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DanceSafe.org : Raves and Club Drugs in the News : US TX: Concerns On SWAT Aired Year Before Raid
Pubdate: Sun, 13 Apr 2003
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Contact: letters@star-telegram.com
Website: http://www.star-telegram.com/
Author: Mike Lee


A year before the North Richland Hills SWAT team shot and killed Troy Davis, two of the team's members told superiors they were concerned that lax standards for the unit could leave it vulnerable to lawsuits. 

Team leader Joe Walley asked his superiors to let him write standard operating procedures.  He would later testify that he was "very uncomfortable going out on the street at night ...  doing a tactical operation without anything to go on."

Another officer returned from a national sniper school and warned that almost everything the SWAT team did was wrong.  The Police Department had no objective criteria for choosing team members.  No written exam.  No psychiatric profiles.  Those on the team didn't have to shoot better or be in better physical shape than other officers. 

Those problems could come back to haunt the Police Department if the team had to use deadly force and got sued, police Detective Greg Stilley warned in a memo.  Even if a shooting was justified, the department would look bad, Stilley told his superiors. 

Stilley, who was outside the Davis house when the SWAT team broke down the door, would prove to be prophetic.  Troy Davis' family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, raising many of the issues about standards and discipline that Stilley had warned about. 

Attorneys for the Police Department say it had cleaned up problems with SWAT team operations before the December 1999 raid.  Regardless, they contend in court documents, officers had no other option but to shoot when Troy Davis confronted them with a gun. 

In his September 1998 memo to the team's commanders, Stilley cited court rulings showing that other police departments had been found liable -- even in situations where a shooting was justified -- because they couldn't overcome accusations of negligent assignment, retention, training and supervision of officers. 

"I personally do not want to be the one to have to explain in court that our tactical weapons proficiency standards were based on the state's minimum requirements," he wrote. 

Ultimately, a court may decide whether the North Richland Hills Police Department bears any blame for Troy Davis' death.  As more documents and depositions become available through the Davis lawsuit, the clearest portrait to date can be pieced together about what happened during the raid, right up to what police say were Troy Davis' dying words. 

Plans for the raid began after a tipster informed the narcotics squad that marijuana was being grown in a closet at the house that Troy Davis, 25, shared with his mother, Barbara Davis. 

Andy Wallace, the sergeant in charge of both the SWAT team and the narcotics squad, wanted to start the raid early and catch the suspects sleeping.  But Municipal Judge Ray Oujesky balked at granting a search warrant based solely on the word of an untested, anonymous informer. 

Wallace went to Fort Worth to get the search warrant approved by another judge.  By the time he got back, it was 9:30 a.m.  on Dec.  15, 1999. 

Greg Crane was teaching a class in the SWAT bunker, the team's home in an industrial park near the police station, when Wallace told him to begin assembling the team.  Crane would be leading the raid since Walley, the usual leader, was recovering from burns to his hand. 

Depositions of police officers, a police videotape and other court documents describe how the raid went down. 

The informant said Troy Davis always answered the door with a gun in his hand.  The team would have to move fast -- break down the door and immobilize people in the house before they could go for a gun. 

"If this takes too long, I'm going to call 'Zulu' and bang the front room," Crane said, meaning that he would detonate a flash grenade. 

When they broke down the door, the team would break up into pairs and sweep through the rooms, using a diagram provided by the informant.  Crane didn't know it, but the diagram he was using was wrong.  It showed the kitchen at the back of the house, but the kitchen is actually at the front, with a window that looks out at the front porch. 

Some of the guys on the squad had just come back from their first round of training, and it was officer Allen Hill's first time as point man.  Hill usually worked as the team's medic, but Crane and Wallace agreed to put him in front because he was the best shot. 

They parked their unmarked van a few houses away on Ulster Drive, and crept toward the Davis house.  Hill was first in line, armed with a .45-caliber pistol. 

He and Curtis "Rusty" Westbrook were to be the first team.  The second team was Rodney McCrory and William Anders.  McCrory carried a pry bar known as a "hooligan tool" to open the storm door.  Anders carried a 40-pound steel ram to bash in the front door. 

As they approached the Davis house, Hill waved Anders and McCrory forward with the breaching tools.  They trotted past Troy Davis' bedroom window and stopped in a knot in front of the door and the kitchen window. 

McCrory jammed the hooligan tool in the storm door, which rattled and flexed but didn't open. 

McCrory jammed the tool back in the storm door, and it popped open. 

Hill and Westbrook lunged into the house, guns leveled. 

Less than 2 seconds later, Crane heard two gunshots. 

The shots had flung Davis from the foyer door into the living room.  Hill shouted for him to put his hands up, and Davis, lying on his back with a bullet through the chest and one through the stomach, complied.  Westbrook said he heard Davis gasp, "I didn't know.  I didn't know."

Davis was declared dead at the scene.  Police said his gun was on a couch next to him, loaded and cocked. 

Police found three marijuana plants, more marijuana in plastic bags, and equipment used for growing plants indoors.  They also found bottles of the banned designer drug GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate.  An autopsy found traces of marijuana in Troy Davis' system. 

Questions about the raid and the ensuing investigation have splintered the North Richland Hills Police Department and have provided fodder for the Davis family's attorneys. 

As Stilley predicted, the Davis attorneys maintain that Police Chief Tom Shockley failed to adequately train and supervise the SWAT team and the special-investigations unit. 

The attorneys, Jeff Kobs and Mark Haney, say the chief's decision to put Wallace in command of both the narcotics squad and the SWAT team eliminated vital checks and balances.  They also point out that Wallace had been suspended once for lying to a superior when questioned about using his department truck for personal business. 

The attorneys also say that the Police Department had a policy of conducting no-knock raids for every narcotics search warrant, which they say is unconstitutional. 

What's more, they assert that there is circumstantial evidence that Troy Davis was unarmed.  They contend that Wallace and the SWAT team planted the gun. 

The attorneys have gotten some of their most damning evidence from Hill and Crane, and from their supporters in the Police Department. 

Hill resigned five months after the shooting, saying he was being harassed by his superiors.  Crane and Stilley also quit. 

Two other officers, Kevin Brown and Tim Gilpin, have been suspended for providing information to the attorneys for the Davis family. 

Crane and Hill said during depositions that they were set up to take the fall for mistakes made by Wallace during his investigation of the informant's tip. 

Both men agree with the Davis attorneys that the raid was ill-conceived. 

"We should never have been there," Crane said. 

One mistake, they say, was basing a raid on a tip that may have resulted from a family feud. 

Wallace got the tip about Troy Davis' marijuana plants from Bob Davis, who is Troy Davis' uncle and who had been involved in a long-running dispute with his sister-in-law, Barbara Davis. 

After Wallace got the tip, he did little other investigation.  Court records show he never tried to make an undercover buy or put the house under surveillance. 

The attorneys and the former officers have also latched onto Barbara Davis' stature as a true-crime writer to assert that Wallace wanted to use the case for publicity. 

Barbara Davis had gained public attention after writing a book that concluded that Rowlett homemaker Darlie Routier was guilty of stabbing her two sons, then announcing that she was writing another book that would prove Routier was innocent. 

Police have said since the day of the raid at the Davis house that they did not know Barbara Davis was a writer.  But Bob Davis' tip repeatedly mentions her books and the Routier case. 

The Davis attorneys and the officers differ on a key point: whether Troy Davis confronted the officers with gun in hand. 

Haney said in court papers that the officers' versions of the shooting doesn't match the physical evidence.  Hill said Troy Davis was standing in the foyer; the position of his body and some of the bullet fragments show that he was standing in the adjacent living room, Haney said. 

The attorneys also contend that the crime scene may have been tampered with.  Two sets of photographs, taken hours apart, show that objects were moved in the living room and in Troy Davis' bedroom. 

Crane and Hill steadfastly insist that Troy Davis had a gun, leaving Hill no option but to shoot. 

He also said that before the Davis raid, the Police Department had addressed most of the issues that Stilley and Walley raised. 

Staples declined to talk to the Star-Telegram and has instructed the Police Department not to discuss the case. 

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