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A Little Case of Over-kill

Aug
13
2008

Having written in last week’s column about the affability of Labrador Retrievers, I just couldn’t let pass the fiasco of a “drug raid” carried out by Prince George’s County (Md.) Sheriff’s Department on July 29.
A package delivered to the home of Berwyn Heights, Md., mayor Cheye Calvo and addressed to his wife had been tracked by police from Arizona and was determined by drug-sniffing dogs to contain 32 lbs. of marijuana. Arriving home, Calvo did what most of us would do with a package left on our porch – picked it up and brought it into his house.
Shortly after the PG County SWAT team stormed the house, shot the family’s two Labrador Retrievers – one as it was running away, according to Calvo -handcuffed the mayor and his mother-in-law and spent the next few hours interrogating them inches from the bodies of their dead pets.
No arrests were made that night and ultimately the family was cleared of any connection with the package. This wasn’t the first time a package originating in Los Angeles was delivered to an innocent recipient in PG County, only cooler heads prevailed in the first incident. No one tackled the 76 year-old homeowner to the ground but, then, there was nothing to indicate that he had a pet. Otherwise it seems the situation might have ended similarly.
In another raid last November, deputies read the house number on their warrant incorrectly and entered the wrong residence. Even after detectives realized they had the wrong address, a sheriff’s deputy felt it necessary to shoot the family’s boxer barking outside the house.
In all fairness, there is no denying that PG County has a major drug problem and the use and amount of force, especially in a crisis situation, can be debated and argued over ad nauseum – as it has been around here. My brother, a police investigator, leans toward giving law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. I will concede that, as my brother says, in many cases we don’t know what information the team was acting on.
In the Calvo case, though, it was a matter of not bothering to check. The local police department was not notified of the warrant or of the impending raid.
“You can’t tell me the chief of police of a municipality wouldn’t have been able to knock on the door of the mayor of that municipality, gain his confidence and enter the residence,” Berwyn Heights Chief of Police Patrick Murphy told The Washington Post. “It would not have been a necessity to shoot and kill this man’s dogs.”
The thing is, if you are going to storm into someone’s home, before you start killing stuff you’d better be damn sure that first, you’re at the right address, and, second, there is evidence actually connecting the person with the crime. That just strikes me as basic common sense, no matter how drug-infested a neighborhood (which, by the way, Berwyn Heights is not).
And as an aside – the department might also want to reconsider their choice of vehicular conveyance to their little raid parties. When he arrived home from work, Calvo noted several black SUVs parked on the street. Now, I’m just your average law-abiding citizen, but even I know that a bunch of black SUVs parked on my street means either the Men in Black are blasting aliens out of the neighborhood or law enforcement are somewhere around. If I’m involved in drug trafficking, it means I get the hell out of there.
The PG County Sheriff’s Department has had ample time to come up with something to justify entry over-kill (pun intended). There was a lame attempt at laying the blame on Calvo’s mother-in-law who, upon seeing the approaching SWAT team – so much for stealth – screamed. And who wouldn’t? Even the Atlanta police department were able to pull some dubious drug informant out their. . .uh. . . files to justify the shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in 2006.
Two men, one a Fed Ex employee, have been charged in the case. But while a Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department spokesman expressed his sympathy to the Calvos, the department has fallen short of issuing an apology.
The FBI is now investigating the raid, which doesn’t help the canine population of Prince George’s County much. There doesn’t seem to be any hope in that respect, since a dog whose territory is breached has a tendency to bark – which is interpreted by PG law enforcement as a threat – or run away – which is also interpreted by PG law enforcement as a threat.
The umbrella of justification seems to get larger with the death of each dog.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:56 PM | Permalink

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