Derrick Foster is the Ohio man who was visiting a gambling house when Columbus police raided the place, believing it to be a crack house. Foster says he mistook the raiding cops for robbers, and shot and wounded two of them. Foster had no criminal record, had no drugs on him, had a permit for the gun he was carrying, and had an exemplary record as a city code inspector. He was initially charged with attempted murder, then accepted a plea to two counts of felonious assault. He still insists he mistook the officers for criminals. He was sentenced last week to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, the military-style drug raids continue. A 19-year-old Missouri woman could get 30 years after shooting at police on a marijuana raid (her parents were apparently dealers) last month. She too says she thought the home was being robbed. In one I missed from last November, police in Woodhaven, Michigan raided and trashed the wrong home while looking for a narcotics suspect, finding instead a 25-year-old woman who had just gotten out of the shower. And in Las Vegas, 32-year-old Emmanuel Dozier is in jail and faces felony charges after shooting and wounding three police officers, also during a narcotics raid. Dozier also says he thought his home was being robbed. His girlfriend, Belinda Saavedra, was on the phone with 911 at the time of the raid.
Police insist they had the right house (Dozier has a prior arrest record in California), but found no drugs in the home. They did, however, find Saavedra's children. The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a spot-on editorial about the last raid:
Does a raid timed for 9:30 Sunday evening—more than four hours after nightfall, at this time of year—make it more likely residents will understand the men at the door are police? Police say the raid was staged by SWAT officers: Does that mean they did not display standard, easily recognizable uniforms and chest badges? Were they, in fact, dressed in black to make them less visible?
Pardon us if we doubt the officers waited even two or three minutes for residents to pull on clothes (if necessary), come to the door, ascertain who was there and ask to read the officers' warrant.
For that matter, wouldn't the chance of violence have been reduced—in a home where police should have known young children were present—if someone had simply telephoned the home, explaining police were approaching the door with a warrant … preferably during daylight hours?
Some will say such a procedure would be naive—drug dealers could use the time to flush their product down the toilet.
But no cocaine was found—and a dealer who can eliminate all his product in one toilet flush isn't really very big-time, is he?
If Mr. Dozier is prosecuted on drug-trafficking charges it will be based on the testimony of the undercover officers who say they bought from him in the past.
The drug war has taught us to accept as "normal" police procedures—even in the case of a man alleged to have dealt quantities of drugs worth only a few hundred dollars—which increase the risk of violence and death in our neighborhoods.
Just as in cases where some jurisdictions have found overall fatalities could be reduced by having ambulances obey stoplights, it is those "standard" procedures that are in need of a serious new review.
For all of the "wrong-house" raids I write about on this site, even when police get the right house, these raids force a volatile confrontation with a high potential for error. There have been about a half dozen cases of police officers getting killed or wounded on drug raids in just the last few months. These tactics make warrant service more dangerous for everyone, including cops.