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As they had done with me last June, the Chesapeake Police Department and the office of special prosecutor Paul Ebert declined to comment on the allegations to the Pilot.
In the pre-trial hearing earlier this month that inspired the Pilot to finally run with Turnbull's interview from last February, prosecutors actually admitted that much of their case rests on the word of what they describe as two "burglars" who had broken in to Frederick's home prior to the raid. According to the article:
Prosecutors said they have evidence that more than one person broke into Frederick’s detached garage days before the deadly drug raid, taking about half of the marijuana growing inside.
Prosecutors haven't yet identified them, but it's difficult to see how the "burglars" who broke into Frederick's home could be anyone other than Steven and Turnbull.
Which means the police either encouraged the break-in into Frederick's home (as Turnbull has said), or they knew or should have known their probable cause had been obtained illegally. According to Zwerling, either scenario would invalidate the warrant the police had obtained to search Frederick's home, meaning the raid on Frederick's home itself was illegal. That would also lend support to Frederick's case should he decide to use a claim of self-defense.
More broadly, if true, all of this would also mean that narcotics officers at the Chesapeake Police Department were routinely sending informants to commit illegal burglaries in order to obtain evidence in drug cases—the makings of a major scandal.
Of course, if Steven and Turnbull are indeed the "burglars" referenced by prosecutors, they're both now facing their own charges (the credit card charges against Steven were dropped, then reinstated after the raid—which didn't turn up the marijuana the police said in the warrant that the informant told them they would find), which means they're both at the mercy of the state. At this point, neither is likely to to say anything damning about the Chesapeake Police Department. Jailhouse informants who are in the game of bargaining information for time off of their own sentences have little incentive to tell the truth. Indeed, Turnbull has since stopped speaking with reporters.
Ryan Frederick and the city of Chesapeake deserve to know the details of the the burglary to his garage three days prior to the police raid on his home—and if the police encouraged or permitted the burglary.
The only sure way to get at the truth in this case is through an outside investigation, one that grants both Steven and Turnbull complete immunity from all prior charges so they can tell state or federal investigators what they know free from any pressure from local law enforcement.
It's also important to find out if such tactics were limited to this case or if, as Turnbull has said, they're common practice in Chesapeake.
The latter wouldn't be so unusual. When a botched raid in Atlanta killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in November 2006, the ensuing federal investigation found that narcotics police in Atlanta routinely lied in drug warrant affidavits. The city's entire narcotics division was eventually fired or replaced. That case unraveled after a police informant came forward to contradict the narcotics officers' version of events.
Drug policing is driven by statistics—the number of arrests made and the amount of contraband seized. Statistics-driven policing incentivizes shortcuts, encouraging even good police officers to bend the rules when it comes to the use of informants, or perhaps exaggerate or mislead in a warrant affidavit if it increases the odds of making the big bust. That corrupted information then provides the basis for these violent, forced entry raids into private homes. It isn't difficult to see how how they can—and often do—go wrong.
In this case, a man with no prior criminal record, a steady job, and who was recently engaged had his home violated—perhaps by two police informants. Then, three days later, he was allegedly awoken by the sound of someone battering down his front door. His reaction was to defend his home by shooting at the intruders. It isn't a stretch to say that many people might have had the same reaction.
Sending Ryan Frederick to prison for the rest of his life won't bring Det. Jarrod Shivers back. And unless the Chesapeake Police Department—and for that matter, police departments all across the country—dramatically change the way they investigate and prosecute drug cases and serve drug warrants, it certainly won't prevent similar tragedies from happening again.
The only way to prevent that is to stop sending police teams barging into private homes to arrest people suspected of nonviolent drug crimes.
ADDENDUM: Earlier on September 25, the day this article posted, Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright denied that Renaldo Turnbull was ever a police informant. However, Wright did not say whether Turnbull was one of the "burglars" who broke into Ryan Frederick's home.
Radley Balko is a senior editor of reason.