A SWAT team this month rendered a residence in Charlotte, North Carolina, unlivable after firing pepper spray and tear gas into the house while in pursuit of a suspect who was not there.
Trey McClendon, 19, was later arrested without incident.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) sought McClendon on violent felony arrest warrants, according to a statement from Lt. Andy Harris. "SWAT was called to the scene to assist with his apprehension given McClendon's violent history," he said. "After several hours of attempting to communicate with Mr. McClendon were unsuccessful, officers attempted to enter the location to take McClendon into custody. Once officers gained access to the residence, they determined that McClendon was not present in the residence."
But the London family, who own the home, tell a different story. They claim they knew McClendon wasn't present at their house, and that they only gave officers permission to enter so that the officers could check for themselves without incident. "The keys were literally placed in their hands, and we don't understand why they decided to bring tanks out," Dominique Camm, the family's lawyer, said at a press conference on July 17.
McClendon does not live at the residence.
"The violent criminal history is just obscene," Rob Tufano of CMPD told the local NBC affiliate. "No officer is just going to walk in with a set of keys."
Instead, on July 11, the CMPD team deployed the tear gas and pepper spray, as well as what neighbors described as flash bang grenades, a tank, snipers, and K-9 units, according to The Charlotte Observer. The result: significant structural damage, including several holes in the ceiling.
Police permitted the London family to return to the residence at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of July 12 when they realized they'd need to find another place to live.
"They destroyed our family home, a place where we stayed, a place where we once called home and had family gatherings—a place that we can no longer call a home," Ebony London Gunter, whose mother lived at the house, said at the press conference. "This is the place that we come and gather, and so now it's like our sense of security, our sense of family has now been taken and shaken. And they did that for nothing. Like, at the end of the day, they walked away empty handed and they left us to deal with this."
CMPD says they offered "alternate living conditions" while the necessary repairs are made, but Camm countered that neither he nor the family had heard such an offer, according to The Observer. The city will reportedly pick up the bill.
Problems of police militarization certainly aren't new. Just last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of a family whose home in Greenwood Village, Colorado, was destroyed by SWAT agents after they deployed tear gas, flash bang grenades, 40 mm rounds, breaching rams, and two Bearcat armored vehicles while attempting to apprehend a shoplifter who had no relationship to the family in question. The home was totaled. The city gave the family $5,000.