Teenager Charged With Attempted Murder Says Drug Cops Seemed Like Armed Thugs

Austin police take stupid risks and blame the victim.



Police in Austin, Texas, say Tyler Harrell, an 18-year-old who was charged with attempted capital murder after he shot an officer in the knee during a drug raid last April, must have known the armed men storming his house before dawn were cops. After all, they used a "long-range acoustical device" (L-RAD) to announce themselves, and a neighbor said he heard them. Then again, the raid happened before 6 a.m., when Harrell and his parents presumably were asleep. And as the Austin American-Statesman explains, "the warrant authorized police to make a 'no knock' entry into the home, allowing officers to breach the doors of Harrell's home…without notifying any of the occupants prior to entry who they were and why they were there." The L-RAD announcement came "as police breached the doors." Meanwhile, "officers set off three flash bang grenades to disorient the home's occupants."

In short, police deliberately woke people up in the middle of the night, deliberately broke into their house without knocking first, and deliberately disoriented them. But it is inconceivable to the police that Harrell is telling the truth when he says he mistook these violent home invaders with badges for violent home invaders without badges.


"They came in like storm troopers," Harrell's mother, Lisa, told KVUE, the ABC station in Austin. "[Tyler] came running out with his gun, thinking someone was intruding in our house, and he started shooting down the stairs." The teenager told police he ran to the stairwell with his (legally owned) semi-automatic rifle after he heard his mother scream that someone was breaking into the house and heard the grenades that the cops had set off, which he thought might be gunfire directed at his father. According to Harrell, he stood at the top of the staircase and fired 10 to 15 rounds at the men invading the house before realizing they were police officers, which happened when he heard someone say "APD" over the loudspeaker.

Harrell's account may or may not be true. But it is completely plausible in the dangerous circumstances that police recklessly created—something they are loath to admit, since it would call into question tactics that drug warriors commonly use, no matter how many times they lead to the injury or death of cops, suspects, or bystanders.

As is often the case, the justification for this paramilitary operation was absurdly inadequate. The American-Statesman reports that police began to suspect Harrell was a drug dealer after they got a tip from someone who said he had seen a third person posing on Snapchat with "large quantities of marijuana and an AK-47." Harrell supposedly was the source of the marijuana. Sifting through the Harrell family's garbage, police "found evidence that Harrell was involved in the distribution of illegal drugs, including plastic bags that contained marijuana and a substance that tested positive for cocaine." They also found "plastic package casings for assault rifle ammunition," which apparently was the basis for seeking a no-knock warrant.


Both the American-Statesman and KVUE inaccurately call Harrell's gun an "AK-47," which is a military weapon capable of firing automatically. I suspect those news outlets copied the term from police, who used it to make Harrell seem like more of a threat—the sort of threat that might justify dispatching a SWAT team. "The search warrant [affidavit] states APD secretly sifted through the family's trash, and found marijuana residue and empty [ammunition] boxes for high-powered weapons," KVUE says. "Based on the chances of guns being inside the home and the potential dangers to officers, police opted for the SWAT team to run the operation." 

In other words, police knew that at least one person in the house had a gun, and they reacted to this information by purposely creating a frightening, confusing situation in the middle of the night—exactly the sort of situation in which the weapon's owner would be apt to reach for it in self-defense. They did so supposedly to guard against "potential dangers to officers" and thereby magnified those dangers, in this case sending Officer Jason Pittman to the hospital. He is lucky he was not killed, and so are Harrell and his parents.

But don't worry: All the risk to life and limb was totally worth it. Police found 34 grams (a little more than an ounce) of marijuana in the house. As KVUE notes, it was "just enough to charge someone with a misdemeanor."

[Thanks to CharlesWT for the tip.]