Tag Archives: SWAT gear

The Militarization of Law Enforcement and their Military Equipment

police tank

Contrary to what you may have heard, the armored vehicles that appeared on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, during the unrest that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown did not come from the Pentagon. “Most of the stuff you are seeing in video coming out of Ferguson is not military,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Defense Department’s press secretary, told reporters last week. “The military is not the only source of tactical gear in this country.”

In other words: Don’t blame the military for militarizing the police. Kirby has a point. Although the Pentagon has played a role by distributing surplus gear to police departments, so have the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security by providing grants that can be used to buy military-style equipment. In any case, the real problem, more pervasive and insidious than BearCats or MRAPs on the streets of our cities, is the dangerously misguided urge to transform cops into soldiers, as reflected in the promiscuous use of SWAT teams.

As the acronym implies, SWAT teams originally wereintended for unusual threats requiring “special weapons and tactics,” threats such as rioters, shooters, barricaded suspects, and hostage takers. But what was once special is now routine. Today the most common use for SWAT teams, which are deployed something like 50,000 times a year in the U.S., is serving search warrants, typically in drug cases.

were here to help you to death

Looking at a sample of more than 800 SWAT operations carried out by 20 law enforcement agencies in 11 states during the last three years, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that 79 percent involved search warrants. More than three-quarters of the searches were looking for drugs.

These raids tend to follow the same basic pattern: Heavily armed, black-clad men enter a home early in the morning, while the occupants are asleep. The police often break down the door with a battering ram, shatter windows, and toss in a flashbang grenade, an explosive device designed to discombobulate targets with a blinding light and deafening noise. If there is a dog in the home that barks at the invaders (as dogs tend to do), the police kill it.

The element of surprise and the overwhelming, terrifying show of force are supposed to minimize violence by forestalling any thought of resistance. It does not always work out that way.

Last December a Texas marijuana grower named Henry Magee shot and killed a Burleson County sheriff’s deputy who broke into his mobile home in the middle of the night along with eight other officers. Magee said he mistook Sgt. Adam Sowders for a burglar, and in February a grand jury declined to indict him in the deputy’s death.

Six months before Magee shot Sowders, a similar mistake resulted in the death of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year-old retired electrical engineer who was shot in his bed because he grabbed a gun when armed men stormed into his home early in the morning. They were Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, looking for a nonexistent meth lab.

Last May police in Habersham County, Georgia, broke into a house in the middle of the night, looking for a meth dealer who no longer lived there. While attacking the house, the SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade into a crib, severely burning a 19-month-old boy.

No drugs or weapons were found in that raid, which seems to be a pretty common outcome. In the ACLU study, records indicated that police found the drugs or guns they expected 35 percent of the time. The low rate of gun recovery is especially striking because the use of SWAT teams is supposedly justified by the prospect of facing armed and dangerous suspects.

The reckless use of paramilitary forces to attack the homes of unsuspecting civilians reflects a literalization of the war on drugs as well as the unseemly eagerness of many police officers to dress up and act like soldiers. Taking away their BearCats will not solve those problems.

 

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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Sniper Hastily Shoots Teen To Protect Him From Committing Suicide

Local Law Enforcement Shoots Teen Unnecessarily When Called to Deescalate Suicide Risk

Officers are accused of acting in haste when they shot and killed a teen threatening suicide.

As concerns about SWAT style home invasions and police abuse continue to mount, a new twist on a negative theme emerges.

If you call 911 in an emergency, you hope, and probably believe, that the officers dispatched will have the training and ability to respond appropriately to most situations that an officer may reasonably be expected to face several times in his or her career. All too often it appears that is not the case.

Such was the case when Lisa Messina called 911 on May 1, 2012. Her 16 year old son, Andrew, had become so despondent over a bad grade at school that he began drinking and threatened suicide. In desperation, she called in hopes that an officer could come talk to Andrew and help diffuse the situation.

 

 

Andrew’s father, Nick described the beginning of his worst nightmare, “He just got sad and kind of down on himself and talked about running away. And that discussion turned to ending his life. And I wasn’t home,”

It just happened so fast, and then he went upstairs. He has the gun in his hand, and he had bullets in the other hand,” his mother, Lisa, continued.

In desperation they called 911

“I need you to get away from him if you think he is going to shoot you,” the 911 operator said.

“I think he is going to shoot himself,” Lisa  replied.

The operator told her to get out of the home, and Lisa asked, “How many cars are coming? Just one, right?”

“I’m not sure,” the operator replied.

But next thing they knew a slew of officers arrived including an armored tank and a sniper.

They brought an army to take out a 16-year-old boy. To kill a 16-year-old boy,” Nick Messina said.

The teen was inside his home alone with no hostages

He had a 357 Magnum in his hand and was drinking and threatening to kill himself. He took a video of the events inside the home, including this conversation speaking to his father on the phone just minutes before he died.

“You can’t find anything worth living for with me?” Nick Messina asked his son.

“I don’t know,” Andrew Messina replied.

“Really?” Nick Messina asked.

“I do know personally I really don’t want to live. So you should just let this happen if you really love me,” his son said.

Law enforcement negotiators soon cut off that call and put their negotiator on the phone with the teen.

“They are still standing out there,” Andrew said. “Go away or do something, the tension is killing me.”

Deputies in combat gear surrounded the home, with the frightened teen inside.

“We thought that they would (be) experts in being able to diffuse the situation. And that was not what happened. Instead of the fire being put out, they brought gasoline,” Nick Messina said.

Teen questions why police had riot gear

Is that a riot shield? Yeah, that’s a riot shield,” he said. “This isn’t a riot, this is one person who is pissed off.”

On the call, Andrew Messina also begged negotiators several times to speak with his father.

Hey, where’s my dad? Isn’t he supposed to be here?” he said.

Local Law Enforcement Shoots Teen Unnecessarily When Called to Deescalate Suicide Risk

Local Law Enforcement Shoots Teen Unnecessarily When Called to Deescalate Suicide Risk

At the time, Lisa and Nick Messina were down the street, just a few feet away.

“That just bothers me more to think that my son was in here, by himself, minutes before his death, asking for me,” Nick Messina said, crying.

About 15 minutes before the fatal shot, Andrew Messina’s parents saw sniper Jason Yarbrough walk past them in camouflage, with his riffle over his shoulder.

“I couldn’t believe the gun he had,” Lisa Messina said. “I said, ‘Whoa, where is he going with that gun?'”

Yarbrough set up across the street in a neighbor’s yard, which he estimated to be 65 yards from his target. The sniper scope, focused on the front door, helped him to see clearly as if he was holding a gun from just five feet away.

“A minute later we heard this horrendous cannon shot and he was dead,” Nick Messina said.

“It was absolute shock and numbness, like no, there is no way they shot him. But they did,” Lisa Messina continued.

The sheriff said the teen made an “aggressive gesture” that caused a sniper to fire his weapon to protect law enforcement officers.

Veteren investigator says there’s no evidence killing the teen was necessary

But new evidence presented by the Nick and Lisa Messina’s attorney may tell a different story.

“We have not been able to find any justification whatsoever for that Cherokee County Sheriff sniper to shoot Andrew Messina. Zero,” said attorney Chuck Pekor.

Pekor is a former federal prosecutor and a former cop who has been scouring through the case to uncover evidence that Andrew Messina didn’t need to die.

“There is nobody in there with him. There is nobody at risk except himself. You just give it time, just wait,” Pekor said.

The standoff had gone on a little more than an hour when Andrew Messina was killed. The sheriff justified the fatal shot, saying the teen threatened his officers.

Andrew Messina was inside the house holding the gun, and hit the top pane of glass with the gun, shattering the glass. Negotiators were standing outside the house behind a wall around the corner from the door.

In the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report, Yarbrough said he heard a “pop” that sounded like a gunshot and he observed Messina through his riffle scope pointing the pistol at deputies.

Evidence shows problems with the official report

Not a single officer out there, not a one, ever saw the gun come through the hole where the break was,” Pekor said, citing the GBI report.

Pekor argues that any trained law enforcement officer would know the difference between breaking glass and a 357 Magnum being fired. And not a single shot was ever fired from Andrew Messina’s weapon.

And Pekor says there’s another problem.

“He pretty much had his back to the negotiation team when he was shot. How could he possibly have been threatening them?” Pekor questioned.

The bullet came through the door while Andrew Messina was inside the home. The autopsy report says Andrew was shot in the right side of his abdomen, and the bullet exited the left side. According to that description, the teen was facing the opposite direction from where negotiators were outside the home.

Yarbrough, the sniper who killed the teen, was on the scene less than 20 minutes before he pulled the trigger and admitted he didn’t even know if there was a hostage inside.

Pekor and others are concerned the sniper acted in haste, without being properly briefed that Andrew Messina was a suicidal teen, not a hardened criminal.

“Obviously it was an act of aggression against him. And my perception of the situation was that he was not, himself, being aggressive,” said Susan Ehtesham, one of Andrew Messina’s former teachers.

Such stories of official ineptness and abuse bring up troubling questions such as:

Such incidents detour people from calling 911 for help

“Would this make you hesitate to call the police?” Saltzman asked neighbor Leeanna Tucker.

I would never call them for help now,” she replied.

An internal investigation by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and the district at

torney both found there was no criminal wrongdoing by Yarbrough.

Saltzman made numerous attempts to interview the sheriff, the sniper and the commander on the scene, but the sheriff’s office refused, saying “The case is closed.”

But it’s far from closed for the family who has filed notice of their intent to file a lawsuit against the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.

 

 

 

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