Militarization of Police

Fourth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity in Mistaken SWAT Raid

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It wasn't a drug raid. But the details are fun. From the opinion:

On May 31, 2007, Sam Bellotte printed some photographs from a memory card at a self-service station in a Winchester, Virginia Wal-Mart. When he went to pay for the prints, a clerk insisted on inspecting the photos. Mr. Bellotte admitted that some contained nudity and surrendered them, then made other purchases and left the store.

The Wal-Mart employees charged with discarding the photos noticed one depicting male genitalia seemingly next to a child's face. Concerned that the photograph was child pornography, the employees notified the Frederick County police. An investigation of the surveillance camera footage and credit card receipts showed that Mr. Bellotte, a resident of Jefferson County, West Virginia, had printed the photo in question. A Frederick County police officer placed the photo in a file container and notified the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, which then took responsibility for the investigation. After reviewing the file, verifying Mr. Bellotte's address, and learning that both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte held concealed carry permits, Detective Tracy Edwards sought a search warrant for the Bellotte residence. Around 9:00 that evening, the magistrate reviewed the application and signed the warrant.

In order to execute the warrant, Detective Edwards sought and received approval from the ranking Jefferson County law enforcement officer for the assistance of the Jefferson County Special Operations Team ("SORT Team"). The SORT Team leaders decided that their involvement was justified due to the possibility of a violent reaction from Mr. Bellotte and the concealed carry permits held by both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte. After the three SORT squads were assembled and briefed, they arrived at the Bellotte residence around 10:15 p.m.

The three squads took positions around the house, wearing tactical vests and helmets and armed with flashlight-equipped.45 caliber Sig Sauer pistols and "hooligan" pry bars for a possible forced entry. Then, the Bellottes claim, the SORT squads opened the unlocked front and rear doors without knocking or announcing their presence. They immediately executed a dynamic entry—a technique that the SORT Team had recently been trained in—by which all squads simultaneously rushed into the home from multiple entry points. After the SORT squads were inside the house, they repeatedly identified themselves as law enforcement officers executing a search warrant.

The first member of the family to encounter the SORT Team was E.B., the Bellottes' teenage son. When the officers found him upstairs walking out of his bedroom and talking on a cell phone, they subdued and handcuffed him. E.B. asserts that the officers also poked a gun at the back of his head. In another bedroom, the team found C.B., the Bellottes' young daughter, and led her downstairs unhandcuffed.

When the SORT Team came to the parents' bedroom, Tametta Bellotte raced out of bed and ran screaming toward the closet. When she reached for a gun bag, the officers forced her to the ground and handcuffed her. Later, when the house was secured, the SORT Team allowed Mrs. Bellotte to get fully dressed under the supervision of a female officer. The search of the Bellotte residence concluded shortly before midnight.

Sam Bellotte was actually on a hunting trip at the time. When he learned of the raid on his family, the same man police thought was so dangerous that they had to send a SWAT team to his home late at night walked into the police station, explained the situation, and provided documentation that the person depicted in the photo was a 35-year-old Filipino woman.

A couple other points here. First, I still wonder why gun rights groups like the NRA aren't more disturbed by the ubiquitous use of SWAT teams. Here, the fact that the Bellotte's were legal, registered gun owners was used as justification for the violent, volatile entry into their home. It isn't the first time this has happened. You'd think that's something that might concern Second Amendment acitivists.

Second, the police were right. Tametta Bellotte did immediately go for her gun when the SWAT team entered. But not because she's a cop-killing, child pornographizing criminal. As it turns out, she was innocent. She went for her gun because she thought her life is in danger.

That said, it's good to see the Fourth Circuit decline qualified immunity here. And it would be nice to see federal courts allow more liability for botched raids.

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  1. Today, on my way to work, I saw the SWAT team getting out of an unmarked minivan approaching a house about six houses down from mine with a battering ram all sneaky and quiet. I’m waiting to hear about it on another isolated incident.

    1. You immediately laid on your car horn, right?

      1. There were also a few cops(non-SWAT) just down the street. Probably to keep us rabble from conspiring.

      2. I totally would do anything I can to be a good citizen and inform my neighbors or complete strangers about threats to their autonomy. Fuck the revenuers.

  2. It’s especially interesting because many people who have guns in their house for defense, actually don’t have a CCL.

    1. Ah! The joys of monopoly justice…

    2. Fuck being on any government list.

      Never buy a state-approved gun.

      Gun registration is evil. Any government registering guns is a government that shouldn’t exist.

      1. dunkel likes this.

  3. First, I still wonder why gun rights groups like the NRA aren’t more disturbed by the ubiquitous use of SWAT teams

    Because the NRA is an organization, like many others, that now exists simply to exist, rather than to execute its stated mission. United Way, Susan G Komen, PETA. All they care about is staying in the public eye so they can continue to raise money, rather than actually helping real individuals with real problems. Maybe they do a press conference or hire a few libbyists, but their efforts are perfunctory and the minimum require to keep the cash flowing in.

    1. I’ve started calling them the “Outrage Industry”.

      1. I call the “Welfare Queens” (take other people’s money and never work a day again in your life)

        1. See Pournelle’s Iron Law. (not to be confused with the fine ones from Mr. Dean.)

    2. Sadly, true. As a 20 Year NRA Life Member, around 9/11 I came to agree with novelist L. Neil Smith that the N.R.A. has become “the largest gun control organization in the country.

      The NRA fought to keep both the DC & Chicago 2nd Amendment cases off the Supreme’s docket, then were granted equal status & time with attorney Alan Gura (sp?), where they argued less constitutionally rational reasons to find in the plaintiff’s favor. This is what I think of as the ‘shooting with limp wrist’ approach to constitutional law.

  4. When he learned of the raid on his family, the same man police thought was so dangerous that they had to send a SWAT team to his home late at night walked into the police station, explained the situation, and provided documentation that the person depicted in the photo was a 35-year-old Filipino woman.

    I’d want SWAT standing by when I try to explain to Mrs. Bellotte what my penis was doing near a 35-year-old Filipino woman.

    1. Apparently girlfriend is aging well if she can be mistaken for a child.

    2. Maybe the Bellottes are into threesomes. Have you got a problem with being kinky?

      1. REALLY kinky…considering if “she” were really a woman, she would be described as a Filipina woman, not Filipino.

  5. Sooner or later there’s going to be an officer shot by a homeowner and then we’ll see how it proceeds.

    Plus WTF is with Walmart? I’ll just have to find a new place to develop photos of my Filipino mistress.

    1. Sooner or later? Go to Radley’s site and search for Cory Maye or Ryan Frederick.

    2. Plus WTF is with Walmart? I’ll just have to find a new place to develop photos of my Filipino mistress.

      Invest in a digital camera. Or even a Polaroid.

      1. It apparently was a digital camera, but the guy wanted a print. Note that it says he printed the photos from a memory card. He needs to invest in a desktop printer and some Kodak paper.

    3. WTF is with people taking naked photos then getting them processed?

      No, no, WTF is with people who want un-zoomable, non-shoppable, paper versions of their images? Stacking them up next to their paper literature and paper-paperwork? Fucking paper fetishists.

    4. “Sooner or later there’s going to be an officer shot by the homeowner and then we’ll see how it proceeds.”

      That’s actually already happened. The cops raided the wrong house, the homeowner shot (and killed) one of the cops. The homeowner was charged and convicted of murder.

  6. Reading through the opinion. My favorite part so far is that the officers tried to justify the raid by saying it was to protect Mr. Bellotte, since sex offenders are at a higher risk of suicide.

    1. Not a sex offender, just a suicide

      http://www.burlingtonfreepress…..cted-wound

  7. You would think that, given that both Mr and Mrs Bellotte were law-abiding enough to apply for, and receive, CCW permits, the police could simply come to their door and politely ask them to answer a few questions.

    And yes, how in the hell does someone’s lawful behaviour become justification for why a gang of cops comes busting down your door?

    1. As Einstein said so often, “force atrracts the people with the lowest morality”.

      1. Cue sarcasmic…..

        1. Is he a cop fellator? A lover of parasites who can’t hack it in the private sector?

          1. No – every time someone quotes Einstein he comes in with “Einstein was a socialist”.

            1. He may have been, but his observation is incontrovertible.

              1. That’s what I say. I also think Einstein, anti-authoritarian that he was, would have been fucking miserable in a socialist society no matter how much he thought he wanted one.

            2. He must not understand that just because someone is a genius when it comes to math, they might not be so brilliant in other parts of their lives.

              (fyi, if I was inclined to jump on any mention of Einstein, I would bring up how “if he’s such a genius, why couldn’t he make his marriage work?”)

  8. I love the court’s decision here, but I don’t understand in what sense this was a “mistaken” raid as opposed to an “unjustified” raid. They got the house they were targeting, right? Losing qualified immunity on “unjustified” raids seems like too much to even hope for.

  9. When he went to pay for the prints, a clerk insisted on inspecting the photos.

    WTF?!? The only proper response to this is “fuck you, go get your manager NOW.” I can’t believe this guy complied.

    1. But the WallyWorld employee had a blue smock on. A BLUE SMOCK. Clearly they were an authority figure and must be obeyed without question.

    2. The more appropriate (if less tolerated nowadays) response is an immediate head punch. Walmart employees should not be asking shit.

    3. New Walmart Policy: destory pictures of Target and Kmart. Customers may keep photos of Filipino mistresses.

  10. Just another reason to NOT apply for a CC permit. When law abiding citizens are targeted for physical attack because they followed the law, it is time to NOT obey the law.

    1. ^^ This. I refuse to apply for a permit to carry my own legally owned property. I also refuse to register my animals with the city; as long as their shots are up to date, so that they aren’t a threat to anyone else, it’s none of the gov’ts damned business if I have a dog or not.

      1. as long as their shots are up to date, so that they aren’t a threat to anyone else, it’s none of the gov’ts damned business if I have a dog or not.

        But…but… how else will they know that you need to pay the FEE and tax you?

        1. Oh I forgot to mention it: for the “service” of forcing me to register my animals, they charge $15 per. I’ll keep my money, thank you, since I have no interest in whatever it is you’re trying to provide.

        2. More importantly, how will raiding SWAT members know they got all your dogs?

          1. Tying Officer Safety to pet licenses.

            You magnificent bastard.

          2. More importantly, how will raiding SWAT members know they got all your dogs?

            My nomination for comment of the year, if we had such awards.

      2. I ran into the same issue when I adopted a rescue cat a few years ago. Took him to the vet for a checkup. Vet is REQUIRED by law to report the name/address of any city resident who brings a cat or dog to a vet.

        A few months later I got a politely worded bill from the city asking for $25 for a required pet license. I thought it was ridiculous and threw it away. A month later I got another bill, not so polite, threatening that if I did not pay up, a citation would be issued and I would have to appear in court. If I did not appear then a warrant would be issued for my arrest.

        WTF?? I have to get a license to save a rescue cat? Is there anything government won’t charge you to do?

        1. My BF actually talked to a deputy who arrested a little old lady for not registering her cat…

        2. Just tell them the animal died. And stop going to the vet. If you keep it under control (or keep it indoors) all those damn shots are expensive and pointless.

      3. If you continue with this behavior the next thing you know we’ll be just like Somalia.

    2. If a CC permit is not enough to warrant a SWAT team invasion, perhaps the police can see if the suspect is a dog owner or has a subscription to Reason magazine.

  11. I wonder why they felt the need to identify the woman in the photo as Filipino, but not the Belottes’ race. If I had to guess, I’d bet on black because a) SWAT teams tend to be nastier to black people, and b) “Tametta.”

    1. Not to be racist, but older filipinos can look kind of young and petite. Bet you alll didn’t know Michelle Malkin is 75.

      1. Not to be racist but no, older Asians do not tend to look younger. So do blacks and Hispanics. It’s white peole who tend to look haggard, old, and fat…

      2. Young, sure, but not like (from the opinion) “an approximately five to six year old white female” (in the opinion of at least two officers) when actually 35.

        1. Not to be racist…I suppose if Bellotte is white, and those officers viewing the photos were black, they might have seen Bellotte’s penis and assumed he were five years old too…Not to be racist.

    2. Having traveled to the Phillipines, Filipina women tend to look very young, even child-like. I could see that someone could make this mistake if only looking at a photo.

      Still doesn’t justify the no-knock raid, though.

  12. “First, I still wonder why gun rights groups like the NRA aren’t more disturbed by the ubiquitous use of SWAT teams”

    Because the NRA is right-wing, and they cannot abide themselves or anyone else being critical of police for any reason. When gun rights slam headfirst into authority worship, even in a supposedly “gun rights” oriented organization, the latter impulse wins out. I actually didn’t renew my membership this year for the first time in my adult life because I’m getting so sick of their partisan mailings.

    1. Yeah, I’m a bit sick of their hyper right-wing verbal diarrhea.

      I’m an Endowment Member, which is the next level above Life Member. I did that several years ago, when I was all hyped up on the notion that the Dems were working hard to re-implement the AWB and even more draconian anti-gun bullshit.

      But anymore, all the “send us money” mail I get from the NRA (and it’s almost daily, it seems) goes right into the trash. I’ve sent them enough money for a while.

      1. You’re absolutely right; I could see past some of the partisan bullshit if I wasn’t getting mail from them every three days wanting me to give money, enter a raffle, etc. They spend as much on mailings asking me for money, as I give them in money for my regular annual membership each year.

      2. I actually refuse to join the only private pistol/rifle range in town because they require an NRA membership to join. Don’t get me wrong, that is their privilege, but fuck them. The annual ones are too expensive, and I’m not buying a lifetime membership. What if I don’t want to be a member anymore? Will they refund me a pro-rated amount? Hell no.

        1. The NRA is one of the few places gun ranges can get insurance, and 100% NRA membership is one of the requirements for coverage.

          1. Make your own gun range. In your basement. Invite your friends.

      3. Should have given to Rocky Mountain GOA…at least they are pushing Vermont Carry here. May pass too…not likely but it might.
        currently in committee…wont make it out but I can dream.

    2. I think it’s a lot simpler as to why the NRA isn’t officially disturbed: SWAT raid…guns…kewl!

    3. What you say has some truth, although the judge (Judge Wilkinson) who wrote the opinion is a Reagan appointee, and the dissenting judge (Judge Wynn) is an Obama appointee. So in this case it seems that the authority worship was on the side of the leftist.

  13. Also gleaned from the opinion: The possible presence of a child in the residence was not only not a reason for the officers not to go in with guns blazing (that makes sense, right? stupid double negatives.), it was cited as a justification for the officers going in with guns blazing.

    1. Just imagine if they had had a reason to believe there was a DOG in there!

  14. The SORT Team leaders decided that their involvement was justified due to the possibility of a violent reaction from Mr. Bellotte and the concealed carry permits held by both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte.

    Right – because if you have a CCH permit, it’s a valid and logical presumption that you will react violently when the police come crashing through your door, unannounced, screaming and pointing weapons at you. Yeah, it’s that permit that makes you react violently.

    Fuckin’ A, I can’t believe this shit.

  15. “hooligan” pry bars for a possible forced entry.

    What’s with the quotes?

    1. I get it.

    2. I don’t know why it’s in quotes, but apparently it’s difficult to spell Halligan.

  16. She went for her gun because she thought her life is in danger.

    Her life was in danger.

  17. As Madison wrote, the job of a judge is to vindicate individual liberty. A court is to function as an impenetrable bulwark against each and every attempt made by the state to infringe upon such liberty.

    There is absolutely no textual authority in the federal constitution for a court to create immunities for state actors. Not one delegate to the constitutional convention spoke in favor of giving courts the power to create immunities for state actors.

    Given that judges are bought and paid for by the state, it is little wonder that they would create, out of thin air, the doctrines of absolute and qualified immunity. This only serves to underscore the necessity of scuttling monopoly justice.

    1. “”There is absolutely no textual authority in the federal constitution for a court to create immunities for state actors.””

      Did the court create immunity? I’m guessing lawmakers, not the courts.

      1. Right, the legislature creates the immunity. The courts interpret the language of the law and decide whether immunity applies in a particular case.

        When we learned about sovreign immunity in law school it always bothered me. Thought it was wrong and I still do. Same thing with civil asset forfeiture and implied consent.

        1. Although the feds and state legislatures have enacted various and sundry immunity statutes, the courts have also created immunity.

          For example, check out Pierson v. Ray, a 1967 Supreme Court case. Justice Douglas penned a powerful dissent. The court was deciding whether the civil rights act of 1870 /1871 applied to judges. There was no language in the original act that immunized judges. In fact, as Justice Douglas emphasized, the issue arose in congressional consideration of the act, and Congress passed the law notwithstanding the concerns raised by one senator.

  18. After I read stuff like this, I’m usually left wondering why the police seemed to assume or guess things about the suspect when (one would think) a little investigation would have given them a clearer picture of who they were dealing with. That’s what cops do, right? Investigate crimes?

    I think these guys put themselves in a situation where they had to go in prepared for the worst that might happen, rather than prepared for what was most likely to happen. Whether it’s caused by laziness, haste, or lack of money or manpower, failure to gather intelligence before conducting an operation seems to be a factor in a lot of these “mistakes.”

    1. ^This^ – whatever happened to “good, old-fashioned police work”? A little investigation to develop the facts, maybe? Remember Joe Friday? “Just the facts, ma’am.”

      Now it’s, “shit, we need a warrant, stat! Fred, start packing up the body armor. Don’t forget the flashbangs!”

    2. They’d just been trained to do “dynamic entry” and needed to break in their new jackboots.

    3. The mindset of a cop is simple – All non-cops (or civilians as they like to call us despite being civilians themselves) are criminals just waiting for their chance to be a cop killer.

  19. Count me as one of those mystified by Mr. B complying with the clerk’s demand to inspect his photos, and then surrendering the photos.

    And fuck the NRA. Here the State is, using a person’s status as a gun owner as justification for a violent raid on their house. If that doesn’t kick the NRA right in the nutsack, nothing will.

    1. Count me as one of those mystified by Mr. B complying with the clerk’s demand to inspect his photos, and then surrendering the photos.

      I’m thinking Mr. B still had to pay for the print job, so not complying would cause the employee to call the cops….which probably would’ve led to an even uglier outcome.

      1. The clerk doesn’t need to know anything other than how many pictures to charge the customer for, and I’m sure that’s on the printout from the kiosk.

        1. Yes, in competently run business, that’s how it would happen.

          But, Walmart has* to inspect photos that they process, for teh Childrens.

          (*Is this practice still a voluntary policy or has this requirement been enshrined into The Holy Codex Of Federal Law And Orderliness?)

          1. Actually, WalMart is inspecting the photos for copyright violations.

    2. “”Count me as one of those mystified by Mr. B complying with the clerk’s demand to inspect his photos, and then surrendering the photos.”‘

      Yeah. Once the photos are in my hands, I’m just going to the cashier to pay. If he wanted to inspect them, he would have needed to do it before he handed them over.

      1. The details of the transaction aren’t clear. Maybe because I haven’t had a photo processed in over 10 years and don’t know how the shops do it these days.

        Here’s my best guess though:

        Mr. B uses kiosk-> kiosk gives photos and a tab-> customer takes tab to the register.

        So, at that point his choices are to comply with the store policies to complete his transaction, or he can surrender the merchandise and walk away (at which point the employee would look at the photos anyway, and we’d be right back where we are now.)

        1. I’ll add that that’s not how i’d run a photo-processing kiosk. It’d be like a gas pump, you don’t get shit till you swipe your card.

          1. I’d have full automation like in Japan. Insert sd card; choose prints; insert money, and the machine spits them out. No human interaction necessary.

            1. No “jobs created or saved” that way.

        2. By giving the merchandise and the tab, the machine entered a contract to provide a service. The store should be obligated to complete the transaction without further conditions.

  20. What I want to know is what kind of documentation did he have to show that the woman giving him a blowjob was a 35 year old Filipino?

    1. A copy of a photo ID?

    2. A receipt.

      1. *80’s-movie slow-clap*

  21. People, just print your porn at home.

    1. People, stop wasting paper. Plus, arranging those video stills into a flipbook has to be more effort than it’s worth.

      1. You can’t stick an SD card into a random library book, wylie.

        1. You’re not trying hard enough.

  22. The ownership of the gun isn’t even the dumbest arguement the cops’ lawyers made. The gave two other justifications for not knocking and anouncing.

    1. The officers first argue they had a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence would jeopardize their own safety.1 In particular, they contend that Mr. Bellotte, due to his suspected possession or production of child pornography, “could react unpredictably and possibly violently” when faced with the prospect of arrest and prosecution. Brief of Appellants at 24. The embarrassment that citizens face in being linked to child pornography, so the theory goes, leads them to violence when confronted with an investigator’s presence.

    and if that doesn’t set off the retard meter, this one does.

    2. The officers next contend that a no-knock entry was proper not only for their own safety, but for that of Mr. Bellotte as well. As they read it, “[t]he available scholarly and scientific literature pertaining to sexual offenders underscores that they are at great risk for suicide at any number of phases of the arrest and prosecutorial process.”

    Those have to be the two dumbest arguments I have ever read in an appellate brief. And I have read a lot of such briefs.

  23. Qualified immunity is meant to protect against liability for “bad guesses in gray areas.” Maciariello v. Sumner,973 F.2d 295, 298 (4th Cir. 1992). This was not a bad guess. Not a single one of the officers’ proffered rationales provides a reasonable, particularized basis to justify their conduct.2 The officers contended at oral argument that a no-knock entry under these circumstances is “so infrequent, so uncommon that it’s a gray area.” To the contrary, we face here an unfortunate exception to the truism that “[t]he easiest cases don’t even arise.” United States v. Lanier,520 U.S. 259, 271 (1997) (internal quotation omitted).

    Wow. That is a fucking beat down. In appeal court speak, that is about as strong of a beat down as you will ever see.

    1. The first part of your comment is the decision, I’m guessing.

      If so, wow. That is pretty bad. Here’s a District Court map for anyone interested. 4th is WV, MD, VA, NC, SC.

      http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx

      1. And according to leftists, “It has long been known that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is among the most conservative courts in the nation.”

  24. And the author of the decision was “one conservative 4th Circuit judge, J. Harvie Wilkinson,” a Reagan appointee, again according to those same leftists.

    The dissenter, Judge Wynn, is an Obama appointee.

  25. Are there any GOA members here? Has the GOA said a word about crap like this or are they as silent as the NRA?

  26. fuck the spam filter…

    dunkel likes this.

  27. crap.. the spam filter comment relates to this:

    JB|3.24.11 @ 2:08AM|#
    Fuck being on any government list.

    Never buy a state-approved gun.

    Gun registration is evil. Any government registering guns is a government that shouldn’t exist.

    reply to this

  28. Concealed Carry permit holders are one of the most law-abiding groups of citizens on the face of the earth. They are statistically less likely to commit a serious crime (felony) than the legislators who pass the laws OR THE POLICE WHO ENFORCE THEM.

    If someone has a concealed carry permit, it’s a good indication that a simple knock on the door is all that’s necessary to make contact and start to resolve any questions that the snoopy law-enforcement bastards might have.

    As for Wal-Mart – They SUCK!

    1. “than the legislators who pass the laws OR THE POLICE WHO ENFORCE THEM.”

      that’s a pretty low standard.

  29. Ya asking people to register their guns is against the constitution.

    Do not register your guns!

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