A SWAT team was caught on camera in Des Moines raiding a home with weapons drawn — not on suspicion of a violent crime but of someone using stolen credit cards. Though the whole situation is proving a bit more complicated than that.
Home surveillance cameras show Iowa police using a battering ram to enter this house, overturning furniture and eventually destroying one of the cameras outside. Ultimately, police found none of the items listed on their warrant. (Via The Des Moines Register)
WHO-TV in Des Moines had the story first and spoke to the home's residents, Sally Prince and her son Justin Ross, who said he initially drew a weapon he legally owns before he realized the people in his home were police. He says the raid could have ended tragically.
ROSS: "I would've been standing there with my weapon drawn pointed at the doorway, and they probably would've shot me."
PRINCE: "The police are supposed to protect and serve, not make you afraid of them. And I'm totally terrified of them now."
Now, there's no sign officers broke any laws when carrying out this raid. Actually, one of the reasons this story has received so much attention is that the law provides so much leeway for the way police behave in these situations. For instance, take another look at the police entrance here — the time between them pounding on the side of the house and then battering the front door: certainly not enough time to let anyone answer the door peacefully. (Via WHO-TV)
Police are required to knock and announce that they are indeed police before entering to give residents time to respond and avoid property damage or injury. But as Radley Balko for The Washington Post writes, that announcement has largely become a formality for police.
Balko, a civil liberties blogger, wrote Tuesday, "whether or not they’re governed by a formal policy, the use of these kinds of tactics for nonviolent crimes like credit card fraud is hardly unusual, and it’s happening more often, not less. I've reported on jurisdictions where all felony search warrants are now served with a SWAT team."
No one in the home was suspected of a violent crime, but in a news conference Wednesday, Ankeny police said they suspected one person in the home had a license for a firearm. (Via WOI-TV)
And, of course, they were right on that front. Ross did have a 9 mm — though it's legally owned. And he was recently honorably discharged from the U.S. military. But there's another wrinkle to this story that police are citing.
Two other people in the home staying with Prince and Ross were arrested on credit card fraud and other charges, one for violating probation, the other for drug possession. Richard Adair had been arrested for assault before, though the charges came more than 10 years ago.
Footage aired by KCCI in Des Moines shows the two suspects were in the home at the time of the raid and attempted to hide. Police have pointed to this as reason for the heavy-handed approach.
As for the hurried police entrance, the police chief at the news conference said his officers knocked for 10 to 12 seconds, though the video appears to contradict that. Either way the fact stands the full-blown raid was in response to a non-violent crime.