This is why the Fourth Amendment is important

by sawamix

…and why the Bush Administration’s treating the Constitution like “just a goddamn piece of paper” is so troubling: because “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about” often is not the case, as the mayor of Berwin Heights, Maryland found out recently.

I first found out about this story via Eric Rice, whose blog began with his efforts to help the dogs left behind in New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. But while initial coverage painted this as a drug bust, the truth is much darker:

Mayor Cheye Calvo got home from work, saw a package addressed to his wife on the front porch and brought it inside, putting it on a table.

Suddenly, police with guns drawn kicked in the door and stormed in, shooting to death the couple’s two dogs and seizing the unopened package.

In it were 32 pounds of marijuana. But the drugs evidently didn’t belong to the couple.

Police say the couple appeared to be innocent victims of a scheme by two men to smuggle millions of dollars worth of marijuana by having it delivered to about a half-dozen unsuspecting recipients.

The two men under arrest include a FedEx deliveryman; investigators said the deliveryman would drop off a package outside a home, and the other man would come by a short time later and pick it up.

Now, federal authorities say they’re looking into how local law enforcement handled the July 29 raid. FBI Agent Rich Wolf said late Thursday that the bureau had opened a civil rights investigation into the case.

A furious Calvo said earlier Thursday that he and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, had asked the government to investigate.

“Trinity was an innocent victim and random victim,” Calvo said outside his two-story, red-brick house in this middle-class Washington suburb of about 3,000 people. “We were harmed by the very people who took an oath to protect us.”

Calvo insisted the couple’s two black Labradors were gentle creatures and said police apparently killed them “for sport,” gunning down one of them as it was running away.

“Our dogs were our children,” said the 37-year-old Calvo. “They were the reason we bought this house because it had a big yard for them to run in.”

The mayor, who was changing his clothes when police burst in, also complained that he was handcuffed in his boxer shorts for about two hours along with his mother-in-law, and said the officers didn’t believe him when he told them he was the mayor. No charges were brought against Calvo or his wife, who came home in the middle of the raid.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin High said Wednesday that Calvo and his family were “most likely … innocent victims,” but he would not rule out their involvement, and he defended the way the raid was conducted. He and other officials did not apologize for killing the dogs, saying the officers felt threatened.

The FBI will monitor how effective, fair and professional the law enforcement agency’s conduct was during the incident, Wolf said. A police spokesman declined comment Thursday on the FBI investigation.

Police announced Wednesday they had arrested two men suspected in a plot to smuggle 417 pounds of marijuana, and seized a total of $3.6 million in pot. Investigators said the package that arrived on Calvo’s porch had been sent from Los Angeles via FedEx, and they had been tracking it ever since it drew the attention of a drug-sniffing dog in Arizona.

Police intercepted it in Maryland, and an undercover detective posing as a deliveryman took it to the Calvo home.

Calvo’s defenders — including the Berwyn Heights police chief, who said his department should have been alerted ahead of time — said police had no right to enter the home without knocking.

But officials insisted they acted within the law, saying the operation was compromised when Calvo’s mother-in-law saw officers approaching the house and screamed. That could have given someone time to grab a gun or destroy evidence, authorities said.

In other words, this household was the victim of others, but the police are trying to save face by claiming that they aren’t certain the Calvos weren’t involved.

Note also that these dogs weren’t pit bulls. They weren’t even Rottweilers, not that the presence of a Rottweiler is reason to just kill a dog for no reason because you want to be like TV cops.

Eric comments:

Can I say what the hell is going on here? These are fully trained professionals? A kid and ball could have contained these dogs. Shot? Pursued and shot? Can we say trigger happy morons just waiting to bust of some rounds and choosing these dogs because they think, “hey they are just dogs, it isn’t like we shot some people you know.”

I went in over 500 homes in New Orleans and did’t need to shoot a single dog in 3 weeks and nobody else did either.

This is an outrageous abuse and totally unnecessary. Even if the officers got a little bite it would have been reasonable vs shooting and killing two otherwise friendly dogs in their own house. As much as I see them tasering and beating people with clubs I am quite sure they could have found another way to disable two dogs. Not to mention that these “wanna be” swat players went in with all kinds of protective gear on I am sure.

As animal people we understand the dogs were probably acting up loudly as a group of men busted the door down and proceeded to attack its owner. One of which was shot in the back as it ran away.

To interrogate these people who were not even arrested in the presence of their own killed dogs is simply one of the most despicable things I have ever heard of by the police.

So these dogs were shot as they RAN AWAY from the police. Nice. What, they were afraid the dogs were going to alert the media?

“But they had a search warrant!” Yes, but even the police chief concedes that the warrant was not worded so as to allow this kind of no-knock raid:

Patrick Murphy, the chief of the Berwyn Heights police, was not informed about the raid in advance. He reviewed the warrant and concluded Tuesday it did not contain the necessary language.

“There is no permission from the judge to treat this as a no-knock warrant. There is no affidavit of probable cause,” Chief Murphy said. “The mayor demanded that they show him the warrant and they never did so.”

The mayor, Cheye Calvo, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but described the raid in an interview last week.

“They bound me and forced me to kneel in the corner,” he recalled. “My mother-in-law was bound on the kitchen floor. They killed our dogs; these dogs are loved throughout town.”

This is just an example of why Congress’ refusal to enforce the Fourth Amendment where the Administration’s mass wiretapping is concerned. No, this botched raid was not committed by the Bush Administration. But when you set a precedent at the highest levels of government that people in positions of authority are above the law and have no accountability, that the end always justifies the means, and that citizens are guilty until proven innocent, this is what you get — citizens victimized by the very people whose job it is to protect them.

More here and here:

But here’s what isn’t mentioned in the above news report: Take a look at this AP story from July 31:

I snagged an image in case AP takes this story down (click image to view actual size). Note the second paragraph that I’ve circled:

Prince George’s County Police said Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo brought a 32-pound package of marijuana into his home that had been delivered by officers posing as delivery men. The Tuesday evening raid was conducted by county police narcotics officers and a sheriff’s office SWAT Team.

This does not appear in later versions of the story. Why was this scrubbed? And why were police officers planting a large package of marijuana at the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights?