The Magee Message

As happens sometimes, the outcome of the raid failed to meet expectations. As Radley Balko explains,

Last December 19th, nine of the 10 members of the Burleson County Sheriff’s Department staged a raid on the rural home of Henry Magee. An informant had told Deputy Adam Sowders that Magee was running a major marijuana grow. They’d find 12-14 plants, all over six fee tall, the informant said. Magee also had, according to the informant, a vicious dog and several guns, one of which had been stolen from the Burleson County Sheriff’s Department.

The threat to humanity of a dozen pot plants was more than the sheriff’s department could bear, and so raid they must. After all, an informant said so, and that’s good enough when the lives of children are at stake.  Unless, of course, it turns out that the informant was, well, misinforming.

A subsequent search of Magee’s home by the Texas Rangers didn’t turn up any six foot pot plants. According to Dick DeGuerin, the well-known criminal defense attorney who took Magee’s case shortly after the raid, the police found two plants about six inches tall, less than an ounce of dried marijuana,  and several seedlings. According to DeGuerin, Magee had four guns in his home, all of them legal, three of which were locked in a safe at the time of the raid. They also didn’t find the gun the informant claimed Magee had stolen. DeGuerrin says Magee’s allegedly vicious dog barked, but never attacked, even when the officers had Magee cuffed and on the ground.

But they didn’t leave Henry Magee’s house without a serious bust. It just wasn’t the crime they had in mind.

By the time the raid was over, Deputy Adam Sowder was dead. Magee shot him as Sowder and his fellow deputies attempted to force their way into Magee’s home.  Magee was arrested and charged with capital murder — the knowing and intentional killing of a police officer.

Then came the shocker.

Remarkably, this week the grand jury returned a “no-bill” on the murder charge. That is, they found that Henry Magee had acted in self-defense.

Bear in mind, this happened in Texas, where the only thing more plentiful than guns is machismo. Others who have been in similar situations have not been so fortunate.

The prosecutor who presented the case, Julie Renken, says she did her best to let the facts speak for themselves, rather than ham sandwich the outcome, and it shows.  While Magee’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, saw the raid as a “big screw up,” based on worthless information and unnecessary in any event, Renken took a simpler view:

There’s no question that Magee killed Deputy Sowders. And there’s no question that Sowders was lawfully discharging his duty as a law enforcement officer. The question is whether a reasonable person in Magee’s position should have known that these were police officers. The grand jury determined that a reasonable person could have made the same mistake Magee did.”

The title of Radley’s story is “some justice in Texas,” and that certainly seems to be the case. Yet, this scares me to the core.  How many fans of the John Bad Elk decision. incapable of grasping that it is not good law, have been chomping at the bit for a “no bill” like this?  There will be armed men and women in tin foil hats with their fingers tightly grasping their weapons praying for someone to walk through that front door so they can put them down.

To the nutjobs, this story proves what they have been thinking, saying, all along.  This proves they have the right to kill cops. This proves they can defend their home from the thugs with shields. This proves it.

Radley took away the better message:

We’re now in an age in which two states have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and more are likely to follow suit. So it seems particularly absurd that in other states, police are still breaking down doors and committing violent raids to apprehend people who are growing, using, or selling the same drug. If this incident puts an end to that practice in Burleson County, that’s certainly progress. But it would nice if it didn’t require more dead cops—not to mention dead citizens—for police departments across the rest of the country to make the same changes.

Anyone who wants to argue their right to kill cops, the righteousness of “defending” their home because the cops “needed killing,” is utterly insane and unwelcome here.  That the excessive use of raids, where the justification for forced entry fails miserably and where the police put people’s lives at risk over nonsense, to play with their cool toys or to shock and awe as if the public was their enemy in war, needs to be driven home.  It’s not just the guy in the house who gets killed, and your needless macho raid may be your undoing as well.

But this is about ending the mindset of cops, and maybe even the thicker mindset of search warrant rubber stamping judges, to engage in conduct that puts everyone at risk without real cause or real need. This is about de-escalation.

What this is not about is killing cops. It is a tragedy that anyone dies, and the system needs to work in a way that we all survive to argue the wrongfulness of this conduct another day.  There is no joy to be had in the killing of a human being.

9 thoughts on “The Magee Message

  1. Tim Knowles

    It will be nice if de-escalation is the message. I can easily see it going the other way. The mindset will be, “An officer was killed in a raid just like this one, so we need to bring extra firepower to protect ourselves.” From the article, it sounds like Burleson County is at least considering a positive change.

    1. SHG Post author

      And that’s the flip side of the nutjob shoot-the-cops view. This has terrible potential ramifications all around.

  2. Mike Paar

    This story has all but been stifled by the media. Very, very few media outlets have elected to print much about this. Strange also that the DA says she just presented the case to the grand jury without a recommendation either way, how rare is that? So far as wondering what the ramifications are going to be, one need only to read comments left by noticeably upset police officers beneath this story on the policeone website. Many there have posted comments about leaving living witnesses after “brothers” are killed and videotaping all raids. For those unfamiliar with Dick DeGuerin, he’s arguably the best criminal attorney in Texas and is probably best known for representing the Branch Davidians during the attack on their compound in Waco.

    1. SHG Post author

      PoliceOne offers one side of the equation. One side, by definition, doesn’t include all others.

      As for Dick DeGuerin, readers here are well aware of who he is, as they’re criminal defense lawyers, just like DGD. Since you aren’t a lawyer, you probably don’t realize that it wasn’t necessary for you to explain who he is to people who know far better than you.

  3. Patrick Maupin

    > Others who have been in similar situations have not been so fortunate.

    Yes, even in Texas. There was a case very similar to this in Austin that went the other way a few years ago, and I felt that the court outcome was a travesty. (Of course, in both that and this case, the events in question are tragic.)

    It shouldn’t have to be cognitive dissonance to believe that (1) cops shouldn’t die, (2) suspects shouldn’t die, and (3) that you’re allowed to defend your castle.

    No-knock raids make those beliefs incompatible, though.

  4. Darryl Pruett

    What reasonable person is going to understand that they are cops, rather than someone trying to do a home invasion, if they only announce who they are as they are battering down your door? If the issue is “did the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant knew he was shooting a police officer” then I think a jury would be well within its discretion to answer that question in the negative. Therefore, if a grand jury believes there simply is not enough evidence on the knowledge issue to go forward to a prosecution and trial, they no-bill.

    1. Tim B

      Precisely. I don’t run around breaking laws. I don’t have anything to do with drugs, or with people who do. I mind my own business. I help those I can, and do my best to avoid those who are jerks. If I wake up at oh-dark-thirty with explosions in my house, lights flashing all over the place, shots fired at my dogs and people screaming crazy things, IT CAN’T BE COPS. Real, honest, genuine cops in my area would simply never do something like this to me. There would simply be no reason for them to do so. Therefore, these people aren’t cops. When combined with the fact that there are usually two or more groups in the region using exactly these tactics to break and enter homes for the purpose of robbery (which stories seem to be suppressed or minimized by local papers/MSM), I have every reason to believe that I’m being victimized by violent crooks. My response would be appropriate to that belief.

  5. Jesse

    I don’t think it’s tinfoil-hat thinking to see both police and citizens treated equally under the law as a bad thing. That one of them has to die for this to be demonstrated is extremely unfortunate, but perhaps it is time for police that act as violent home invaders to be treated as, you know, violent home invaders in a court of law.

    1. SHG Post author

      Try some nuanced thinking and perhaps you will understand the problem more clearly. There are legitimate reasons for the police to execute a no-knock warrant, or be “violent home invaders” as you put it.

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