Berwyn Heights Drug Raid: The Police Keep Digging


The violent drug raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo is now making national headlines.  Calvo was also on CNN yesterday.

In the raid, police in Prince George's County, Maryland intercepted a package addressed to Calvo's wife that contained about 30 pounds or marijuana.  Undercover officers completed the delivery to Calvo's home, then stormed the place in SWAT gear when Calvo brought the package inside.  During the raid, the police shot and killed Calvo's two black labs, including one Calvo says was running away to hide.  Calvo and his mother-in-law were then handcuffed and questioned at gunpoint while his dead dogs lay nearby in pools of their own blood.

Since the raid last week, we've learned that police have arrested two men in conjunction with a scheme using delivery services to ship marijuana across the country.  The plan was for operatives within the companies to intercept the packages before they reached their targets. The destination addresses may have been random, or simply chosen because of their location along routes convenient to the scheme.  In fact, the Washington Post reports in the story linked above that some packages were accidentally delivered, at which point operatives went to the houses of the innocent people who'd received them to ask for their return.

Despite all of this, Prince George's County police refuse to apologize for the no-knock raid, for the tactics they used in the raid, or for killing Calvo's dogs.

Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin High said Wednesday that Calvo and his family were "most likely … innocent victims," but he would not rule out their involvement, and he defended the way the raid was conducted. He and other officials did not apologize for killing the dogs, saying the officers felt threatened. 

High told the Washington Post that the raid "was conducted responsibly, given what deputies and officers knew at the time."  That's absurd.  High doesn't even seem to consider the possibility that perhaps the officers didn't know enough to conduct the raid when they did, and that maybe they should have done a bit more investigating before going all commando on the Calvo family.

Interestingly, the state of Maryland does not issue warrants for no-knock raids.  However, police may determine at the scene that a no-knock entry is necessary if one of two conditions are present.  The first if the police have reasonable suspicion that the suspect may pose a threat to the officers' safety.  The second is if police have reasonable suspicion that the suspect may destroy the evidence.

Though these two "exigent circumstances" exceptions carve gaping holes in the knock-and-announce requirement, it's difficult to see how this situation fit either exception.  Prince George's police say they heard Calvo's mother-in-law scream as they approached, which they say made them fear someone inside may  grab a gun or dispose of the marijuana.

Both prospects are dubious.  If the police had done any surveillance or investigation at all, they'd have realized that this was the home of the local mayor, an unlikely candidate to engage in a suicide shootout with raiding cops.  And unless the Calvos own an industrial strength toilet, it's unlikely that he'd have been able to flush 30 pounds of marijuana in the time it takes police to knock and announce themselves. 

Moreover, even if seeing the cops approaching did tip off Calvo and his mother-in-law, that's the whole purpose of the knock-and-announce requirement—to give suspects notice that the police are coming, and to allow them the opportunity to consent to a peaceful search and avoid the violence of a forceful police entry.

Still, courts have in the past been loathe to question police officers who find exigent circumstances at the scene of the search.  Perhaps the high profile of this raid will lead to more scrutiny.

Finally, I guess I'd just add that the national media coverage of the Berwyn Heights raid seems to be predicated on the assumption that the most troubling aspects of the raid—the killing of the dogs, the violent tactics, the lax investigation, the likely innocent victims, and the police obstinacy after the fact—are unusual.  They aren't.  The only thing unusual about this raid is that its victim happened to be an elected politician.