Drug War

Colorado Drug Warriors Mistakenly Storm Innocent Family's Home

The cops were looking for a meth dealer who had not lived there for at least a year.

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KJCT

A SWAT team breaks into a home early in the morning based on an informant's tip, expecting to find an armed methamphetamine dealer. Instead they encounter an innocent family with several young children.

Those were the circumstances in which police in Habersham County, Georgia, nearly killed a toddler with an errant flashbang grenade in 2014, leading to a lawsuit that was eventually settled for $3.6 million. Something similar happened last week in Mesa County, Colorado. This time no one was injured or killed, although things easily could have turned out differently.

Around 11:30 p.m. last Tuesday night, the Western Colorado Drug Task Force, which includes representatives from the Mesa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and the Grand Junction Police Department (GJPD), received a tip from an informant who claimed cops would find a stash of methamphetamine and guns at an apartment in the Coronado Villas complex in Clifton. The tip apparently was the sole basis for the warrant that 15 to 20 officers served around 5:30 a.m. the next morning. "Upon initial contact at the residence," the MCSO and GJPDO say in a press release, "officers received no answer at the door." That's hardly surprising, given the early hour. Cops routinely conduct drug raids when people are sleeping, the better to discombobulate their targets, and then use the residents' failure to promptly answer the door as an excuse to break it down, which only magnifies the chances of a violent encounter.

KJCT

"As is standard protocol when probable cause has been developed that illegal or dangerous activity is occurring, and armed with the signed search warrant, officers forced entry into the home, using a breaching tool," the press release says. "During entry into the residence, several windows of the home were broken." Fortunately, the cops did not toss any flashbangs while entering the house, but they terrified the occupants, who included five children ranging in age from 3 to 12. "Ultimately," the cops say, "officers contacted the residents inside the address, and determined that they were not the suspects that officers were looking for."

The phrase "contacted the residents" is an anodyne description of a much scarier reality. "Waking up to guns in my face, I consider that the beginning," the father of the family, Sean Armas, told KJCT, the ABC station in Grand Junction. "That's how it was, all my kids had guns on them. It was out of line….It's a dangerous situation they put my family in, and for my kids, it just keeps playing through their minds."

The police say "further investigation determined that the suspects named by the original reporting party had lived at the address at one time, but had since moved away from the address, which was now occupied by a family with several children." The press release is notably vague on the timing of the change in occupancy, but The Daily Sentinel, a newspaper in Grand Junction, reports that "the family told law enforcement they had been living at the home since October." In other words, the informant's tip was at least a year out of date, assuming that it was not invented out of whole cloth. Apparently police did not think to ask the informant when she had supposedly seen the drugs and guns she reported. And although the police say "surveillance was conducted on the home" between the tip and the raid six hours later, it apparently did not involve figuring out who actually lived in the house cops were about to invade. A neighbor interviewed by KJCT noted that the Armas family has "a little kid's playhouse right in front of their yard," along with various other toys, which you might think would have tipped off the police to the presence of children.

"We are deeply regretful of the experience to which this family was subjected," the MCSO and GJPD say. "We have met with the family, including the children, to explain in detail how such a mistake was made….The most important thing law enforcement can do after an incident like this is carefully evaluate what happened, and determine how we can prevent such a mistake from happening again. We will be doing just that."

In an interview with The Denver Post, GJPD spokeswoman Heidi Davidson admitted police were too eager to storm the house. "It should have been vetted better," she said. "We should have done a better job from the beginning." Lewis told The Daily Sentinel "it is still troubling to us as law enforcement leaders that we had this happen, and we potentially exposed our people and this family to a dangerous situation, and it could have had a tragic outcome."

The press release is contrite. "We are so grateful that no one was hurt, and we want to publicly apologize to the family, and acknowledge what a frightening and disconcerting experience this must have been for them," it says. "We are currently in the process of replacing the windows that were broken, repairing the front door, and arranging for new carpet to be installed, as we are concerned about possible glass in the existing carpet." The Daily Sentinel reports that Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis "said the family was receptive to the apology and forgiving."

KJCT

Sean Armas did not sound very forgiving in his interview with KJCT. "How dare they come in my house like I was a felon?" he said. "My civil rights were violated." KJCT reports that Armas is "frustrated the police didn't investigate the tip further because he's confident if they had the entry never would have happened."

It is worth reiterating a point made by the grand jury that faulted the "hurried" and "sloppy" investigation preceding the Georgia raid. "There should be no such thing as an 'emergency' in drug investigations," it said. "no amount of drugs is worth a member of the public being harmed, even if unintentionally, or a law enforcement officer being harmed….Going into a home with the highest level of entry should be reserved for those cases where it is absolutely necessary….Neither the public nor law enforcement officers should be in this dangerous split second situation unless it is absolutely necessary for the protection of the public."

The basic problem here is that the government insists on using violence when it is not morally justified: in response to peaceful, consensual transactions between adults. But even taking the war on drugs as a given, a little more restraint would go a long way. The false sense of urgency that leads to raids like this one, where the cops felt they had to act so quickly that there was no time for a proper investigation, must be countered by a constant awareness of how a raid can go horribly wrong. The common practice of serving drug warrants by crashing into people's homes in the middle of the night is supposedly aimed at preventing violence, but it makes potentially fatal mistakes more likely, even when the information on which the raid is based turns out to be accurate. Cops are easily mistaken for burglars, and residents defending their homes (or even just blearily descending the stairs with an unidentified object in their hands) are easily mistaken for would-be cop killers. Children are horribly burned by explosive devices designed to confuse the enemy. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in this case, but it has happened before, and it is bound to happen again.

[Thanks to Mike Krause for the tip.]

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  1. The tip apparently was the sole basis for the warrant that 15 to 20 officers served around 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

    Some dipshit signed this shoddy work of a warrant.

    1. And citizens will give every government employee involved a rich pension, stellar healthcare and premium wages in exchange for that job well done.

      1. They’re heroes, Hamster.

        Heroes.

        1. As long as those Heroes made it home safe, that’s all that matters.

          1. Can we just assume this series of comments for all future stories like this? True they may be, but it’s getting old. We need some original expressions of disgust and pathos.

            1. komik ngentot As long as those Heroes made it home safe, that’s all that matters. komik xxx

      2. Well, government is just a word for things we do together! Buttfucking innocent people is something that we can all participate in!

        1. That dick to anus ratio is quite brutal.

    2. Perhaps the way to cut the balls off the swat teams is to see judges face consequences for this shit. I’d settle for getting a few tossed of the bench and getting disbarred for life. One or two examples and that should be enough to get the others in line.

      1. Yes … agree completely.

        Judges are supposed to be the adults in the room, and the judiciary is supposed to be independent of the police state.

        You really can’t blame a cop for wanting to get suited up in all his cool SWAT gear. He believes that he’s doing the Lord’s Work for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. And what’s all that training and cool SWAT gear for if he doesn’t get a chance to use it now and then. The cops may be of mediocre intellect, but they’re smart enough that they can get away with gross incompetence and fraud in their search warrant applications. So they routinely screw up because they suffer no consequences or than a little embarrassment. Meanwhile, a few innocent people are terrorized and the rest of us have to pay the bill.

        1. The cops may be of mediocre intellect

          I think this should be “The cops are required to be of mediocre intellect”

      2. Fortunately for them, they have other judges preventing it. What’s the judicial equivalent of the blue wall, anyway?

        1. About 1/4 inch of steel plate in the bench.

        2. Black curtain?

      3. seize their assets as if they were a petty cannabis dealer

        1. Again, you have to get the demand for seizure past another black robed bastard, first.

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  2. But it’s a war, and sometimes you make mistakes.

    1. And they want to take away OUR guns.

      1. Well of course they do! Do you think they want to get shot by some homeowner? Where’s the fun in that?

      2. first the 2nd and then the 4th,1st,etc

  3. Cop = idiot + asshole. Pretty dangerous combination. No one involved in this raid should still have a job. That level of incompetence would be nearly impossible to fathom if we hadn’t already seen cops do this before. Can anyone outside of government employment imagine committing this degree of negligent incompetence and still having a job? Would never happen.

    1. I would not only be sacked, I would never find another decent private sector job again. I’d have to become a government person.

      1. It’s true.

    2. So true. The crime and drugs are out of control, folks. This is why we must vote for the ‘law and order’ candidate.

  4. Seems like we found an actual basket of deplorables.

  5. Apparently police did not think to ask the informant when she had supposedly seen the drugs and guns she reported. And although the police say “surveillance was conducted on the home” between the tip and the raid six hours later, it apparently did not involve figuring out who actually lived in the house cops were about to invade. A neighbor interviewed by KJCT noted that the Armas family has “a little kid’s playhouse right in front of their yard,” along with various other toys, which you might think would have tipped off the police to the presence of children.

    …The most important thing law enforcement can do after an incident like this is carefully evaluate what happened, and determine how we can prevent such a mistake from happening again. We will be doing just that.”

    [Emphasis added]

    There’s some ideas right there in bold.

    Another good idea: NOT being a bunch of ‘roided up fucktards.

    1. You know, if I were running a thriving meth business throwing kid’s toys in the yard is exactly what I’d do. Good thing there are highly-trained law enforcement professionals that can see through such a clever ruse.

  6. The judge who signed the warrant is equally at fault as the police. I hope in reporting this incident the press has reported the name of the judge.

    1. This was my thought. I’d say the judges are more responsible. They are supposed to be an independent review that ensures that our rights are protected. Rubber stamping police requests is a complete dereliction of duty.

      I heard Chris Darden (of OJ Simpson fame) talking about this issue during a book tour interview. He was talking (as a defense attorney with experience in the prosecutor’s office) about how police and prosecutors shop around to get a warrant. If one judge shoots them down, they know which judges to take it to in order to get what they want.

      He basically said there is no such thing as not being able to get a search warrant.

      1. Absolutely ^^these two. Based on a tip? Solely?

      2. Are the judges supposed to conduct independent reviews before signing off on every warrant? Yeah, they sign a lot of complete bullshit, but there are also a lot of cases where the cops give them a lot of “facts” that would validate a warrant, were they true

        1. True.

          In this case I would say the judge should have asked hard questions. Presumably they had boiler plate language “based upon information provided by an informant proven to be reliable…”

          That probably shouldn’t be enough for a no knock warrant. Probably not enough by itself for a knock and announce then bash the door down search either. I’m not entirely sure where it should come down on an informant getting you in without the owner’s consent. Probably an informant is enough for that, but I wouldn’t authorize forced entry without further legwork on the occupants, neighbors, potential risks, etc.

          1. But presumably they have to take the police at their word, absent evidence to the contrary. But the police should be subject to perjury charges if they lie on the warrant application.

            What? Why are you laughing?

        2. I think this one just left a stack of signed warrants for thr Drug raiders to fill out as needed.

    2. I hope in reporting this incident the press has reported the name of the judge.

      I doubt it, because “woodchippers.”

  7. Once again, an entire article was written about this topic without pointing out the individual who is most responsible: that’s the judge who signed the search warrant.

    The judge is supposed to be the wise, independent reviewer of the cops’ request for a search warrant. He’s supposed to be the adult in the room where people play the real-world version of cops and robbers. A really “independent judiciary” would occasionally turn down requests. When gross negligence or fraud is involved in a warrant application, as seems to be the case here, the judge should find the applicants in contempt and see to it that they are jailed.

    As long as judges just rubber stamp SWAT-raid and no-knock search warrant applications and hold cops harmless for their incompetent negligence and fraud in their applications, the cops have no reason to improve their behavior.

    1. What do you think happens when judges get pulled over? They get an apology. If they’re drunk they get an escort home.

      Professional courtesy goes both ways.

      If judges start holding cops to actual standards, then they’ll lose their special treatment. So of course nothing will change.

  8. “It should have been vetted better,” she said. “We should have done a better job from the beginning.”

    Thanks, Captain Hindsight!

  9. During entry into the residence, several windows of the home were broken.”

    You’ve got to love that passive voice.

  10. Well, let’s see – – –
    1. tip from an unnamed informant: “received a tip from an informant who claimed cops would find a stash of methamphetamine and guns” “The tip apparently was the sole basis . . . ”
    Could it possibly be that the informant was a druggie? Maybe in need of some tip money? Maybe not a real reliable source for issuing a warrant? Maybe?
    2. Careful evaluation of the veracity if the tip: “police say “surveillance was conducted on the home” between the tip and the raid six hours later”
    Now, I am just a simple college graduate from so long ago they actually taught logic and reason, but I would think any police officer in a supervisory capacity conducting surveillance on a suspected den of drug dealers that did not see ANY activity between 11:30 PM and 5:30 AM would have just a small doubt about what was going on. I am not an expert on drug dealing, but I would think most of the activity would occur in the dark of night.
    Maybe there should be consideration of a different process. (?)

    1. I am just a simple college graduate from so long ago they actually taught logic and reason

      Well, college boy, are you a certified HERO IN BLUE? I DIDN’T THINK SO! /sarc

    2. This whole ‘confidential informant’ shit is the core problem in John LeCarre’s
      The Tailor of Panama’.

      Disgraced CIA spook, shifted to Panama to cover up a scandal, hooks up with a con-man/tailor who loves to tell stories inflating his importance and showing the ‘access’ he has to the high and mighty of Panama.

      That these stories come from a real, verifiable source, is used by the spook to garner cash to pay the informant and kudos for uncovering a plot that conforms exactly to American fears.

      This culminates in the murder of one of the tailor’s friends (in whose stories is taking up as a revolutionary again) and another invasion of Panama to keep the canal from being sold to the Chinese.

      Not a single person receiving the fake information challenges it because to believe it is too personally valuable to them.

      TLDR: Cops and judges aren’t going to question this shit because the rewards – no matter what happens – are too great.

    3. lets not forget that many times the police will claim to give a small time drug user lesser charges if they inform on who they got them from. Just like torture is ineffective the person probably just made up a location. heck if it was me I’d give them the location of people I don’t like

  11. I don’t see any way a warrant should be issued for anything! based on the word a single confidential informant. It should require at least some additional research or a second tip by a second, completely unrelated untrustworthy criminal before the warrant could be issued.

    1. the “judge” needs to do jail time or at least a tarring and feathering

    2. They should have secure evidence of Methamphetamine by conducting an undercover buy from alleged dealer.

  12. Try calling the occupants on the telephone.

  13. the drug jihadis will look for any excuse to use force against citizens they disagree with just like ISIS

  14. Let’s not go jumping to conclusions here. Remember we’re only hearing one side of the story. We don’t actually know what happened before the video. These good officers may very well have had reason to fear for their safety, and had to make a split-second decision in a life-or-death situation. If you’ve never worn the uniform, you have no idea what it’s like and really have no business spreading misinformation and your misguided opinions about matters you know nothing about. Let’s grow up and just wait for a full and fair investigation, which will conclude that the police were following standard procedure, even if unfortunate mistakes were made in this tragic situation. These brave heroes are, after all, under-staffed, under-paid, and under-appreciated and their training budget was severely slashed in the latest round of budget-cutting.

    1. I love this copypasta so much. It really does apply to every single one of these stories.

  15. this middle of night/morning raid shit is bullshit since every drug runner I ever met would sleep till noon. Just knock on the door at 9 am and you’ll have everything you need with no breakage

    1. I forgot you don’t get overtime when you conduct business during business hours and then there would be no special pay for swat training and days away at swat camp where everyone gets to play Warrrrrior

  16. RE: Colorado Drug Warriors Mistakenly Storm Innocent Family’s Home
    The cops were looking for a meth dealer who had not lived there for at least a year.

    So what?
    The denizens of the home was guilty of something.
    So why not just throw them in jail to save some time?
    If it works for the Morals Police, it should work for everyone in this country.

  17. RE: Colorado Drug Warriors Mistakenly Storm Innocent Family’s Home
    The cops were looking for a meth dealer who had not lived there for at least a year.

    So what?
    The denizens of the home was guilty of something.
    So why not just throw them in jail to save some time?
    If it works for the Morals Police, it should work for everyone in this country.

  18. i probably have a different view than most libertarians on how much, if any, immunity police should enjoy during the course of doing their jobs, but when the police say this: “It should have been vetted better”, then they should be held responsible, period. they’re admitting they didn’t do due diligence, and that can’t be tolerated.

    1. i should’ve said “different view than libertarians”….my understanding is that it’s a generally accepted libertarian position that immunity should be eliminated, period. i chose my words poorly.

      1. Yes they should have no special immunity. If I screw something up in my job or otherwise I am accountable. A goon with a badge should be no different. Start charging a few with manslaughter, perjury, armed criminal action and second degree murder and you will see a remarkable change in behavior.

  19. , Re what might or might not be the latest in an ongoing tale of administrative/bureaucratic screwups, are these vaunted Drug Warriors really as dumb as they appear? If so, I wonder as to how in blazes they find their way from home to “the office”. Might there be something else in play, something a lot more serious than mere incompetence or stupidity. Oh by the way, re this latest in hijacks, what sort of penalty might be inflicted on these characters, and m ind, use suffer penalties. I have no idea as to what actions the house holders might undertake at this point, however speaking for myself, regarding “expressions of regret”, the chief feature of which is in my view an extremely hollow sound, my response would be that your response is inadequate, combines with advise to the offending parties that they might look to their checking accounts.

  20. Please excuse the somewhat sloppy typing which might be notes above.

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