“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm,” wrote the late Richard Grenier decades ago. The murderous reality behind that oft-recited authoritarian aphorism – generally mis-attributed to Orwell – was made tangible on the morning of June 27 when at least a dozen L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies traveled to Littlerock, California, a village of roughly 1,200 people about an hour northeast of Los Angeles, to attack an 80-year-old man named Eugene Mallory in his bed.
Mallory woke up to find armed men in his home. The elderly man’s glasses were on the nightstand beside him. His handgun was also within easy reach. After the panicking man reached for his gun, the intruders shot him six times.
The deputies who had invaded Mallory’s home weren’t responding to an emergency, nor were they pre-empting a criminal plot. They were serving a narcotics warrant issued in response to a claim that someone who had passed by the property smelled ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine.
After shooting the helpless old man in his bed and leaving him to die, the intruders assaulted and bound his terrified wife, Tonya Pate, then ransacked the property. Although they found no evidence that Mallory was an aspiring Heisenberg, they did locate an insignificant amount of marijuana – something not listed in the search warrant, but seized upon as validation of the murderous home invasion.
The Fourth Amendment, which was rendered irrelevant long ago, requires that in order for a warrant to be valid it must specify the items being sought. Additionally, a vague report of a suspicious smell doesn’t meet the Fourth Amendment’s standards for probable cause. This was acknowledged by the California Supreme Court in a decision announced a few hours after LA County deputies slaughtered Mallory. The Court ruled that police were not permitted to search a closed shipping package because it reeks of marijuana.
In that case, which arose from a 2010 arrest of a man accused of trying to ship pot to Illinois via FedEx, the police insisted that what they call the “plain smell test,” coupled with “exigent circumstances,” justified a warrantless search and seizure of the package. That argument didn’t pass the Court’s smell test.
If police aren’t permitted to seize a package that exudes the aroma of marijuana, it can’t be considered permissible to mount a daybreak no-knock raid of a residence on the basis of an unsupported claim that something in the surrounding air made an informant’s nostrils twitch.
Since the warrant was invalid, and the search was illegitimate, Mallory was within his legal rights to use lethal force to defend himself. However, department spokesman Steve Whitmore insists that “The lesson here is … don’t pull a gun on a deputy.”
A more suitable lesson is this: We live in a country where criminals in uniform feel entitled to gun down elderly men in their beds.
Shooting terrified people in their beds is a familiar practice to the Berserkers employed by the LA County Sheriff’s Office.
In October 2010, two members of a specialized unit of the sheriff’s office called the Community-Oriented Policing Services High-Impact Team – known by the exquisitely appropriate acronym COPS HIT – barged into a backyard shack occupied by Angel Mendez and his pregnant girlfriend, Jennifer (whom he later married).
The deputies – Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson – didn’t have a warrant, nor were they in hot pursuit of a suspect.
Both of the intruders had their guns drawn. Neither said a word. After Mendez sat up in his bed, the deputies opened fire, shredding his body with more than a dozen rounds. His girlfriend, who was five months pregnant, was also hit, suffering a shattered collarbone.
Bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, Mendez was dragged from his bed to be interrogated. Paramedics arrived, ripped away Mendez’s clothing, and worked frantically to save his life. Nude, traumatized, and lying in a puddle of his own blood, Mendez was harangued by Sgt. Greg Minster, who tried to manipulate the victim into saying that he was at fault.
“One more time,” Minster snarled at Mendez in a video-recorded interrogation, “why did you point the gun at my deputies?”
“I didn’t, sir,” gasped Mendez as he struggled to survive the assault.
The “gun” in question was a cheap toy BB rifle that had been on Mendez’s bed when the officers barged into the shack where he and his expectant girlfriend were living. He moved to set the rifle on the floor so he could get out of bed.
Deputy Conley – reciting from the killer cop’s catechism of self-justification – insisted that he feared for his life and reacted instinctively.
However, in an interview with Sgt. Patrick Kim, Conley admitted that the encounter with Mendez lasted “maybe 15 seconds” before he attempted to kill him. This means that the shooting was not the product of a split-second decision, and that Conley had ample time to recognize that Mendez didn’t pose a threat.
The harassment of Mendez continued after the victim was taken to the hospital. Sgt. Robert Gray demanded that Mendez admit that he had pointed the BB gun at deputies Conley and Pederson.
“I did not aim it at them, sir,” Mendez insisted. “I was like, `No, please, stop, don’t shoot me!’ And they shot again and again and again after I dropped everything.”
On October 1, 2010, Mendez was charged with “assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer” – despite the fact that the intruders had no legal cause to be in Mendez’s home, and didn’t bother to identify themselves as deputies. On the following day, Mendez lost his leg to amputation. After it became clear that the LACSO couldn’t get away with describing a BB rifle as a “deadly weapon,” it withdrew the original charge and attempted to have the victim prosecuted for “brandishing” what was called “an imitation firearm,” but Deputy DA James Garrison declined to pursue the case.
Last August, a federal judge awarded Mendez and his wife a $4.1 million settlement to be paid by the tax victims of Los Angeles County. In announcing the award, Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the shooting was the result of an unlawful search – which means that it should have been prosecuted as an act of attempted criminal homicide.
Deprived of an opportunity to send the man they had nearly murdered to prison, the Sheriff’s Office had to settle for ruling that his assailants had acted “within policy” by invading his home and mutilating him. They are still plying their criminal trade, and the department continues to insist that the marauders had an unqualified right to murder Mendez.
“This individual did pull a weapon on our deputies, forcing them to respond because they feared for their safety,” snivelled department spokesliar Steve Whitmore. Given that the search was illegal, the deputies were common home invaders. Mendez had an unqualified right to kill them in self-defense, if he had been able to.
Because the department continues to pretend its operatives have a plenary entitlement to terrorize people, the COPS HIT unit continues to carry out home invasions. “They just storm these places and do whatever the hell they want,” complained attorney Gerald Ryckman in an interview with LA Weekly. This behavior isn’t limited to Los Angeles County, of course.
Last July, just a few weeks before Mendez and his wife were awarded compensation for their suffering at the hands of a state-sanctioned hit team, Auburn, Washington Dustin Theoharis filed a $20 million tort claim againstOfficer Kris Rongen of Washington Department of Corrections.
Theoharis had previously been awarded a $3 million settlement by King County to indemnify the criminal actions of Deputy Aaron Thompson. Theoharis was asleep in his bed on February 11, 2012 when two armed strangers entered his room and started to give him orders. Understandably startled, Theoharis reached for a flashlight. This prompted the two intruders to open fire. Theoharis – while still in bed –was shot sixteen times, but survived.
The assailants who shot Theoharis had arrested his roommate, Nicholas Harrison, an ex-convict who had failed to report for community supervision. They had barged into the bedroom to find if Harrison had a gun, which would have allowed them to charge him with a parole violation. They had no warrant or probable cause for the search. Since Harrison was already in custody at the time of the incident, there was no need for a “safety sweep” of the residence. This illegal search was conducted solely for the purpose of seeking an enhanced charge against a suspect who was already in custody.
Immediately after the shots were fired, Detective Benjamin Wheeler – one of four other officers on the scene – raced to the downstairs bedroom, where he found Theoharis bleeding from multiple entry wounds and the two officers who had shot him in what appeared to be a “state of shock.”
When Wheeler asked what happened, Thompson claimed that the victim “told us he had four guns, and then he started reaching for one.” This was a lie. No gun was found in the bedroom. A rifle was found in a locked gun case in the room next door. Theoharis was asleep when the officers went into his darkened bedroom and began barking orders at him, and within ten seconds he had been perforated with sixteen shots.
By any reasonable definition, Detective Thompson and Officer Rongen committed the crime of attempted homicide. The King County Prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against either assailant, insisting that the shooting was justified because of a “perceived risk” to officer safety.
An internal review of the incident by the Sheriff’s Office found that neither Thompson nor Rongen had asked “anything about the occupant of the room, if there were weapons present or if the person permanently lived at the residence.” The officers were faulted for not taking the time to “determine a safe course of action with four other detectives who were present.”
For its part, the Department of Corrections simply ruled that Rongen’s actions had followed department policies. Rongen, invoking the Fifth Amendment, refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Rongen is a former football standout with Washington who made it to the NFL long enough to get cut during training camp. When Rongen violated the rules of football, he and his team were penalized. He has suffered no such sanctions as a law enforcement officer who attempted to murder a man in his bed.
People who recite Grenier’s line about the “rough men [who] stand ready in the night” will sometimes pair it with Kipling’s reproach against those who are found “making mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep.” The thought of being “guarded” by such pathologically violent people is sufficient to banish sleep permanently, and mockery is the mildest treatment they deserve.