P.G. County Police: Overkill as the Default Setting

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Back in the
early '90s, during my sophomore year of college, I worked part time
at the university's physical plant, which was the hub of all package
shipment to and from the school. I was responsible for everything
from loading and unloading cargo and tracking inventory, to stocking
the shelves of the warehouse and making deliveries across campus.
In short, if the university received a shipment, I knew about it
because I most likely handled it.

Interestingly
enough, this fact was not lost on a couple guys who lived down the
hall in my dormitory; apparently jobs of this sort tend to bring
the scam artists out of the woodwork. One of them said he knew some
people "back home" who had access to stolen credit card
numbers, which he suggested we use to order ourselves some fancy
stereo equipment and the like. All I'd have to do, you see, is make
sure I was working the day the shipments arrived and we'd be good
to go!

For all I knew,
their plan was brilliant. Unfortunately for these fellas, however,
I had to inform them I didn't really consider myself a thief, and
that I was actually looking forward to graduating from college before
going to prison on multiple felony convictions.

The point of
this story is simple: Where there is opportunity to take advantage
of someone, there usually is someone willing to take advantage of
the opportunity.

Enter Berwyn
Heights, Md., Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose home was raided on Tuesday,
July 29 by a Prince George's County SWAT team after he picked up
a 32-pound package of marijuana from his doorstep that was addressed
to his wife, Trinity Tomsic. In an investigation that reportedly
began in Arizona, where a police dog identified the package as containing
contraband, P.G. County officers posing as deliverymen placed the
package on Calvo's porch and waited for someone to take possession.

According to
the Washington
Post
, Calvo came home from work early that day, took his
two black Labs for a walk, and upon returning home spotted the package.
He brought it inside the house, set it unopened on a table, and
went upstairs to change. Calvo barely had a chance to remove his
clothes before he heard his mother-in-law screaming; SWAT officers
conducting a "no-knock" raid stormed the house, thundering
through the front door and shooting immediately, killing the family's
dogs, one of which was running away as it was shot.

Handcuffed
and terrified, Calvo and his mother-in-law were forced to sit amid
the dogs' bloody corpses as they were harassed and interrogated
for hours by the State's stormtroopers, who evidently found this
family to be such an acute threat to the community that they didn't
even make an arrest following the gruesome invasion. Instead,
Calvo, along with his wife and mother-in-law, are merely deemed
"persons of interest," which tends to indicate the police
were aware that anyone can receive a delivery unwittingly, unaware
of what's inside. But the department decided to conduct a violent
home invasion anyway, single-handedly escalating an otherwise peaceful
situation into an ultimately deadly one.

"My government
blew through my doors and killed my dogs," said Calvo. "They
thought we were drug dealers, and we were treated as such. I don’t
think they really ever considered that we weren’t."

Mayor Calvo
and his family most certainly were treated as if they were drug
dealers, but we probably would be mistaken to assume nonchalantly
that the police never considered that they were not.

Just as I was
approached years ago by college kids hoping I would agree to intercept
stolen goods on their behalf, did Prince George's County officers
not entertain the possibility that someone in Arizona just
happened to use the Calvos' address as a marker so the intended
recipient — say, a postal clerk or deliveryman — could identify
his clandestine package while it was en route? Did they believe
it implausible that a disgruntled citizen or political opponent
simply could have set up the mayor?

If this actually
were the case, then my work here is already done; reasonable people
likely would agree that every officer involved in this outrageous
debacle should be fired on grounds of idiocy alone. The sad fact
of the matter, however, is that the State and its armed, costumed
band of tax collectors are indifferent to their targets' presumption
of innocence; the police get to play judge, jury, and (far too often)
executioner by assuming our guilt nowadays, especially if
they can claim "self-defense" along with the right to
destroy private property under the guise of waging the venerable
"war on plants."

After all,
just consult the ramblings of P.G. County spokesmen, who, as if
routine, "expressed
regret
" that the mayor's dogs were gunned down. Sheriff’s
Office spokesman Sgt. Mario Ellis was quick to excuse the actions
of his comrades, citing the popular refrain that deputies "apparently
felt threatened" by the dogs.

"We’re
not in the habit of going to homes and shooting peoples' dogs,"
Ellis blathered. "If we were, there would be a lot more dead
dogs around the county." Actually, Sgt. Ellis, man's best friend
virtually is an automatic
casualty
of these ridiculous drug raids, even when the cops
get the wrong house or fail
to find any drugs at all
.

As tragic
as it is that the police casually executed Cheye Calvo's dogs, things
could have been much worse. Should Calvo have had the temerity to
defend his property from the intruders, it's very likely that his
wife would have returned home from work last Tuesday to find her
husband
and mother
lying in their own pools of blood along with her dogs. All because
of a box of weed she may or may not have known about.

Which brings
us to the entire point of using heavily-armed police squads to serve
drug warrants in the first place, where these paramilitary units
violently force themselves upon homeowners when they least expect
it. Ever since the Supreme Court's Hudson
vs. Michigan
(.pdf) case, in which the court ruled
(unconstitutionally) that evidence obtained in "no-knock"
raids is admissible in court, police essentially have been given
the green light from on high to violate our property rights at their
discretion — increasing the likelihood of botched
raids
, which likewise result not only in an increase in needless
deaths of innocent, nonviolent citizens, but also of police
officers
themselves.

Alas, as Cheye
Calvo learned the hard way, your home is no longer your castle.
Leaving aside my belief that all drugs should be legal — or, more
specifically, that no state should exist to regulate them at all
— there was absolutely no justification for sending in SWAT even
if Trinity Tomsic was expecting a package of marijuana to
be shipped straight to her front door. Indeed, as infuriated Berwyn
Heights Police Chief Patrick Murphy explained, "You can’t tell
me the chief of police of a municipality wouldn't have been able
to knock on the door of the mayor of that municipality, gain his
confidence and enter the residence."

Of course he
could have, Chief, but overkill
is the default setting for many, if not most, police departments
today. As I reported on my personal blog back in April, southern
Maryland police units have in recent years turned an otherwise peaceful
annual spring party into a police
state orgy
, intimidating the populace by preemptively patrolling
Solomons Island with local, state, and federal paramilitary-type
machinery; so of course our benevolent officers will take any opportunity
to break out their toys in the name of a federally-sanctioned war
on Americans. After all, they have to put all that homeland security
funding
to use somehow, right?

If it sounds
like I don't put one bit of stock in the government's allegations
against Cheye Calvo and his family, it's because I don't (in fairness,
the police have admitted — no doubt in the attempt to stave off
a well-earned lawsuit
— that it's "possible"
the mayor was an unsuspecting recipient of the marijuana).

The P.G. County
Police Department has a long, troubled history of brutality,
corruption
, and insider crime. Television reporter Andrea McCarren
told her story of
how county officers ordered her at gunpoint to drop her very dangerous
video camera before one of them dislocated her shoulder during
her arrest; seven-year department veteran Jermaine
Ayala
was convicted of insurance fraud; Cpl.
Sheldon Vessels
was convicted on charges of assaulting four
teenagers; for seven years, the sheriff's office hid
from auditors $45,000
it seized from a drug dealer while it
lobbied for new laws allowing the department to keep the money;
a federal jury sentenced K-9 cop Stephanie
Mohr
to 10 years in prison for violating the civil rights of
a homeless man when she released her police dog to attack him after
he surrendered; Howard University student Prince C. Jones was shot
in the back five times and killed by undercover cop Carlton
Jones
; and Keith
Washington
, who landed a job as P.G. County's homeland security
deputy director because County Executive Jack Johnson thought he
was "mentally
tough
," was sentenced to 45 years in jail this past May
for shooting two deliverymen at his home, killing one.

Perhaps most
disturbing, however, is the death of 19-year-old suspected cop-killer
Ronnie Lionel White, who was strangled
in his cell
in June — sadly unsurprising given that at least
a dozen P.G. County jail officers are criminals
themselves
.

Given the
aforementioned malfeasance by Prince George's County officers, it
should come as no surprise, then, that authorities didn't even
have a "no-knock" warrant when they raided Cheye Calvo's
house, despite claims to the contrary by department spokesmen at
the time of the incident. In fact, according to the Washington
Post
, "a review of the warrant indicates that police
neither sought nor received permission from Circuit Court Judge
Albert W. Northrup to enter without knocking," and that "Northrup
found probable cause to suspect that drugs might be in the house
and granted police a standard search warrant."

That's right;
not only was the assault on the mayor's house immoral, it was also
illegal.

Under Maryland
law, judges can grant a "no-knock" warrant in the event
police believe evidence will be destroyed or their lives will be
endangered by announcing themselves. To be sure, these caveats appear
to be ripe for exploitation, but they're nevertheless perverse;
police chiefs, cheered on by self-righteous politicians and a credulous
public, are willing to put lives in jeopardy — including, apparently,
their own officers' — all basically to prevent casual drug users
from getting high.

It's at least
reassuring to know that many Berwyn Heights residents have already
flocked to Mayor Calvo's side to express their support
for his family and to protest their county's thuggery. If you'd
like to do the same, you can begin by writing or calling any of
the Prince George's County assistant or deputy chiefs of police
listed here.

Well, any
but Police Chief Melvin High, that is; he mysteriously resigned
two days after the raid on Calvo's home. Of course, he didn't have
the testicular fortitude to admit that he was wrong to authorize
a SWAT raid on a peaceable town mayor or to continuously absolve
his officers of any wrongdoing during the past five years; he just
said, "five years is a good time," and that he "want[s]
to move forward," claiming during the press conference that
"the community today is a safer place."

Only if the
rest of the department follows you out the door, pal.

August
9, 2008

Trevor Bothwell
[send him mail] maintains
the web log, Who's
Your Nanny?
, and he is also a contributing author to
the forthcoming Ron Paul biography, Ron
Paul: A Life
.

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