On September 23, 2006, a SWAT team stormed the rural Virginia home of A.J. Nuckols, his wife, and their two children. As if the shock of having his house invaded by a SWAT team weren’t enough, Nuckols had a second surprise: a celebrity sighting. One of the SWAT officers who assisted in the raid was none other than NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal.
The raid was no rehearsal: Nuckols was the innocent target of a very real “wrong door” paramilitary police raid. The police believed, inaccurately, that Nuckols was a child pornographer. In a letter to the editor of the Chatham Star Review, he described the raid: “Men ran at me, dropped into shooting position, double-handed semi-automatic pistols pointed at me, and made me put my hands against my truck. I was held at gunpoint, searched, taunted, and led into the house. I had no idea what this was about. I was scared beyond description.”
An “honorary deputy” with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department but untrained as a SWAT officer, Shaq apparently has gone on several such raids across the country. The presence of an untrained celebrity on this type of activity is especially strange, given that the most popular police excuse for forced-entry, military-style raids is the volatile, high-risk nature of serving a search warrant.
But SWAT teams with star power are more common than you might think. Matt Damon recently accompanied SWAT officers on several raids while preparing for the movie The Departed. And after police mistakenly shot and killed immigrant and father Ismael Mena on a raid in Denver in 1999, they revealed that then–Colorado Rockies first baseman Larry Walker went along for the ride. Denver police added that it was fairly common to take sports stars on drug raids.
O’Neal, who aspires to be a police officer when he retires from basketball, told Time that Nuckols’ description of the raid on his home was exaggerated. “It ain’t no story,” he said. “We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they make it seem like we beat him up, and that never happened. We went in, talked to him, took some stuff, returned it—bada bam, bada bing.”