29 Oct 2014

Cops do 20,000 no-knock raids a year. Civilians often pay the price when they go wrong.

Most of the time, when a person kills an intruder who breaks into his home, dressed in all black and screaming, the homeowner will avoid jail time. But what happens when the break-in was a no-knock SWAT raid, the intruder was a police officer, and the homeowner has a record?
A recent pair of cases in Texas are an example of how wrong no-knock raids can go, for both police and civilians, and how dangerously subjective the SWAT raid process can be. In December 2013, Henry Magee shot and killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock drug raid on his home. He was initially charged with capital murder, but he argued that he shot the police officer, who he thought was an intruder, to protect his pregnant girlfriend. In February, a grand jury declined to indict him, and charges were dropped.
In May, a Texas man named Marvin Guy also killed a police officer during a pre-dawn, no-knock raid on his home. Guy, too, was charged with capital murder. Unlike Magee's grand jury, a grand jury in September allowed the capital murder charge against Guy to stand. Guy, who is black, now faces the death penalty. Magee is white. 
Magee's case wasn't completely identical to Guy's — the latter had done prison time on robbery and weapons charges, while Magee's previous arrests were for marijuana possession and DUI. But the circumstances of the raids, if anything, made Guy's reaction more justifiable. Police were trying to enter McGee's house through the door when he shot at them, while, in Guy's case, they were trying to climb in through the window. And during the raid on McGee's house, the cops did in fact find a few pounds of marijuana plants. In the raid on Guy's house, they found nothing.
Advocates say these cases highlight racial bias in the criminal justice system, particularly when the victim is a police officer. But they also highlight the bizarre nature of no-knock raids, which have been criticized for causing unnecessary confusion and endangering innocent adults and children.
In theory, no-knock raids are supposed to be used in only the most dangerous situations. So what might be most surprising about them is how infrequently police officers get killed when they bust into suspected criminals' homes unannounced.
In reality, though, no-knock raids are a common tactic, even in less-than-dangerous circumstances. There are a staggering 20,000 or more estimated no-knock raids every year across America. By the numbers, it's clear that no-knock SWAT raids are far more dangerous to civilians than they are to police.
Here's what you need to know about why no-knock raids happen, why police think they're necessary, and what happens when things go wrong.

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