Police Abuse

Courts Let Cops Get Away With Murder

The police can break into your home unlawfully and shoot you dead, and nobody is at fault for that except you.

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The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, once considered one of the most conservative in the country, has moved to the left in recent years. But if you think that means it is showing a greater regard for individual rights and civil liberties, think again. According to a ruling the court handed down on March 13, the appropriate range of punishments for possessing a small amount of marijuana includes summary execution.

In 2005 (the wheels of justice can grind exceedingly slowly) the police in Cambridge, Md., acted on a tip and found a small amount of marijuana residue in a trash can. At 4:30 a.m. on May 6, a SWAT team executed a search warrant on the apartment of Andrew Cornish. A jury would later find the commandos failed to knock and announce themselves properly. As they rushed through the apartment, Cornish came out of the bedroom with a sheathed knife in his hand. The police say he advanced on them. One of the officers shot Cornish twice in the head, killing him.

Elapsed time: about 30 seconds.

Why did the police burst into Cornish's apartment in the wee hours, instead of simply showing up in the middle of the day and knocking politely? Not because Cornish was some big-time drug dealer. There is no evidence of that. What's more, he was on friendly terms with the officers who sometimes patrolled his neighborhood. No, that's just how things are done these days—along with handing out armored personnel carriers and other materiel of war to police departments big and small. Radley Balko writes all about it in his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

Cornish's father sued, claiming the police used excessive force and violated Cornish's constitutional rights. The first point was quickly dispatched with. (Lesson: Never bring a knife to a gunfight.) But as Balko points out in his Washington Post blog, on the second point the courts agreed. Not only that, "both the trial court and the appeals court that ruled against Cornish's father acknowledge both that the police violated the knock-and-announce rule, and that they lied about doing so."

Yet two out of three judges on the 4th Circuit panel (both George W. Bush appointees) decided nevertheless that Cornish bore all the blame for his own death. Other courts have reached similar conclusions in similar cases, you see—so that must make it OK: The police can break into your home unlawfully and shoot you dead, and nobody is at fault for that except you. Not only that, according to the court majority "no reasonable jury could have found that the Officers' knock-and-anounce violation proximately caused Cornish's death."

That is irrefutable, in the same way the no-true-Scotsman fallacy is irrefutable. If I say to you, "No Scotsman would shave his beard," you can show me countless cleanshaven Scotsmen. Rather than concede I was wrong, I can say, "Well, no true Scotsman shaves  his beard!" The revision renders all your counterexamples irrelevant by definition. So while it's easy to imagine plenty of juries that might blame the police for Cornish's death, the court can simply write them all off by contending no reasonable jury would.

Balko goes into some important history about how we got here, and you should look up his piece if you're curious. With regard to the case at issue, he makes some other powerful points. For instance:

Cornish was somehow supposed to figure out that the people breaking into his apartment were police officers because they purportedly said so once they were inside. But the whole point of such dark-of-night raids is to disorient and confuse the residents so they don't have time to think carefully.

Moreover, the court says "according to the Officers . . . events in the apartment were so fast-moving and conditions for observation so poor that they could not discern—nor be expected to discern" that Cornish's knife was sheathed.

So under those circumstances a highly trained and fully alert SWAT team could not be expected to make the right choices. Yet an untrained man woken out of a sound sleep by loud intruders is supposed to be able to do so despite their failure to knock and announce themselves. In the court's view, Balko writes, "no reasonable person could possibly have been confused about the identity of the intruders, even though said intruders violated the requirement that exists for the purpose of assuring there is no such confusion."

But wait: Not only are we supposed to think that, we also are supposed to think no reasonable jury could possibly think otherwise. So Cornish has lost his life, Cornish's father has lost his case, and that's that. End of story.

The courts, including the Supreme Court, have granted wide latitude to police officers, partly because—they say—officers who exceed the scope of their authority can be held responsible through lawsuits.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

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  1. So the court agrees that the cops broke the law. Even if no one was harmed because they broke the law (victim was only harmed because of his own mistake), is that a reason not to find them guilty of a crime? Who was harmed, after all, by the drug use in this case to begin with?

    1. That assumes that the law is about mitigating/rectifying harms rather than funding and empowering the government. Also, are there actual laws on the books that make it possible to sue or charge cops for violating constitutional rights?

      1. Yes, laws are supposed to about solving and mitigating conflict. When a law actually creates conflicts and victims where there were none before, it’s not a law, it’s tyranny. As for the creators and enforcers of tyranny, their lives are morally forfeit in any truly rational society.

        1. bullshit

    2. “Who was harmed, after all, by the drug use in this case to begin with?”

      Society was harmed. So Society had to kill that guy.

      1. +1 Tony

      2. Just another death caused by marijuana.
        – drug warrior

        1. Residue. At least he got to smoke it first.

    3. I’m sure if this guy’s father broke into the house of one of these cops and ended up shooting the cop, the courts would find the same way.

      Tragedy, but no reason to charge the dad with anything.

      Yeah, sure.

      1. Well if the dad was wearing a special costume, then how in the world could you possibly consider that a crime? Or even if the dad was not wearing a special costume, if he gets his paychecks from extortion, he is similarly incapable of committing crimes against the serfs. You libertarians sure have a funny way of looking at things.

  2. Damn you! It took me that long to sign in and find the video.

  3. We all know the Indiana SC ruled that you have no right to resist the police even when they are committing an illegal act and when the Indiana lege hastily passed a law telling the Indiana SC “aw, hell, no!” the usual suspects went apeshit over the Indiana lege passing a law declaring that it’s perfectly legal to go around killing cops any time you want. If the cops got confused and killed this guy, well that’s just too damn bad for him. If this guy had gotten confused and killed a cop? Yeah, that would have been too damn bad for him, too. He should have had his ass in Indiana.

    1. Think of the poor gay cop in Hoosierana. He gets shot at all day and can’t even get him some cake to relax after a tough shift.

      1. They all deserve cake at the end of the day.

        *averts eyes*

  4. So the guy has a knife, in a sheath, in the face of heavily armed and armored men, and they don’t bother telling him to drop it, halt, etc.? Just open fire? At least the heroes got home safely.

    1. The thugs @ PoliceOne must be in a cum swapping orgy over this.

  5. When the justice system fails to do justice, it is the job of individuals to do justice.

    Think about it.

    1. So you’re saying those cops had no choice but to gun Cornish down to prevent him from destroying society with his devil’s weed, because no judge would hand down the death sentence he deserved?

      1. Hugh,

        I think MBJ meant that now it is the job of individuals such as Mr. Cornish’s father to “do justice.”

      2. Also (along with the weed) he was also selling crack cocaine.

  6. The “no reasonable jury” standard can be pretty easily translated into “we don’t consider people on juries reasonable when presented with a case of government abuse so go fuck yourself this won’t be presented to them you unwashed little prole.”

  7. Light the Dunphy signal! He should be along shortly to hand wave away any culpability on the part of law enforcement.

    1. Nobody should ever grab a sheathed knife in the middle of the night in response to a break-in because the person breaking in might be a cop. Good shoot. Only the Reason bigorati would ever think differently. Luckily 99 44/100ths precent of Americans trust everything we do and think we’re heroes.

      hth

      1. Andrew,

        Your post is uncannily reminiscent of what he writes.

        Take a brain shower.

      2. Nobody should ever grab a sheathed knife in the middle of the night in response to a break-in because the person breaking in might be a cop. Good shoot. Only the Reason bigorati would ever think differently. Luckily 99 44/100ths precent of Americans trust everything we do and think we’re heroes.

      3. I used to have some trust, much to my friends amusement.

        Cases like this prove me wrong. They could have easily arrested this guy with two deputies at 6:00 pm.
        It’s like you don’t feel complete unless you killed a suspect.

  8. Oh good. I wasn’t seethingly angry enough this morning. Thanks.

    I’ve given up on figuring out the solution here. I mean, I’d like to say the solution is “shoot first and ask questions later, even if the people breaking in are screaming ‘POLICE!'”, but that has a very low probability of working out for anyone in that situation.

    1. Hey, at least they didn’t set him on fire.

    2. I don’t want to go all Alex Jones on us, but this shit seems to be getting so bad that I begin to wonder if these attempted ammo bans, etc. are BECAUSE our betters realize we’re a hair away from an actual mass violence flashpoint.

      1. There won’t be any mass violence as long as people have something to eat. Only when the government fucks up the food supply so badly that people are hungry will you see any mass violence, but by then we’ll be completely disarmed anyway.

        1. I had a prof in college from China who said that as long as everyone had one bowl of rice a day, there would be no revolution.

          1. Our for-bearers were the sort of men to have a revolution over a 1% tax increase. How far we’ve fallen…

            1. We are the domesticated descendents of a once wild and proud people.

              1. Tax cattle you might call us.

        2. Yeah, it’s the incrementalism. Nibbling around the edges of the cookie seems to be the strategy.

          I want my cookie back, Sarc!

          *folds arms across chest and stamps feet petulantly)

      2. A good sign for me would be to see Hollywood start making EVERY cop the bad guy. Not just the few bad apples who are working behind the scenes to thwart the good guy cops. Nope, just have every cop let their thug flag fly.

        I’d love to watch movies where the dad of this kid goes Punisher on the asses of the SWAT team. A reverse Death Wish.

        1. They’re too busy making business owners and corporate executives the bad guy.

      3. “I don’t want to go all Alex Jones on us….”

        Well Catatafish, if you were among those in government it would be logical to ready yourselves for mass civil unrest knowing that your law enforcers have been escalating their violence against the citizenry and that the citizenry – mostly through the alternative media – is slowly learning that they are expendable sources of production and funds for the state.
        http://www.shtfplan.com/marc-f…..t_11222010

        I just found a website that seems to be decent at first glance: http://agovernmentofwolves.com…..of-wolves/

    3. I APOLOGIZED FOR MY APRIL FOOLS JOKE.

      1. Pretend we do not matter, Rufus.

        Then, if that doesn’t work for you, look our general direction and repeat the following:

        “Nobody likes you.
        Everybody hates you.
        You’re gonna lose.”

        1. Ok.

      2. I actually liked it.

      3. We think you should share your wife as penance

    4. I have already figured this one out and will (John Galt be damned) give it to you for free:

      – DON’T BREAK THE F-ING LAW!
      – DON’T SELL CRACK COCAINE OUT OF YOUR APARTMENT!
      – DON’T HAVE A DOCUMENTED HISTORY OF VIOLENT BEHAVIOR, THE COPS MIGHT THINK YOU ARE DANGEROUS
      – WHEN THE COPS SHOW UP, DON’T LOCK YOURSELF IN THE BEDROOM AND DON’T ATTACK THEM WITH A KNIFE!
      http://www.stardem.com/news/ar…..d2522.html

      1. I actually read the article you linked to. Apparently you didn’t. First off, the only thing the cops claimed to find in his apartment was marijuana. The crack was found in a completely different apartment, and it was never even suggested that there was any connection. But, hey, I suppose just living near a crack dealer is a crime, right? (Considering how often cops fail to even get the right address, it apparently is.)
        I agree that the guy does sound like he might have been a hot-headed jerk, but his last arrest was in 2000, five years before the raid. If he’d managed to stay out of trouble for five years, then maybe he’d calmed down a bit. But a history of brawling is certainly plenty of justification to go in with guns blazing, right?
        Yeah, when people bust into your home in the middle of the night, it’s best to just cooperate, because they might be cops. After all, “both the trial court and the appeals court that ruled against Cornish’s father acknowledge both that the police violated the knock-and-announce rule, and that they lied about doing so”, but a guy surprised in the middle of the night should have been able to tell they were cops, right?
        To sum up, the article was typical cop-sucking crap, and it still didn’t back up your accusations. Eric Johnson1, you’re officially full of #2.

  9. It would be unfortunate if someone SWATTED the judges, wouldn’t it?

    NOTE TO FBI: THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF SAID BEHAVIOR, JUST A THOUGHT.

    1. Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime is death.

      When the SWAT team shows up at your house tonight, make sure you don’t look at anything that might potentially be a weapon.

      1. I don’t think the Police will show up at my house, mostly due to the fact that my neighbors have yet to file numerous complaints about me selling crack cocaine out of my apartment.

        http://www.stardem.com/news/ar…..d2522.html

    2. I’d scratch ‘Scruffy Nerfherder’ off my driver’s license if I were you.

      1. If the populace starts wandering around without ID, they’ll just tattoo us. Or maybe ear tags.

        1. Unless you are a Mexican trying to vote in a US election.

    3. These judges won’t be swatted, they’re on the payroll. And they’ll stay on the payroll as long as they make decisions like this.

  10. The police is simply the title we give to those who kill us for our own good.

    1. A very nice one.

  11. I imagine pretty soon all cop cars will be outfitted with crematoriums in the trunk.

    No point in skirting the fact that it is far easier to just vaporize dead disobedient fucks on the spot since murder by police has been practically sanctioned here.

    1. I wonder if 20lbs of propane is enough.

  12. Any other bitches hate that belt loop three inches over to the right of your spine?

    1. Belt loop? I’ve been rockin’ Adidas track suits steady since 1986.

        1. You noticed that, Hugh? ‘Coz I noticed that. All these thug cops, the petty bureaucrats, politicians… all wearing pants.

          Down with pants.

      1. I’ve been rockin’ Adidas track suits steady since 1986.

        Ricky?

  13. My alarm clock’s ringer is the sound of a no knock swat raid. Gotta get tuned to the right frequency my friends.

  14. So Cornish has lost his life, Cornish’s father has lost his case, and that’s that. End of story.

    Except that is doesn’t end here. It gets repeated everyday all over this liberty forsaken land.

    1. Reported incorrectly aka the HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT lie was spread.

  15. How is a warrant for a SWAT raid “reasonable” when its based on a small amount of pot residue in a trash can? You remember the 4A, right?

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    To me, that says (a) no unreasonable searches, period, and (b) you can get a fucking warrant only if you show probably cause, etc. Having a warrant doesn’t sanitize an unreasonable search.

    Hell, I would expect any competent defense attorney to get their client off, scott-free, if he was charged based on pot found in a trash can. Those are available to the public, after all, and unless you can show my client’s fingerprints on the baggie, I think I’ve got reasonable doubt well in hand.

    But its more than enough to send a SWAT team crashing through the house.

    1. Since you had to ask, FYTW

    2. Well this article conveniently forgot to mention that local residents have filed complaints about drug distribution from the apartments.

      “At 4:30 a.m. Friday, two squads from the CPD tactical unit served two simultaneous search warrants at the two apartments at 408 High St. The search warrants were obtained from a judge after a police investigation initiated by citizen complaints about drug distribution from two apartments in the home.”
      http://www.stardem.com/news/ar…..d2522.html

    3. I might also add that a JUDGE did issue the Search Warrant. Making the raid perfectly legal.

  16. Based on my limited experience, if police academies didn’t admit trigger-happy pussies, we’d have virtually no law enforcement at all.

    1. The price we pay for administering the social contract, huh?

      1. I’ll concede one thing, there is a much greater proximate and unjust threat to my life and liberty presented by cops than by roving anarchist gangs.

        1. there is a much greater proximate and unjust threat to my life and liberty presented by cops than by roving anarchist gangs.

          Wow, Tony may actually be finally learning something here. And we all thought it unpossible.

          1. No the drivel spewing moron assumes that there exists at least some roving anarchist gangs. It was a left handed admission at best.

            1. ‘Roving anarchist gangs’ means anyone out of lockstep with his statist groupthink progressive orthodox religion.

              1. ^ I have never seen anybody apologize for inner city gang violence before.

                http://www.fbi.gov/stats-servi…..assessment

    2. I think you’re finally onto something.

  17. Cambridge, Md has a population of 12,000 and they need a SWAT Team? Sheesh!

  18. My ex-wife makes $75 every hour on the laptop . She has been laid off for seven months but last month her pay check was $18875 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    Look At This. ???? http://www.jobsfish.com

  19. My ex-wife makes $75 every hour on the laptop . She has been laid off for seven months but last month her pay check was $18875 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    Look At This. ???? http://www.jobsfish.com

  20. My ex-wife makes $75 every hour on the laptop . She has been laid off for seven months but last month her pay check was $18875 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    Look At This. ???? http://www.jobsfish.com

    1. Doing it on the laptop is some kind of kink?

  21. it seems we are skirting an even more glaring question here:

    why use a freaking swat team at all?

    how is this the right tool for the job? it’s not. it’s crazy. it’s like using cluster bombs to clear a hornet’s nest.

    have a police officer present him with a warrant as he leaves the house. bingo. you have him in custody, he cannot destroy evidence, then you go in and search.

    no guns drawn, no door breaking, no scare the crap out of the occupants and create the possibility for all kinds of accidents and misunderstandings, just nice, simple stuff.

    police love swat because they get paid more, paid overtime, get to act like call of duty, etc.

    it does NOT make their job safer in a case like this.

    it creates needless danger for them and for the homeowner.

    seriously, what’s the argument for handling warrants this way for a simple apartment seacrh oif a guy with no violent history?

    it seems worse in every way.

    1. What’s the point of having a gun on you if you can’t act like Rambo every once in a while?

    2. The answer is quite simple. The state places the safety and prosperity of its agents above all others.

      Safety because of the overwhelming force brought to bear,
      and prosperity from the civil asset forfeiture that translates to raises, bonuses, and generous retirement.

      Enough people start shooting these night-raiders, and maybe they’ll realize it isn’t the best way to put the safety of police first. Then they will stop. Not a second sooner.

  22. I see the failure to knock and announce as THE proximate cause. How could anybody conclude otherwise except for maybe institutional CYA.

  23. I’d say that’s as good reason as any to answer the door with an AR-15 when something goes bump in the night. Better chance of surviving until you get a day in court.

    1. People should arm themselves to the teeth and train intensively with weapons designed to overcome any body armor the cops will use. So that way, if anyone invades your home, cop or not, you can put them down like they deserve.

      1. Or people should learn not to break the law and sell crack cocaine in the local neighborhood.

  24. This article is a bit of a hack job. You say “The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has moved to the left in recent years”, and then hyperlink to a link with support for the claim. But the linked support describes the “move to the left” as being entirely due to the increased number of liberal judges appointed in recent years by Obama. Yet, the “two out of three judges” that botched this case are not liberal. The lone liberal, Pamela Harris, wrote the dissent in this case. A dissent that I’d wager nearly every libertarian would agree with. I encourage everyone to read Harris’ dissent.

    So, when you say “But if you think that means it is showing a greater regard for individual rights and civil liberties, think again”, that is exceedingly hackish. The court would probably have been “showing a greater regard for individual rights and civil liberties” if another Judge like Pamela Harris was on the case, rather than the two conservatives who wrote the holding opinion.

  25. “So under those circumstances a highly trained and fully alert SWAT team could not be expected to make the right choices. Yet an untrained man woken out of a sound sleep by loud intruders is supposed to be able to do so despite their failure to knock and announce themselves. In the court’s view, Balko writes, “no reasonable person could possibly have been confused about the identity of the intruders, even though said intruders violated the requirement that exists for the purpose of assuring there is no such confusion.” You would have made a very good lawyer. Too bad the victim’s father didn’t have You with him in court.

    1. Well the “victim” of this Police shooting did know how to be a violent criminal.

      “According to Dorchester County district and circuit court records, Andrew Cornish had 10 previous arrests since 1992, the latest in 2000. In 1992 and 1995, Cornish was arrested on assault, two counts of battery and another battery incident, respectively.”

      http://www.stardem.com/news/ar…..d2522.html

  26. They guy’s father should have the responsible officers dealt with by a third party. There should be a lot more of that. Dirty lying murderous cops.

  27. The most EVIL (and useless) among us, become cops.

    The only civilized solution is to abolish the profession, forever.

  28. This whole article by Reason.com is just Cop-Hating Propaganda or just really shitty reporting.

    This whole case is predicated on the belief that the residents of the down-stairs and upstairs apartment did not hear the Police give their warning before entry. It is reasonable to assume that residents of both apartments would have a reason to lie about this, what with their past criminal records. (“Hands up don’t shoot” anybody?) A Judge issued a search warrant for these two apartments. Making the search by Police perfectly legal.

    1. If this was an isolated incident, that there was not a plethora of other cases of abuse and lying by police then one could lean toward believing what you imply. There was a death, and a challenge to the reasonableness of the police actions. It should have gone to court, if it is as stated that the judge determined what a jury would do and dismissed it according to his own prejudice, this is unacceptable, legitimizes abuse and puts all of us in danger.

  29. Actual news article from the local paper. http://www.stardem.com/news/ar…..d2522.html

  30. Funny how these incidents always seem to take place in those states with very strict gun laws. In states where police know citizens are likely unarmed, they tend to use more force than is needed in many situations. You rarely hear about these type of events in states where the homeowner is likely armed. Cops are not stupid but some do tend to like to play Rambo…

  31. Confused. I’m an Left-leaning progressive.

    You say “Court of Appeals has moved to the left. Two out of three judges (both George W. Bush appointees) decided Cornish bore all the blame.”

    Please explain what’s “Left” about two Bush appointees defending police brutality? I’ve never met a progressive who supports police brutality.

    We are on the same page about police brutality.

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