Homeowner Vang Khang and two cops could have left a North Minneapolis home in body bags early Sunday morning instead of by their own power.
But they didn't. Praise the Lord, I say. But, hey, stuff happens during apparent "no-knock" police raids of private residences.
No harm, no foul. Right?
What occurred inside a two-story home in the 1300 block of Logan Avenue North should concern us all, whether we live in crime-plagued areas or low-crime and idyllic-sounding places like Golden Nirvana or Apple Pie Way.
Vang Khang escaped serious injury after he grabbed his hunting shotgun and reportedly fired through his bedroom door at a swarm of heavily armed strangers who burst through the back door of his home while he, his wife and his six kids - ages 3 to 15 - were sleeping.
Two still-unidentified cops - part of a SWAT-style team that raided the wrong home - returned fire but were struck by shotgun blasts. Thankfully, the pellets struck their bulletproof vests. Vang Khang's sons had to get involved, yelling at their father, who speaks little English, his brother said, that the intruders were actually police.
To their credit, Minneapolis police officials 'fessed up rather quickly to raiding the wrong house in an apparent search for a violent felon. But they stepped in mud when they tried to couch the mistake as a rare or isolated incident, one in which officers were fed "bum" information from a confidential informant.
"It was some bad information that was received on the front end, and it's unfortunate, because we have officers that were hit by gunfire, and this truly, truly could have been a much worse situation," police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia said.
Geez, Jesse, what about Vang Khang and his family?
"Police justify these 'no-knock' tactics as to make it safer for everyone," says Radley Balko, a former senior policy analyst for the Washington-based Cato Institute and author of "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America."
"I think that's absurd," said Balko, who singled out the botched Minneapolis police raid for criticism Monday in his online blog, theagitator.com. "Whenever you enter someone's home, you are creating confrontation as well as the potential for violence."
Balko believes such paramilitary tactics should be reserved for cases where hostages need to be rescued or violent fugitives apprehended.
He said many more incidents like the Minneapolis case might go unreported because they "disproportionately affect low-income people who are either terrified or do not want to complain about" such police intrusions.
A frequently cited study by Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Peter Kraska estimates "no-knock" warrants soared from 3,000 in 1981 to more than 50,000 last year, the overwhelming majority triggered by anti-drug-trafficking crackdowns.
Balko, a senior editor with Reason magazine, wrote in 2006 that at least 40 people have died following such botched raids "since SWAT teams began proliferating in the late 1980s."
Perhaps the most publicized in recent months involves Kathryn Johnson, a 92-year-old woman shot and killed when cops mistakenly raided her Atlanta home looking for drugs. The shooting led to the dismantling of that city's narcotics team.
The most notorious case in local memory took place Jan. 25, 1989, when cops threw flash grenades inside a Minneapolis home during a drug raid.
Again, as this past weekend, cops were led to the residence by false information from a police informant. An elderly couple, Lloyd Smalley and Lillian Weiss, died of smoke inhalation after the grenades set the home ablaze. Cops, thinking no one was in the home, discovered the bodies later.
On Monday, in the department's defense, Minneapolis police Lt. Amelia Huffman, who runs the homicide division, said the botched raid was the fruit of an informant who led police to earlier raids, successfully uncovering weapons and other criminality.
But is that enough? Balko believes judges rubber-stamp such no-knock warrants. Higher court decisions also have empowered cops in ways civil liberties advocates believe have significantly watered down the so-called "Castle Doctrine" of home privacy that dates to English common law in the Middle Ages.
Essentially, a man's home may not be his castle if cops get information, real or bogus, that drugs, weapons or a violent fugitive felon is on the premises.
Brad and Nicole Thompson, who ran a video-production business from their Spring Lake Park home, had long given cops the benefit of the doubt. They figured cops only targeted bad guys.
Then trouble came calling in March. Cops with bogus information entered their apartment with guns drawn and issued profane-filled orders, some caught on tape, to lie down or surrender.
Oops. Wrong place. A year later, the Thompsons, who have no criminal history, say they are still shaken by the incident and have yet to receive even an apology.
"They won't return phone calls, and I have called the governor's office and they basically have blown us off," says Nicole Thompson, who had not heard of the Minneapolis incident when reached by phone Monday.
"We've heard story after story, not just in Minnesota but across the country," Thompson said. "People keep saying that it is a one-time incident, that it can't be that serious.
"Yes, it's not a problem until it happens to you."
Vang Khang's brother, Dao Khang, said the family has moved temporarily from the home where Sunday's raid took place.
"They are consulting with a lawyer," said Dao Khang.
Good luck. Unless the cops knew they had the wrong place but still conducted the raid, most legal experts say such government action is covered by "qualified immunity" and is relatively protected from litigation.
"That's very tough to prove," Balko said.
While seven officers are on paid administrative leave amid a formal investigation, perhaps the Khangs should settle for an apology and a bouquet of roses. Those were the peace offerings a Minneapolis police official sent an elderly Minneapolis woman and her middle-age daughter whose apartment was similarly mistaken for a drug den nearly 20 years ago.
Send me no flowers. Just be more careful out there.
Pubdate: Wed, 19 Dec 2007
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright: 2007 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Author: Ruben Rosario
Cited: Cato Institute http://www.cato.org/raidmap/
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/raids.htm (Drug Raids)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?246 (Policing - United States)