About a month ago I got a call from a reporter for the Arkansas Times inquiring about my research into paramilitary drug raids. He'd been reporting on a raid in North Little Rock involving a 40-year-old man named Tracy Ingle. When he told me the story over the phone, I was floored, even given all the abuses and mistakes I've reported and read about over the last few years. What makes the case especially egregious is not that the police may have gotten the wrong home, that they shot a man, or that they were covering it up or going silent. We've seen all that before. What's mind-blowing about this one is that they've continued abusing the poor guy, even after it should have been clear for some time now that they made a mistake.
From the outset, it should be noted that Tracy Ingle has had some trouble with the law in the past, though nothing violent, and nothing drug-related. He has had a couple of DWI's, and a citation for failing to appear in court. He apparently also agreed to do some repair work on a friend's car that later turned out to be stolen.
That said, what's happened to him over the last few months is pretty outrageous.
I've since spoken again to the reporter and to Tracy Ingle's sister, Tiffney Forrester, who herself is a former sheriff's deputy. I've also had a chance to review the warrants and return sheets (pdf).
The North Little Rock Police Department wouldn't discuss the case with me.
Here's a quick rundown:
• On January 7, 2008 a paramilitary police unit in North Little Rock, Arkansas conducted a drug raid on Tracy Ingle's home. Ingle says he had fallen asleep for several hours, and was asleep when the raid happened. He awoke when the police took a battering ram to his door. Another team of officers approached form the outside of the house, and shattered the window to his bedroom.
• When he awoke, Ingle says he thought his home was being invaded by armed robbers. He reached for a broken gun, a pretty clear indication that he had no intention of killing anyone, but rather was trying to scare away the intruders. When he grabbed the gun, an officer inside the house fired his weapon. The bullet hit Ingle just above the knee, shattered his thigh bone, and nearly severed his lower leg. When the outside officers heard the shot, they opened up on Ingle, hitting him four more times. According to Ingle's sister, one bullet still rests just above Ingle's heart, and can't be removed.
• Ingle was taken to the hospital, and spent a week-and-a-half in intensive care. He was then removed from intensive care—still in his hospital pajamas—and taken to the North Little Rock police department, where he was questioned for five hours. He was not told he was suspected of a crime, and his family wasn't allowed to speak with him. After the interrogation, he was arrested and transferred to the county jail.
• Ingle spent the next four days in jail. He says he was never given his pain medication or his antibiotics. Though hospital nurses told him to change his bandages and clean his wounds every 4-6 hours, Ingle told the Arkansas Times that jail officials changed them only twice in four days. Ingle's wounds became infected during the time he was in jail.
• Police found no illegal drugs in Ingle's home. They did find a scale, which Ingle's sister tells me was an extra she was given when she worked at a medical testing facility. She used it in her jewelry-making hobby. They also found a bunch of small plastic bags. Again, Ingle's sister says these were part of her business. "I was leaving the country for a while, and I stored a lot of my stuff at his house," she told me. "The scale and bags were mine, and are both common things to have for anyone who makes jewelry." Police also found the broken gun and a broken police scanner.
• From those items, the police charged Ingle with running a drug enterprise. They also charged him with assault, for pointing his broken gun at the police officers who had just barged into his home. The judge set Ingle's bail at $250,000, explaining that it had to be set high because Ingle had engaged in a shootout with police—never mind that Ingle didn't fire a shot. Ingle was able to sell his car to pay a bail bondsman. But with no car, his injuries render him basically immobile. He had to walk two miles on crutches and an infected leg to his hearing last week.
• The police obtained a no-knock warrant for Ingle's home about three weeks prior to the raid. The warrant itself (pdf) reads like boilerplate, with no specific references to Ingle (other than his address), or why he specifically posed a risk to police safety, or of disposing of drugs before coming to answer the door. It mentions no controlled buys. It doesn't even mention an informant. In fact, someone scratched out "crack cocaine" and hand-wrote in "methamphetamine" on the type-written warrant, suggesting a cut, plug, and paste job. The Supreme Court has ruled that police must show case-specific evidence of exigent circumstances in order to be issued a no-knock warrant. The mere fact that it's a drug case isn't enough. The warrant for Ingle's home contains no such specific information.
Many times, information specific to the investigation is contained in the affidavit the investigating officer files for the search warrant, not in the warrant itself. Forrester says she has called the North Little Rock Police Department more than 20 times in an effort to obtain a copy of the affidavits. She says they at first refused to return her phone calls. When she was finally able to speak with a lieutenant, he became angry when she told him she had contacted the media. She then says he told her to "dream on" when she asked for copies of the affidavits.
• According to Forrester, Ingle's neighbor had a direct line of sight into the bedroom, and saw the entire raid. His account initially matched Ingle's. But that changed. "We have a witness, a next door neighbor that saw the entire incident," Forrester told me. "He came forward on his own to give a statement to the family. Police never questioned him until a month or so after the shooting, at my insistence. They kept this neighbor in his home, and questioned him for at least four hours, refusing to let the man's wife come home, of for other people to see him. When the police finished intimidating the man, they told him specifically that 'he did not see what he thought he saw.' The neighbor is now afraid to talk to the media." I have not yet been able to speak with the neighbor.
• Ingle's family was able to put up $1,000 to retain an attorney, but can't afford the extra $6,000 the attorney has asked to represent Ingle. Ingle is therefore still looking for representation. He has no health insurance, and no money to pay for medication, or to continue treatment of his injuries.
• Last week, after the Arkansas Times article appeared, the judge in the case issued a gag order, preventing Ingle and any future attorney he may have from talking to the media about what happened to him. This is puzzling. Before today there had been exactly two articles about this case—not exactly a media circus. It's hard to understand why a gag order was necessary. It's only real purpose is to prevent more people from learning about what's increasingly looking like a railroading. And it's only effect is to lend more support to the possibility that it is, in fact, a cover-up and railroading.
As noted, the police aren't talking. And the prosecutor is now bound by the gag order. Perhaps there's some piece of information damning to Ingle I'm not yet aware of—though it's hard to imagine what that might be.
Barring that, what's happening to Tracy Ingle is pretty outrageous.
UPDATE: The Arkansas Times reports that the gag order request in Ingle's case was withdrawn late yesterday. I don't know that this will make the police or prosecutors any more likely to talk about the case, but if I have time this afternoon, I'll try again to give them a call.
UPDATE II: Several people asked in the comments about donating to Ingle's legal defense. You can now do so directly via PayPal at: http://www.justicefortracy.com.