I am a big supporter of law enforcement, and I have the absolute utmost of respect for most police officers. They do a difficult and usually-thankless job. I’ve had interaction with various police officers and departments in my life—after reporting stolen property (in high school), being pulled over for speeding (twice in the early 2000s), getting ticketed for being in a park after hours (2001), after one car accident (2002), when I’ve stuck around after witnessing various accidents, while they canvassed my neighborhood during an investigation (2007), while they were providing event security, and socially. These officers have all been kind, fair, and professional.
I’ve had two unpleasant experiences. One, involving Fairfax County Police Ofc. Graham Buck, I’ve written about extensively before. The other, involving Fairfax County Police Ofc. George Lopez, I characterize as more minor and have not written about before. While driving through the Clifton Day festival at extremely low speed to go pick up Melissa and her art displays, Ofc. Lopez stopped me and literally got in my face and yelled at me because, apparently, his vague hand gesture I had been trying to decipher meant ‘stop the car now’ and I, busy trying to decipher it, hadn’t stopped right away. (I did file a complaint since Ofc. Lopez was extraordinarily rude, and the Internal Affairs Bureau found that he had not broken any law or department policy. That does not necessarily mean he wasn’t informally reprimanded by his superiors, but if he was it was ‘off the record’.)
But neither of these incidents compares to the egregious abuse of power committed recently by the Prince George’s County Police in Maryland more reminiscent of the Nazi SS than an American police force.
A nationwide drug smuggling ring had an interesting racket where they would send large shipments of marijuana to random addresses served by an ‘inside man’ at FedEx. The FedEx delivery man would then deliver the package, leaving it on unsuspecting (and uninvolved) citizens’ doorsteps, for pickup by the intended recipient.
After a drug-sniffing dog alerted on one of these packages, PG County police obtained a warrant for the home to which it was being delivered—the address of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo. Instead of, say, knocking on the door and executing the warrant (which did not authorize a ‘no-knock’ entry), the police illegally broke down the door, handcuffed the Mayor and his mother-in-law, shot the family’s two dogs, and then proceeded to execute the warrant (tracking the two dead Labrador Retrievers’ blood all over the house) and subject the innocent victims to hours of questioning within view of their dogs’ carcasses.
The police claim that the two dogs, known for attacking visitors with a barrage of friendly licks, were ‘threatening’—including the second dog, which was running away from police when they shot and killed it.
This is an absolute outrage, and patently illegal, for a number of reasons:
- First, despite a memorandum of agreement between the PG County Police Department and the (much smaller) Berwyn Heights Police Department, PG County Police did not coordinate with the Berwyn Heights Police. The Berwyn Heights police chief, a close coworker of the mayor, almost definitely could have gained peaceful access to his house, locked up the dogs, and cleared the way for PG County Police to execute a peaceful search.
- Second, despite a warrant that did not permit a ‘no-knock’ entry to the home, police broke down the door and entered the house. Without probable cause, and acting outside of the authority of their search warrant, the police committed felony breaking and entering (with apparent intent to cause harm, since they were brandishing weapons) and vandalism.
- Third, having entered the house outside of their police authority, actions they commit inside the house are subject to the same laws I would be subject to if I broke into the house. Thus, by shooting the dogs, they illegally brandished firearms, illegally discharged firearms, and committed an act of animal cruelty (not even including the civil charges for the value of the dogs and damaged property).
- Fourth, again having entered the house outside of their police authority, detaining the Mayor and his mother-in-law was an illegal detention.
Prince George’s County is, on the whole, not a particulary pleasent place. There are nice neighborhoods, including Berwyn Heights and other towns, but much of the county sports a crime rate that approaches that of the city of Washington, DC. In high-crime jurisdictions, even more so than elsewhere, police are (or should be) greatly respected by the law abiding citizens trying to keep their neighborhoods safe. In PG county though, they are acting like just another band of criminals (who happen to wear uniforms).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the illegal raid (and other similar raids), and the Maryland State’s Attorney office should be doing the same and should prosecute these thugs to the full extent of the law. The leaders of Prince George’s County must also do their part, immediately suspending the officers involved and reviewing the police department’s procedures. There is no excuse for this egregious abuse of power, and those who committed this crime must be punished.