Personal Thoughts

Editorial Section

Inappropriate Police Action

This, the United States of America, is truly a great country. Freedom has long been the hallmark of this nation, as well as the various rights and privileges set forth in our Constitution. One of these rights, as set down in the fourth amendment, guarantees every U.S. citizen the right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures...."

First up, let me preface the following statement by saying that the number of good, quality police officers far out number the bad--thank heaven for that. But, as of late, the number of dynamic entries and unjust actions perpetrated against innocent citizens, on the part of certain police officers, has seemingly increased.

Take, for example, the case of Edward Reed, a security guard in Norfolk, Virginia. According to reports, a club he was protecting, late at night, was targeted for gambling by the local SWAT. Police allegedly reported that when approached, Reed, who was sitting outside the club in his car, pulled his revolver and aimed it as police officers.

"The officers ordered the guard to put the gun down, but he continued to point the gun at them,'' said Don Rimer, a police spokesman. "The officers, acting in self-defense, shot the guard.''

According to the news report, Reed was pronounced dead at Virginia Beach General Hospital. Rimer said he was shot 12 times.

Those who knew Reed said that it was very unlikely that he would have pulled his gun on legitimate police officers.

"Flores, Reed's pastor and the memorial organizer, said the basic facts simply don't make sense. He said Reed, who had been a deacon at Perfecting Saints Worship Center, was a man of character who would never 'knowingly pull a gun on police.'

"Flores asked why officers simply did not send someone up up to Reed's car window, knock, show their badge and say, 'We need for you to step out of the car now. We have to serve a warrant.' If they had done that, Ed would still be alive today" (Steve Stone, The Virginian-Pilot, Landmark Communications Inc.).

It is interesting to me to know that it was the police department's SWAT team that went on this routine gambling raid. Perhaps this practice has become commonplace today, but the SWAT concept was first contemplated for situations where aggressive military-type action is required, as when dealing with "snipers, hostage takers, terrorists, and other dangerous, violent offenders" (Criminal Justice, Philip P. Purpura, Butterworth Heinemann, Woburn, Mass.).

For those who do not know what a SWAT team is, SWAT is the acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics. The officers who compose a typical SWAT unit are carefully selected and trained. These men receive specialized equipment and fire-power well beyond that of the normal police officer. Their job is to deal with the more violent situations where military-type action in response to a situation is likely.

Using a SWAT to raid a club suspected of gambling activity at 3 a.m. seems a bit much to me; but then again, perhaps the local PD feared that such a raid would place officers in physical danger. According to news reports, Reed's death will be investigated.

This is not the only incident where police have shot an innocent person. Take, for example, the dynamic entry that took place in Sallisaw, Oklahoma on 23 October 98. Here, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, N.E. Region, with Senior agent V.M. Lyons at the helm, conducted a raid on a mobile home. Their aim was to serve a drug-related arrest warrant.

Within that mobile home was a 13-year-old girl, 5-year-old girl, 4-month-old infant, the mother, the dad, and two others who had just stopped by before going on a fishing trip. The report I received on the incident went like this:

"the glass (screen door), (main door was open) came crashing in and armed agents poured in screaming and waving guns at people. The mother reached for her 5 year old to keep her from running in terror and as she did her shoulder was blown off by one of the trained [officers]! NO FIREARMS were in the house and the mother was in the kitchen several feet away from the [officers] which were still in the living room. The 13 year old passed out at the sight of seeing her mother shot down in her own kitchen and the 5 year old went into total hysteria (remind you of Ruby Ridge?).

"One of the agents was reported to have asked 'who fired?' at which time there was a period of silence while they looked at one another. The mother, Pat Eymer, is at this time in the Sparks hospital in Ft Smith, AR. The dad, Steve Eymer is in jail, the children are in the care of the state while the grandmother who came in from out of state to get the children is not allowed to even see them until there is a court hearing on 10-26-98.

Since that time, from what I've learned, the grandmother has received custody of the children and the mother is working on a law suit against the agency and the officers involved in the raid. Does she have the right to do that? Sure, this is America. Should she do that, if her husband is guilty as charged? I think so; after all, the entire operation was aimed at Mr. Eymer, not Mrs. or the children.

The main point is that it does not take a dynamic entry to serve an arrest warrant. Why couldn't the officers have waited until Mr. Eymer came out to get the newspaper, when he went to work, or when he came outside to work on his car? Why did they have to bust down the door and place the entire family at risk? Why?

When I've queried other law enforcement officers, they maintain that it's done to assure the safety of the police officers who serve the warrant. Folks, did you hear that? These early-morning raids are conducted to catch the people inside the house off guard--for the police officers' own safety. Have we forgotten something here?

The purpose that police departments serve is to serve the citizens. To a typical officer, this means putting your life in danger for the good of others. And, police officers do put their lives on the line almost every day of the year, but the focus is shifting from one of serving the people to serving for self.

What about those children in that mobile home? If the agency had done it's homework, it would have known about that 13- and 5-year-old and 4-month-old infant. They would have known about the mother, who had nothing to do with the arrest warrant they were about to serve! And yet, these officers placed those children and mother at greater risk than themselves, simply because they were afraid of being hurt during the course of their job, a job they knew right from the start has it's dangers!

Take, for example, the case of a convenience store owner, Mr. Samad, who was arrested when his store was raided on 14 May 1993, by 14 police officers on a food stamp fraud charge. The warrant was actually for the arrest of the man's brother. According to the news account, Samad repeatedly told officers that they had made a mistake, but they would not listen to him. Despite the fact that they had a picture of his brother and they had Samad's fingerprints, the alleged victim underwent what he later described as a "violent and abusive" body search and 6 days in jail, until he could post bond.

Another case of questionable conduct is that of Darryl Howell, owner of the Alpha Omega Surplus and Supplies Store, a gun shop located in Taft, California. Police alleged that Howell committed suicide as Taft County Sheriff Deputies entered the store to serve him with an arrest warrant. The suspect was said to have placed a .45 cal. handgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. In response, a Kern County deputy allegedly fired three rounds from his service revolver, striking Howell three times. This case is likewise under investigation.

I could go on and on, presenting case after case of mistaken identity, the wrong apartment, the wrong home, but I think I've made my point.

Most of the officers that I've talked to about this type of action all have the same thing to say, that they do what they're told to do by their superiors. Have we lost our sense of fair play, our sense of decency, our very common sense? Some of the comments and facts that I've gotten from some of the law enforcement officers, people whom I respect, are as follows:

Allow me to set up an scenario. It's 3 a.m. and the local police department is about to raid a home to serve a search warrant. It is suspected that there are federally-illegal firearms on the premise. Using a battering ram, the front door is broken down and soldiers, I mean police officers fill the home, shouting and screaming, waving high-power flashlights.

The homeowner, who is guilty of no wrong, who has only the common, ordinary arms available to common, ordinary citizens, wakes with a start when the door in his front room is battered down. In the confusion of the moment, he instinctively grabs his handgun next to him on the night stand (after all, it's there to protect him and his home). Jumping out of bed he runs for the hallway, and in the bright lights before him, he is shot 13 times, four in the chest and 9 in the back.

Believe it or not, these police officers were well within their legal right to shoot and kill this man, despite the fact that they had the wrong home! Yes, it's true. It is true that his survivors, perhaps the man's wife and three little children who stood at the other end of the hall and watched their father/husband shot to death, have the legal right to file a lawsuit, but what a shame! The overwhelming response I received from police officers has been, "the alleged victim always has the right to redress," but what a shame!

Good soldiers are expected to follow orders, this is very true; but it's also true that good soldiers swear to uphold the United States Constitution. There is no place for blind loyalty when it comes to police and military matters. If loyalty was all that was required, you would never have been asked to swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

People can play with words and phrases all they want to, but conducting violent raids on homes when the officers know there are young children and innocent people present does not excuse those officers from some degree of blame and accountability, even if it's purely moral and ethical in nature. The law may excuse you for traumatizing young children, shooting mothers and killing fathers (even the guilty ones), but God Almighty will most certainly hold you accountable.

In the words of one officer who left this profession because of the things he was being asked to do, "I had to get up the next morning and look at myself in the mirror." The only problem with this is that if all good officers left the force because of the bad ones, the only ones left would be bad. I shudder at that thought.

Common sense goes a long way, and so does ethics, morals, and Godliness. No, I'm not without sin, who is? But, I know when I'm wrong and I should know when it's time to fix it. If you are an officer and you're routinely ordered to participate in operations that you personally have a problem with, then find a way to expose it, to deal with it. If you don't like the way law enforcement is headed, do something about it, just don't follow orders blindly.

I'd like to hear from you if you're an officer and you're upset about the direction your department is going. Also, if you object to my objection, then I'd like to hear from you, too. Click HERE to send me a confidential e-mail.

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Alicia Colombo, 1995The Beginning or End
By Alicia Colombo


Copyright©1999 Allan B. Colombo