Unnecessary SWAT raids put all parties at risk
It may be easy for Barstow residents to dismiss the concerns of Charles Sherman. Sherman, an ex-con, was burned in his bed by a flash bang device thrown in a SWAT team raid by sheriff’s department deputies one early morning in January.
Deputies were supporting the Barstow Police Department as they executed search warrants related to an attempted murder investigation.
So far, Sherman has not been charged with anything related to this attempted murder, nor were the inhabitants of three other homes searched implicated (though five were charged with suspicion of drug possession).
There’s little sign a SWAT team was needed to execute this search warrant. The Barstow Police department searched Sherman’s home quite peacefully two weeks prior to the raid, where they found a box of ammunition and later charged him, as he’s not allowed to possess firearms or ammunition.
What should concern Barstow residents who don’t have criminal records is the reason why these tactics were pursued. According to Barstow Police Lt. Albert Ramirez, a “credible citizen informant” led police to believe that Sherman might have guns in the residence.
Let’s take a quick trip to the other side of the country. Right now, in Chesapeake, Va., Ryan Frederick is in jail, charged with murdering a police officer. On Jan. 17, a police SWAT team converged on Frederick’s home after an informant told police he was growing marijuana, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
Based on this information, the police organized an evening raid. Frederick, who was apparently asleep, said he thought somebody was trying to break into his home. The circumstances are not fully clear, but he ultimately shot one of the officers as they broke down his front door. The officer later died.
The police did not find a marijuana-growing operation in Frederick’s house. He was growing tree saplings in his garage apparently. He had a slight amount of marijuana for recreational use, a misdemeanor. His first one.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, Frederick was afraid because somebody had broken into his garage three days before the police raid, which may well explain the source of the informant’s claims. As a result, an officer is dead and a man who believed he was protecting his home from an intruder may stand trial for it. The community is coming out in support of Frederick, but it’s a tragedy all around.
SWAT raids should be intended as a tool of last resort, when lives are endangered and there is no other way for authorities to safely enter a home or building. Even in the appropriate circumstances these raids can be deadly for all involved. A SWAT officer was killed last week in the Los Angeles area in a raid trying to stop an apparently mentally ill man who killed three members of his own family.
When authorities misuse these raids — for whatever logical reason — to execute search warrants, they put themselves and sometimes innocent people at risk. Some may argue Sherman doesn’t count as an “innocent” because of his past and his record, but that informant could have pointed authorities to anybody. Innocent people have been killed in search warrant raids. Property has been destroyed. Next time it could be you having an explosive device lobbed in your bed while you sleep.