(William Norman Grigg
) — The eleven-year-old girl shrieked in horror as the shower curtain was ripped away, leaving her exposed to the view of a large male stranger. Her sense of violation was compounded by the threat of immediate, violent death: The marauder was wearing body armor and aiming an assault rifle at the naked, terrified child.
Downstairs, the offender’s comrades were ransacking the house and barking profane orders at the traumatized child’s family. Sterling Harrison, her 19-year-old brother, was sitting in front of a game console when three of the invaders burst into his upstairs room, bound him, and shoved him down the stairway. Her terrified siblings – one thirteen years of age, the other seven – were corralled and imprisoned at gunpoint in the living room along with the rest of the family.
The invaders were police, of course
. Nobody in the home was suspected of committing a criminal offense. No evidence of criminal misconduct was found. The SWAT raid was carried out after 10:00 PM, in violation of municipal ordinances. The rationale for this act of state terrorism was the drug-related arrest, nearly two weeks earlier, of Mordsen Box, the 11-year-old girl’s estranged father, who hadn’t resided at the address for several months.
This after-dark military raid took place at a residence located less than three miles from the White House.
Thirteen days before the raid, Mr. Box was arrested by Metro D.C. Police after five ounces of marijuana were found following a pretext traffic stop. Officer Taylor Volpe, who conducted the stop, claimed – falsely, according to the family’s lawsuit against the MPD – that the rear license plate of Box’s car was partially obstructed by a plastic cover.
Once the stop was underway, Volpe – in keeping with his indoctrination as an opportunistic road pirate
– asked if there was “anything illegal” in the vehicle. Like countless others in similar situations, Box made the tragic mistake of answering a question the officer had no right to ask. He stated that he wasn’t “aware” of anything illegal in his car, and that Volpe could carry out the search “if you have to.”
“OK, so I can look?” Volpe reiterated, inducing the intimidated driver to make his consent explicit. Within seconds the officer had found the marijuana, which was confiscated along with $180 in cash that was found in Box’s wallet. His expired driver’s license listed 1054 Quebec Place NW as his home address.
Both Mr. Box and his domestic situation were well-known to the local police. During the weeks leading up to the April 18, 2013 raid, police had paid two visits to the home while searching for Box. On both occasions family members explained that Box didn’t live at the address.
Those facts were carefully omitted by Volpe in the search warrant application filed after the traffic stop. Among the falsehoods included in Volpe’s affidavit was the claim that a “utility listing” was found for Volpe at that address. In fact, all of the utilities were listed in the name of Shandalyn Harrison, Box’s ex-girlfriend.
Invoking his “experience,” “knowledge,” and “training,” Volpe insisted that a search of the residence was justified by the supposed likelihood that a large quantity of narcotics and drug proceeds would be found at the residence. For too many judges, the rote recitation of such claims will obviate the need for actual evidence.
“In many dozens of other warrant applications sworn by MPD officers to different Superior Court judges in the one-year period, MPD officers similarly claimed under oath, based on the same `training’ and `experience,’ that a broad category of people referred to as `drug traffickers’ attempt to hide the evidence of their criminal activities in other places that are not their own home,” notes the lawsuit filed on behalf of Harrison and her children. “These statements of `training’ and `experience’ thus purportedly give agents of the District’s government the ability to raid and search multiple homes and other locations for every traffic stop or street arrest in which they find contraband.”
At the time he filled out his warrant application, Taylor Volpe was a rookie officer with the MPD. He was assimilated into the department’s institutional culture very quickly.
In July 2013, just weeks after the home invasion that grew out of Volpe’s affidavit, the officer was given a “Rookie of the Year” award by the 5th District Citizen’s Advisory Council of the MPD. Those to whom that award is given “are acknowledged … by cops who know good police work when they see it (and work alongside it),” observed the Council. Given their standards of behavior, Volpe and his comrades would be suitable for employment in some of the worst Third World despotisms. In fact, they might be a bit over-qualified.
Saddam Hussein famously said that “Law consists of two lines above my signature.” For the DC Metro Police, and the pathologically indifferent judges who enable them, “Probable Cause” consists of whatever speculative, unsubstantiated claims an officer makes, as long as they are prefaced with a reference to his “experience and training.” The result is an enforcement regime in which police in the nation’s Capital behave in a manner indistinguishable from U.S. soldiers carrying out raids against the families of “suspected militants” in occupied Baghdad.
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