On April 19, 2002, police prepare to conduct a heavily-armed late-night drug raid (it includes a helicopter) on a home in Bellport, New York. As four paramilitary unit officers rush across the front lawn, 19 year-old Jose Colon emerges from the targeted house.
According to the police account of the raid, as officers approach, one of them trips over a tree root, then falls forward, into the lead officer, causing his gun to accidentally discharge three times. One of the three bullets hits Colon in the side of the head, killing him.
Police say they screamed at Colon to “get down” as they approached, though two witnesses told a local newscast that, (a) their screams were inaudible over the sound of the helicopter, and (b) the officers appeared to be frozen before the shooting — no one tripped. One of the witnesses later recanted his story after speaking with police.
Colon was never suspected of buying or selling drugs. Police proceeded with the raid, and seized eight ounces of marijuana. A subsequent investigation found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of police. The family of Colon — who had no criminal record and was months away from becoming the first member of his family to earn a bachelor’s degree — is pursuing a lawsuit.
December 20, 2001—TX
December 20, 2001—TX
On December 20, 2001, police in Travis County, Texas storm a mobile home on a no-knock drug warrant.
19-year-old Tony Martinez, nephew of the man named in the warrant, is asleep on the couch at the time of the raid. Martinez was never suspected of any crime. When Martinez rises from the couch as police break into the home, deputy Derek Hill shoots Martinez in the chest, killing him.Martinez is unarmed.
A grand jury later declined to indict Hill in the shooting. The shooting occurred less than a mile from the spot of a botched drug raid that cost Deputy Keith Ruiz his life. Hill was also on that raid. The same Travis County paramilitary unit would later erroneously raid a woman’s home after mistaking ragweed for marijuana plants.
September 13, 2000—CA
September 13, 2000—CA
Early in the morning on September 13, 2000, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the Stanislaus County, California drug enforcement agency conduct raids on 14 homes in and around Modesto, California after a 19-month investigation.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the DEA and FBI asked that local SWAT teams enter each home unannounced to secure the area ahead of federal agents, who would then come to serve the warrants and search for evidence. Federal agents warn the SWAT teams that the targets of the warrants, including Alberto Sepulveda’s father Moises, should be considered armed and dangerous.
After police forcibly enter the Sepulveda home, Alberto, his father, his mother, his sister, and his brother are ordered to lie face down on the floor with arms outstretched. Half a minute after the raid begins, the shotgun officer David Hawn has trained on Alberto’s head discharges, instantly killing the eleven-year-old boy.
No drugs or weapons are found in the home.
The Los Angeles Times later reports that when Modesto police asked federal investigators if there were any children present in the Sepulveda home, they replied, “not aware of any.” There were three.
A subsequent internal investigation by the Modesto Police Department found that federal intelligence evidence against Moises Sepulveda — who had no previous criminal record — was “minimal.” In 2002 he pled guilty to the last charge remaining against him as a result of the investigation — using a telephone to distribute marijuana. The city of Modesto and the federal government later settled a lawsuit brought by the Sepulvedas for the death of their son for $3 million.
At first, Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden seemed to be moved by Sepulveda’s death toward genuine reform. “What are we gaining by serving these drug warrants?” Wasden is quoted as asking in the Modesto Bee. “We ought to be saying, ‘It’s not worth the risk. We’re not going to put our officers and community at risk anymore.'”
Unfortunately, as part of the settlement with the Sepulvedas, while Modesto announced several reforms in the way its SWAT team would carry out drug raids, there was no mention of discontinuing the use of paramilitary units to conduct no-knock or knock-and-announce warrants on nonviolent drug offenders.
The Militarization of local Police Departments
These tactics can no longer be allowed in American society. The militarization of local police forces stands against every tenet of “To protect and Serve”, something that has been lost in the transition.
How many innocent Americans will be killed before police departments are held accountable for these criminal raids of private homes--sometimes the wrong homes.
SWAT raids are nothing less than organized and legal murder with little oversight or accountability by the people in charge.
What’s the solution?
Read my latest book: