This week, the state of Tennessee made history after the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 1380 (SB1380) that bans “no-knock” warrants in the state. Highlighting the bipartisan support behind the bill, it passed the Senate and the House without a single ‘nay.’
Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) introduced Senate Bill 1380 on Feb. 11 and it has seen unprecedented support from both parties.
Last month, the full Senate passed the bill by a vote of 33-0. Then on Monday, the House substituted the Senate bill for the House version and voted for its approval with a 90-0 count. It now moves to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.
Short of an unexpected veto from the governor, the bill will ban no-knock warrants. It also bans cops from using chokeholds except when lethal force is authorized — the same standard needed before an officer fires a weapon. The bill also revamps police training, teaching them de-escalation tactics instead of immediately jumping to deadly force.
Going further, the bill requires officers to have a “duty to intervene” if they witness excessive force and would be required to report the use of excessive force to a supervisor.
“This bill is pretty much my Christmas wish list,” Rep. G.A. Hardaway said during the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting last month. “This bill will go a long way toward reestablishing the trust factor between law enforcement and the citizens of the state of Tennessee. I think without that trust factor, neither law enforcement nor the citizens are as safe as they could be.”
As the Tenth Amendment Center’s Mike Maharrey points out, the enactment of SB1380 would take a big step toward effectively nullifying and making irrelevant several Supreme Court opinions that give police across the U.S. legal cover for conducting no-knock raids.
In the 1995 case Wilson v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court established that police must peacefully knock, announce their presence, and allow time for the occupants to open the door before entering a home to serve a warrant. But the Court allowed for “exigent circumstance” exceptions if police fear violence, if the suspect is a flight risk, or if officers fear the suspect will destroy evidence.
As journalist Radley Balko notes, police utilized this exception to the fullest extent, “simply declaring in search warrant affidavits that all drug dealers are a threat to dispose of evidence, flee or assault the officers at the door.”
The SCOTUS eliminated this blanket exception in Richards v. Wisconsin (1997) requiring police to show why a specific individual is a threat to dispose of evidence, commit an act of violence or flee from police. But even with the opinion, the bar for obtaining a no-knock warrant remains low.
The idea of ceasing the use of no-knock raids is revolutionary when it comes to policing in the United States and its importance cannot be overstated.
Across the country—largely due to the failed drug war—police conduct tens of thousands of no-knock raids a year.
Breonna Taylor was murdered during one of them. Countless others are beaten, terrorized, and killed as well, and just like Breonna, cops often act on bad information.
“In theory, no-knock raids are supposed to be used in only the most dangerous situations … In reality, though, no-knock raids are a common tactic, even in less-than-dangerous circumstances,” Vox wrote in an revealing investigation in 2015. Case in point, Breonna Taylor.
A whopping 79 percent of these raids — like the one used to murder Dennis and Rhogena Tuttle in Houston, TX in 2019 — are for search warrants only, mostly for drugs. Just seven percent of no-knock raids are for crisis situations like hostages, barricaded suspects, or active shooters, according to an investigation by the ACLU.
What’s more, the study by the ACLU found that in 36 percent of SWAT deployments for drug searches, and possibly in as many as 65 percent of such deployments, no contraband of any sort was found.
Not only do these raids appear to be mostly unproductive, but they are often carried out on entirely innocent people based on lies, wrong information, or corruption, laying waste to the rights—and lives—of unsuspecting men, women, children, and their pets.
As we’ve seen in the case of Roderick Talley, drug task forces routinely conspire together to raid the homes of innocent people as a means of justifying themselves.
Raiding homes with no-knock warrants was proven so horrifyingly ineffective in 2019 in Houston with the murder Dennis and Rhogena Tuttle, that Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo vowed to end them. It’s time all police chiefs do the same.
Hopefully, this bill serves as a catalyst for other states to get behind the ban on no-knock raids and we end this violent and destructive practice once and for all.