Sunday, 10 August 2008

Sweet Mother Of Cancer-Ridden Christ

They shot the dogs, for God's sake. It's not by any means the only jaw-dropping abuse of power evident in the story, but they shot the fucking dogs.

Digby has more.

9 comments:

Gooder said...

This is certainly one where I'd recommend trying to find out what really happened (or at the very least the exact details of the other sides story) before getting too het up about it.

In what you've linked to there is much to go on beyond the police look like they've been duped by a gang and under took a sting operation during which they felt they might be in danger (as someone saw them coming and screamed meaning someone inside could well be armed and ready) they did shoot the dogs but there's nothing there beside the owner to say they were harmless (thus we don't really know if the dogs went for the officers).

So, you know, just to say be careful and look for the full story as so far from what I've read in what you've linked to there is nothing there I would describe as jaw dropping abuse of power.

jamie said...

I'd agree that the operation itself would not appear to be a jaw-dropping abuse of power, but what really sticks in my craw is the refusal to apologise or admit that they could have handled it better.

As for the other story that Digby mentioned in his blog; utterly horrific. It's incredible that anybody could be so monumentally stupid as to not be able to tell the difference between a slavering attack canine aiming for the jugular and a happy-go-lucky dog wagging it's tail in greeting. Let alone the crime that the family itself was accused of (inside information? Don't make me laugh...).

SpaceSquid said...

How about the fact that the police had no "no-knock" warrant, and then pretended they had:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/05/AR2008080502664.html?nav=rss_metro

Technically, I suppose, that isn't so much abusing power as it is breaking the law and lying about it, but I'd argue that's beside the point (I'm completely unconvinced by the "scream" argument. If you have to announce your presence before a search you don't get to bypass that because people see you as you arrive). It does mean that the suggestion the dogs were "threatening" should be treated with suspicion, especially given how thorough the mayor's statement on the event is:

http://wjz.com/local/cheye.calvo.letter.2.791049.html

Note in the first link that the police aren't commenting further on the story (though in fairness that may simply be procedure), and that even the local police seem pissed about the county police's methodolody. There are also several reports of similar recent dog-shootings by police elsewhere. And that I'm pretty sure is abuse of power. So, I would say, is handcuffing people for hours next to their dead dogs and/or holding their heads down so they can't turn away.

Senior Spielbergo said...

I’m rather reluctant to comment on this one as I pretty much agree with Gooder that all of the facts are not available and everyone just seems to be jumping to conclusions. As with all these things we get the viewpoint of the victim loud and clear as they vent to the national media, but we never get to hear the police side of things because of the way they have to operate. I will however make a few observations:

Just reading through the statement by Mr Calvo, to me a couple of things leap out at me:

1. He states that when the police made entry his first thoughts were that his home was being invaded, he feared for his life and fell to the floor. He goes on to say that the officers on entry immediately shot one dog (Payton) and that the other dog was shot at the rear of the house (doesn’t state of this was immediate, shortly afterwards, or when). Both dogs were killed on the ground floor. Mr Calvo however makes it quite clear that while all this was happening he was on the floor above, in his bedroom, lying on the floor. In fact he only came downstairs when instructed to do so by the Police Officers. It seems a tad difficult then, baring some form of X-Ray vision that he could have been in any position to witness the killing of the dogs, or to be able to say “Neither dog attacked or "engaged" law enforcement”, as quite simply he was on a completely different floor of the house. The only possible witness to the actual events concerning the dogs (ignoring of course the police officers, who we have yet to see and likely will never see, their statements on the events) would have been the Mother in Law (who was apparently in the Kitchen). Therefore at best Mr Calvo appears to be repeating hearsay from what his Mother in Law saw from her limited vantage point, where she may have been in a position to witness one dog being shot, but certainly not the second. I’m not a dog expert but my understanding of them is that in a situation like this one they are likely to adobt one of two modes, submissive, where they lie on the floor and cower, or aggressive, where they move forward and attack. All we have in the statement is that one dog was “running”, so again difficult to form a conclusion. One thing I would comment on is that the police would have surrounded the house so I’m not sure how to view the statement that the dog was running “away” as I’m not sure where it would be running to that wasn’t towards the police.

2. The issues with the warrant. Bit of a tricky one as I’m not totally familiar with the law in America. Could well be the case that the officers going in thought they had applied for a no knock warrant when they hadn’t, could be they didn’t have one and just decided what the hell. Or it could be that the spokes person made an error initially in that because there was no knock, he made the assumption they had a no knock warrant. Without getting the full facts it’s kind of hard to say. One thing that I am aware of that in the case of a regular search warrant, police are entitled to do a “no knock” entry if there is reasonable cause to believe that evidence may be destroyed or there is a risk to officer safety. In this case it seems likely that the officers in question probably had a very strong belief that they had “been made”, the spotting of their approach by the mother in law who screamed out, combined with the fact Mr Calvo had just come outside and waved at what were presumably the recon officers in their SUV’s, would give any reasonable person the impression that the targets were aware of them coming. In drug raids especially they need some element of surprise as it is fairly straightforward for evidence to be destroyed in very short order, and with no surprise the level of risk to the officers increases greatly. Based on that it would be a fairly reasonable on scene call to perform the entry as quickly as possible to minimise risk

3. It also doesn’t appear that they were kept lying on the floor next to their dead dog for hours as you state. What is actually stated is that when initially restrained they were held there for “a considerable period of time”. When your hand cuffed on the floor, and suffering from a great deal of stress then one imagines that pretty much any period will feel like a “considerable period”. It would be fairly usual to keep them in the same positions until the house was secure and the initial search completed. The 2 hours that are quoted includes the length of time that the two of them were “interrogated” which presumably took the majority of the two hours. Again it’s not stated in his statement but one doesn’t imagine that they were questioning them while still lying on the floor as that would just make matters more difficult. Handcuffs would have been left on for the duration of the search (which probably did last 2 hours) in order to prevent any chance of tampering with evidence, escape or danger to officers.

Moving slightly on, in terms of abuse of power. If we assume there is one, where does it in fact lie?

1. The Arizona Narcotics team who originally started tracking the drugs
2. The Prince Georgian Narcotics team who set up the operation and applied for a search warrant
3. The judge who issued the search warrant
4. The SWAT team commander who planned the raid, and briefed his officers on the situation and what they would face in terms of threats.
5. The on scene commander who made the call to go in with no knock believing they had been made
6. The SWAT team officers who actually performed the raid and did the actual shooting

I’ve yet to see which stage the abuse of power actually occurred as at each stage the individual actions each seem defendable, and there is yet to be any precise finger pointing beyond the general, “it’s all the cops fault”. Yes the end result didn’t turn out very well, and it ended up being all based on some incorrect assumptions, but I still am yet to identify where the whole abuse of power actually kicks in. Perhaps in time, when a proper investigation is done and the knee jerk reaction done and dusted we will get a better idea on if there was a major cock up along the way. Until then I’m holding off judgement as there appears to be no evidence to support any proper accusations.

Oh and a final thing. I don’t like the idea of shooting dogs. I like dogs. But when it comes to police officers being potentially in danger, the bottom line is that the safety of mans best friend is fairly far down the list. You would probably have to check their operational procedures but one can’t imagine the lives of the animals will be considered in anyway important compared to any potential risk to officers and they will be written accordingly. No one is going to get a policy approved that doesn’t protect the officers above all else, other humans second, and other lives a very very distant third. Even if they did, then police officers will just refuse to conduct raids on any house with dogs in as they are just too high risk. Might encourage dog ownership in drug dealers though…

Jamie said...

'No one is going to get a policy approved that doesn’t protect the officers above all else, other humans second [...].'

Can I just say that this sentence rather worries me; whatever happened to 'Protect and Serve'? So the police officers' lives are de facto more important than those they are supposed to be defending from crime?

Senior Spielbergo said...

I’m afraid so. It’s a basic tenant employed throughout all emergency services, police, fire, ambulance, coast guard, lifeguards, you name it. Your first priority is the preservation of your own life, other people’s life being secondary. The idea being that if you die or are incapacitated then you are left with no one to follow through with the rescue / operation and the end result will overall be worse.

In the case of a rescue this is fairly obvious as if the rescuer dies there is no one to rescue the victim and so the victim most likely dies as well. The same ideas carry through for police operations. If there is too higher risk of officers getting killed or incapacitated then whatever operation is being conducted is likely to fail and the crime (whatever may be) will take place anyway you just also have an injured / dead officer to deal with. Both situations then can generate a knock on effect as additional rescuers / officers need to be employed to:

a) deal with the initial problem
b) attempt to rescue the downed rescuer / officer

You get additional problems at things like major incidents when there simply isn’t enough personnel to go round. The loss of one of the rescuers / officers involved ends up putting a much greater number of lives at risk as there are less people to perform rescues / keep the victims safe.

It’s one of these cold harsh reality things, that the people in charge have a duty of care to the people under their command. If the risks are too high then they simply won’t allow them to go in and the rules they create have to reflect these priorities. Other peoples lives are always considered important, but it’s a case of risk management when it comes to making these type of choices and we’ve moved beyond making the gut calls as to what seems right to a system that tries to factor in what will be of greatest benefit to all.

SpaceSquid said...

1. "He states that when the police made entry his first thoughts were that his home was being invaded, he feared for his life and fell to the floor... It seems a tad difficult then, baring some form of X-Ray vision that he could have been in any position to witness the killing of the dogs, or to be able to say “Neither dog attacked or "engaged" law enforcement”, as quite simply he was on a completely different floor of the house."

Not hard to imagine him hearing the two gunshots, though, is it? So he does know exactly when the shots were fired, and how soon after the police entered he heard the shot. The first shot was "immediate", so unless his dogs are labrador/Bart Allen crossbreeds, I think we can rule out the chance it was attacking (we should also bear in mind how unlikely a dog is to instantly attack and to do it in total silence).

"The only possible witness to the actual events concerning the dogs (ignoring of course the police officers, who we have yet to see and likely will never see, their statements on the events) would have been the Mother in Law ... [who] may have been in a position to witness one dog being shot, but certainly not the second."

You can probably work out pretty quickly where a dog has been shot from where the body is . Unless it's your contention that doggie #2 did threaten officers, again in silence, then was shot with some kind of bouncing bullet (again, Calvo saw the dead dog, so he didn't have to see the shooting to know it was hit in the back), and then they dragged it somewhere to make it look like it was moving away from the front door. Obviously Calvo may not be telling the truth, but your argument that he would be entirely reliant on his mother-in-law to patch together events for him doesn't really hold up.

"One thing I would comment on is that the police would have surrounded the house so I’m not sure how to view the statement that the dog was running “away” as I’m not sure where it would be running to that wasn’t towards the police."

This is exactly what I'm talking about regarding abuse of power. The second dog was almost certainly running towards a policeman, as you say. How could it not? The point is that it was the front door that had been breached. Your scenario has the dog running from the invaders it sees right in front of it (and who just shot his mate) and away towards policemen there is no reason to believe it even knows are there. It doesn't make any sense to observe that and think "I need to fire to protect my buddies".

That's exactly what abuse of power is. A situation in which you are legally empowered to do something, but you then do it for total bullshit reasons despite the damage that gets caused.

As regards the warrant, it seems unlikely the police thought they had a no-knock, otherwise the screaming of the mother in law would have been irrelevant. But that's part of what makes this whole thing so fishy. Different sources within the department have either claimed they thought they did have no-knock, or that they exercised their judgment in assuming they'd been rumbled and thus moving in.

"In this case it seems likely that the officers in question probably had a very strong belief that they had “been made”, the spotting of their approach by the mother in law who screamed out, combined with the fact Mr Calvo had just come outside and waved at what were presumably the recon officers in their SUV’s, would give any reasonable person the impression that the targets were aware of them coming."

Nope, it would give the impression that the target is capable of seeing human beings through the eyes placed in his skull. Under your scenario a guy goes walking his dogs whilst leaving a package of cannabis on his front porch in full view. He then sees the police, and decides to wave at them and then continue. He then strolls home, picks up the parcel and leisurely takes it inside. Hardly indicative of a criminal desperate to remove evidence, quite aside from the fact that were he to attempt to destroy the parcel that the authorities already know exists (and he doesn't know they know, if you get me) then destroying the parcel is immediate proof that he knew what was in it. All of which is only an issue for the, what, five or ten seconds it takes to walk up the driveway and ring the doorbell?

Plus, even if that does suggest sufficient reason to boost up to no-knock (and like I say, seeing someone does not mean being busted, these people aren't Special Forces or anything), that isn't the reason given. The reason given is that the mother in law saw them as they were approaching the front door. At which point you're essentially arguing that any knock warrant can be upgraded to no-knock if the targets realise the police have arrived.

I take your point about the handcuff thing maybe not being as bad as its been painted, at least in terms of the time span.

"Moving slightly on, in terms of abuse of power. If we assume there is one, where does it in fact lie?

1. The Arizona Narcotics team who originally started tracking the drugs
2. The Prince Georgian Narcotics team who set up the operation and applied for a search warrant
3. The judge who issued the search warrant
4. The SWAT team commander who planned the raid, and briefed his officers on the situation and what they would face in terms of threats.
5. The on scene commander who made the call to go in with no knock believing they had been made
6. The SWAT team officers who actually performed the raid and did the actual shooting"


4 was bad communication with local police, 5 was a dumb call that I wonder might be eventually declared illegal, and 6 is riddled with problems. Not identifying themselves as police, the dog thing; I've already partially granted the hand-cuff thing but there are still some allegations of unnecessary roughness against an elderly (or close to it) woman caught up in there.

"No one is going to get a policy approved that doesn’t protect the officers above all else, other humans second, and other lives a very very distant third."

I'm aware of that (though like Jamie I'm not too happy about it). My point remains that writing rules that are that one-sided when it comes to Police vs. Other means it will be very easy to abuse that power which is exactly what happened.

* Though as I've said, it's not just that the police are keeping quiet, it's that what little they say doesn't add up, they've been discovered to have been lying, deliberately or otherwise, by the Washington Post, and that the Major of a town has a vested interest in maintaining the good name of the police force in a way that private citizens don't, so I'd be somewhat less inclined to dismiss this testimony than most even if it weren't for the other issues.

Senior Spielbergo said...

Just to address your first half where you basically are asserting that while you concede Mr Calvos did not see the events unfolding he would be able to deduce what had happened basically from:

a) The sounds he heard
b) Where the dogs bodies were found
c) The state of the bodies.

The answer is that yes he could make assumptions based on this information, but are these assumptions backed up with enough for me to except them at face value? Not really.

Regards a) sound. Yep he could hear the shots and apparently didn’t hear the dogs barking or making any other noise. Now your making an assumption that he would be able to identify whatever noise his dog was making (be it a growl, bark or whatever) over the sounds the SWAT team were making. It’s possible, but a SWAT team does tend to enter a place with a lot of noise. Smashing a door is not a quiet process, shooting a rifle is really not quiet, if they were using distraction devices (which American’s love) then that’s another thing to contend with (these things are designed to deafen you for a period). Again I just don’t have enough information to form an opinion on that, but am willing to keep an open mind. You also have various subjective points such as the dog being shot “immediately”. Define immediately, are we talking from the first attempt to breach the door? Within a few seconds? It’s the tiniest detail that makes evidence such as this useful, and again from newspaper reports I have yet to see much in the way of detail to let me form an opinion.

b) The position of the bodies will certainly be a factor but again there are a lot of assumptions that have to be made. Were they moved? Did they die instantly? What were the positions of the police officers involved? Just because they were going in the front door doesn’t mean they didn’t have officers breaking windows etc to provide cover from other positions. What was the position of the officers who fired the shots? It is bloody difficult for trained crime scene investigators to put together a scene accurately with this sort of confusion going on, and even they frequently get it wrong. A view put across by someone untrained who is viewing it in a state of grief unfortunately is very little more than a guess.

With regards c) firearms generally produce both an exit wound and an entry wound. Trained Medical Examiners have been known to mistake an exit wound for an entry wound. Exit wounds are if anything larger than an entry wound and so the most likely wound that you pick up on tends to be the exit wound. Now I have no idea if Mr Calvos has any medical training or familiarity with this sort of thing, and if he is then he may be able to give a reliable opinion as to from which direction his dogs were shot. If he is not however then all it is, is an assumption, one that is quite easy to get completely wrong and generate a completely different scenario. If there is some expert knowledge in play that allows him to make these sort of conclusions then so it shall be, myself not seeing any evidence of that would prefer to see a report from a professional if we are going to make assumptions on something like this. Again this harps back to the problem that we also have no clue as to the positions of any of the officers either.

Essentially what I am saying is that from his statement Mr Calvos did not in fact see anything. All he can do is form an opinion based on other details available to him and in order for that to be a credible opinion it should be:

a) unbiased (which it clearly can’t be)
b) based on a lot of very specialised knowledge (which so far has yet to be demonstrated, but am willing to review if this proves not to be the case)

Just to reiterate, my main point is not that the Police Officers have done nothing wrong. For all I know they could have gone in there, shot his dogs for kicks and laughed about it over beers afterwards (if so I envisage them having southern accents and yelling yeehaw as well, but that’s probably a sign of my general view of Americans). My point is that the court of public opinion should require the same premise of the right to a fair trial as an actual court, and that so far their has not been any proper investigation, no real evidence put forward, the views of both sides have not been heard in a fair and impartial way, and yet the court seems willing to form a premature opinion regardless. How about a little restraint?

Senior Spielbergo said...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/04/AR2008090402746.html

The internal review found in favor of the cops. Will await to see what further comes out and if Calvo gets his FBI review