No shots were fired and no one was physically hurt, but an account of a botched police raid published in a Florida newspaper last week was among the most disturbing I’ve read recently. Other cases of improper police raids have definitely been more violent or even deadly, but the Florida case was startling due to the agency’s sheer nonchalance about it.
According to the story, a woman and her boyfriend were having dinner together in her apartment when she saw a man looking in through a window. He was wearing a “hunting vest,” and there was no sign he was a police officer. He was also pointing a gun at her. Assuming that the man was an intruder, she got out her own gun to defend herself and her companion.
Moments later, there was loud pounding and a demand for them to open the “fucking” door. They weren’t sure it was actually the police, so so they waited. Soon, an armed man pushed open the door, identified himself as a police officer, pointed a gun at both of them, and told them he would shoot if the woman didn’t drop her weapon. She eventually complied, and they were both taken into custody and questioned.
It turned out the officers had a tip that a fugitive was somewhere in the apartment complex (not in the woman’s apartment specifically), and that they zeroed in on her apartment because of her “reaction” and her “behavior.” There was no fugitive in her apartment and there never had been.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A woman is having a quiet dinner with a friend and sees a man outside her window pointing a gun at her. What would your reaction be?
Apparently, the officer believed that this woman’s “reaction” was enough on its own to point a weapon at her (an assault by any legal standard), verbally abuse her, forcefully enter her home, assault her again by pointing a weapon and threatening to kill her, and then subjecting her to the humiliation of being handcuffed and interrogated.
Mistakes happen, of course, and this was plainly one on its face. The reasonable thing for the police to do in this situation would have been to apologize and try to make the situation right. Instead, the officer (a deputy U.S. Marshall) gave what amounts to a verbal shrug of the shoulders. When interviewed by the reporter for the story, he had this to say:
Goldsberry [the woman involved] wasn’t arrested or shot despite pointing a gun at a cop, so Wiggins [the deputy] said, “She sure shouldn’t be going to the press.”
In other words, no harm no foul. To me, that’s a chilling and callous attitude on the part of individuals whose very duty it is to serve and protect the public.
This apparent nonchalance may be a factor in the number of botched police raids in the U.S. annually. The map below (click the image to go to the Cato Institute’s interactive version) graphically represents such raids going to back to 1985, and is a sobering reminder of just how often this kind of thing happens.
None of this is to somehow make the police out to be the bad guys. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even in this case, the officers were searching for a wanted fugitive and honestly believed he may have been in the area where they were searching.
The problem is that when a mistake is made, especially one that involves the level of fear and danger present in this situation, it shouldn’t be taken so lightly. Contrary to the message the police actions in this case communicate, we do not live in a police state. Forcing your way into someone’s home is serious business that can result in injury or death. It is also quite traumatizing to the people involved.
I’d be very interested to hear some police perspectives on this phenomenon, or about this case in particular.
What are your thoughts?
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