Militarization of Police

Gonzalo Guizan: Another Death by Drug War

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On May 18, police in Easton, Connecticut conducted a heavily-armed drug raid on the home of Ronald Terebesi, Jr. They began the raid by throwing flashbang grenades through Terebesi's windows, then battering down his door and storming the house. Friends say at the time of the raid, 33-year-old Gonzalo Guizan was visiting Terebesi to discuss the possibility of opening an employment business. According to police, the unarmed Guizan charged the raiding officers, at which point they shot and killed him.

As usual, the police, prosecutors, and state investigators are hunkering down, and not talking to the press. But some information is tricking out. Here's what we know:

• The raid came after a tip from a stripper who had visited Trebesi's home. She reported seeing two glass pipes and said she witnessed Trebesi smoke a small amount of crack cocaine he stored in a tin. She made the report at 9am on the same day of the raid.

• There was a reported drive-by shooting at Trebesi's home in March, though Trebesi appears to have been the victim, not the perpetrator.

• Police found no guns in the home, but did find some cocaine and the two pipes, and have charged Trebesi with possession, which means there wasn't enough to trigger an automatic charge of distribution.

So we have a heavily-armed, paramilitary-style raid conducted based on a tip from a stripper of drug use, not distribution. In the process, a slight, unarmed man runs toward the raiding police officers, and is shot dead.

I think it's safe to say that Guizan likely had no idea the intruders were police. If he was aware of the shots fired at Trebesi's home in March, he likely thought Trebesi was being attacked again. But it seems unlikely (to put it mildly) that an unarmed man would knowingly run toward a team of well-armed, raiding police officers to protect his friends small stash of cocaine.

We're told over and over that even in no-knock raids, the police announce themselves as they're coming into the home, and that everyone inside ought to know they're being raided by cops, not criminal intruders. But if that's the case, why deploy flash grenades just before making entry? They're designed to disorient and confuse. That's the whole reason for using them. You can't at the same time say it's necessary to disorient and confuse people, but that they also should hear, recognize, process, and believe the police announcement you make at the same time you're deploying the concussion grenades.

Finally, it looks right now as if the raid was a reaction to a tip from a single source that Trebesi and possibly Guizan were using drugs. There's as yet no indication there was any evidence of distribution. The raid was done within hours of the tip from the stripper, so it's unlikely the police did much surveillance or attempted a controlled drug buy from Trebesi.

The police will argue the officer who shot Guizan was reacting to a volatile situation. He had precious little time to determine whether the man running toward him was armed, or whether he presented a threat to the officer's safety. That's all probably true, though it doesn't account for the fact that the police created those volatile circumstances in the first place. It also doesn't account for the fact that had Guizan been the one who misjudged the threat and shot and killed one of the raiding officers, he'd almost certainly be in Ryan Frederick's shoes right now.

The best solution is of course to stop these aggressive drug policing tactics, which continue result in unnecessary deaths and injuries. But if you're going to insist on using them, you can't keep holding the people you're raiding to a higher standard than the (hopefully) well-trained police officers conducting the raids.

Guizan's parents—who lost their only other son in a car accident—are considering a lawsuit.