* On August 26, 1992, federal drug agents conduct a late-night raid at the San Diego-area home of Donald Carlson. Carlson awakes, frightened, and assumes the agents are unlawful intruders. He fires two shots at the door to ward them off. The agents then break down Carlson's door and shoot him in the back. Carlson was in intensive care for six weeks. The police had acted on a bad tip from an anonymous informant who was later convicted on 25 counts of lying to federal investigators. The same informant later led police to send a SWAT team to wrongly raid the home of Michelle and Tony Jones in Poway, California. In 1994, Carlson won a $2.75 million settlement against the federal government. In a follow-up investigative report triggered by the Carlson raid, the San Diego Union-Tribune found that just a month earlier, police had conducted another wrong-door raid in which "residents say their daughters were subjected to genital searches while a gun was held to the head of their 6 year old son. No drugs were found." The Union-Tribune concluded that the Carlson raid and those like it happen too frequently because of "heavy pressure from Customs managers -- who stand to gain professionally by generating arrests and big caseloads -- on street agents to produce headline-grabbing cases."
Sources: "Man shot by government agents gets $2.75 million," Reuters, December 15, 1994. Philip J. LaVelle, "Excesses blamed in 'bad raids,'" San Diego Union-Tribune, December 13, 1992.
* Once you've got a cool tool, you kind of want to use it. That's true whether it's a pneumatic drill, a laser level or an armored fighting vehicle. SWAT teams, designed to deal with rare events, wound up doing routine police work, like serving drug warrants.
The subtle effect is also real: Dress like a soldier and you think you're at war. And, in wartime, civil liberties--or possible innocence--of the people on "the other side" don't come up much. But the police aren't at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they're not supposed to be.
Read more: SWAT Overkill: The Danger of a Paramilitary Police Force -
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