Stale Allegations and Stuffed Animals

Police gave stuffed animals to two children…

So begins a post at Raw Story.  Is that not heart-warming?  It’s always great to read about something nice the police did, right?  Unfortunately, the rest of the first sentence isn’t quite so sweet.

Police gave stuffed animals to two children after a SWAT team raided their home last week looking for a previous tenant, but their parents are still waiting for officers to replace the door.

Oh crap.  Another wrong door raid? What?

[Jeremy Handley] said officers were looking for a man who rented the home nearly a year before his family moved in, and Handley said he’s upset that police failed to thoroughly investigate before bursting through the back door.

Among the aspects of a warrant application that a judge is supposed to scrutinize is whether the information upon which the warrant is based is still timely.  A truthful and accurate recitation of criminal conduct that happened a year ago doesn’t provide a good reason to issue a warrant today. People move. Criminals too.  And after they leave a house or apartment, someone else moves in, like Jeremy Handley and his family.

Handley and his wife, Becky, were handcuffed and searched while their two children hid in a bedroom closet.

“We were staying quiet, because we thought they were bad guys coming in,” said 7-year-old Brenden Handley.

Jeremy Handley said officers ransacked the home, looking for cocaine, cash, and weapons in “every drawer, every cabinet, every piece of paper.”

Police told the family they were looking for “a man named Chum,” he said.

But what does “Chum” have to do with Handley?  From the perspective of the SWAT team with a search warrant, the answer is “who knows?”  Ignorance is a cops’ best friend, as it allows unfettered action because they’re not constrained by information.  It sounds counterintuitive, but courts have demonstrated a consistent inclination to give police the benefit of the doubt, and so doubt becomes the weapon of choice.

Curiously, the harm would be bad enough had the SWAT team merely broken down the door, entered the house and forced an innocent family into submission. But at that point, with the potentially dangerous children removed from hiding in the bedroom closet for officer safety, the cops have an opportunity to assess the situation, recognize that there is no “Chum” there and that they’ve raided the home of a wholly unrelated family.

But no. They have a warrant, so search they must.  For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing a home post-search, it’s about as disruptive and destructive a thing as one can imagine. Think of every drawer opened and tossed to the ground. Think of furniture ripped apart, and in many instances, destroyed to ascertain if something nefarious is hidden deep within the couch cushions.  It doesn’t appear that they permanently destroyed the interior furnishings here, as Handley makes no claim for destruction beyond the door.

But the door.  Imagine your home with a door frame busted from the ram rod, unable to close. Impossible to lock. You can’t leave your home until the door is repaired and replaced, because it’s open to the world.  “Sorry” brings little comfort.

This story was sent to me by Victor Medina, who asked an important and terribly disturbing question:  Is this still news?

It’s long been a concern, as stories of wrong door raids, stale search warrants, harm to innocents, become increasingly pervasive that we grow inured to abuse, misconduct and police error.  Heck, nobody was shot and killed this time, and the children didn’t have guns put to their heads.  This one barely registers on the outrage meter.

Is this still news?  Only to those who give a damn, and as such raids continue despite having been widely condemned and publicized, others grow bored with the repetition.  While some of us assume that the more the public hears of these outrages, the greater their skepticism of police claims, there is a very real fear that people will begin to take for granted that this is just the way law enforcement happens.  Move on to the newer, cooler outrage.

And Jeremy Handley still can’t close his door, even though he’s done nothing remotely wrong.  Given the trauma his children suffered, the least the cops can do is pay for the door they broke. The very least.

35 comments on “Stale Allegations and Stuffed Animals

  1. Charlesmorrison

    Perhaps they could place a squad car out front to ensure no one enters the home? Not that having a police car outside 24/7 would be comforting to the kids at this point, but it would only take a day or so to replace a door, one would think.

    I’m not handy at all, and I’d put the over/under on my ability to replace the door and frame at one weekend. It would all depend on how many adult beverages I have while doing so.

    While I’m mentioning odds, I’ll say it’s 50-50 whether the department sends an invoice to the family for parts and labor, if the state ever fixes it.

    1. SHG Post author

      Then perhaps you should contribute your limited skills to fixing the door. I don’t know if Handley has skills, has to work, or whether he just expects the party who wrongfully broke his door to fix it, rather than acquiescing in the police view that their mistake makes it his problem. If he fixes it, then the cops can wash their hands of the mess.

      Your comment suggests that you would agree with the police. I doubt you do, but I also doubt you’ve thought through the ramifications of your comment. You might do well to think a bit harder before expressing yourself.

      1. Charlesmorrison

        Fair point as I re-read my comment, I should have been more clear: the state should fix it, and I can’t imagine it would take more than a day to contract someone to get out there. Or, certainly some officer is sufficiently skilled to do so. They seemed to have had time to buy stuffed animals, there must be a lowes near the toys r us. I wasn’t suggesting the homeowner do it.

        1. SHG Post author

          I knew you would see it upon second glance. The problem is someone will see your first comment, misconstrue it, and then go off on it, making us all poorer for the effort.

  2. Bruce Coulson

    The stuffed toys are an insult adding to the injury. “No, we have no obligation to fix the damage we inflicted; here’s a pat on the head and a cute stuffed animal.”

    It’s a frightening thought, that this sort of thing could be greeted with a yawn and a ‘so, what else is new?’

  3. Jesse

    Maybe they’ll start bringing complementary subscriptions to the jelly of the month club, or gift certificates from Sizzler, to hand out as SOP when they find out a raid was on the wrong door.

    “Hey it’s your lucky day! Have a steak on us.”

  4. George B

    I’d be worried that the stuffed toys were stuffed with drugs, so the cops would have something to find on their next raid.

    There’s a better reason to require them to guard the premises until the door is repaired. That is: so it shows up on their overtime bill, and their {alleged} bosses, the city council or similar, can start asking questions.

  5. Bruce Coulson

    Nonsense; the police would get better deals by handing out discount coupons to local bakeries/donut shops. (They could include vegan bakeries as well.)

  6. Marc R

    Who moves into a home without checking whether the prior occupants engaged in criminal activity? At least 65-70% of the fault here lies with the “victims.” Had they never moved into a suspected criminal’s home, not one officer would have had to risk his life searching that home. Imagine the fear of an officer not knowing if the occupants of that closet were bad guys ducking down rather than children. You want doors fixed? How about paying for the mental therapy for those officers who may have been shot by crouching bad guys all because some presumably grown adults never bothered to see if they’re moving into a criminal’s home!

    1. SHG Post author

      Bear in mind that sarcasm in the comments tends to play out poorly to those who don’t know whether you’re for real or not. Just sayin’.

      1. Marc R

        I figured you scared all those posters out years ago.

        After getting a Nolle Prosse recently I submitted a bill to the local sheriff’s for 3 internal doors knocked off the hinges. Haven’t heard back; maybe my handwriting wasn’t clear. Funny thing is none of the internal doors were locked because who locks bedroom/bathroom doors when you’re all in the living room.

          1. Wheeze The People™

            Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again. I beg of you . . .

      2. Wheeze The People™

        If a interloper doesn’t know who Marc R is by now, they’re, by definition, one of the little people and don’t matter. So who cares how it plays in Peoria (or Milwaukee or Carson) . . .

          1. Wheeze The People™

            Butt that’s your job if you’re the self-anointed janitor — to clean up messes, dammit!! Only a snowflake janitor would assume that cleaning up messes are not part of the job description . . . And in Peoria, of all places . . .

        1. Marc R

          To be fair, I’m not the “Marc R” who blogs with Scott. I’m a Marc R, who practices in one of the jurisdictions the Marc R you’re referring to does, and my firm does have a blog, but I’m not that guy. Scott can see my full name and IP address or whatever, and I’d be honored to be confused with the other Marc R, but I can’t let you think I’m him.

            1. Wheeze The People™

              There should be a law!! To deal with the Marc R proliferation problem . . .

            2. Marc R

              Doesn’t the other Marc R do 1st Amendment stuff anyhow? I’m more 4th Amendment, and I’d never the patience to deal with Crystal Cox over 40 states and 3 countries. Pretty sure she owes him like $45M in legal fees or something.

            3. SHG Post author

              Guys, this is a serious post. Do you really think that its useful to have gone so far off topic, to have such a fun time? Come on, one comment was fine, but you see how it goes way, way too far? It’s done.

  7. Neil

    I’m not a lawyer, so I have to ask: Why shouldn’t the funds to replace the door come out of whatever budget pays the judge who approved the warrant, instead of the police budget?

    1. SHG Post author

      The judge acts upon what the police provide in signing the warrant (and it’s unclear what the warrant app says here, and it may have claimed current info rather than stale), but the judge doesn’t force the cops to be destructive in their execution of the warrant. The cops broke it, they fix it.

  8. So-Not-A-Lawyer.

    OK. To be serious for a moment.

    Let’s take a NTSB type approach to the incident.

    What went wrong and where?

    And the answer is the Warrent Application, and the Judge’s Office. Because, as a constitutional and procedural matter, that is the critical circuit-breaker designed to prevent exactly this sort of screwup.

    Of all the proceedings in the legal system, the application/granting of search warrents is the (almost?) only non-adversarial process. It is ex-parte, and reportedly can be highly informal. No formal recording of any oral presentations.

    In all the other processes, the judge sits as third party between two opposing parties. It is just here that the judge has to profoundly change his normal mode of thought and act as one of the opposing parties in questioning the application for the warrent.

    Worse, if the cops just get the facts wrong, or as here, get the wrong facts, it is impossible for the judge to know or find out. Given the increased level of violence used by the police in executing warrents the justice system is starting to break down on a systems level.

    So, just to get the discussion off of the ‘Who is Marc ??’ kick, try this proposal:

    Require Search Warrent Applications to be made in a semi- adversarial process.
    We already have public defenders, whom everybody knows have lots of free time on their hands. Simply require that warrent applications be made in the presence of a public defender tasked to challenge the assertions in the application. That moves the judge back to the norma judicial role of hearing two arguments from opposing parties, as opposed to having to generate one stream of argument himself.

    There are all sorts of arguments against such a process. On the other hand we have got to stop (or at least reduce the rate of) smashing innocent peoples’ doors, and lives.

    You did want some more substantive comment didn’t you?

    JG

    1. SHG Post author

      Thanks for bringing this back to substance. First, it’s always interesting when a geek-like approach is applied to law. Binary thinking is great, but humans never work well with binary. That said, you are correct in your point about the judge being the “circuit breaker,” that the ex parte process is very informal (meaning, on the phone in the middle of the night informal at times), and thus circumvents many of the basic protections that the adversarial process provides.

      Your idea, and it doesn’t have to be a PD but anyone or team whose job it is to question the target of a warrant, is intellectually quite good, but would run into a wall in real world practice. Sometimes, warrants are needed immediately, not after a week, a day, even an hour, and we want it to be that way. Remember, they sometimes save lives, and aren’t always massive screw ups like this one. Still, it’s an excellent thought.

      1. Michael Malone

        I agree. we want the police to be able to get the immediate warrant. However, when it comes to busting doors and SWAT teams, 99.9% isn’t accurate enough. If the police go to a judge and get a warrant for a no-knock raid, the judge should default to the police. Period. But when the police screw it up, go on months old information and don’t do their homework prior to the raid, a world of hurt should befall the police. There shouldn’t be a door fixed. There should be lawns mowed and siding painted. Stuffed animals? No, new bikes and cops out back cleaning the pool. When cops get this one wrong, they should actually grovel to make it right. Because, if we entrust cops with the ability to do this, to bust up doors and toss people to the ground… we should be able to trust that when they get it wrong, they will go to the ends of the earth to make it right.

        Okay, I really do believe all that. But as I look at my pool after a season of leaves, I’d endure a no knock, wrong address raid if it meant someone else cleaned it. Just saying.

        1. Brett Middleton

          And what ends-of-the-earth effort, how much groveling, will make it right when they shoot your dog and your kid who had a Wii controller in his hand? Furthermore, many of the erroneous raids seem to be wrong-door raids in multiple-occupancy dwellings. In those cases, the cost for fixing the door is a matter between the landlord and the cops, and the tenant doesn’t have any pool to be cleaned, lawn to be mowed, or siding to be painted. (The landlord might be glad to get those services, but that doesn’t do much for the tenant, and there might be some objections from the maintenance and grounds staff over the loss of working hours.)

          I think the judges are just going to have to learn to be their own advocatus diaboli when evaluating warrant applications. The Supremes don’t seem to have any trouble asking argumentative questions of those who appear before them. Surely lesser judges can manage to do the same.

          1. Michael

            While somewhat tongue in cheek, my point was police need to do the homework and investigation to get it right, and when they get it wrong everyone in the system should be clamoring to make it right. The judge should be calling up the officer or DA that requested the warrant and throwing the book at them. The Cheif should be disciplining them, without pay. Officers involved in the raid should be in a world of trouble. Make them all equally liable, and they will make damn sure to get it right. Or plant evidence. So you can’t win for losing I guess.

            1. Jim Majkowski

              I heartily agree that when things go wrong, everyone in the system ought be working on making things right and trying to prevent it from happening again. I disagree that punitive measures are the way to go, if for no other reason than that those people are going to resist the thought of punishing those who “protect and serve.”

              But it’s going to happen only when people with serious authority have the attitude SHG does: while we need sometimes to get this done in a hurry, let’s not forget that real people bear the consequence of mistakes and the consequences to those real people ought be something we care about.

      2. So-Not-A-Lawyer

        The snapkick will ever be a problem. The basic process of the legal system does not play well in realtime. But how many Warrent Applications are snapkicks; made by the valiant detective over the radio as she races to save the children. At 0-dark-thirty. On a dark and stormy night. Yes, the system needs to be extraordinarily responsive to extraordinary situations. But the phrase that comes to mind is ‘corner case’. The mass of warrent applications are not of that nature. (My perception only. This is a fact-free argument.)

        There are a host of extremely practical arguments against making (most) search warrent applications adversarial even in an in-house way. I could spend billions of bytes of your blog describing them. I won’t.

        But the two biggest obstacles to fixing the underlying problem are:
        1. Recognizing that the problem is a threat to the central paradigm of the ‘justice’ system, and

        2. Accepting that the cost and irritation consequent on fixing (1) above is a necessary cost and irritation..

        PS: I picked on the Public Defenders bacause it is universally agreed that they have nothing better to do; they are already (in most states) quasi-judicial officers (i.e. both a public employee and lawyer); and are ethically oriented to defense of the whole system (I hope) (Why else would they take such a high-paying, high status position?)

        My perception is that we are having an increasing rate of warrent application and execution errors in general, and the consequence of those errors are incresely catastrophic for the innocent parties.

        As a practical matter, the only people who can fix the problem are youse-guys, the legal community.

        So, Over to you.

        JG

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