Radley Balko, of the Washington Post, writes a regular column for the newspaper called “The Watch.” Author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war, and civil liberties. In one of his latest pieces on badge abuses, the author addressed, once again, the near homicide of a low-level Myrtle Beach, South Carolina drug dealer (Julian Betton) at the hands of police. Here’s his summary of the incident.
Julian Betton’s offense was to sell $100 worth of pot to a friend. For that, South Carolina police battered down his door, fired 57 shots at him and hit him nine times, leaving him paralyzed and without the use of several major body organs. The cops then lied about the circumstances of the raid to make it seem as if Betton deserved every bullet. When Betton awoke from a coma, his leg was shackled to the hospital bed. Prosecutors then charged him with several felonies — enough of them to put him in prison for the rest of his life, should he survive his injuries. For those two sales of pot totaling $100, Betton will not only be saddled with paralysis and debilitating injury, he’ll also have a felony record. The cops who broke down his door, filled him with bullets and then lied about what had happened will suffer no punishment at all.
What Balko’s synopsis doesn’t reveal, is that there were a series of cover-ups the police raid team engaged in, and what might seem like a team effort to coordinate their stories in the aftermath of the planned conflict. First, the team did not seek after, nor secure a no-knock raid warrant. Betton’s high-definition security footage reveals the police officers made no such effort to knock on the door, which is required by law, even though their police reports stated they did knock and announce their presence.
Secondly, the footage also reveals the team was not dressed as SWAT team members are typically dressed, used unmarked cars, and moved so swiftly in an effort to breach the door with a battery ram, that Betton’s neighbor actually thought a robbery was taking place. The confusion over the identity of the intruders, their no-knock breach of the front door, and the swiftness at which they moved, may have given Benton cause to arm himself, something for which Balko says he would have been justified.
At any rate, the attempt to coordinate a cover-up appears to have continued, with each officer on the scene turning on their body cameras only after they shot the marijuana dealer 9 times. Betton’s wounds were described by Balko.
He ended up losing his gallbladder and parts of his bowel, colon and rectum. The bullets also damaged his liver, small intestine and pancreas. His lung partially collapsed. His left leg was broken. One of his vertebrae was partially destroyed; two others were fractured. He’ll never walk again or be able to have kids of his own. He’ll also need to use a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.
No one disputes the shooting took place, but because each member of the team turned on their body cameras at the same time, no footage of the actual shooting exists, only the aftermath has been recorded. That may mean the officers later had someone delete the footage, or it may mean they simply forgot to turn on their cameras and only did so after the shooting occurred. The latter is not very likely. After all, why would each member of the team decide to turn on their cameras only after the shooting happened? The answer may also mean they were instructed to do so.
Police say Betton fired at the police raid team as they penetrated his home, which gave them just cause to engage the cannabis dealer with their deadly fire. But ballistics tests later confirmed Betton had not fired his handgun at all, a conclusion which means the police either lied about him firing his sidearm or believing that he had. Balko theorized Betton would have been a fool to have even pointed his small handgun at the direction of the intruders, given the overwhelming firepower with which the team was equipped. He wrote that in taking the evidence against the department’s official position in the shooting — that they lied about knocking, were dressed as criminals would, used unmarked vehicles, and then conveniently turned on their body cameras only after the event took place — the police must be lying about the entire incident.
Betton pleaded guilty this week to possession and distribution of 100 dollars worth of marijuana. And in what could be an indictment on the official police narrative, the prosecutor dropped all gun charges against the now handicapped man. As a result, the low-level weed dealer will likely win his civil suit against the MBPD, causing the taxpayers to saddle the costs associated with the near fatal assassination of a pot dealer. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigated the shooting and, predictably, cleared all the officers involved in the shooting.
As The Free Thought Project has observed on multiple occasions, police often lie when raids go bad, often meaning when the mark doesn’t die. The subsequent investigations almost always occur internally, meaning the police actually investigate themselves and are almost always cleared of any wrongdoing. The resulting lawsuits end up costing the citizenry millions in tax dollars and the cycle of police on citizen violence continues when it could all be prevented.
The raids over an innocuous plant should never occur. Marijuana needs to be legalized throughout the country, police need never to conduct a no-knock raid, and body cameras should run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all court cases judgements for victims of police brutality be paid for out of police officer pension funds. Only then will there be less police involved shootings.