Friday, February 07, 2014

Knock First

We need to talk about this in the hope of averting future tragedies.

It seems that a Burleson County (TX) deputy was shot and killed while serving a search warrant.  The Grand Jury in that county declined to prosecute the offender for the charge of shooting the deputy.
WASHINGTON COUNTY A Burleson County Grand Jury declined to indict the man who shot and killed a Burleson County Sheriff's Deputy who was serving a search warrant in December.
As tragic as it sounds, that might be the correct result.  It seems that the deputies were executing a no-knock search warrant, looking for drugs.  They executed the warrant during the early morning hours.
 Sowders said he thought giving Magee notice would be, quote, "dangerous, futile, or would inhibit the effective investigation." A Burleson County Judge approved the warrant on December 18, 2013, and in the early morning hours of December 19, a SWAT team made the entry into Magee's home.
Tragically, Deputy Sowders was killed during the entry.  I mourn for Deputy Sowders and his family.

Before I proceed, let me say for the record that I am a serving law enforcement officer.  I've been in police work for almost 34 years, I've been assigned to a SWAT teams and I've commanded a SWAT (SRT) team.  I've done entries and I've served warrants, and I've had the living hell scared out of me several times.  Dynamic entries are dangerous, violent, and intimidating.  I don't like no-knock entries, I've never liked no-knock entries.  I know how to do them, I've been trained in their use, but I still dislike them.

In this case, from all I can understand, Deputy Sowders had acquired information that Mr. Magee had drugs and weapons in his home and that there was a likelihood that if they knocked, Magee would have time to destroy the drugs, so they made a decision to make a dynamic entry into the residence during the early morning hours.

During the entry, Magee shot and killed Deputy Sowders.  These facts are uncontested.  Magee's defense claimed that Magee didn't realize that law enforcement officers were entering his home, but thought that the people in his residence were there for nefarious purposes and intended to harm him or his pregnant girlfriend.  He fired in self-defense.  Evidently, the Grand Jury believed his defense and declined to prosecute Magee for that offense.  Magee still stands charged with other counts, including growing marijuana in the residence.

Again, I mourn for Deputy Sowders and his family.  Dynamic entries are extremely dangerous, fraught with unforeseen circumstances.  I won't second-guess a brother officer, but I will caution everyone to think twice, then think again before doing a dynamic entry, and make sure that it is appropriate for the circumstance and the facts of the case.  There might have been a better way, and we need to think about those better ways to preserve evidence and effect arrest without endangering ourselves and the accused.

I mourn for the family.


Old NFO said...


Anonymous said...

Due to law enforcements actions over the last several years, I have now embraced the Jose Juerena rules of engagement (ala Tucson). I don't care who breaks down my door nor if they identify as law enforcement, I will shoot until bolt lock and probably die reloading.

Gary W. Anthony
MSgt, USAF, Ret.

Rivrdog said...

Here's the technical issue. In my State, Oregon, a no-knock warrant is issued when there is a likelihood that evidence will be destroyed. It's unlikely that anyone can destroy an entire MJ grow and the equipment in seconds, hence the Exigent Circumstances don't exist with regard to the drugs. As to the weapons, the Exigent Circumstances likely don't exist there either unless the subject has a record of weapon offenses. THAT said, Judges will ALWAYS err on the side of the safety of the officers.

It's unfortunate that a Deputy got killed, but perhaps his widow ought to have a lawyer look at the exigent circumstances. It's a tough case, because no one can compel the testimony of a sitting Judge on one of that Judge's cases.

Mike said...

Reminds me of this case:
I remember this happening, and know many of the folks involved, including Dwight Crawford. Some people say that Dep. Crawford carried the team out there in his pickup, and brought Ott's attention by slamming the glass door on the shell. Sad deal all the way around, but you don't kill a Texas Ranger and walk on it.