Ryan Frederick, the 29-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing capital murder charges after shooting and killing a police officer during a nighttime drug raid on his home, was back in court for a preliminary hearing earlier this month. What came out at the hearing may be the beginning of the unraveling of the state's case against him.
Frederick has said he was asleep in preparation for an early shift when police raided his home at 8:30 p.m. on January 24. According to search warrant affidavits, officers were acting on a tip from an informant that Frederick was running a major marijuana growing operation in his garage. The raid turned up only a misdemeanor amount of the drug—about a third of an ounce.
Frederick has said in interviews and in letters to his family that he was awoken by his dogs barking at the intruders, then heard the sound of someone breaking down his front door. He says he grabbed his handgun and ran to his living room, where he saw that the bottom panel of his door and been busted out and saw someone reaching up through the broken panel toward the door handle. Frederick says that's when he fired, striking and killing Det. Jarrod Shivers. Police and prosecutors counter that Frederick fired through the door, hitting Det. Shivers as he was standing on Frederick's front lawn. Police say they announced themselves before attempting to enter Frederick's home. Frederick and at least two neighbors say they heard no announcement.
Frederick's case is only one recent example of the inherent danger and disproportionate absurdity of using violent, forced-entry police tactics to serve nonviolent drug warrants. This raid on a man with no prior criminal record left a police officer dead, his wife widowed, and his children without a father, while effectively ruining Ryan Frederick's life. He's facing one count of capital murder for the shooting of Shivers, a felony drug distribution charge, and a charge of using a weapon during the commission of a drug crime.
Now, disturbing new questions have emerged about the quality of the police investigation and the way the Chesapeake Police Department's narcotics officers may have been using confidential informants in their drug investigations. The latter would be nothing new. The ACLU is currently in the midst of a national campaign aimed at drawing attention to the misuse of informants, including in high-profile cases in Cleveland, Dallas, and just across the U.S.-Mexican border near El Paso.
Last May, a local TV news station identified the police informant in Ryan Frederick's case as "Steven," a 20-year-old man who was dating the sister of Frederick's fiance. The report noted that Steven had been arrested for stealing credit cards nine days prior to the raid on Frederick's house and may have broken into Frederick's garage three days prior to the raid to collect evidence against him. According to Frederick's family, the two had been feuding after Frederick accused Steven of stealing from him. The search warrant in the case notes that the informant had been inside Frederick's home three days prior to the raid, where he saw evidence of the marijuana-growing operation. In an interview with a local TV station shortly after his arrest, Frederick said someone had broken into his garage at about the same time.
In June, I spoke with a second man who confirmed to me that Steven had indeed broken into Frederick's home. He could confirm that, he said, because he assisted with the break-in. I gave him the moniker "Reggie" at the time, but can now identify him as Renaldo Turnbull, Jr. I had been made aware of Turnbull and his story by John Hopkins, a reporter with the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Hopkins told me Turnbull called him to tell him about his involvement in the raid after the police arrested Turnbull on charges of burglary and fraud—charges Turnbull says were undeserved. The Pilot decided not to publish Turnbull's accusations at the time.
When I spoke with Turnbull in June at the Chesapeake Jail, he confirmed that he and Steven had been working for the police as paid informants for several months and that Steven had cut a deal with the police after being arrested for credit card theft—they'd drop the charges if he brought them evidence of a major marijuana operation. He confirmed that he and Steven then broke into Ryan Frederick's home and stole the alleged marijuana plants the police then used as probable cause to obtain the search warrant that led to the fatal raid. Turnbull was hesitant to confirm the more serious allegations he had made to Hopkins in February—that the police were actually encouraging these illegal break-ins—explaining that his lawyer had advised him to stop taking and that he feared the police would retaliate if he kept talking. "I don't want to get into any more trouble," he said.
Last week, the Virginian-Pilot finally reported on Turnbull's conversations with Hopkins from last February, explaining that Turnbull's allegations seem to be confirmed by new revelations from special prosecutor Paul Ebert at a pretrial hearing earlier this month. Referring to the break-in at Frederick's home, the Pilot reported:
Turnbull said he and an accomplice didn't worry about breaking into Frederick's garage because police assured them they would be protected.
"The dude said he was going to look out for us, so let's go do it," he said.
Turnbull said he met with Shivers once and talked with him on the phone on other occasions. During a meeting at a 7-Eleven store near the intersection of Battlefield Boulevard and Cedar Road in Chesapeake, Shivers introduced himself.
"He told me what to look for. He said, if you know of any burglaries or anything, let Steven know... He said no evidence, no pay... He said if you know where it is, go get it.
According to Virginia criminal defense attorney John Zwerling, if Turnbull's allegations are true, they would represent illegal conduct on the part of the Chesapeake Police Department and the late Det. Shivers. "If the police were sending informants to break into private residences to collect probable cause for drug warrants, it would be the same as if the police were breaking in themselves," Zwerling says. "The police would be participating in crimes, and the warrants would be invalid."