Pubdate: Wed, 19 Dec 2007
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright: 2007 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Author: Ruben Rosario
Cited: Cato Institute
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)


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, "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. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake