The rise of the paramilitary SWAT team is a testament to the failure of America’s criminal justice system. It defines the transition from peace officers, to law enforcement.
One problem with giving the government the power to kick in doors while playing army is that the government can’t be trusted to kick down the right doors. “New professionalism” advocates like Scalia would be shocked to learn how often the government wields the shock and awe power of the SWAT team at the wrong location.
Recently I file an open records request on Dallas SWAT wrong house raids. The first report I received detailed an incident from December 2005. The person involved didn’t ask for blog publicity, so I won’t reveal any personal information.
The victim’s story-
The victim was at home with her son. The police came to her door demanding entry. The victim pointed out that they were at the wrong house. The police entered the home without pemission, pointed a gun at her son, and threatened to shoot her dog (Puppycide is epidemic among SWAT teams).
This complaint prompted an internal affairs investigation. IA interviewed the cops involved. Can you guess their version of events? Do you think the officer’s testimony was all on the same page?
The officers admit to approaching and entering the wrong house. That’s where the similarities end. The officers claim to have received permission to enter and search the house. Furthermore they deny pointing a gun at anyone and threatening to murder any dogs.
Amazingly, each police officer testified to the same version of events. That must make it true, right!
How did internal affairs rule in this case? “Inconclusive” with “no violation of department rules.” The main reason for this decision was “conflicting testimony.” That is, the cops who entered the wrong house wouldn’t admit to the other mistakes they made.
The standard applied by internal affairs was preponderance of the evidence. IA ruled there was not a 51% chance the victim’s story was true.
IA obviously discounted the testimony of anyone who was not law enforcement. The victim wasn’t a criminal, she was a citizen whose home was wrongfully invaded by SWAT. Is it not 51% possible she was telling the truth? Or is a police confession required?
This is why all police encounters, much less home invasion SWAT raids, should be recorded. Too often a criminal trial comes down to an officer’s testimony. Just like IA many jurors will decide conflicting testimony in favor of the person in uniform.
More reading: Grits has this report on the Dallas Police no snitching culture.