warning on this page before, but I will make an exception here.  This piece is about true crime.  No humans die but two perfectly nice animals are killed.  Use your best judgment. By the way, I've read a number of articles about what follows, but the best is this one, by Radley Balko. -Robert Lopresti

On the evening of July 29, 2008, a group of home invaders entered the house of Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, a small town in Maryland.  His mother-in-law, Georgia Porter, was cooking artichokes when she saw masked men on the porch, carrying guns.

She screamed.  They smashed the door, ran in, and shot to death the family's two Labrador retrievers, Payton and Chase, one of whom was trying to run away.  Then they bound Porter's hands behind her back, put a gun to her head and screamed: "Where are they?"  She had no idea what they wanted. The intruders placed her face-down next to Payton's body, where she lay for several hours.  

Mayor Calvo was upstairs changing for an evening meeting.  The intruders  ordered him to come down the stairs backwards, in his underwear. "I was fearful that I was about to be executed," he said later. They bound his hands behind his back and knelt him on the floor.  They questioned him for two hours about a cache of drugs they thought he had.

So who were these brutes?  Antifa?  Some Mexican gang?  A right-wing militia?  Al-Qaeda?

Nope.  It was a SWAT unit from the Prince George's County Police Department.

You might say it's wrong for me to call them home invaders since obviously they must have had a warrant.

Yeah, no.  That turns out to be a little squishy.  The mayor naturally asked to see their warrant but it took them three days to produce it.  

After the event hit the fan the Department told the press that they had a no-knock   warrant, then later admitted that such warrants were not legal in Maryland.   (Actually such warrants had been legal for three years, but apparently the cops   specializing in drug raids did not know that.)  They argued that the police had  the right to enter because Georgia Porter had seen them.  They had to kick in the door to prevent the inhabitants of the home from grabbing weapons or  destroying  drugs.  

Neither of which, as it happened, were found. 

But what about the police force of the town of Berwyn Heights?  Why didn't they warn the sheriff that this was the Mayor's house?  They had no chance because, in spite of an existing agreement to alert the locals before engaging within the city's borders, the SWAT team had not done so.

As Berwyn Heights' police chief noted later, it was very lucky that no one spotted heavily armed men in civilian clothing breaking into the mayor's house and called 911.  That might have led to a bloody shoot-out between two law enforcement agencies.  Also, according to the police chief, the officer in charge of the assault gave him an inaccurate report on the event, claiming the mayor had refused to let them in.

So how the hell did this happen?

Well, it started thousands of miles away in Arizona when a Drug Enforcement Agency officer with a drug-sniffing dog located a package containing 32 pounds of marijuana.  It was addressed to Trinity Tomsic, the Mayor's wife.  They notified the Sheriff's office who checked that a car in the driveway of the addressed house belonged to Tomsic.  They never bothered to find out who else lived there.

On the day in question a cop dressed as a deliveryman dropped off the carton on the Mayor's porch.  When Calvo returned from walking the dogs he brought the carton inside.  A few minutes later, all hell broke loose.

During the interrogation, Calvo (still handcuffed in his underwear) told them that he was the mayor.  They didn't believe him and refused to check. (One called him a crazy man.)  Even when they realized he was the mayor and found nothing incriminating they told him he was lucky he hadn't been arrested, partly because his reaction had not been "typical." What would constitute a "typical" reaction to this goat rodeo is beyond the depths of my feeble imagination.  (And the implication that this sort of thing happens so often that there is a typical reaction is horrifying beyond words.) 

Four hours after they arrived the cops left and the family was able to start cleaning up the blood of their pets, which the cops had tracked  through the house.

But at least we know who the culprit is!  The Mayor's wife (who came home during the raid and assumed the cops were stopping a robbery) had caused this disaster by purchasing that illegal marijuana.  

Yeah, no. Tomsic knew nothing about it.

What actually happened was that a criminal in Arizona had arranged to ship packages of the stuff to random houses in Maryland where an accomplice who worked for FedEx dropped them off and another accomplice picked them up, hopefully as soon as they were delivered.  Tomsic and the other recipients knew nothing about it.   

You are probably thinking: Well, everyone makes mistakes.  The important thing is to apologize, make amends as best you can, and learn from your errors so they won't happen again.

Yeah, no. The Prince George's County Police Department seemed to take great pleasure in announcing that they would learn nothing from the event.    When the county chief called the mayor a few days after the raid to tell him his family was in the clear he specifically said that this should not be interpreted as an apology.  He told the press that his men showed "restraint and compassion" by not arresting the mayor's family for, beats the hell out of me. The sheriff said, two years later: "Quite frankly, we'd do it again. Tonight."  The officer who incorrectly stated that no-knock warrants didn't exist was promoted to county police chief three years later.

An Internal Affairs team found the officers innocent of all wrongdoing.  One of the people on that team  was the man who wrote the warrant application, so you know everything was on the up and up.

Mayor Calvo proposed a reform bill to the Maryland state legislature.  He asked that every agency with a SWAT unit be required to report quarterly on how often the team was deployed, to do what, and whether shots were fired.

Not exactly defunding the police, but every police agency in the state opposed the bill.  It passed anyway, with minor revisions.

What brought this incident to my mind was memes I have seen recently on social media that read like this: "Have you noticed that the police don't bother you if you don't do anything wrong?"

I'm not sure Mayor Calvo noticed that.  Nor Breonna Taylor.  Nor James BlakeNor Pastor Leon McCray Jr. Nor Charles Kinsey. Nor Maximo ColonNor Robert Julian-Borchak Williams...


06 January 2012

Funnel of Death

You watch today's movies where SWAT hits a house, and you see all these guys dressed up in nice black outfits with bullet-proof vests and they look good and they move good, professional. It wasn't always that way.
Alley Oop Lived
Back in the Jurassic period of law enforcement, we had the Gronk Squad. Its existence was unofficial.

We were the guys that made up burns and kicked the doors when a felon might be sitting on the other side with a loaded weapon at hand. Seems hard core criminals tend to have a certain paranoia that law enforcement might just drop in at any given moment and they like to be prepared, not to mention there might be other bad guys out there with violent intentions toward the subject over some misjudgement concerning money, a woman or a deal gone wrong. Them guys got funny that way.

This Ain't Good
Making up burns was the term for what happened after an undercover made a buy and sent his purchase off to the lab, but then the lab ran a chemical analysis and said the stuff wasn't illegal. Could've been corn starch, agriculture chemicals, or anything that wasn't a Controlled Substance, yet resembled the good stuff. I know it's hard to get your head around, but some criminals would just flat try to cheat you. And believe me, there were plenty of powders which could turn a field test.
In those days, the upper office subtly let it be known that all burns came out of the buying agent's pocket, so naturally there was an incentive to make sure you got the buy money back, or good product in its place, much the same as a real dealer would do on the street. Those transactions led to some interesting developments. Not sure we will ever discuss those times, although some humorous incidents did occur.

The Flood System
Kicking the door on an armed and dangerous criminal was a different animal. We had a twelve pound sledge to open up locked doors. After the door went down, all law enforcement assigned to entry then flooded through the doorway and into the house.

This quickly became a race to get to the criminal, and it was not unusual to be shoulder to shoulder with fellow officers going through the entrance. We definitely had enthusiasim. With all the commotion resulting from the mass influx of enthusiastic entrants, you would probably not be surprised to hear how many defendants decided to depart the premises via the nearest exit. Some even leaped from third-story windows, but that was the subject of a previous Friday blog. (see "Flying Without a Parachute.")

What the Heck Were We Thinkin'
We thought we were doing well. It wasn't until a few years later during a training session that one of the Wise Men taught us about The Funnel of Death. It seems that every doorway funnels or acts as a choke point to channel those coming into a building through a small area where anyone with a gun can direct fire, thus killing or at least delaying those who wish to approach him. Who knew? Maybe we were just lucky in those days or else managed to stun the opposition into inactivity with our thunderous ignorance. There was something to be said for making a loud entry and momentarily freezing the decision making process of your opponent. In any case, our tactics soon changed.

Enter the Snake Line
With the Snake Line, everybody had a number and was paired with another person on the entry team. #1 and #2 were partners, #3 and #4, etc. So here's how it was supposed to go.
When the van or panel truck used for an entry team got the radio call to hit the place, the driver brought them screeching up to the front of the building. The team unassed the vehicle and rushed to the front door, but off to one side, forming a snake line in number order, except for the last two numbers. Other law enforcement covered all remaining exits.
Let's say it was an eight person entry team. #8 holds the screen door open while while #7 swings the hammer, or a one-man door ram if that's what you have. Hopefully, the door opens on the first THUD. #7 then immediately steps out of the way and draws his weapon. 1 and 2 are first in, breaking quickly right and left away from the funneling doorway, and followed by the rest of the pairs. If the first room is empty, then 1 and 2 continue on into the house as previously designated. Pairs break off as needed when other rooms are encountered.
However, if someone is located in the first room, then we used the Fisherman System, also known as the You Catch 'Em, You Clean 'Em technique. In that case, 1 and 2 were tasked with controlling any people found in the first room. All potential bad guys got put on the floor, handcuffed and searched, while Pair 3 and 4 continued on as lead elements into the house or building.

Wait a Minute
Okay, I'm sure that at this point in the dissertation, some of you are going to inconveniently point out that The Funnel of Death is still there. And, you are absolutely correct, every doorway and every set of stairs still funnels entrants into a small zone. The difference is that we now made our entries in a more organized manner to lessen the danger. Plus, we soon acquired new tricks to distract or disable anyone on the other end of the funnel, and had new tactics to help provide cover for those team mates entering the funnel. We also got neat Turtle-Vests with armored plates to insert fore and aft to protect chest and back from any potential incoming fire. Plus, the vests had this nice handle at the back of the neck so your buddies could more easily drag you out of the way if you went down from say, a hangnail or loose shoe lace. We even had Kevlar helmets to render our noggins safe from harm and goggles in case the wind stirred up a little dust. Our gloves, boots and clothing were fire resistant Nomex just in case someone accidently dropped a lit cigarette on the carpet. We became damn near indestructible.
It was a new day. Dinosaurs quickly got retrained, else went the way that dinosaurs went. I'm sure that nowadays, tactics have improved even more, plus regular SWAT teams get neat toys such as Flash Bangs and see-through, bullet-proof shields to move safely through the Funnel. And, they usually have a team sniper or two on board who can reach out and touch the bad guys from a distance when it becomes necessary. Planned arrest situations are getting tougher on the hard case common criminal, but then that's their problem. They should have chosen a more honest form of employment where they wouldn't have to worry about the loud arrival of sudden guests in the dark of early morning.



~a tip of my hat to Fran's son