BURLESON COUNTY, TX — Tragedy struck when police staged an aggressive no-knock, no-announce SWAT raid on a marijuana user with no history of violence in his record. One deputy was shot when the homeowner picked up a rifle to protect his family from what he thought were home invaders. The officer’s life is over and the homeowner will now face trial that could put him in prison for a long time because of a confrontation that never needed to happen.
A RUDE AWAKENING
Henry Goedrich Magee, 28, was awoken from a sound sleep at around 5:50 a.m. to the sound of his front door being broken down, footsteps, and loud explosions. The intrusion jolted Magee out of bed and he grabbed a rifle that was kept in the bedroom he shared with his pregnant girlfriend for protection. What transpired on the morning of December 19th, 2013, would be a life-changing event for all involved.
Magee, without a moment’s hesitation, took aim at the shadowy figures that had crashed into his home. His shots fatally struck one of them.
As the situation settled down it became evident that the people that had broken into the mobile home were police officers. Magee surrendered without further incident.
The man who had just been mortally wounded was Burleson County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Sowders, a well-liked cop and firefighter. He was the only person wounded. What was he doing breaking into Magee’s house before dawn?
Sgt. Sowders, age 31, had been a part of a SWAT team performing a no-knock raid to enforce prohibition laws. The noises that had startled Magee were the sounds of eight deputies detonating concussion grenades and breaching his front door — all without actually knocking or announcing themselves.
The paramilitary team was on a mission to find illegal weeds, and were prepared to kill — or die — to prevent them from growing. They found some: two 6-inch sprouts and some seedlings. Apparently getting those plants off the streets means that the mission was a success.
Magee was arrested and his plants and legally-obtained firearms were confiscated. He was charged with capital murder and held on $1,000,000.00 bail.
PLANNING THE ATTACK
Sowders himself had requested that officers serve the warrant “without first knocking and announcing the presence and purpose of officers.” The reasoning, in Sowder’s own opinion, was that approaching Magee — who had no violent offenses on his record — by knocking on the door during daytime hours would be “dangerous, futile, or would inhibit the effective investigation.”
“Inhibiting the effective investigation” is another way of saying that Sowders didn’t want Magee to flush his stash. The desire to obtain a marijuana conviction was urgent enough that Sowders was willing to break into a rural Texas home under cover of darkness in a manner indistinguishable from a burglar.
“It was a normal search warrant,” remarked Sheriff Dale Stroud during a press conference, indicating the routine nature of his department raiding homes without knocking or announcing themselves.
Additionally, the raid was staged based on the allegations of an informant who had himself been arrested. The snitch told police that their were 12-15 marijuana plants to be found inside the Magee home. This turned out to be false, and draws concerns from the public who wonder if their home can be violently raided because someone decided to spread rumors.
Magee maintained that he did not know the identity of the home invaders, and feared for the safety of himself and his pregnant girlfriend. His defense said that he was defending his home and had a right to do so. The situation was created by the initiation of force by police.
“The danger is that if you’re sitting in your home and it’s pitch black outside and your door gets busted in without warning, what the hell are you supposed to do?” attorney Dick DeGuerin said to The Eagle.
Magee’s charge of capital murder of a peace officer loomed with the potential to deliver him the death penalty in Texas.
GRAND JURY’S FINDINGS
After reviewing the evidence weighed against Magee for capital murder, a grand jury decided that there was not enough evidence to stand trial for that charge.
Law enforcement, lacking the objectivity to detect the flaws in their own tactics and agenda, grew immediately incensed by the decision that a “cop-killer” would escape a murder trial. The outrage was palpable on police forums across the country.
Magee’s defense said that the grand jury’s decision was reasonable, given the fact that Magee was taken by surprise and feared for his life. “It was a tragic accident, but it wasn’t a crime,” DeGuerin said.
It wasn’t as if Magee set his alarm clock one morning and decided to go murder a police officer. His home was attacked by surprise and he groggily reacted in a situation that law enforcement described as “occurr[ing] in a matter of seconds amongst chaos.”
“This is something that could have happened to anyone protecting their home at night,” DeGuerrin explained. “‘Hank [Magee], like any homeowner, defended himself and his pregnant girlfriend.”
The grand jury, despite its decision, still took a pro-law-enforcement position and indicted Mr. Magee for the weeds he grew in his home. Magee received a third-degree felony indictment for owning firearms while in “possession of marijuana [weighing] more than 4 oz. but less than 5 lbs.”
Julie Renken, the district attorney, said she would “fully prosecute” Magee for this crime, which could itself carry up to a 10 year prison sentence if convicted. She wrote in a statement:
“The Burleson County Sheriff’s Office would not have been there that day if Mr. Magee had not decided to live a lifestyle of doing and producing illegal drugs in his home. Therefore, we will fully prosecute the drug charges against him. This event should wake the community up that drug crimes are not victimless.”
The tone-deaf D.A. would have more appropriately noted that it was not Magee’s pot plants that caused Sowder’s death — it was the unjust set of laws criminalizing non-violent behavior and paramilitary tactics of law enforcement that created a scenario that predictably spurred confusion and violence.
TRAGEDY BY DESIGN
Were the weeds that Hank Magee grew worth worth getting shot over? Were they worth a police officer’s life?
Members of law enforcement should challenge themselves to answer those questions. Because the system that they operate within regularly sets them up for violent confrontations over laws that are ridiculous by any objective standard. One could easily make a case for risking their life to stop a kidnapper — but is it worth laying down one’s life to stop someone from getting high?
Sgt. Sowder’s death is a tragedy, and represents one more casualty the relentless Drug War. The prohibition of drugs itself is the progenitor of such violence and destruction of lives. Without the drug laws Sowders was intent on enforcing, he (and many others) would still be alive.
And if Magee is convicted, several more lives will be harmed or destroyed. Magee’s maximum sentence is up to ten years in prison, a term that would strip him from his unborn child, girlfriend, and family for many irreplaceable years. And for what? Growing illegal plants.
When confronted with the oppressiveness of the system, members of law enforcement invariably defer responsibility for the laws they enforce and blame the other branches of government. They disregard the ability of the executive branch to stop dedicating resources toward enforcing these wrongheaded, unjust laws.
Perhaps in someone like Sgt. Sowders’ case, a more responsible arrest method could have been chosen. Rather than turning a man’s smoking habit into an aggressive military operation, the officers could have tried something more conventional and less evocative of a police state.
“It need not have happened. They could have walked up to his house in the daylight and he would have let him in or they could have stopped him as he left his house to go to the store,” DeGuerin said to KBTX.
One thing is certain, the violence of the Drug War will continue so long as people hold onto this faulty idea. Whether it is drug user or drug enforcer, the blood will not stop flowing until serious reforms are enacted all over the country.
If people truly regret the loss of officers like Adam Sowders, they will call for a ceasefire. End the Drug War.
Tell the D.A. to relent with her pursuit of imprisoning drug users.
Julie Renken, 21st Judicial District Attorney
Phone: (979) 567-2350
Tell the department to stop performing no-knock raids over non-violent crimes.
Here is the contact information of Mr. Magee:
Henry Magee, Inmate #2187792
Washington County Jail
1206 Old Independence Road
Brenham, TX 77833