Drug Policy

Cops Employing Robbers

Did police misconduct lead to another fatal marijuana raid?


Ryan Frederick, the 29-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing capital murder charges after shooting and killing a police officer during a nighttime drug raid on his home, was back in court for a preliminary hearing earlier this month. What came out at the hearing may be the beginning of the unraveling of the state's case against him.

Frederick has said he was asleep in preparation for an early shift when police raided his home at 8:30 p.m. on January 24. According to search warrant affidavits, officers were acting on a tip from an informant that Frederick was running a major marijuana growing operation in his garage. The raid turned up only a misdemeanor amount of the drug—about a third of an ounce.

Frederick has said in interviews and in letters to his family that he was awoken by his dogs barking at the intruders, then heard the sound of someone breaking down his front door. He says he grabbed his handgun and ran to his living room, where he saw that the bottom panel of his door and been busted out and saw someone reaching up through the broken panel toward the door handle. Frederick says that's when he fired, striking and killing Det. Jarrod Shivers. Police and prosecutors counter that Frederick fired through the door, hitting Det. Shivers as he was standing on Frederick's front lawn. Police say they announced themselves before attempting to enter Frederick's home. Frederick and at least two neighbors say they heard no announcement.

Frederick's case is only one recent example of the inherent danger and disproportionate absurdity of using violent, forced-entry police tactics to serve nonviolent drug warrants. This raid on a man with no prior criminal record left a police officer dead, his wife widowed, and his children without a father, while effectively ruining Ryan Frederick's life. He's facing one count of capital murder for the shooting of Shivers, a felony drug distribution charge, and a charge of using a weapon during the commission of a drug crime.

Now, disturbing new questions have emerged about the quality of the police investigation and the way the Chesapeake Police Department's narcotics officers may have been using confidential informants in their drug investigations. The latter would be nothing new. The ACLU is currently in the midst of a national campaign aimed at drawing attention to the misuse of informants, including in high-profile cases in Cleveland, Dallas, and just across the U.S.-Mexican border near El Paso.

Last May, a local TV news station identified the police informant in Ryan Frederick's case as "Steven," a 20-year-old man who was dating the sister of Frederick's fiance. The report noted that Steven had been arrested for stealing credit cards nine days prior to the raid on Frederick's house and may have broken into Frederick's garage three days prior to the raid to collect evidence against him. According to Frederick's family, the two had been feuding after Frederick accused Steven of stealing from him. The search warrant in the case notes that the informant had been inside Frederick's home three days prior to the raid, where he saw evidence of the marijuana-growing operation. In an interview with a local TV station shortly after his arrest, Frederick said someone had broken into his garage at about the same time.

In June, I spoke with a second man who confirmed to me that Steven had indeed broken into Frederick's home. He could confirm that, he said, because he assisted with the break-in. I gave him the moniker "Reggie" at the time, but can now identify him as Renaldo Turnbull, Jr. I had been made aware of Turnbull and his story by John Hopkins, a reporter with the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Hopkins told me Turnbull called him to tell him about his involvement in the raid after the police arrested Turnbull on charges of burglary and fraud—charges Turnbull says were undeserved. The Pilot decided not to publish Turnbull's accusations at the time.

When I spoke with Turnbull in June at the Chesapeake Jail, he confirmed that he and Steven had been working for the police as paid informants for several months and that Steven had cut a deal with the police after being arrested for credit card theft—they'd drop the charges if he brought them evidence of a major marijuana operation. He confirmed that he and Steven then broke into Ryan Frederick's home and stole the alleged marijuana plants the police then used as probable cause to obtain the search warrant that led to the fatal raid. Turnbull was hesitant to confirm the more serious allegations he had made to Hopkins in February—that the police were actually encouraging these illegal break-ins—explaining that his lawyer had advised him to stop taking and that he feared the police would retaliate if he kept talking. "I don't want to get into any more trouble," he said.

Last week, the Virginian-Pilot finally reported on Turnbull's conversations with Hopkins from last February, explaining that Turnbull's allegations seem to be confirmed by new revelations from special prosecutor Paul Ebert at a pretrial hearing earlier this month. Referring to the break-in at Frederick's home, the Pilot reported:

Turnbull said he and an accomplice didn't worry about breaking into Frederick's garage because police assured them they would be protected.

"The dude said he was going to look out for us, so let's go do it," he said.


Turnbull said he met with Shivers once and talked with him on the phone on other occasions. During a meeting at a 7-Eleven store near the intersection of Battlefield Boulevard and Cedar Road in Chesapeake, Shivers introduced himself.

"He told me what to look for. He said, if you know of any burglaries or anything, let Steven know… He said no evidence, no pay… He said if you know where it is, go get it.

According to Virginia criminal defense attorney John Zwerling, if Turnbull's allegations are true, they would represent illegal conduct on the part of the Chesapeake Police Department and the late Det. Shivers. "If the police were sending informants to break into private residences to collect probable cause for drug warrants, it would be the same as if the police were breaking in themselves," Zwerling says. "The police would be participating in crimes, and the warrants would be invalid."

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.

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  1. Weed DOES result in death.

  2. Radley, if we ever see a change in the way the prosecutors and police do business here, you will deserve a large part of the thanks. As depressing and frustrating as this reporting must be, it’s wholly necessary. Thanks and please keep it up.

  3. Yeah, I think at this point it’s pretty indisputable that far more people are being killed by marijuana laws than by marijuana or its effects.

  4. In a sane world Ryan Frederick would be getting a medal.

  5. Why is this guy even on trial? Stupid cops burst into his house, stupid cops deserve to get shot. Getting shot at comes with the badge, deal with it or find another line of work! Too bad he didnt take out a dozen of them!


  6. In a sane world Ryan Frederick would be getting a medal.

    In a sane world the cops would be recognized for what they are–a huge fucking gang that makes MS13 look like the Girl Scouts–and that’s why he’d be getting a medal.

  7. juanita | July 24, 2008, 11:07pm | #

    Thinking Nixon made marijuana illegal is proof positive of the brain-damaging effects of cannabis use.
    juanita | July 24, 2008, 11:09pm | #

    If alchohol and tobacco are worse than marijuana then they should be illegal as well.

  8. In a sane world it would have never happened.

    How this plays out is going to be real interesting.

  9. “””Why is this guy even on trial? “””

    Do you really need to ask? The stupidity of cops is irrelevant. When a precious cop dies someone MUST pay, forget about context or facts. States and local governments think their warriors are more important than everyone else. That’s why killing a cop is usually a greater sentence than killing someone of another profession. And cops killing innocent people is just part of the job.

    If it is true that Det Shiver conspired with the criminals to break into houses, you will see plenty of LEO types defending it. No one is suppose to second guess cops. Not even to question the validity of your own arrest. That’s call resisting arrest. Too bad resisting to inform the reason for an arrest is not a crime.

  10. “That’s why killing a cop is usually a greater sentence than killing someone of another profession. And cops killing innocent people is just part of the job.”

    I used to live in Ohio. In Ohio if someone who is not a police office is killed the death penalty is not a possible offense. If a police office is killed, it is. Regardless of your views of the death penalty in general, this is a disparity that is very, very unjust.

  11. “killed the death penalty is not a possible offense.”

    I meant it is not a possible penalty.

  12. Another great article Radley

  13. Speaking of cops misbehaving, anyone see the story re: NYPD officers who tasered a naked man wielding a long fluorescent light on a building ledge, causing him to plummet to his death?

  14. It appears the prosecution is going to offer the testimony of one or more burglars (perhaps the same ones Balko is talking about) who assert that Frederick threatened to kill cops. When the burglars so testify, of course they do so under the pure disinterested love of truth, not from the expectation of any favors from the authorities. When these same burglars (or other burglars) claim that the cops were relying on said burglars to do their dirty work, then suddenly the testimony of burglars becomes non-credible.

    Have I missed something?

  15. It’s a little more than that. If the burglar/informants were sent in by the police, then the police likely didn’t have a valid search warrant when they invaded Frederick’s house, which has a huge bearing on his self-defense claim. In fact, assuming the judge actually follows the law, it’s possible that this would never even get to a jury in such a case.

  16. Radley, thanks again for all you do for reform. Bless Ryan Frederick’s heart. I hope charges are dismissed, enough tradgedy already!

    Political Hypocracy vs Hip Philosophy:

    Considering the facts: Obama and Palin admit to having used marijuana when younger, the McCain’s wealth comes from alcohol drug dealing, Mrs. McCain’s past drug problems and America has become the most incarcerated nation in history; why isn’t drug law reform for nonviolent users a top issue in this election year?


    Our friends at SAFER have produced this video about leagal drug dealer, Cindy McCain.

  17. I think you should switch to reporting isolated random incidents of the police respecting citizens and their rights. That seems more newsworthy, in the tradition of “man bites dog.”

  18. OT, but I’m not seeing anything about this at Reason: A U.S. Army brigade is being deployed in Fort Stewart, GA, starting October 1. See the Army Times article for their spin, but dig this:

    They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.

    The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

    “It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”

    (my emphasis)

    This is a “temporary” deployment, for 12 months, but, as the article says:

    After 1st BCT finishes its dwell-time mission, expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one.

    Who needs the local gendarmes when the Army is available? Methinks the War on Drugs is about to get a new domestic dance partner.

  19. (What is the process one must use to make Reason aware of events like that?)

  20. James,

    Radley posted it yesterday:


    Scary stuff

  21. In Ohio if someone who is not a police office is killed the death penalty is not a possible offense. If a police office is killed, it is.

    Also in Texas. In one case here a fleeing suspect crossed a creek and the cop following him drowned, without the suspect being in any way involved. Capital murder.

  22. I agree with the thrust of this article in general, but the following passage disturbs me:

    “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.”

    Since when did anybody put journalists in charge of the administration of justice?

  23. I’m a little confused by this bit:

    “the alleged marijuana plants the police then used as probable cause to obtain the search warrant that led to the fatal raid.”

    So did Steven and Turnbull turn the plants over to the cops? Or did the cops just take their word that they had stolen some pot plants?

    If the burglars did turn over the plants to the cops, shouldn’t any experienced narcotics cop be able to tell a marijuana plant from an ornamental Japanese shrub?

    Assuming Mr Fredrick’s version of events is true, and the cops knocked a hole in the lower panel of the door and were reaching inside to turn the knob, either Mr Fredrick had unusually stout locks, the cops door breaching technique sucked, or both.

    A properly executed door breach, with proper equipment, will splinter the door, the frame, or likely both, and send what’s left of the door rapidly into the room, but still on the hinges, unless up against an unusually strong door with strong locks. Knocking a hole in the lower part of the door says the battering ram missed the target spot rather badly. (For best effect, you want to hit the door as close to the knob/locks as possible).

    So the cops executing the raid were poorly trained and/or poorly equipped, and botched their entry. Another reason for Mr Fredrick to believe that his home was being invaded by criminals, not police.

  24. I know of a better way of preventing tragedies like this ever happening again: Legalize Drugs.

  25. “””So did Steven and Turnbull turn the plants over to the cops? Or did the cops just take their word that they had stolen some pot plants?”””

    I’m curious about that too. I could see the cops holding onto the plants as evidence of the break-in and bullshitting Steven and Turnbull about if they would charge them. Then arrest everyone. You caught the thieves and a pot grower, your stats look good. It would have gotten a second look, until someone got shot.

  26. So Ryan Frederick shoots dead a criminal breaking into his house. Good riddance to the criminal.

  27. For the curious, from the story it looks to me like the burglars & cops split up the stolen weed. It’s possible that weed was worth quite a few bucks in addition to its attraction to weed smokers, and the idea that a process this loose can be used and the judicial system can expect 0 “shrinkage” when weed is priced like gold is laughable enough to make some of us wonder what the *judges* who believe it are smoking…

  28. Since when did anybody put journalists in charge of the administration of justice?

    PP: I think you’re misinterpreting Radley’s call for an independent investigation. I believe he meant an independent investigation by an special prosecutor — not by journalists.

    If you’re taking issue with his opining about the need for a special prosecutor, Radley makes absolute sense on this and has the stature on this issue that his suggestions merit serious consideration.

    Special prosecutors are an established mechanism for investigating, and if necessary prosecuting, crimes best not left to career prosecutors who have inherent conflicts of interest: police and prosecutorial misconduct and corruption, crimes commited by sitting elected officials, etc.

  29. Tonio —

    Actually, I think the best thing would be a federal investigation. This case has strong allegations of public corruption and civil rights violations. It makes sense.

  30. “””For the curious, from the story it looks to me like the burglars & cops split up the stolen weed. “””

    That’s assuming the 1. there were plants, 2. the prosecution isn’t planning to present them in court later on. I would think that discovery has already taken place, but I wouldn’t be suprised if the cops held onto the plants till the last moment claiming they were part of another case during discovery so they mistakenly forgot to inform the defense at that time. Being that the plants would be key to the case, it’s likey a judge would allow it to be entered as evidence and scold the DA for the, uh, oversight. Then again my understanding of prosecutors dirty pool my be clouding my judgement.

  31. there’s a silver lining in this dark cloud. no matter what happens, detective shivers will never, ever again do a gestapo-style home invasion. that’s got to be worth a hallelujah.

  32. join together to stop the madness

  33. qoute:See|9.25.08 @ 4:44PM|#
    Weed DOES result in death.

    Yes but fortunatly it only kills corrupt cops who lie about it. good ridence to a lousy thief and a even worse cop. We are winning the war on weed and the cops know it and the atrocities committed againt peaceful people minding their own buisness at home will increase as these cops realize that the party is soon going to be over for them and their criminal ways.
    so protect yourselves people and overgrow the govt …

  34. A dynamic entry raid is a military tactic designed to confuse and disorient those inside the building. The intent is to kill everyone inside before effective resistance can be organized. Soldiers aren’t usually out to arrest people that are the target of such a raid, and the tactic reflects this.

    Realizing that the black-suited individuals kicking your door in, deciding not to shoot back and voluntary surrender are all things that require the exact mental processes that a dynamic entry is designed and intended to short-circuit.

    Police claiming that they identified themselves before entering is irrelevant. If someone is asleep, he can’t hear the identification. If they announce themselves after entering, they’re dealing with disoriented and confused people who probably can’t hear anything after the flash-bangs went off anyway. Either way, it’s not murder to shoot back at someone who you think is a home invasion burglar. As long as police use tactics that actively prevents their targets from realizing it is a police raid instead of a burglary, people will continue to die needlessly.

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