Wrong-door SWAT raid leaves Georgia couple thinking they were being robbed

A Savannah SWAT officer trains on breaching residential doors. (Source: SavannahNow.com)
Remnants of Michael Hall's Door (Source: WTOC)
Remnants of Michael Hall’s Door (Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA — Yet another innocent couple was jarred from their beds to the sounds of explosions, glass breaking, and armed men crashing through their door.  As armed men broke into their windows and doors, invading their bedroom, they thought that they were being robbed by a criminal gang.

Police crashed through 4 windows and a door. (Source: WTOC)
Police crashed through 4 windows and a door. (Source: WTOC)

Michael Hall and his wife were awoken Thursday morning at 4:00 AM to the sounds of violent entry into their home.  They both thought that they were being robbed.

But it wasn’t a robbery.  They were experiencing first-hand one of the tens of thousands of SWAT raids that occur annually in the U.S. per year.  As many are, this one was a no-knock (no warning) raid.

“We heard a kaboom, and after that we jumped up out of the bed and police are screaming: ‘get down, get down get down,'” Hall told WTOC.

The paramilitary team had breached not only his front door, which was splintered into pieces, but also simultaneously breached four windows, perhaps for dramatic effect.

“They stayed in there about two, maybe three minutes, searching the house, saying: ‘clear room one; clear room two; clear room three; clear room four’. At that time the SWAT team left, after they cleared the house,” Hall said.

A Savannah SWAT officer trains on breaching residential doors.  (Source: SavannahNow.com)
A Savannah SWAT officer trains on breaching residential doors. (Source: SavannahNow.com)

Mr. and Mrs. Hall only had enough time to stumble out of bed before they were taken to the ground by SWAT agents and forced into plastic handcuffs.

Before leaving, the Halls were questioned about a man they never heard of.  Police were looking for a 20-year-old gang member named Jashavious Keel, who had never lived at the address.

The Halls had come within inches of their lives over a mistake.  Any SWAT raid can easily turn into a tragedy, with the possibility of one false move being interpreted by an edgy cop as an act of aggression.

The supposed strength of the “no-knock raid” tactic is also its greatest downfall.  While breaking into a home without warning does give the intruders the element of surprise, this tactic also escalates the possibilities of an innocent person taking up arms against the intruders, without knowing that they were the police.  The sounds of glass shattering in the middle of the night would prompt many people to reach for a firearm to defend their family from an intruder.  Just ask Jose Guerena, an innocent father who was shot two dozen times as he investigated the noises caused by uniformed intruders.

Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, has written extensively on police excesses and the transformation of law enforcement in the U.S.  He explained in a recent interview with Salon:

The rise of SWAT teams nationwide, the number of annual SWAT deployments in the U.S., has gone from a few hundred in the ’70s, to 30,000 per year in the early ’80s, to 50,000 in 2005. That’s 100, 150 times a day in this country you have these heavily armed police teams breaking into homes, and the vast majority of times it’s to enforce laws against consensual crimes.

So when should SWAT be used?  Most would agree that there are some circumstances that would warrant a high-risk extraction team that would be perfectly handled by Special Weapons And Tactics.  But once a SWAT team is acquired, departments have a way of finding uses for them.  As policestateusa.com contributor Lt. Harry Thomas put it, drawing from his career in law enforcement:

SWAT is a legitimate concept, and is needed in cases of barricaded persons, hostage situations, etc. But most agencies, even big ones, go for months and sometimes years without experiencing such events. The toys gathered dust. Officials and concerned taxpayers asked, “What do you NEED this stuff for?”  No need? CREATE a need!  And that’s why things that used to be handled in a low-key, non-confrontational way by street-savvy beat cops now require SWAT intervention, including routine service of warrants for insignificant and non-violent offenses.

 Fortunately this case “only” resulted in the couple being terrorized and thousands of dollars of damage being done to their home.  The city and county are negotiating for repairs.  But that does nothing to address the rampant militarization of police across the country.

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