Steve Tuppeny was in the garage of his Middletown home having a smoke at 6:15 a.m., his wife and daughter asleep inside, when the Wilmington SWAT officers made their move.Tuppeny’s wife and 8-year-old daughter had the pleasure of being awoken by men in black with guns, shining flashlights in their faces. It’s not the sort of wake-up call people who live in lovely, well-cared for homes in Middletown expect.
Dressed in black, several officers rushed Tuppeny, ordered him to lie face down on the ground and handcuffed him. Other SWAT officers smashed the storm door in the front of the Tuppenys’ two-story colonial-style home, then used a battering ram to break through the red front door.
The raid is described as one of a “wrong house,” but that’s not really accurate. They raided the house they intended to raid.
The Wilmington police had time to put on their black soldier costumes. They had time to make sure their weapons were loaded. They had time to make sure the battering ram was in their SWATmobile. The only thing they didn’t have time for is to ascertain whether a nice family like the Tupenny’s owned the home rather than a person of interest.
Police carried out the early morning raid in search of a man whom they called a “person of interest” in a homicide. The man, in a Sept. 19 court appearance, had said he lived at the Tuppenys’ address in the 100 block of Willow Grove Mill Drive. Police had a search warrant authorizing them to obtain a DNA sample.
“The person of interest had resided at the residence and provided court officials with this address within the last month indicating he currently lived there,” Ivey said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “In compliance with standard operating procedure, officers verified that the person of interest was no longer residing at the home and did not search the residence any further.”
After all, a person said this was his address, and the few minutes it would take to verify this detail, perhaps even before they obtained a warrant, could have impaired their ability to seize control of the situation. Mind you, they weren’t there to arrest a potential murderer, a person who they properly feared was about to do harm to others, but to get a DNA swab.
On the other hand, since the person of interest apparently showed up in court as required, they could have gotten the DNA swab on the next court date. But then, there would have been no use for the ninja outfits and assault rifles.
The aftermath just makes the story increasingly unsavory.
In most wrong house raids, the SWAT team screwed up, but at least had an arguable reason to engage in the use of such extreme force. Here, there is absolutely nothing to suggest any reason for anything that happened. At every level, this was a fiasco, a wholesale demonstration of incompetence, needlessness and arrogance.
What its does show, and brutally clearly, is the offshoot of the militarization of American policing. Give police military weaponry, equipment, uniforms and tactics, and they will use them. If there is no good cause to call in the SWAT team, then it will be used when it isn’t needed.
The rationale for giving police such military equipment and weaponry is that it may someday be needed to fend off a terrorist attack. Because the terrorists have their eye on Wilmington, Delaware. Maybe it could happen. The problem is that once they’ve got all this cool stuff in hand, there is a compulsion to use it. This is really awesome stuff, if you’re so inclined, and it clearly comports with the First Rule of Policing.
But the scariest line in this story, coming from the mouth of Wilmington police spokesman Officer Mark Ivey, is this:
In compliance with standard operating procedure…The new normal is to use the greatest show of force available combined with the least amount of thought possible. It’s just standard operating procedure in Wilmington. And a lot of other places too.