Acting on a "tip" from a confidential informant, Prince George's County police barged into the home of a man last month, expecting to find drug dealers inside.
Instead, the Maryland cops were met by gunfire from a man wielding a shotgun who was not a drug dealer.
The man, who was only trying to protect his daughter from home invaders, shot once, striking one cop in the shoulder and the other cop in the hand. A third cop returned fire but missed.
Surprisingly Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski wasted no time in taking the blame for raiding the wrong home on the night of September 19, announcing that no criminal charges would be filed against the man, whose name has not been released but has been described as a black man.
“I want to assure that we will make certain that this does not repeat itself,” Stawinski told the media who expressed shock and admiration over the chief not trying to pin the blame on the man with the shotgun.
However, the media failed to mention that it was only two months earlier that the same department made the same mistake by raiding another home in a case of mistaken identity.
On July 6, a Prince George's County SWAT team broke down an apartment door, pointing their guns at the mother of a one-year-old child.
Police say the mix-up stems from the fact that there are two buildings in the Allentown Apartments with the same street and apartment numbers. One building is on Carswell Avenue and the other is on Morris Avenue, separated by a small parking lot between the two.
They even bought the woman a new lock for the door they had busted down, which is a small gesture, but huge when it comes to police who are known for destroying property but not for repairing it.
And while it's nice the Prince George's County Police Department accepted the blame for breaking into the homes of innocent families and terrorizing them at gunpoint, it should already have had reforms in place to prevent them doing it in the first place.
After all, the same police department made national headlines in 2008 when they raided the home of a small-town mayor, killing his dogs after delivering 32 pounds of marijuana to his home.
Turned out, Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo had nothing to do with the marijuana.
Police later said drug dealers in Arizona had been sending marijuana to unsuspecting houses to retrieve them later. When Prince George's County cops became aware of a package filled with marijuana, they obtained a warrant, delivered the marijuana to his home, then raided his home after his mother-in-law brought the package inside the home.
They not only shot and killed his Labrador Retrievers, they handcuffed him and his mother-in-law for hours. Calvo was in his underwear the entire time.
However, those reforms did not seem to have a lasting effect considering the same department raided the wrong home twice this year, placing innocent lives at risk.
The lawsuit claimed that authorities' failure to knock or announce their entry, the killing of the dogs and the "degrading detention" of Calvo and his mother-in-law, were the "direct and proximate result of a rogue, paramilitary culture" within the sheriff's department. Calvo and his family said their constitutional rights were violated and that they suffered physically, psychologically and emotionally.
"It was, by far the most tragic event in our lives," Calvo said Monday.
Since the shooting at Calvo's home, the county police department has put new checks in place, including a more vigorous supervisory review of search warrants and taking more steps to verify who lives in a residence, said county police spokesman Maj. Andy Ellis.
In narcotics cases, the default is to use a tactical team to execute search warrants because the potential for violence is much higher than in other cases and firearms are often recovered, he said.
"It only makes sense for us to send in our most experienced teams," Ellis said. "We would be asking for trouble if we were to just send any police officer in."
So the reforms were basically sending their "most experienced teams" to conduct the raids to ensure they are actually raiding the right homes.
Sallie Taylor was sitting in her apartment in Northeast Washington one evening in January 2015 watching “Bible Talk” when her clock fell off the wall and broke. She turned and looked up. Nine D.C. police officers smashed through her door, a shotgun was pointed at her face and she was ordered to the floor.
“They came in like Rambo,” said Taylor, a soft-spoken 63-year-old grandmother who was dressed in a white nightgown and said she has never had even a speeding ticket.
The heavily armed squad thought they were searching the residence of a woman arrested two miles away the previous night for carrying a half-ounce vial of PCP.
Taylor, who did not know the woman, was terrified. Trembling, she told police that the woman did not live there. Officers spent 30 minutes searching the house anyway, going through her boxes and her underwear drawer. They found no drugs and left without making an arrest.
The search warrant executed at Taylor’s apartment cited no evidence of criminal activity there. Instead, in an affidavit to a judge, police argued that they should be able to search for drugs there based on their “training and experience” investigating the drug trade. They relied on an address they found in a court-records system for the woman arrested with PCP.
A Washington Post review of 2,000 warrants served by D.C. police between January 2013 and January 2015 found that 284 — about 14 percent — shared the characteristics of the one executed at Taylor’s apartment. In every case, after arresting someone on the street for possession of drugs or a weapon, police invoked their training and experience to justify a search of a residence without observing criminal activity there. The language of the warrants gave officers broad leeway to search for drugs and guns in areas saturated by them and to seize phones, computers and personal records.
But no-knock raids on the homes of innocent citizens is not limited to the DC metropolitan area. Not even close.
A Federal Way nurse who was thrown to the ground at gunpoint, handcuffed and forced to stand outside barefoot in the winter while Tacoma police raided her apartment in error was awarded $250,000 by a King County Superior Court jury on Thursday.
The jury found after a two-week trial that the Tacoma Police Department was negligent in failing to follow its own procedures in verifying information from a confidential informant.
Kathleen Mancini’s apartment was raided on Jan. 5, 2011, after a confidential informant incorrectly identified the apartment of the then 62-year-old nurse as a drug dealer’s home.
“Mancini was brutalized and traumatized,” wrote her attorney, Lori Haskell, in a news statement released on Friday. Mancini, who had never before been the target of a police investigation, still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and “has flashbacks when seeing a uniformed police officer,” Haskell said.
And in 2017, cops in Mississippi raided the wrong home and killed an innocent man named Ismael Lopez after claiming he had pointed a gun at them.
A year later, a grand jury chose not to indict the officer, even though there were huge inconsistencies in the police narrative, including whether Lopez even held a gun in the first place, according to Radley Balko of the Washington Post.
Chicago police especially seem to have a problem with raiding the wrong homes, having done so at least four times since 2017.
When the cops read her the warrant, they realized the house they were supposed to raid was down the block.
The cops then left the home and apologized, promising to fix the door they had broken down.
So where does this all stop?
Unfortunately, we cannot count on the courts to protect citizens from these blunders because earlier this, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the family of an innocent man killed by police in Florida in 2012 after they had knocked on the wrong door cannot sue for damages.
In that case, Lake County sheriff's deputies banged on the door of an apartment after spotting a motorcycle in front of it that they had attempted to stop earlier in the evening.
The driver of the motorcycle, Jonathan Brown, was said to be armed and dangerous but he did not live in the apartment that deputies singled out.
Instead, a man named Andrew Scott opened the door with a gun at his side because the deputies never identified themselves. He was immediately shot and killed.
So knowing they are protected by the courts, why should we expect any serious reforms to prevent this from happening again?