Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Knock, Knock...

I remember this story when it first broke back in Nov 2006.
On Nov. 21, narcotics officers went to Johnston's home in southwest Atlanta to execute a "no knock" search warrant. Johnston was killed and the three officers were injured in an ensuing shootout.

No-knock warrants are frequently issued so police can get inside before suspects can destroy or dispose of drugs. When the officers kicked in the door, the elderly woman apparently fired five shots from her own revolver.

Her friends and family members contended Johnston, who kept the gun for her protection, was a feeble and frightened woman who rarely ventured outside after dark. And they say that she was never involved in any drug activity. Her family says she was 92, while authorities say she was 88.

And now, via Instapundit, there's a new development. At least one of the officers involved looks like he may be charged with felony murder.

Now, as a general rule I am against the so-called no-knock warrants. The entire premise seems slightly flawed. Currently, they are granted when there is a reasonably high suspicion that easily destroyed or eliminated evidence will be destroyed or eliminated during the seconds it take the police to announce themselves and secure a situation.

I'm not sure that's enough of a reason to skirt the fine edge of public safety and the 4th Amendment. Clear and imminent danger to the public, sure. The deadly, short term kind, like guns and bombs and whatnot. Not the more ephemeral and gradual danger of drugs. To explode violently and swiftly into a home, simply so Joe Drug Dealer doesn't flush his stash seems to be almost recklessly irresponsible.

To be sure, this is tool. Albeit a dangerous tool. The more it's utilized, the more likely that tool may cause a problem. You may have hammered a nail or two in your life and never hit anything other than the nail. But ask a professional cabinet maker, or a woodworker, how many times a hammer has smashed a thumb or a chisel has gouged a hand (hell, ask my dad, an avid hobbyist). Over thousands of uses, eventually probability catches up.

Let's say that one of every 10,000 of these raids results in an innocent death. That's fairly long odds. I mean how many of these are done a year? Well, last year it is estimated that over 50,000 of these warrants were executed. With those kind of numbers, even the longest odds no longer seem so long.

Now, admittedly, I did pull the 1-in-10,000 stat out of my ass for purely illustrative purposes (not the 50,000 warrants, that's actually true). But my point still remains. With a large enough number of trials even a low probability event is guaranteed to occur. The use of these types of warrants are on the rise. From 3,000 in 1981 to over 50,000 in 2006. Not only is that alarming in and of itself, but if the rate continues on its meteoric rise it promises to be a recipe for even more disaster.

Even with all of that, I'm usually willing to give the police some slack in these situations. Sometimes bad shit happens and there is not a thing you can do about it.

However, in this particular case the situation appears to have been created by the police in the first place. And not only that, but built on a foundation of lies and fabrications.

Now, this is an "if", seeing as how no indictment has been handed down as yet. And if Nifong has taught us anything, it's not to discount that ever important "if".

But, if.

If, as it is appearing to turn out, this officer (and perhaps others) was culpable, did betray the public's trust, did in fact set stage that got this woman murdered by officers of the law...

Well, then.

I can only hope our justice system shows as much mercy.