Washington Post on Cheye Calvo

For its cover story this week, the Washington Post Sunday Magazine ran a terrific feature on the case of Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor whose home was raided and two black labs were slaughtered by Prince George's County police during a botched drug raid last summer. Calvo and his wife unknowingly received a package of marijuana as part of a drug smuggling scheme. The SWAT team pounced shortly after Calvo's mother-in-law brought the package in the house.

Calvo and his family have since been cleared of any wrongdoing, and Prince George's County officials have at least apologized for wrongly raiding their home, but the county and the police still adamantly insist they did nothing wrong, have refused to apologize for killing Calvo's dogs, and have said they'd do nothing differently if they had the whole thing to do again.

The Post piece tugs at the heartstrings—more than a few people who sent it to me said it had them in tears. It also reads as strong critique of the drug war, or at least of this particular highly-militarized method of fighting it. The piece devotes quite a bit of copy to Overkill, the 2006 paper I wrote for the Cato Institute on the rise in the use of SWAT teams and paramilitary police tactics, and even inspired a stirring editorial in defense of the Fourth Amendment by the magazine's editor, Tom Shroder.

The piece also uncovered some previously unreported information about the case.

This passage, for example, picks up shortly after the police had "secured" the house, and Calvo's peering out his window.

At one point, Cheye recalled, he noticed a familiar uniform in the growing crowd on lawn. Berwyn Heights police officer Pvt. Amir Johnson had been patrolling the neighborhood when he passed the mayor's house and saw officers dressed in tactical uniforms coming out the front door. He stopped. (Berwyn Heights and Prince George's police have overlapping jurisdictions within town limits.)

"The guy in there is crazy," Johnson remembered a Prince George's County officer telling him when he arrived. "He says he is the mayor of Berwyn Heights."

"That is the mayor of Berwyn Heights," Johnson replied.

The detective looked very surprised, Johnson later recalled: "He had that 'Oh, crap' look on his face."

In this passage, when the Berwyn Heights police chief (who wasn't notified of the raid) calls the cops at the scene to find out what happened, Prince George's narcotics detective David Martini flat-out lies to him:

At home in St. Mary's, Murphy dialed the cellphone of his second-in-command, now standing on the mayor's front lawn. Murphy's officer handed the phone to a Prince George's narcotics investigator, Det. Sgt. David Martini.

This is how Murphy later recalled their conversation:

"Martini tells me that when the SWAT team came to the door, the mayor met them at the door, opened it partially, saw who it was, and then tried to slam the door on them," Murphy recalled. "And that at that point, Martini claimed, they had to force entry, the dogs took aggressive stances, and they were shot."

"I later learned," Murphy said in an interview, "that none of that is true."

Finally, this passage is so infuriating it's almost comical:

It was about 7:45 p.m. when Trinity turned her 1997 Suburu Outback with the kayak rack on top onto Edmonston. The road was so jammed with police vehicles that she couldn't reach her driveway. Assuming that the house had been robbed, Trinity abandoned her car and searched frantically for any sign of an ambulance.

"Is my husband okay?" she asked when Ken Antolik met her near her front gate. "Is my mom okay?

"Yes," he told her. "They are in the house.

Then it struck her. It was too quiet. She didn't hear dogs barking. She knew, even before she asked: "Payton and Chase?"

"I'm sorry," he said.

Trinity collapsed against his chest. A female officer eventually came and led her gently around to the back door. Trinity started in to find her husband and mother, then saw blood. There was so much blood. There was blood pooled near the door. Officers were tracking her dead dogs' blood all over the house. She backed outside.

"I remember sitting on the steps thinking, 'I'm never going to be able to live here again,' " Trinity recalled.

"I found something," Georgia heard a detective yell excitedly. The woman held a white envelope filled with cash. Inside, was $68. Across the front of the envelope were written two words: "yard sale."

The detective seemed crestfallen, Georgia said. Georgia, who had been moved, still bound, into the downstairs bedroom, says she overheard the woman saying something like: "It's my first raid, and we got the mayor's house."

Calvo and the article's author, April Witt, just completed a live chat at the Washington Post's website.

You download a free copy of Overkill here. My work on police militarization for reason here, and on cops killing dogs here. Prior post on the Calvo raid here.

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  • DADIODADDY||

    Cops & Dogs...natural enemies since the dawn of recorded time.

  • ||

    Well that's good to hear. But the "if a cop does it, it's not a crime" paradigm remains.

  • </||

    Well the outrage in this case is mitigated somewhat as he was the Mayor and not a civilian.

  • ||

    It's good to see the WaPo run this; in theory, the people responsible for this grotesque clown show will see it, and consider whether this is exactly what they had in mind. Nut they won't.

    The only hope we have is that their wives will see it, and badger them about those poor dogs.

  • ||

    NBut

  • Other Matt||

    Cops & Dogs...natural enemies since the dawn of recorded time.

    Except when Michael Vick is involved.

  • sage||

    Officers were tracking her dead dogs' blood all over the house.

    Just when you think they couldn't stoop any lower...good thing it wasn't lunch time, or they'd be cooking babies and stuffing them with dead kittens.

  • ||

    "It's my first raid,"

    Hopefully, your last.

  • ||

    Pieces like this are definitely our best chance to get police departments to start towing the lion.

  • ||

    "cooking babies and stuffing them with dead kittens"

    Feline kittens or sea kittens?

  • ||

    This is all so wrong in so many ways.

    I like the tear jerker tactic. If compassion is an instinct, and I understand it is, then people react to it before maybe they understand why--but for all the right reasons.

    Stalin's quip about one death being a tragedy, a million a statistic may be disgusting and wrong, but when you're trying to communicate with the idiot masses, maybe it hits the nail on the head.

    Have some pity, America. Take it easy on yourselves.

  • Warty||

    I know I should be outraged, but for some reason I just can't muster it. I think my outrage is all used up. Anyone else?

  • ||

    to start towing the lion

    "Good grief, it's a running gag."

    Officers were tracking her dead dogs' blood all over the house.

    This is another aspect of the police that I utterly despise. They have zero problem--and probably enjoy--trashing houses after raids, even though the person hasn't been convicted of anything (let alone hitting the wrong house). Even when they knock with a warrant they will trash a house looking for evidence.

    How much has it cost Calvo to fix his house? Clean his rugs?

  • ||

    Something that's been going through my mind a lot lately, is the engineering question of how to make a door that's not so easy to smash in with a battering ram. I'm thinking that if the door was very solid (think steel framing), and the door jamb had springs, one could make a door that the JBTs could pound on all day and never get through.

    That would at least give the homeowner time to contact the press before they gained entry into his home. Could make for fewer casualties. Supplement that with some firehose nozzles to blast intruders off the porch, and I think we have the makings of a new home-improvement category.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Anyone else?

    I still have outrage stores, but I don't get much out of venting them here. Most everyone here agrees about how awful this is, so I'll save my outrage for the people who are oblivious, ambivalent, or actually supportive of these thugs.

  • ǝɔıןod ǝɥʇ ʞɔnɟ||

    Always worship your masters.

  • Greenie||

    "Feline kittens or sea kittens?"

    I have to take my land fish to the vet today. Keeps coughing up furballs.

  • ||

    "I found something," Georgia heard a detective yell excitedly. The woman held a white envelope filled with cash. Inside, was $68. Across the front of the envelope were written two words: "yard sale."

    I guess $68 wasn't enough to bother seizing. It's a good thing for the Calvos that they didn't have a more successful yard sale.

  • Sam Grove||

    Cops: Humans granted arbitrary power.

  • ||

    Thanks for posting this Radley... heartbreaking yes, but important.

    Also I liked the fact that Mayor Calvo gave you a bit of a shout-out during the chat.

  • Adam||

    The only way this insanity might end is if and when there is an erroneous raid on someone very high up - a Senator, a Cabinet Secretary, etc. - and the cops kill somebody. That's the only thing I can think of that might just get the attention of someone who's in a position to put a stop to this madness.

  • Other Matt||

    Answering the "engineer" thing...structurally it's not so hard, but you're looking at one part of the whole. Unless you address the whole, it's not much of a solution.

    I'm thinking that if the door was very solid (think steel framing), and the door jamb had springs, one could make a door that the JBTs could pound on all day and never get through.

    The jamb typically gives first. My thought is more along the lines of a solid piece of 6x6x3/8 angle along either side with #11 rebar slid through holes along the sides making a series of bars. Eventually, they would pound through the door, but not have any way to wiggle through once they did.

    My enthusiasm is dampened significantly when I look at the window 10ft from the door, though.

    To me, the better course would be to have a video camera setup that you could calmly ask them to show a warrant to a video cam, and you'll be more than willing to let them in, but do something to slow them down/trap them in the meantime. Like, the front door opens to a small alcove area, which is heavily reinforced but has a video intercom system. Of course you'd still have to address the windows, etc. Note in Ryan F's case they had people front and back, and presumably at the garage.

  • ||

    The only way this insanity might end is if and when there is an erroneous raid on someone very high up - a Senator, a Cabinet Secretary, etc. - and the cops kill somebody.

    And if that somebody is a female baby, the story might even be on the news twice.

    That'll fix it.

  • ||

    "And if that somebody is a white female baby, the story might even be on the news twice."

    Fixed that for you.

  • ||

    wouldn't it be a hoot if virginia police raided the wrong house, got the widow of detective shivers and shot two of her dogs?

  • ||

    Other Matt:

    Yeah, the hardened doors are the easy part, and are widely available commercially today.

    Windows can also be hardened with some really very interesting films that are also commercially available today. My brother the architect, god bless his modernist heart, designed a house for my parents that had no windows that you could climb through except where required by law in the bedrooms. Just for fun, many of the windows would do nicely as firing ports. So, if you are designing from scratch, you've got some options.

    But the video intercom, with off-site storage, is also part of the package, no doubt. To ensure proper decorum, of course, the police need to know they are on candid camera, so be sure to tell them right off the bat.

  • kinnath||

    I solved this problem by moving to rural Iowa.

  • ||

    Like, the front door opens to a small alcove area, which is heavily reinforced but has a video intercom system.



    And there's a trapdoor in the alcove, that drops the intruders into a pool of cold water, infested with sharks! With lasers strapped to their heads!

    Who was Ming The Merciless' contractor, anyway?

    Kevin

  • The Angry Optimist||

    "Throw me a bone here! What do we have?
    Number Two: Sea Bass.
    Dr. Evil: Riiight...
    Number Two: They're mutated sea bass.
    Dr. Evil: Are they ill tempered?"

  • Tyler||

    It makes me wonder. How do people read this and think this is fine?

    It's an isolated incident? Drugs are bad?

    I just don't get it.

  • Other Matt||

    And there's a trapdoor in the alcove, that drops the intruders into a pool of cold water, infested with sharks! With lasers strapped to their heads!

    That's a little too obvious, could get one sued. It would be better to just happen to have a pallet of 4x4's stored in the attic just over the porch, and doggone if battering that door didn't just cause the whole roof to come down....

    But the video intercom, with off-site storage, is also part of the package, no doubt. To ensure proper decorum, of course, the police need to know they are on candid camera, so be sure to tell them right off the bat.

    Yes, that would be appropriate. Probably a big exterior sign "Warrant service: Please knock politely and show warrant to camera. Upon calling and verifying validity of warrant, doors will open."

    That would be nice, wouldn't it? Call the judge at 2am "Scuse me, did you sign this warrant? I have a bunch of guys dressed in black outside, it's just me, my 12 yr old, and our two poodles in here, and we're thinking that it's too dangerous to open the door..."

  • Xeones||

    Drum 'em all out of the force, and sprinkle criminal charges around liberally. Prince George can just go without a SWAT team from now on.

  • ||

    I bet the guys who decided to send the weed to the Mayor's house are laughing out loud.

    Can't blame them, really.

  • DADIODADDY||

    What's the cost/benefit of SWAT teams? Given the current ecomonic downturn, might we want to re-visit wheteher this is a prudent use of limites resources? Or should we just hire the fuckers out to some third world shit hole a la Blackwater for some much needed revenue?

  • ||

    I solved this problem by moving to rural Iowa.

    I live in rural Texas. My county has a SWAT team. Problem not solved.

  • Other Matt||

    I live in rural Texas. My county has a SWAT team. Problem not solved.

    In rural TX, people are far more understanding if you shoot back, though, so perhaps problem slightly mitigated.

  • Taktix®||

    "The guy in there is crazy," Johnson remembered a Prince George's County officer telling him when he arrived. "He says he is the mayor of Berwyn Heights."

    "That is the mayor of Berwyn Heights," Johnson replied.


    I was going to make some comical remark about this until I read the rest of the post, but now I haven't the heart.

    I'd have to say Montana's looking really nice right now.

    Thank you, Radley for sticking to this, as these raids look to be getting more media attention. It's a damn shame that it had to happen to an elected official before these tactics came to light, but hey, whatever gets the job done, right?

  • BakedPenguin||

    I solved this problem by moving to rural Iowa.

    I was thinking of something similar, except not Iowa. Wyoming, maybe, or South Dakota...

  • Dogs||

    Dogs are awesome. Fuck anyone that kills one.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Given the current ecomonic downturn, might we want to re-visit wheteher this is a prudent use of limites resources?

    Silly DADIO...the government doesn't have limited resources! The Money Fairy just comes around and *poof*: more resources!

  • BakedPenguin||

    The Money Fairy just comes around and *poof*: more resources!

    You know, that's a pretty disparaging way to refer to Barney Frank.

  • ||

    "wouldn't it be a hoot if virginia police raided the wrong house, got the widow of detective shivers and shot two of her dogs?"

    You know, that wouldn't be so hard to cause to happen.

    I'm just sayin'...

    CB

  • Dave W.||

    Semi-related:

    At Mehserle's bail hearing Officer Tony Pirone said that Mehserle announced that he was going to taser Oscar Grant just before he shot him. The judge was skeptical because the night of the shooting Officer Pirone said that Mehserle said right after the shooting that Oscar Grant was reaching for a weapon.

    Oh, yeah, and Pirone needs arrested for punching Grant in the face, but it will probably take another riot to get them to "do their jobs."

  • zoltan||

    It would be interesting to see people do more of what that one ex-police officer did (vague I know, but I can't remember his name). Buy some large quantities of plant-growing paraphernalia and of course some totally innocent plants (Japanese maple??). Then set up a video-monitoring system at all entrances--WITH SOUND--and see what happens.

  • ||

    I just finished reading the article and was so sickened by the injustice endured by this family and there pets. They have my backing all the way!! I live in rural Virginia and let me say that if that happened to me and they shot my 3 dogs I would not be writing this now because I would probably be dead. Go get em Cheye,Trinity and Georgia. BJ in Va is praying for your family.

  • ||

    jcr sez I'm thinking that if the door was very solid (think steel framing), and the door jamb had springs,one could make a door that the JBTs could pound on all day and never get through.

    This had the lovely effect of giving me a vision of Keystone Cops meeting Tex Avery. Battering ram crashes into door, door stretches into living room then rebounds, sending battering ram (and attached LEOs) flying to curb.

  • bill||

    Calvo must be a saint. I would have been cursing those cops at the top of my lungs.

  • Oakleaf Mold||

    Mr, Balko--like many people, I've been following this horrific case in the media since first hearing about it, and it's led me--in no small part thanks to your work--to discover just how pervasive this paradigm of police misconduct is. I was shocked at first. Now, not so much. When a transit cop blithely executed an innocent man on a train platform in the bay area last month I wasn't really surprised--not quite the same situation, but certainly a similar dynamic.

    I remember, growing up, my mother teaching me to find a cop if I ever needed help. It's disheartening that I can't give the same advice to my own children without extensive caveats; but how can I, in good conscience, tell them do anything but "keep your head down, don't make eye contact, don't do anything to draw their attention?" We have friends and relatives who are cops, seemingly good people, but I'm forced to wonder just what they're capable of when push comes to shove, and that's a real shame. Criminal cops like those in Prince Georges' must bear the burden for this.

    As for you: Thank you for all your work in this issue--ultimately you're saving the lives of innocent civilians and, I suspect, some equally innocent cops who stumble into situations aggravated by the expectation of militaristic behavior.

  • wizard of oz books||

    With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz book series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

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