Drug Policy

Police Detective Defends Cheye Calvo Raid in National Review

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Last month, National Review ran a short blurb that was critical of the July raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo by a Prince George's County, Maryland SWAT team (article is subscription-only).

To refresh your memory, the police raided Calvo after intercepting a package en route to Calvo's home that contained marijuana.  They blew open Calvo's door, shot and killed both of of Calvo's black labs (one as it was running away), then handcuffed and interrogated Calvo and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours.

Calvo was innocent.  The package was never intended for him.  It was part of a drug smuggling scheme, and was meant to be intercepted by a dealer working at the delivery company.  The Prince George's County police made no effort to determine who lived in Calvo's home, did no surveillance, and didn't bother to notify the Berwyn Heights police chief before conducting the raid.  They have since apologized to Calvo for wrongly raiding his home, but have defended the investigation and the aggressive tactics, including the slaughter of his dogs.

After National Review's short blurb denouncing the raid and the overuse of SWAT tactics in general, Milwaukee police detective and former SWAT officer Kent Corbett wrote a jaw-dropping letter to the editor, in which he not only defends what happened to Calvo, he mocks Calvo and his family with scare quotes.  The letter is also subscription-only, so there's no link.  But here's the copy:

As a former S.W.A.T. team member and a current homicide detective with the Milwaukee police department, I must take issue with the tone of a paragraph in "The Week" (September 1). The piece addresses the Cheye Calvo incident, in which police raided a Maryland mayor's home looking for drugs, killed his dogs, and restrained him and his mother-in-law. It turned out the man was innocent.

I have personally been involved in the execution of no-knock search warrants, the killing of dogs during those executions, and the investigations of numerous drug-related homicides and officer-involved shootings. Yes, no-knock warrants are issued to avoid the destruction of evidence such as drugs, but they are also issued to protect the officers executing those warrants. In addition, each warrant requires a judge's authorization, and obviously the available evidence satisfied the judge in this case.

Sorry if Calvo and his mother-in-law were "restrained" for "almost two hours." Would you rather have them be comfortable for those two hours, and risk officers' lives and safety? Calvo should be able to understand what the officers did and why they did it.

Municipal police departments do fight a war on the streets of this country daily. This incident should not be considered overkill (to take a word from Reason's Radley Balko), but sound police tactics. As soon as some police administrator starts to second-guess the training and experience of the officers charged with doing these types of investigations, someone will get hurt or killed. Drug investigations are inherently dangerous, and so is the Monday-morning quarterbacking you are doing.

Kent Corbett
Milwaukee, Wis.

National Review's editors wrote a polite, well-argued response to Corbett.

I'm going to be less polite, because to use Corbett's own language, I take strong issue with his tone.  His attitude is appalling, and unfortunately, not uncommon.  The bumbling, violent raid on Calvo's home is inexcusable.  I know nothing about Corbett, but his public defense of the raid on Calvo's home ought to call into serious question his judgment as a police officer.  If Cheye Calvo had exercised his Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense last July, for example, he'd almost certainly be dead today.  A cop or two might be dead, too.  That simply isn't an acceptable outcome—not for a nonviolent crime like marijuana distribution, and certainly not when the suspect turns out to be innocent.

Prince George's PD's lack of investigation into who lived at Calvo's home, their rush to use the maximum amount of force possible, one officer's inexplicable decision to use her cell phone to make a veterinary appointment for her own dogs while Calvo and his mother-in-law sat handcuffed, staring at the carcasses of his two labs—for Corbett, these are all "sound police tactics."  How dare we Monday-morning quarterback.  In Corbett's mind, Calvo ought to "understand," and I guess we all ought to understand, even when these incidents happen again, and again, and again.

To people like Corbett and the politicians whose policies he enforces, drug prohibition is war.  We ought to expect, tolerate, and even defend the occasional collateral damage—be it what happened to Calvo, or what happened to, say, Katherine Johnston or Isaac Singletary.  I mean, if we start getting all upset about what happened to a white, upper-middle class family with some political heft like the Calvos, we might soon have to actually start caring when this kind of thing happens low-income black people, too.  And we certainly can't have that.  Because, as I'm sure Corbett knows, it happens far more often to them.

So let's all take Corbett's advice.  Should the police mistakenly blow open your door, kill your pets, and detain you for hours at gunpoint, just deal with it.  In fact, be grateful.  We're in a war, after all.  It's all about preventing people from getting high, at any cost.  If you lose a couple of pets, or possibly a friend or relative, buck up.  Sure, Calvo and his family were subjected to needless terror and violence.  Sure, they could easily have been killed.  But remember:  Because of the Prince George's County Police Department's "sound police tactics," when all was said and done, there was 30 pounds less marijuana in southern Maryland than there would have been otherwise.  And no cops were injured.  So it's a net win.

I don't expect many police officers to agree with me on the appropriateness of SWAT tactics in general (though some do).  But this is a bit much.  Det. Corbett can look at the Calvo raid and not only conclude that the end result was acceptable, but also that Calvo has no legitimate complaint about what happened to him.  The implication is that we shouldn't bother to worry about this kind of thing.  That we should all just accept the possibility that what happened to Calvo could happen to any of us.  Because what's most important is officer safety, and winning the war on drugs.

Corbett's letter isn't just wrong, it's chilling.