Drug War

The Breonna Taylor Shooting Shows How Reckless Drug War Tactics Lead to Senseless Deaths

At this point, police can hardly be surprised when they are mistaken for armed criminals.

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The shooting of Breonna Taylor, which happened on March 13 but is only now getting national attention, highlights once again the deadly recklessness of "dynamic entry" police raids. The very tactics that police use to minimize violence, aimed at discombobulating their targets and catching them off guard in the hope of discouraging resistance, predictably lead to fatal misunderstandings. These tactics are especially inappropriate when police enter homes in service of the war on drugs, as they did in this case.

Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse with no criminal history, was killed  by plainclothes Louisville police officers who knocked in the door of her apartment with a battering ram shortly before 1 a.m. At the time, Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Walker's lawyer says he fired once at the armed intruders, not realizing they were police officers. One officer was struck in the leg. The cops responded with a hail of bullets—at least 20 shots, according to lawyers representing Taylor's mother. Taylor was hit at least eight times.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that police were targeting two men they suspected of selling drugs at a house more than 10 miles away—one of whom, Jamarcus Glover, was arrested that same night. The no-knock search warrant for Taylor's apartment was based on a package that Glover had delivered there. The Courier-Journal says police believed that Glover, who had dated Taylor, "used her home to receive mail, keep drugs or stash money earned from the sale of drugs." No drugs were found in the apartment.

Although the search warrant authorized police to enter without announcing themselves, the Louisville Metro Police Department said the officers "knocked on the door several times and announced their presence as police who were there with a search warrant." As Zuri Davis notes, four neighbors contradicted that claim. But even if the official account is accurate, it is completely plausible that Walker and Taylor, who were asleep in bed in the middle of the night, did not hear or comprehend those warnings. Walker, who has been charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, reportedly called 911 and Taylor's mother, saying someone was breaking into the apartment.

If all this sounds familiar, it's because police across the country create this sort of dangerous situation again and again.

Even if the no-knock Houston drug raid that killed Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Douglas last year had not been based on a fraudulent search warrant affidavit, the tactics that police used would have led to the same deadly outcome. According to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, the cops—who, like the officers who killed Taylor, were not wearing body cameras—"announced themselves as Houston police officers while simultaneously breaching the front door." One of the officers immediately used a shotgun to kill the couple's dog, prompting Tuttle to fire at the intruders with his revolver. As in the Taylor case, the officers responded with overwhelming force, shooting Tuttle at least eight times and Nicholas at least twice. Four officers were wounded during the exchange of fire.

The raid was conducted around 5 p.m., but lawyers representing Nicholas' family say she and Tuttle were taking "an afternoon nap" in their bedroom at the time. As with Walker, it is plausible that Tuttle—who, it turned out, was not actually a heroin dealer—did not realize the men who burst into his house and fired the first shot were police officers.

Narcotics officers executing search warrants "don't show up in uniform," Acevedo said, "but they do show up with plenty of gear that identifies them as police officers, including patrol officers that are out in front of the house." But patrol officers outside the house do not give people inside the house notice that the men breaching their door and killing their dog are cops, and it's not clear what other "gear" Acevedo had in mind. And since the plainclothes officers who burst into the house did so without warning, "announcing" themselves at the same moment they were breaking down the door, it would not be surprising if Tuttle missed that announcement and any other clues to their identity.

After the raid, Acevedo announced that narcotics officers would henceforth use no-knock warrants only in extraordinary circumstances and with approval from his office. But the distinction between a no-knock warrant and a knock-and-announce warrant makes little practical difference when a home's residents are asleep and/or police breach the door immediately after announcing themselves.

Corey Maye, the Mississippi man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after he shot a police officer during a 2001 drug raid, always maintained that he thought he was protecting himself and his 18-month-old daughter from violent criminals. His death sentence eventually was reduced to life in prison, then to 10 years, a sentence he completed in 2011. The case, which received national attention thanks to the tireless investigative work of my former Reason colleague Radley Balko, should have been a lesson for police departments throughout the country.

In 2014, a Texas grand jury declined to indict Henry Magee, a marijuana grower who shot and killed a sheriff's deputy who burst into his home in the early morning to execute a search warrant. "This was a terrible tragedy that a deputy sheriff was killed, but Hank Magee believed that he and his pregnant girlfriend were being robbed," Magee's lawyer told the Associated Press. "He did what a lot of people would have done. He defended himself and his girlfriend and his home."

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. At this point, it's amazing that so many police departments don't.

After a middle-of-night Georgia drug raid that gravely injured a toddler in 2014, a local grand jury offered some advice that police should have taken to heart. "Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions," the jurors said. "While no person surely intended any harm to a young child, quite simply put there should be no such thing as an 'emergency' in drug investigations."

As long as the government insists on trying to forcibly prevent people from consuming arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants, violence is inevitable, and it will sometimes be lethal. But drug warriors can reduce that risk by weighing the benefits of any given operation (usually negligible, even from the perspective of committed prohibitionists) against the danger that people will die for no good reason.

NEXT: Feds To Investigate Death of Breonna Taylor After Botched Kentucky Narcotics Raid

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  1. At the time, Taylor was in bed with her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker.

    Live in sin, die in sin.

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  2. I suppose these may be cases where some criminal is awakened by a police raid and decides that the best thing to do is shoot at the cops. I mean, not all criminals are geniuses and masters of self-control.

    But what is the *likelihood* of this happening in a particular case, as opposed to waking up suddenly and thinking, “burglars!”

    1. No drugs were found. No evidence these victims were criminals. Oh and fuck you.

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    2. Oh look! The Army of God sockpuppets formed a tag team. How original.

    3. I don’t use drugs. Am not a criminal. But if someone busted in my door in the middle of the night, you best believe I am going to assume they are up to no good and use deadly force to defend myself. No knock raids need to at least severely curtailed if not outright banned. They should, if left as a tool, be a last resort not a first.

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    4. Just as a useful note, observe that my comment contained *two* paragraphs not one. You don’t have to read both paragraphs if you don’t want to, but if you don’t read them, please don’t comment on them, you just might make an error.

  3. “Dynamic entry”. What a stupid euphemism for a murderous assault.

    1. You know who else suffered a dynamic entry?

      1. Every girl that ever boarded Jeffrey Epstein’s jet?

    2. I think it’s a both brilliant and evil euphemism for a murderous assault, not so much stupid.

      1. I think the best possible strategy libertarians have to convince anyone of their positions is to take away the euphemisms of people in power. Never use the words war, arrest or taxation in conversations. Those are the words used by the people that gave themselves permission to do these things. Say mass murder, kidnapping and theft. At least you make people confront the fact that violence is involved in enforcing their policies.

        1. It is true that when you accept your adversary’s vocabulary you’re already half defeated. Petr Beckmann made that clear enough.

          1. ‘Back off man, I’m a scientist.”

            –Petr Beckmann, noted ghost buster

    3. “Kinetic entry” is the current lingo.

      1. Breaking and Entering, Gang Assault, multiple civil rights violations. If the AUSA had some balls between his legs and not in his wife’s purse, some former cops would be taking up residence at Terra Haute.

  4. >> there should be no such thing as an ’emergency’ in drug investigations

    this, especially if drug investigations necessary in first place wtf kill a chick because weed

  5. Are you serious Sullum? Tuttle NEVER shot at those murderous HPD assholes. They were shot by their own people from outside. This is extremely piss poor reporting. BTW Glover was arrested at his home before the raid even occurred.

  6. …prompting Tuttle to fire at the intruders with his revolver.

    Can we say “allegedly” here? If I remember correctly, we’ve seen no ballistics to show who shot the officers and there wasn’t a hand gun of the type he supposedly shot taken as evidence. Please correct me if I’m wrong (and I know this group will be happy to) but that’s what I remember.

    1. Unfortunately, we may never know the answer to this. It feels like the investigation was just going as deep as finding one person to blame, and now that that’s over, they’re no longer interested in the corruption of the department.

      Goines obviously deserves his prosecution but the whole thing was a fiasco. But the whole narcotics division is clearly dirty as hell, and I’d like to hear about some discipline for judge Gordon G. Marcum, who signed the no-knock warrant without bothering to ask any questions (in which case he might have learned that Goines didn’t know the NAMES of the people who supposedly lived in the house because he hadn’t investigated at all).

      1. We do know. The family had a forensics expert in and there was no indication Tuttle shot at the cops.

        1. That’s not what the forensics said. It merely contradicted the police story that he was opening fire “as they breached the door,” as the bullet holes near the door were created from people shooting in from outside.

          We don’t have confirmation that he never fired at all. My theory is that they shot the dog, his wife then reacted by charging the dog-murderer, they shot his wife, and then he opened fire to defend/avenge his wife after they were already well within the building.

          1. So the reason there are no bullet holes coming from the direction of Tuttle was every shot was a hit? That’s some mighty fine shootin’.

            1. It just means that if he missed, the misses were elsewhere, not in the vicinity of the door. They were already inside the house far enough that his misses went into the kitchen or the living room or some other direction.

              Plus, he might not have gotten off the six shots that were claimed. It could have been one or two before he got gunned down, and he did hit the clump of officers, and the other officers who were hit took friendly fire.

  7. I’m sure by now you’ve all seen the Maryland cop executing a scared groundhog. ACAB

  8. “Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions,” the jurors said.

    Well sure it can. Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to bad luck, Satanic influences, the Franco-Prussian War or the invention of the Snickers bar as well. Just not plausibly attributed. There were no well-intentioned people there, just thugs and bullies who no doubt go home and jerk off furiously at their excitement that they get paid to terrorize the populace.

    1. Never discount the impact of the Franco-Prussian War.

  9. These violent raids for suspected non-violent crimes are beyond the pale. But I struggle to the understand their law enforcement purpose in any case. I imagine them serving a warrant on a suspected ruthless murder. Would breaking in at night be the best way to take them into custody? It seems like this puts suspects, neighbors, and police officers at risk. It seems like the federal government could put a stop to these raids.

    1. You might want to read the 21st Amendment. It partly repealed the 18th but basically begged states to yell for feds with tommy guns to again murder civilians right and left. Both of them–plus the communist manifesto income tax–are force laws injected by spoiler votes of fanatical looter and mystical parties. They do show how much change 1.4% of the vote can bring about when people have gumption enough to cast them.

  10. If the issue was truly about officer safety, they wouldn’t be initiating violence against people. In reality, it’s about protecting their power to steal from people to get a paycheck.
    The only “people” who think that forced association is acceptable behavior are statists and rapists.

  11. Good to see Sullum remembers Nixon’s revival of prohibitionism. But the pigs officers were initiating violence on orders from asset-forfeiture kleptocracy politicians of both major parties. It’s the sort of thing that has to happen when people lack the courage to vote libertarian. Infiltrators adding idiotic planks to make our platform repel voters are just as guilty as the cops.

    1. The only thing keeping me from voting libertarian is the desperate desire to keep/get an OTHER candidate out of office.
      It’s tough.

      1. 99% of the time where I live, it’s quite clear who will be winning any given election, and I can vote libertarian knowing that the OTHER candidate is not going to win. The only time recently when I’ve broken with voting L is when I voted for Trump because my state was neck-and-neck and if my L vote tipped the scales to letting the OTHER candidate win my state I’d have been pretty mad. But it’s not Like I WANTED Trump or anything.

      2. Even in a ‘purple’ state, the chance of your single vote changing the outcome of a presidential election is effectively zero. The election would have to hang on the results in your state and the results in your state would have to hang on one vote. It’s never happened and isn’t ever going happen. So relax and vote Libertarian. You’ll feel better, and the outcome will (sadly) be whatever it would have been if you’d voted red, blue, or not at all.

  12. I already said it but I’ll say it again. We need to stop this idea that it is a war. Cops are not soldiers. Full Stop. Period. We need to stop training them as soldiers. And no I am not saying veterans can’t be soldiers. It seems to often these “mistakes” are made by cops who never served but want to act as what they think soldiers are.

  13. the Louisville Metro Police Department said the officers “knocked on the door several times and announced their presence as police who were there with a search warrant.”

    I’m willing to bet real money that the time interval between officers arriving at the door and the battering ram being deployed was less than 30 seconds. The entire point of the smash-down-the-door tactics is to surprise and confuse. It is shock and awe warfare plain and simple. It’s a fine military tactic for when you’re barging into a compound full of terrorists and shooting anything that moves. It’s completely outrageous in a suburban setting when serving a warrant for drug crimes.

    Why couldn’t they just park a cop car out front and confront the residents when they exit the house in the morning? Or if they’re really in a hurry pull out a megaphone and start loudly announcing to people in the house that they need to wake up and step outside? The only time police should be using battering rams is when performing wellness checks on houses where people strongly suspect there’s a dead body decomposing inside.

  14. other countries have “secret police”. In the glorious USA….”undercover narcotics officers”

  15. Always remember that the government never had any right to restrict drugs in the first place. Since that is already settled, we must not hesitate to build on it. That is how logical reasoning works. Abolitionists waited too long for the crazy people to be good and ready to concede proven points, and slavery lasted longer, before abolitionists realized that the crazy people would never become reasonable.

    What were the cops if not intruders? If I forbid people to drink lemonade, or manufacture or sell lemonade and they do so anyway, does that give me the right to deploy gun-toting goons in bulletproof vests to raid the homes of people suspected of selling lemonade? After all, they knew they were forbidden to do so.

    It is difficult to phrase things correctly because, technically, I do have a right to forbid everybody to drink lemonade. My forbidding them, however, would not in any way reduce their right to drink it anyway. Sure, the politicians have a right to forbid selling harmful drugs, but they have no right to enforce it.

    Unalienable rights, by definition, preempt the Rule of Law whenever the two things conflict with each other. The unalienable right of self-defense does not disappear when you break a law the government had no authority to enforce in the first place.

  16. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/raid-of-the-day-doy-vande_n_3294507

    Yeah, my uncle was killed this way. How people mindlessly think the drug war and “back the blue” is justifiable makes me sick.

  17. Any time peace officers attack or arrest anyone without having turned on body cameras there should be a presumption of excessive or criminal force. Peace officers and the FBI should be required to record their actions (no more 302s), and any alteration of any written or otherwise memorialized record of such action should be grounds for dismissal of any actions against any citizens (and maybe even against lawful aliens).

    1. No, the body cameras are for traffic cops, in case the citizens get unruly. The wannabe warriors kicking in doors and roughing people up don’t want to be recorded.

  18. First-degree murder.

  19. This case has almost all of the usual police errors. They would be comical, if someone innocent hadn’t died.
    1. Wrong address no-knock warrant. (Simple surveillance could have confirmed this was just a mail drop for the drug dealers.)
    2. Suspect already in custody. (Check the dang database dummies.)
    3. No-knock raid by armed men in the middle of the night. Of course the homeowner starts shooting.
    4. Hail of 20+ bullets still doesn’t kill the unlucky homeowner.
    5. But does kill someone sleeping in the next room posing no threat to the cops at all.

    The only thing missing is a made-up confidenital informant to cover their tracks, and planted drugs.

  20. And these are the Police officers we are now trusting to enforce “shelter in place” orders prohibitions against “gatherings.”

  21. Nicely written.

    Reason needs to take the forefront of this issue again. This platform was an important voice in the reform movement. I’m glad you (collectively) are finding your voice again.

  22. “The very tactics that police use to minimize violence, aimed at discombobulating their targets and catching them off guard in the hope of discouraging resistance, predictably lead to fatal misunderstandings.”

    Why are you repeating this obviously false statement uncritically?

    First, these tactics *guarantee* violence, because the tactic is to engage in violence.

    But let’s assume you mean the suspects responding with violence. There’s just no way that’s true. Either you’re surprising someone who was asleep who is a low level non-violent drug offender (if even the right person) that had no interest in being violent with officers anyway, or they are the type of violent career criminal who will challenge police, and then they’re more likely to be on a hair trigger for violence.

    There’s several other tactics to apprehend all types of suspects with a much lower risk of violence. Knocking in the door in the middle of the night is *absolutely not* a tactic to minimize violence.

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  24. As a concealed weapons carrier, one cannot use lethal force when protecting property, why does State law enforcement officers get an exemption, securing drugs?
    ‘Qualified immunity’ is nothing more than elevating the States law-enforcement to Al Capones’ henchmen with a get-out-of-jail card.

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