No-knock drug raids are a threat to public safety — yet the practice continues: report
Libertarian journalist Radley Balko, now 46, has been calling for an end to no-knock drug raids for decades — emphasizing that such raids often cost innocent people their lives and do a lot more harm than drugs themselves. In the early 2020s, the movement to end such raids has been ramping up — and journalists Nicole Dungca and Jenn Abelson, in an article published by the Washington Post on April 15, make a compelling argument against the practice.
Dungca and Abelson describe no-knock drug raids as a dangerous practice that, in many cases, is badly administered and lacks “accountability.” And such raids, the journalists point out, frequently fail to turn up large amounts of drugs.
“Judges and magistrates are expected to review requests for no-knock warrants — one of the most intrusive and dangerous tactics available to law enforcement — to ensure that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches, as provided in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution,” Dungca and Abelson explain. “But judges generally rely on the word of police officers and rarely question the merits of the requests, offering little resistance when they seek authorization for no-knocks, a Washington Post investigation has found. The searches, which were meant to be used sparingly, have become commonplace for drug squads and SWAT teams.”
The reporters continue, “Criminal justice experts estimate that police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide, mostly in drug-related searches. But few agencies monitor their use, making the exact number unknown. None of the 50 state court systems or the District of Columbia reported tracking the use of no-knock warrants. And no federal or state government agencies keep tabs on the number of people killed or wounded in the raids.”
Balko was railing against the War on Drugs and no-knock drug raids 20 and 25 years ago. During the 2000s and 2010s, Balko wrote countless articles for the libertarian Reason that described no-knock drug raids gone bad — raids that never should have occurred. And Balko reported that it wasn’t uncommon for militarized narcotics officers to screw up, target the wrong address and kill innocent people who had nothing to do with drugs.
In 2020, Dungca and Abelson note, no-knock drug raids “became a flash point” when police in Louisville, Kentucky “killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor inside her apartment as part of a drug investigation involving an ex-boyfriend who didn’t live there.”
“Police carrying out 21 no-knock warrants have killed at least 22 people across the country since 2015, according to a review of The Post’s database of fatal shootings by police and hundreds of court records,” Dungca and Abelson report. “In one case, an officer was also killed. Of the 22 people fatally shot during no-knock raids since 2015, 13 were Black or Hispanic. Experts have suggested that high-risk searches disproportionately target Black and Hispanic homes.”
I keep seeing the allegation that the police who raided Breonna Taylor mistakenly raided the wrong house. This is not true. Her name was on the warrant. \n\nBut that makes it quite a bit worse. This was not an innocent mistake. The police *meant* to subject Taylor . . . /1— Radley Balko (@Radley Balko) 1591371627
. . . to dangerous, volatile tactics despite (1) scant evidence against her, (2) the purpose of this raid was to *investigate*, not arrest, and (3) these tactics are *designed* to inflict terror and trauma on people who have yet to even be charged, much less convicted. /2— Radley Balko (@Radley Balko) 1591371630
Cops do make mistakes and raid the wrong house. But the bigger problems here are the frequency with which cops use these tactics in the first place; that they use them on people merely suspected of nonviolent, consensual crimes; and how little evidence they need to do so. /3— Radley Balko (@Radley Balko) 1591371631
We also need to look at how little scrutiny judges give to search warrant requests before authorizing such violence. The search warrant for Taylor\u2019s home should never have been granted. And as I wrote this week, the no-knock portion was actually illegal. /4— Radley Balko (@Radley Balko) 1591371631
Dungca and Abelson note the case of Marvin Louis Guy, an African-American man from Killeen, Texas who became the target of a no-knock drug raid in 2014. Guy, who thought he was being robbed, was charged with capital murder after fatally shooting narcotics officer Charles Dinwiddie. A search of his house indicated that Guy was, at worst, a recreational drug user — and not a cocaine dealer as they suspected. Guy was held without bail, and eight years later, he still hasn’t gone to trial. Guy has, in effect, served an eight-year sentence without being convicted of anything.
In Houston, one judge who is rethinking no-knock drug warrants is Gordon Marcum.
Marcum told the Post that in 2022, “I wouldn’t sign one, just because of the fact that there’s a possibility of so many officers getting hurt and killed. There’s no reason to put them in harm’s way.”
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