In a remarkable piece of investigative reporting, Radley Balko reveals the pointless, baseless, destructive raid that turned Roderick Talley’s life into misery.
“You don’t know what fear is until you wake up and your own front door is flying at you,” says Roderick Talley.
Talley may not have been a perfect guy, but he was a good guy, and so had no reason to anticipate the explosion that would awaken him on August 10, 2017.
The Little Rock cops were executing a “no-knock” warrant based on a snitch’s “buy” that never happened. It was all a sham and it ended up producing a worthless bust, finding no cocaine as was allegedly being sold from the apartment, but a little weed. Prosecutors subsequently declined the case, but Talley’s landlord billed him for the damage and refused to renew his lease.
According to the detective’s affidavit, on Aug. 3 of last year, the LRPD Street Narcotics Detail contacted an informant to make a controlled drug buy from Talley. The detective wrote that they searched the informant thoroughly, recorded the serial numbers on five $20 bills and then sent the informant to Talley’s apartment to buy cocaine.
The detective wrote that he and two other detectives then watched as the informant approached Talley’s apartment. Importantly, the detective wrote that the officers “observed the door open” and witnessed the informant have “a conversation with someone inside the apartment.” Immediately after, they met up with the informant at a prearranged location. The informant said he had just purchased $100 worth of cocaine from two men in the apartment. One man took his money at the door, then an inside man handed the door man a small bag of cocaine. According to the affidavit, the detectives then showed the informant a photo of Roderick Talley. The informant affirmed that Talley was the man at the door.
This is a textbook operation, as described. The problem is that none of it is true. It’s easy to say that the operation was run by the book, as it should, but the sham relies on one simple thing: believe the accuser. In this case, it’s the snitch. And the cops. And the judge who signed off on the warrant (putting aside whether there was any justification for a “no knock” warrant) believed them.
After all, the cop who signed the affidavit swore it was true. He swore.* What more could you want?
Why wouldn’t a judge, you, believe the cop? Its not as if he’s got any personal animosity toward Roderick Talley. They weren’t old enemies. Talley didn’t date his daughter or key his car. The cops involved had no reason in the world to pick out Talley, of all the possible people in Little Rock, to target falsely. Nor did the snitch, who didn’t know Talley.
So why would they lie? Why would they target some random guy to make his life miserable, to destroy? This is where the fallacy goes awry, the desire to understand why they blew down one door as opposed to another. In this instance, it was possible that the snitch, a bad dude who was playing the cops for enough cash for his next fix, heard from someone that Talley was dealing. Or not. Who knows?
But the cops then took the claim a step further, as video showed the cop’s affidavit to be false. Just a plain old flat-out lie, that he observed the door to Talley’s apartment open, observed the snitch talk to someone and then, when the snitch returned after the controlled buy, had $100 coke that he didn’t have before. It didn’t happen.
For decades, arguments that the cop was lying have been made and rejected. Believe the cop. Why would they lie? If they did, it would destroy their career, subject them to prosecution, cost them their good name. Why would they risk all that to “get” someone against whom they held no personal antagonism?
It was a good argument, and there was usually no particular reason to offer in response to the “why” question. There was no good reason for the cops to lie. But they did. All the time. Big lies and small lies, but lies.
As video became ubiquitous, the reality became undeniable. There were videos of cops beating, murdering, people for no particular reason. There were videos of cops planting drugs. There were videos conclusively proving that the stories cops told were lies. It still didn’t answer the question, “why?”, but there it was: proof that it happened.
As this developed, some expected video to be the end of the lies, the savior of the victims of police lies. Much as video has mattered enormously, and saved more than a few innocent people from the lies that would have imprisoned them before, it hasn’t been quite as useful as anticipated by the simplistic. Between the cottage industry developed to re-explain video so that what you see isn’t what they tell you is happening, and our own peculiar bias that makes believing seeing, even video doesn’t always serve to reveal the “truth.”
When that’s the case, we return to the same bias that existed beforehand, believe the cops. And let’s not forget that it wasn’t just the judge approving the search warrant who defaulted to believing the cops, but if the case went to trial, the jury as well. Contrary to whatever nonsense you’ve been told, jurors believe cops. Not always, sure, but mostly. And so when a cop says he saw a furtive gesture, a hand-to-hand, a crime, they nod in unison and believe.
If this all seems outrageous, consider that we’re in the process of recreating the myth of believe the accuser, except this time it’s not cops but a new, untouchable, accuser. The arguments aren’t exactly the same, but they parallel the reasons why judges and juries default to believing the cops.
Roderick Talley had his door blown open when he was just a good guy asleep in his apartment, having done nothing to deserve it, because the Little Rock cops said he was a bad dude. Would he be any less innocent had his accusers not been cops, but a “survivor”? Yet, we still want to play the “believe” game, just with a new accuser.
*The affidavit in support of the search warrant must be sworn to under penalty of perjury (or felony, as senators apparently prefer to say), which is of slightly less concern to cops than getting a paper cut while signing.