Oops, wrong house...

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Oops, wrong house...

Postby palmspringsbum » Mon Jun 19, 2006 4:14 pm

The News Leader wrote:Published June 19, 2006

The Springfield News Leader

Raid on home turns up no meth lab but leaves two injured

<table class=posttable align=right width=300><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg src=bin/durr-pojar_patricia-and-son.jpg width=300></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>Patricia Durr-Pojar and her son, Curtis Pojar, both were hurt when authorities searched her home for a meth lab. No lab was found.</td></tr></table>Patricia Durr-Pojar has a gash beneath her right eye, with stitches and a bandage over it.

Her son, Curtis Pojar, has bruises on his back and a contusion under his left eye. Durr-Pojar spent Thursday and Friday nights in a local emergency room — first, to have the cut under her eye treated, for a CT scan of her head and X-rays on her knees. The next night she went back to get a knee splint and crutches.

"I've had lots of knee surgery, and they slammed me down so hard on my knees," she said.

"They" are members of COMET — the Combined Ozark Multi-Jurisdictional Enforcement Team — who broke into her home Thursday night to execute a search warrant for a reported meth lab.

They found none after breaking windows, doors and screens and knocking Durr-Pojar and Pojar to the floor and handcuffing both of them.

The warrant signed by Greene County Circuit Judge Mark Powell specified officers were to search for "controlled substances, in particular, methamphetamine, methamphetamine paraphernalia and other related items used in the manufacture and/or the distributing of controlled substances, in particular, methamphetamine."

Durr-Pojar said she believes the SWAT team arrived around 10 p.m., but said she isn't sure because of the time she was kept on her bathroom floor, not allowed to get up, "and I may have blacked out part of that time."

Despite officers breaking in and throwing items out of the second-story windows, the receipt of what officers took from the property listed nothing found in Durr-Pojar's home.

Found in Curtis Pojar's trailer — where he lives in front of his mother's house — and seized by officers were a .22 caliber pistol, "two bags of marijuana, marijuana pipe and roach clip, bag and bottle of marijuana seeds and bottle of marijuana."

Pojar was charged with possession of the items. He also was convicted in 1997 of possession of drug paraphernalia and received a suspended sentence and probation.

<table class=posttable align=right width=300><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg src=bin/durr-pojar_patricia-and-house.jpg width=300></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>Patricia Durr-Pojar says neither she nor her son heard officers identify themselves as they broke into her home.</td></tr></table>Durr-Pojar said she could not get any of the officers who broke into her house to tell her why they were there, except to berate her for risking her neighbor's safety by running a meth lab in her home.

Durr-Pojar said she saw at least one Missouri Highway Patrol vehicle and one from the Willard Fire Protection District among those gathered, but a dispatcher with the patrol said Sunday that any information released would have to come from the agency the patrol was assisting at such an event.

Gary Wirth, Willard Fire Chief, said his agency only responded to the scene for a medical call.

Springfield Police could provide no information on the raid Sunday, but Greene County Sheriff Jack Merritt was able to find out information about the raid and said COMET officers did acknowledge injuring Durr-Pojar.

He said officers had information leading them to think there may have been a meth lab at the home.

The resident said she and her son had just returned home when black-garbed officers with black masks started setting off explosives outside the house.

"A flash grenade went off," Pojar said. "We didn't know what it was, but they threw it at the back window. It sounded like a stick of dynamite went off."

Durr-Pojar said neither she nor her son heard any of the officers identify themselves before or as they were breaking in.

Pojar, who has no kitchen in his travel trailer, was in the kitchen of his mom's home when they came in. He ran toward her room, while she was headed to the bathroom.

"She was screaming and I didn't know what was going on," he said. "That's when they knocked her to the floor."

Durr-Pojar said she did run for her bathroom and closed her door. "I thought they were going to kill me. All this fire seemed to come through the windows. ... I didn't know if they were gun shots or what, and I thought Curtis had been shot or that the propane tank had blown up. I ran to the bathroom when I saw Curtis' head go down when the officers knocked him down. I closed the door, and they knocked it in and hit me in the head with it, then knocked me to the floor," said Durr-Pojar, who is on disability but works part-time making phone calls for a Springfield business.

<table class=posttable align=right width=300><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg src=bin/durr-pojar_patricia-and-blood.jpg width=300></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>Patricia Durr-Pojar says she is afraid to clean her blood off her floor before she talks to a lawyer.</td></tr></table>Merritt said COMET officers "said they thought she was running from them, even though they were yelling at her to stop."

Durr-Pojar said her head wound came from her face hitting the ceramic tile of her bathroom floor. "They hit in here with such violence, it was in a militant, terrorist style." Mother and son both said an officer repeatedly jumped up and down on Pojar's back with his knee, despite their both calling out that Pojar had had back fusion surgery in March from a construction injury.

On Sunday morning, broken glass from the front storm door lay on the house's front porch, yard and in Durr-Pojar's bathroom, and broken screens and storm windows were strewn over the yard. A plastic bag full of latex gloves and black items lay on the yard, Durr-Pojar said, left by the officers. "I was afraid to touch it — I don't know what's in it."

She said she is afraid to clean the glass from her tub so she can take a bath, or clean up other glass and a dark brown puddle on her tile which she believes is her blood, because friends and family members encouraged her to see a lawyer and she wasn't able to contact one on the weekend.

Flies, other insects — and perhaps other critters — come and go into the house, while Durr-Pojar and her son wonder how they will secure it. "I don't have no way to fix it," she said. "OACAC (the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation) helped me winterize it and re-wire the electricity. But how do you think I'm going to replace my house?"


No law-abiding citizen can condone the thought of a meth lab. Its manufacture and sale brings danger to innocent people from users and their meth-madness, including the hazards of it blowing everyone near it to Kingdom Come.

But the brutality of this raid is terrifying. Durr-Pojar and her son said they did not hear officers warn them before breaking in.

And run from them? I've watched enough cop shows to know that in drug raids, people show up in black. But if they broke into my house unexpectedly among blazes and booms, would my first instinct be to run? You bet — run, jump, try to fly or drop and roll. I would probably think I was going to be killed, too.

And yes, the officers had to look at the items in a home where they suspected a meth lab.

But to throw things out a window, breaking them out and leaving them on the ground of a woman who obviously doesn't have money to replace them, wrestling her to the ground and holding her down so hard she needed stitches in her face?

What did that benefit their search?

I'd love to hear their answer.

<span class=postbold>See Also</span>: Drug force apologetic for raid error
Last edited by palmspringsbum on Sun Aug 06, 2006 3:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby budman » Sat Jul 22, 2006 11:39 am

FoxNews.com wrote:Drug War Police Tactics Endanger Innocent Citizens

Friday , July 21, 2006
By Radley Balko

Winston Churchill is commonly credited with having said, "Democracy means that when there's a knock in the door at 3 am, it's probably the milkman."

One wonders what Churchill would make of modern-day, drug war America.

For the last year, I've been researching a study on SWAT teams, "no-knock" raids, and the rise of paramilitary tactics in domestic policing (the study was released this week). The trends I've found are troubling, and some of the individual stories are absolutely heartbreaking.

Each day in America, police SWAT teams raid more than 100 private homes, many times very late at night, or very early in the morning. Many times, these teams don't even bother to knock. Because these raids are violent, confrontational, and often conducted on questionable intelligence (I'll get to that in a moment), they've left a long trail of "wrong address" raids on frightened innocents, needless injury, and even death.

Since the early 1980s, the U.S. has seen a 1,300 percent rise in the number of SWAT team deployments, from 3,000 per year in 1981, to more than 40,000 per year in 2001 (the number is likely even higher today). It's of no coincidence that this dramatic increase has taken place over the period the U.S. has reinvigorated its war on drugs.

According to Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Peter Kraska, who has tracked the trend, the vast majority of these raids are to serve routine drug warrants, many times for crimes no more serious than possession of marijuana.

If you've seen an episode of Cops or Dallas SWAT, you know the routine. These raids are commonly conducted late at night, or just before dawn, to catch suspects by surprise. Police sometimes deploy "flash grenades," then batter down or blow up doors with explosives. They then storm the home, subduing occupants, handcuffing them at gunpoint, sometimes pushing them to the ground.

They then search the home, typically with little regard for personal belongings. If the family dog gets in the way, he'll be executed.

This would all be acceptable if SWAT teams were used as they were originally intended. L.A. police chief Darryl Gates invented the concept in the 1960s shortly after the Watts riots. Gates wanted an elite team of police who could defuse dangerous situations like riots, hostage-takings, or bank robberies. For about a decade, that's how SWAT teams were used, and they performed marvelously.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s Congress began making surplus military gear available to local police departments, with the intent that they use it for drug enforcement. Millions of dollars worth of military-grade rifles, tanks, helicopters, body armor, and other gear made its way to civilian police organizations.

In some cases, the trend grew absurd. One rural county in Florida assembled its own air force with the helicopters and planes it got from the Pentagon. Another tiny town had more M-16s in its police department than the town had stoplights.

With all of this war gear, cities, towns, and even small towns decided to start their own SWAT teams. As often happens with government entities, the mission of these SWAT teams began to expand over time, to include not just emergency situations, but more routine police work as well. Federal grants for drug arrests and asset forfeiture laws that make drug policing more lucrative than other types of policing offered further incentives to use SWAT teams to serve drug warrants.

The problem is, drug policing is quite a bit different than sending an elite paramilitary team to deal with a known, immediate threat to the community. When there's a hostage situation, a bank robbery, or a riot, it's pretty clear where the incident is happening, and who's involved. That's not true of the drug trade.

Because most drug crimes are consensual crimes, there's no direct victim to report them. Therefore, police have to rely on informants to tip them off to whose dealing, and where. These informants are notoriously unreliable. They tend to be criminals themselves, looking for leniency. Or they could be rival drug dealers, looking to bump off the competition.

The problem is, these violent, highly-confrontational SWAT raids are conducted based on information first gleaned from informants. Which means the information isn't always accurate. Which means an untold number of innocent Americans have been subjected to the horrifying predicament of having armed men invade their homes in the middle of the night, and needing to decide immediately upon waking if the intruders are cops or criminals, and if they should submit or resist.

Of course, even if the suspect is guilty of small-time dope use or dope dealing, I would argue that that doesn't mean there's justification for kicking down their doors and invading their homes as they're sleeping.

Have a look at this map. It plots nearly 300 botched SWAT raids I've found over the course of about a year of research. It is by no means comprehensive. My guess is that it doesn't even begin to make a full accounting for how many times this has happened, both because police are reluctant to report their mistakes, and because the victims of botched raids are often too afraid or embarrassed to come forward.

As I've begun to write about this issue, many more victims of these raids have called or emailed to tell me their own stories - most of which never made it into the newspaper.

But even the documented cases should be cause for concern. They include the cases of Salvatore Culosi and Cory Maye, both of whom I've written about previously in this column. They include 40 cases in which a completely innocent person was killed. There are dozens more in which nonviolent offenders (recreational pot smokers, for example, or small-time gamblers like Culosi) or police officers were needlessly killed.

There are nearly 150 cases in which innocent families, sometimes with children, were roused form their beds at gunpoint, and subjected to the fright of being apprehended and thoroughly searched at gunpoint. There are other cases in which a SWAT team seems wholly inappropriate, such as the apprehension of medical marijuana patients, many of whom are bedridden.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much appetite for change. When a 2003 mistaken raid in New York City ended with the death of 57-year-old Alberta Spruill -- who was completely innocent -- public outrage and media scrutiny forced the city to promise reforms. One attorney who specializes in these cases tells me that barely three years later, the mistaken raids are happening again, and that the city maintains the reforms it promised were merely "discretionary."

Increasingly, these raids are moving beyond the drug war. SWAT teams are now being employed to serve white collar warrants, too, as was the case with Culosi. Sad as it is, perhaps that's what it will take. Perhaps once upper-class people with more power and social leverage begin to feel the brunt force of this blunt law enforcement tool, we'll begin to see some change.


Radley Balko is a policy analyst for the Cato Institute specializing in "nanny state" and consumer choice issues, including alcohol and tobacco control, drug prohibition, obesity and civil liberties. Separately, he maintains the The Agitator weblog. The opinions expressed in his column for FOXNews.com are his own and are not to be associated with Cato unless otherwise indicated.

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