War on Drugs

Prince George's County Sheriff's Department Delcares Itself Blame-Free in Cheye Calvo Raid


Yesterday, the Prince George's County Sheriff's Department announced that its internal review found that its officers did nothing wrong in the SWAT raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo's home.

Last summer, officers intercepted a package of marijuana at a delivery service warehouse. Despite the fact that they already knew of a drug distribution network in which dealers were sending packages of marijuana to random addresses with the intent of having them picked up by accomplices working for the delivery companies, the Sheriff's Department raided Calvo's just seconds after his mother-in-law brought the package into the house with no investigation into who actually lived there.

Police and county officials have since admitted that Calvo and his family are innocent. But they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing, such as not doing the least bit of investigation before sending the SWAT team to take down Calvo's door, not knocking and announcing before entering, or slaughtering Calvo's two Labrador retrievers.

In fact, Prince George's County officials have been stunningly callous about it all, at various points praising the officers for their "restraint," and commenting that everyone involved in the investigation and raid "deserves a pat on the back."

So the announcement yesterday that the internal review cleared the department isn't surprising. But Sheriff Michael Jackson's comments at the accompanying press conference are really something to behold. From the Washington Post:

The findings of the internal review "are consistent with what I've felt all along: My deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities"…

In an interview, Jackson reiterated his explanation that a scream by Calvo's mother-in-law, Georgia Porter, who saw officers in SWAT gear running toward the house, justified the shooting.

Porter "corroborated that she did scream out 'SWAT.' She admitted to that, and [Calvo] admitted to hearing that upstairs in the house," Jackson said. "That threw out the procedure of knocking and announcing, because now [officers were] compromised."

One dog was shot four times by the front door. Calvo has said his younger dog was running away from officers when it was shot twice, including once in a hind leg. Jackson said deputies thought the dog was running toward another deputy in the home…

"I'm sorry for the loss of their family pets," Jackson said. "But this is the unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community. Lost in this whole incident was the criminal element. . . . In the sense that we kept these drugs from reaching our streets, this operation was a success."

First of all, the police intercepted the package at the warehouse. At that point, they had already kept the marijuana inside from "reaching the streets." Everything that happened next was at the discretion of the officers who carried out the investigation and raid well after the marijuana had already been confiscated, which means they and they alone own the results of the raid.

Second, what happened to Calvo isn't the "unfortunate result of the scourge of drugs in our community," it's the result of a bumbling, overly aggressive, wholly incompetent police department. And it's the result of a drug warrior mentality that believes invading someone's home with guns and filling their pets with bullets is an appopriate response to a possible violation of state marijuana laws. The raiding cops didn't bother to notify the Berwyn Heights police chief before sending in the SWAT team, which would almost certainly have tipped them off to their mistake. They didn't bother to do any investigation at all of who lived at Calvo's residence. Their first resort was to use the most overwhelming force possible.

Third, the purpose of a knock-and-announce requirement is to notify a home's occupants that the police are outside to serve a warrant, and to give them the opportunity to come to the door and prevent the use of force and violence. Jackson's excuse that officers feared Calvo's mother-in-law's scream when she saw men in black running up the lawn tipped off the drug dealers inside doesn't fly. Because, again, the entire point of the knock-and-announce requirement is to "tip off" occupants that the police are outside.

Finally, Jackson's comment that "[m]y deputies did their job to the fullest extent of their abilities" may actually be the only accurate thing he said yesterday. Just not in the way he intended.