Pubdate: Sat, 01 Apr 2006
Source: Reason Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2006 The Reason Foundation
Author: Radley Balko


The Drug War Goes To The Dogs

In the course of researching paramilitary drug raids, I've found some 
pretty disturbing stuff. There was a case where a SWAT officer 
stepped on a baby's head while looking for drugs in a drop ceiling. 
There was one where an 11-year-old boy was shot at point-blank range. 
Police have broken down doors, screamed obscenities, and held 
innocent people at gunpoint only to discover that what they thought 
were marijuana plants were really sunflowers, hibiscus, ragweed, 
tomatoes, or elderberry bushes. (It's happened with all five.)

Yet among hundreds of botched raids, the ones that get me most worked 
up are the ones where the SWAT officers shoot and kill the family dog.

I have two dogs, which may have something to do with it. But I'm not 
alone. A colleague tells me that when he and other libertarian 
commentators speak about the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian 
compound in Waco many people tend to doubt the idea that the 
government was out of line when it invaded, demolished, and set fire 
to a home of peaceful and mostly innocent people. But when the 
speaker mentions that the government also slaughtered two dogs during 
the siege, eyes light up, the indifferent get angry, and skeptics 
come around. Puppycide, apparently, goes too far.

One of the most appalling cases occurred in Maricopa County, Arizona, 
the home of Joe Arpaio, self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in 
America." In 2004 one of Arpaio's SWAT teams conducted a bumbling 
raid in a Phoenix suburb. Among other weapons, it used tear gas and 
an armored personnel carrier that later rolled down the street and 
smashed into a car. The operation ended with the targeted home in 
flames and exactly one suspect in custody-for outstanding traffic violations.

But for all that, the image that sticks in your head, as described by 
John Dougherty in the alternative weekly Phoenix New Times, is that 
of a puppy trying to escape the fire and a SWAT officer chasing him 
back into the burning building with puffs from a fire extinguisher. 
The dog burned to death.

In a massive 1998 raid at a San Francisco housing co-op, cops shot a 
family dog in front of its family, then dragged it outside and shot it again.

When police in Fremont, California, raided the home of medical 
marijuana patient Robert Filgo, they shot his pet Akita nine times. 
Filgo himself was never charged.

Last October police in Alabama raided a home on suspicion of 
marijuana possession, shot and killed both family dogs, then joked 
about the kill in front of the family. They seized eight grams of 
marijuana, equal in weight to a ketchup packet.

In January a cop en route to a drug raid in Tampa, Florida, took a 
short cut across a neighboring lawn and shot the neighbor's two 
pooches on his way. And last May, an officer in Syracuse, New York, 
squeezed off several shots at a family dog during a drug raid, one of 
which ricocheted and struck a 13-year-old boy in the leg. The boy was 
handcuffed at gunpoint at the time.

There was a dog in the ragweed bust I mentioned, too. He got lucky: 
He was only kicked across the room.

I guess the P.R. lesson here for drug war opponents and civil 
libertarians is to emphasize the plight of the pooch. America's 
law-and-order populace may not be ready to condemn the practice of 
busting up recreational pot smokers with ostentatiously armed 
paramilitary police squads, even when the SWAT team periodically 
breaks into the wrong house or accidentally shoots a kid. I mean, 
somebody was probably breaking the law, right?

But the dog?  That loyal, slobbery, lovable, wide-eyed, fur-lined bag 
of unconditional love?

Dammit, he deserves better.

Radley Balko is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute.