Cory Maye - A Microcosm of What’s Wrong with Policing Posted by: Dale Franks
on Sunday, September 24, 2006
The Cory Maye case is reprised over at Reason's web site by Radley Balko.
As a former police officer myself, with more than a decade of experience, I can tell you that this case highlights a serious concern with the way policing—and prosecuting—is done in America.
The highly aggressive raid that killed Jones and put Maye on death row is not at all unusual. The use of paramilitary tactics to serve drug warrants is increasingly common in America. Television shows such as A&E’s Dallas SWAT and Court TV’s Texas SWAT reflect a trend toward the use of heavily armed, heavy-handed raid teams for routine drug policing, even for crimes as benign as simple possession of marijuana...
Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University and a widely cited expert on the militarization of U.S. police departments, has conducted extensive surveys on the use of SWAT teams dating back to the early 1980s. According to Kraska, the number of SWAT call-outs jumped from about 3,000 per year in the early 1980s to more than 40,000 per year in the early 2000s. The vast majority of that increase has been for drug policing.
Stocked with surplus Pentagon equipment that Congress has made available for drug enforcement, police departments across the country have formed SWAT teams at an alarming clip, even in absurdly small towns where violent crime is unheard of. Mt. Orab, Ohio—population: 2,700—has its own SWAT team. Unicoi County, Tennessee, has 17,700 people, and it hasn’t had a reported murder in six years. Its SWAT team recently acquired an armored personnel vehicle...
Since 9/11, the impulse towards police militarization has, if anything, increased, as police departments spy a budgetarily lucrative incentive to "increase readiness" for terrorist attacks.
The problem with this overt militarization of policing, is that it inevitably leads to an increasingly heavy use of force. If you have a SWAT team, you have to use it to justify its budget. That leads to using SWAT teams as a regular part of serving warrants, even on—perhaps especially on—non-violent drug offenders.
The end result of that militarization, especially in an armed society, is predictable.
At least 40 innocent people have been killed in paramilitary-style drug raids since the early 1980s, as have at least 15 police officers. And there are at least 150 cases of “wrong door” raids, in which SWAT teams or similarly aggressive police units have raided the wrong home...
The death of Ron Jones is just one of dozens of unnecessary deaths that overly aggressive drug searches have produced since the mid-’80s. The list of fatalities from botched drug raids includes not only police officers such as Jones but bystanders, wrongly targeted innocents, and harmless, nonviolent drug users.
In 2000 drug cops in Modesto, California, accidentally shot 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda in the back of the head at point-blank range during a botched raid on the boy’s home. In 2003 police in New York City raided the home of 57-year-old city worker Alberta Spruill based on a bad tip from an informant. The terrified Spruill had a heart attack and died at the scene. Last year Baltimore County police shot and killed Cheryl Lynn Noel, a churchgoing wife and mother, during a no-knock raid on her home after finding some marijuana seeds while sifting through the family’s trash.
In general, it is highly inappropriate to use military tactics as part of routine policing. It is equally inappropriate to use midnight raids in most cases. The midnight raid is a tactic that is more characteristic of police states than a free republic. And it is an absolute travesty of policing to use such tactics routinely on non-violent offenders.
Imagine you are a law abiding, gun-owning citizen, sleeping peacefully at 2:00am. Suddenly, you are awoken by a loud crash as the front door bursts open and yelling men enter your home. If you grab a gun and defend yourself, not knowing fully what's going on, you are placing yourself in serious legal jeopardy.
A jeopardy, by the way, that the police, even if they are mistakenly entering your house, generally don't have to worry about.
Criminal charges against police officers who accidentally kill innocent people in these raids are rare. Prosecutors almost always determine that the violent, confrontational nature of the raids and the split-second decisions made while conducting them demand that police be given a great deal of discretion. Yet it’s the policy of using volatile forced-entry raids to serve routine drug warrants that creates those circumstances in the first place.
Worse, prosecutors are much less inclined to take circumstances into account when it comes to pressing charges against civilians who make similar mistakes. When civilians who are innocent or who have no history of violence defend their homes during a mistaken raid, they have about a one in two chance of facing criminal charges if a policeman is killed or injured. When convicted, they’ve received sentences ranging from probation to life in prison to, in Maye’s case, the death penalty.
It’s a remarkable double standard. The reason these raids are often conducted late at night or very early in the morning is to catch suspects while they’re sleeping and least capable of processing what’s going on around them. Raids are often preceded by the deployment of flash-bang grenades, devices designed to confuse everyone in the vicinity. While narcotics officers have (or at least are supposed to have) extensive training in how to act during a raid, suspects don’t, and officers have the advantage of surprise. Yet prosecutors readily forgive mistaken police shootings of innocent civilians and unarmed drug suspects while expecting the people on the receiving end of late-night raids to show exemplary composure, judgment, and control in determining whether the attackers in their homes are cops or criminals.
You see, if the police, who are alert and (theoretically) highly-trained, burst into your home and you get shot while defending yourself, well, then they were just doing the best they could.
If you, on the other hand, are woken from a sound sleep by a violent invasion of your home, scared, confused, and disoriented, and mistakenly kill a police officer, you have an excellent chance of being killed on the scene, or spending a large portion of the rest of your life in prison.
And let's not pretend that what happened to Cory Maye can't happen to you.
It’s hard to get a firm grip on just how often it happens—police tend to be reluctant to track their mistakes, and victims can be squeamish about coming forward—but a 20-year review of press accounts, court cases, and Kraska’s research suggests that each year there are at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of "wrong door" raids. And even when everything goes right, it’s overkill to use what is essentially an urban warfare unit to apprehend a nonviolent drug suspect.
The increasing militarization and police-state tactics of American policing is outrageous. Certainly, there's an occasional need for the police units to escalate the available force in some situations, especially in large cities. But the current use of SWAT teams and midnight entries has escalated far beyond what is reasonable.
The last thing I want is for guys like this whack job to become the norm. But, that's the way we're headed.
The last link seemed to make your point, but I was stopped by the line .. This incident sparked statewide controversy and an ACLU investigation. I am very disturbed by investigations by anyone other than civil authorities.
Imagine you are a law abiding, gun-owning citizen, sleeping peacefully at 2:00am. Suddenly, you are awoken by a loud crash as the front door bursts open and yelling men enter your home. If you grab a gun and defend yourself, not knowing fully what’s going on, you are placing yourself in serious legal jeopardy.
Why are juries deciding to convict someone defending their home?
But Tom HE SHOT A COP.... the dispute is "Did he know it was a cop?" He says, "No, they never said they were cops." The Cops say, "Yes we announced ourselves." So it becomes he said/she said and the Jury believed the Cops...Sorry.
Does it mean he deserves the Death Penalty, No I don’t think so, but it’s not like he is "innocent" or so demonstrably innocent as to be freed. If you read Balko that is fairly clear... to Balko and other libertarians Maye is "innocent" because they oppose "No Knock Warrants" and the War on Drugs. To me it’s not so clear that he’s innocent, so to me, his guilt or innocentce is somewhat axiomatic.... depending on one’s views one arrives at different conclusions.
Have you read up on the "reliable informant" that Ron Jones used as the basis for that case? Any cop that whole-heartedly trusted a whack job like that can be presumed to not have the intelligence to conduct a raid correctly. If I were on the jury, I would have definitely thrown the case out after seeing that sort of informant in a retrial.
I come from a cop family, and none of the former (all retired) ones in my family would have trusted that informant on a busy, well-lit street, let alone in a court of law. The officer was a friggin idiot and paid for his stupidity with his life. Where I come from, we call that a self-correcting problem. Too bad that Corey’s case wasn’t tried in Virginia, where I live, because he probably wouldn’t have made it to prison, let alone death row, here with all of those obvious technicalities in his case.
Yes MikeT I’ve read he’s a whack job, the jury didn’t hear it and they DON’T NEED TO HEAR IT...the question is not on the validity of the information leading to the raid, but the actions of the officers and Maye DURING the raid. They aren’t trying Maye for drug possession, where the basis of the raid be a subject of inquiry. The officers went to the correct address, went after at least one subject ID’d by the CI, and then moved next door in the duplex...at that point the questions begin and opinions diverge. Did the police announce themselves or not? Did they have to? Did Corey Maye believe the people coming thru the door were police or thugs? The jury sided with the poh-leece. I grant you that the Death Penalty seems overboard.
Actually, the validity of the information leading to the warrant is very much relevant.
If the warrant was invalid, i.e. was based on bad information, or Officer Jones acted in bad faith in procuring it (both of which are likely in light of the new evidence) then Officer Jones was in Cory Maye’s home illegally. If that’s the case, Maye had the right under Mississippi law to use lethal force to defend himself — regardless of whether police did or did not announce, and whether he did or did not hear them.
Further, the controlling case law here is Mississippi v. Wheeler. The facts of that case — which cleared a man of capital murder — are distinguishable from Maye’s case only in ways that are favorable to Maye.
Joe, it puzzles me why you’re consistantly willing to trust that the government’s account of a situation far more readily than a private citizen’s. Do you really think that just beacause a case was ruled a particular way that truth and justice has been served? You just seem to lack any skepticism.
Unknown I don’t lack skepticism...I’m SKEPTICAL of Corey AND the State. Please note that a jury of twelve folks did choose to convict Corey...you know the jury system, that libertarian concept of the common man adjudicating issues?
So yes I AM skeptical. I choose to remain NEUTRAL... It is NOT clear that Corey is innocent, to me, it does seem clear that the Death Penalty is excessive.
If you, Dale, and Corey choose to believe Corey that’s fine, just own up to the fact that you guys DON’T BELIEVE IN THE STATE or accept the State’s story. On what basis? That Corey SAYS he is innocent? Jeffry Dahmer would have most likely have said the same.
Do juries convict innocent people? Of course they do. Why? Probably because they believe the prosecutor, not the evidence. My favourite is the McMartin pre-school case in Calif. Jurors will believe anything, as long as they trust the people presenting the evidence, and most of them trust the prosecutors, police, etc.
My experience is limited, fortunately, to watching "Cops" on TV and working with some ex police/correctional officers as security guards. Even with the cameras on them, it takes the police literally less than two seconds to announce who they are before the battering ram takes down the door. I am a light sleeper, but that is not enough warning for me to comprehend the situation before all hell breaks loose. And having worked with the ex law-enforcement types doesn’t make me feel all that confident in their competence or credibility either.