A man is staring down death row after killing a police officer during a no-knock SWAT raid.
The careless use of SWAT teams in no-knock drug raids — when heavily armed police burst into a home without warning — has resulted in a long list of innocent people being killed or seriously injured in the United States. 2014 alone found SWAT teams in Georgia senselessly killing businessman David Hooks and maiming toddler Bounkham “Baby Boo Boo” Phonesavanh. And when those raids victimize people who aren’t even selling drugs, narcotics officers seldom face criminal charges and are given every benefit of the doubt. But if, on the other hand, Americans shoot narcotics officers during militarized drug raids—perhaps believing that they are being robbed and are acting in self-defense—charges of first-degree murder are likely. The case of Marvin Louis Guy in Texas is a glaring example.
Guy, an African-American man who is now 50, was the target of a no-knock drug raid on May 9, 2014. Narcotics officers, operating on a tip from an informant who claimed that Guy was selling bags of cocaine, carried out a SWAT raid on his home in Killeen, Texas at around 5:30 AM—and Guy grabbed his gun and opened fire. Charles Dinwiddie, one of the officers, was hit and died two days later. Guy was charged with capital murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty despite his assertions that he thought he was acting in self-defense. Guy’s trial is scheduled for June of this year.
No drugs were found during a search of Guy’s home, only a glass pipe and a grinder—which indicates that Guy was, at worst, a recreational drug user and not a drug dealer. Journalist Radley Balko, author of the 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, has commented on the case in the Washington Post, saying: “The fact that the police didn’t find any drugs in the house suggests that Marvin Louis Guy didn’t know he was shooting at cops. Drug dealer or no, unless he had a death wish, it’s unlikely that a guy would knowingly fire at police officers when he had nothing in the house that was particularly incriminating.”
A very similar incident occurred in Burleson County, Texas on December 19, 2013, when a SWAT team carried out a no-knock drug raid on the home of Henry Magee (who is white). An informant had claimed that Magee had a major marijuana-growing operation, and during the raid, Magee shot and killed one of the officers, Adam Sowders. Although Magee stressed that he believed he was being robbed and had no idea he was shooting at police officers, he was facing the possibility of being prosecuted for capital murder. But in February, a grand jury decided that Magee legitimately believed he was acting in self-defense—and Magee was not indicted. The Magee case has been referenced in a Change.org petition urging prosecutors to “please drop the capital murder and attempted murder charges against Marvin Louis Guy.” The petition notes that Guy thought he “was defending his wife and home, just as Magee believed he was doing.”
Dick DeGuerin, Magee’s attorney, has pointed out that the grand jury’s decision to not indict him is the exception instead of the rule: in most cases, Americans who kill a narcotics officer during a drug raid are vigorously prosecuted—even if the evidence indicates that they genuinely believed they were acting in self-defense and the raid was not justified. And that is the history that Marvin Louis Guy is up against: a War on Drugs in which the burden of proof is on the victims of militarized drug raids rather than those carrying out the raids. The convictions of Cory Maye, Ryan Frederick and Christina Korbe in the past bear that out, demonstrating that Guy could have a hard time getting a fair trial. And given Texas’ long history of racial oppression, the fact that Guy is African-American and the officer he killed was white indicates that his attorneys will have a major fight on their hands.