South Carolina Drug Warriors Routinely Serving Regular Warrants Like No-Knock Warrants

from the not-constitutional-and-a-whole-lot-more-dangerous-for-everyone-involved dept

Radley Balko is uncovering more rights violations and more law enforcement falsehoods with his coverage of South Carolina resident Julian Betton’s lawsuit against the Myrtle Beach-area drug task force. Betton’s house was raided by the drug unit after a confidential informant made two pot purchases for a total of $100. The police didn’t have a no-knock warrant, but they acted like they did, going from zero to hail-of-gunfire in mere seconds. (via FourthAmendment.com)

On April 16, 2015, the task force battered Betton’s door open with a ram, then almost immediately opened fire, releasing at least 29 bullets, nine of which hit Betton. One bullet pierced a back wall in the building, sped across a nearby basketball court and landed in the wall of another house. (This was a multi-family building.)

Betton was hit several times. He didn’t die, but he doesn’t have much left in working order. He lost part of his gallbladder, colon, and rectum. His liver, pancreas and small intestine all suffered damage. His left leg was broken along with one of his vertebrae.

The cops immediately set about justifying their extreme tactics. First, they claimed Betton fired at them, but ballistics tests showed Betton’s gun hadn’t been fired. Then they claimed he pointed a gun at them, but did not fire it. This could have easily been proven if any of the task force had bothered to activate their body cameras before breaking Betton’s door down. But the footage shows no cameras were activated until after the task force stopped firing.

The task force used a regular search warrant, meaning the officers were supposed to knock and announce their presence. Nearly all of them said they followed these stipulations. Video from Betton’s home security camera (which can be seen at the Washington Post) caught all these officers in a lie.

These 11 seconds of footage from that camera show that no member of the task force knocked on Betton’s door.

The video lacks audio, but both the Myrtle Beach police chief and a federal magistrate have since concluded that the video also strongly suggests there was no announcement. None of the officers’ lips appear to be moving, and it all happens very quickly. At best, they announced themselves simultaneously or nearly simultaneously, with the battering ram hitting the door.

A neighbor who was on Betton’s sidewalk (and was told to lie on the ground by the task force on their way to Betton’s door) backs up the camera footage. No announcement was made before the door was breached.

This is apparently standard operating procedure in Myrtle Beach. Only in rare cases does the task force seek no-knock warrants. (Task force officials say no-knocks are only “1-2%” of warrants obtained.) But they apparently serve plenty of normal warrants without knocking or announcing their presence.

It seems clear from the testimony in depositions that the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit doesn’t know any of this. Officer Christopher Dennis, for example, said that the “reasonable” waiting period for someone to answer the door begins the moment police arrive on the scene, not after they knock and announce themselves. This is false. Officer Chad Guess — who, remember, planned the Betton raid — said in a deposition that it’s “not the law to knock and announce. You know, it’s just not. It’s the officer’s discretion, each dictate determines itself.” This, again, is wrong. Officer Belue said under oath that he had no idea how long officers are supposed to wait before forcing entry, and that no one had trained him on the matter.

It’s a convenient misunderstanding of the law. It’s made even more convenient by the task force’s lack of clearly-written policies on serving warrants. Since everyone of the task force remains as ignorant as possible, they’re more likely to be granted immunity when victims of unconstitutional drug raids take them to court.

But these officers may not get off so lightly. Their reports and testimony have been disproven by the 11 seconds of video captured by Betton’s security camera. Officers who swore they knocked and announced their presence now have to explain how those both occurred with zero officers knocking on Betton’s door or even moving their lips.

More lies can be found elsewhere in the report. Officers stated in police reports they heard the sound of Betton’s gun firing. Ballistics testing has shown Betton never fired his handgun, so everyone making that same claim about gunfire is either mistaken about what they heard or, more likely, aligning themselves with the narrative they created in the aftermath of the shooting.

Maybe these officers are hoping their professional ignorance will outweigh their bogus reports. The task force has made it incredibly easy for members to write their own rules when executing warrants. As Balko points, the single most invasive and dangerous thing the task force participates in (~150 times a year) — warrant service — has zero official policies dictating how task force members serve warrants. Apparently, all that time and effort went into creating a cool skull-and-crossbones logo for members to stitch on their not-very-coplike raid gear.

In any event, the court system is the last stop for justice. If any of these officers are ever going to be held accountable for their actions in the Betton raid, it will be here. Every level of oversight task force members answer to has already offered their official blessings for the knock-and-announce warrant that was carried out without knocks or announcements.

What happened to Julian Betton is an entirely predictable product of the failures, culture and mindset of the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit. And yet to date, state officials won’t even concede that this was a bad outcome, much less do anything to prevent it from happening again. Citing the SLED investigation, South Carolina solicitor Kevin Bracket cleared the officers of any wrongdoing within just a few months. In the three years since the raid, no officer involved has been disciplined, even internally. Nor has any officer has been asked to undergo additional training. No policies have been changed. The DEU never bothered with its own investigation, or even an after-action examination to determine what went wrong.

The police clear themselves of wrongdoing and a pending civil lawsuit has zero motivation effect on the drug unit. The task force is operating outside Constitutional boundaries with no internal guidance or effective oversight. Myrtle Beach-area drug warriors have no desire to clean up their act, and a large settlement paid by taxpayers is unlikely to result in a change of heart.

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Comments on “South Carolina Drug Warriors Routinely Serving Regular Warrants Like No-Knock Warrants”

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71 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

That seems about right

So they lied multiple times in a situation where someone was shot multiple times, and could have easily been killed. No one else with a badge thinks they did anything wrong, and there has been no push to even set out some rules regarding such activities for the future to prevent a similar if not worse outcome from happening again.

Oh yeah, these are exactly the sort of people I trust to be armed and tasked with interacting with members of the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That seems about right

All this for $100 in pot. The F-in Pigs. It’s the Thin Blue Line GANG. The Biggest gang in this country stepping all over the constitution. Hell pissing on it.

This stuff is just sickening. All those PIGS should be thrown into jail. All their benefits should be taken away and given to the victim. They are ALL guilty as they lied and covered for each other. This crap is happening every day. They knew exactly what they were doing when no one had a body camera turned on until AFTER it was all over. Really? Every one of them should be fired just because of that alone.

Andy says:

Re: That seems about right

The only way to change this behaviour is for the jury to give over the top compensation, and that would mean hundreds of millions not 2-3 million. Once the county is severely punished in one case which sets a president for others they will start training there officers to respect the law they are supposed to uphold. Or maybe they will be forced to disband these police gangs to cover the cost of more than one big payout.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: That seems about right

Nah, you wouldn’t need to go over the top in penalties, you would merely need to aim them better. Hitting the department with a penalty can be easily shrugged off because it’s not like it’s their money that’s used to pay the bill, and they can always steal some more stuff to make up the difference.

No, what needs to happen is this thing called ‘personal responsibility’, where the guilty individuals are the ones stuck paying the fines. If Cop A does something bad enough for a court to hand out a fine hit them with said fine, with their supervisor also given an equal fine to pay off. No offloading it to the department or the city, individual officers would be the ones on the hook for their own actions, along with those that are supposed to be supervising them.

Do that, hit them in the wallets directly, and you wouldn’t need multi-million dollar fines at all, as ones fractions of that size would provide plenty of incentive to behave.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Officer Chad Guess — who, remember, planned the Betton raid — said in a deposition that it’s “not the law to knock and announce. You know, it’s just not. It’s the officer’s discretion, each dictate determines itself.”

The mere fact that such a thing as a no-knock warrant exists means that this what he said is false. For his claimed ignorance to be true, this officer of the law would have to have never even heard of a no-knock warrant.

David says:

Re: Re:

What he said is the case in exigent circumstances. Circumstances arising outside of the control and expectations of the police. Such circumstances may even arise in the execution of a warrant.

But not at its outset. If you find that the conditions of the warrant are not met even before you start and there are no exigent circumstances like hostages in danger, you abort and apply for a different warrant.

If I lose my keys and call a key service, and the key service cannot find my door, he cannot alternatively batter down the wall and consider his job done. You do what you have a warrant for or nothing at all.

YaAB says:

You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

One of these days, these criminals…uhrm cops…are going to do this to the wrong door.

They’re going to think they’re hitting a mom and pop house, when it’s really a drug cartel house, with lots and lots and lots of mean bastards with more and bigger guns than the cops.

When that happens, the tables will be turned, and these criminal-cops will more than likely get what they gave out and then some.

Perhaps they should sit back, and reconsider their illegal antics and start following the laws they are *SWORN* to uphold before they fuck up royally and get themselves killed.

I still say that we need one new law for all law enforcement.

If any law enforcement personnel break any law in trying to enforce the law, then they don’t get a free pass. In fact, the penalty needs to be 10x what it would be for a regular citizen.

If they swore to uphold the laws, then by God, they sure as fuck don’t get a free ride when they break one.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

The Cops know what houses are actully criminals, those are the ones paying the cops to stay away. Every once in a while one group pays for the cops to raid some other group but in those cases insiders call ahead (or get paid not to).

Only the normal people not playing the game are at risk here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

And yet the call is that only the police should have the guns while citizens are literal sitting ducks.

America… land of the wimps with big mouths that piss themselves and hid behind politicians every time a gun gets waved around.

David says:

Re: You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

One of these days, these criminals…uhrm cops…are going to do this to the wrong door.

They’re going to think they’re hitting a mom and pop house, when it’s really a drug cartel house, with lots and lots and lots of mean bastards with more and bigger guns than the cops.

Drug Lord Central is not in the middle of the town and has a viable exit strategy. And if any of its personnel is caught selling consumer amounts of dope to locals, there will be a whole lot more dire consequences than if a cop is caught doing the same.

Probably the cops here were hired to remove competition.

David says:

Re: You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

Was in a conversation with someone about allowing teachers to be armed in schools. He argued against it, because teachers aren’t “sworn” to protect. If this is an example of “sworn” people with guns, I think we’re better off without them.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

One of these days, these criminals…uhrm cops…are
> going to do this to the wrong door.

> They’re going to think they’re hitting a mom and pop
> house, when it’s really a drug cartel house, with lots
> and lots and lots of mean bastards with more and bigger
> guns than the cops.

If that’s the case, then serving the warrant properly by knocking and announcing– and thereby giving the cartel savages time to grab their weapons– would result in an even quicker bloody death for the cops.

You’re actually arguing in favor of the tactics used by the cops in this case, not against them.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: You know, this is going to come back to haunt them...

Wouldn’t even have to be full of criminals.

Imagine someone like Burt Gummer (from the movie Tremors) is having a relaxing evening, admiring his collection, and suddenly there’s a crashing noise as someone attempts to batter down his door without identifying themselves in any way or saying any other words.

The entire raid team might not survive.

ECA (profile) says:

So.

We now have proof that..
“Ignorance of the law” is a valid defense??
So, every child molester can be released because NO ONE handed them a book, with all the laws, regulations, and requirements of this country??

NOW I know how rich persons can get RICHER..There is no law against it..Even tho, If you do business in this country you are SUPPOSED TO PAY TAXES..

Anonymous Coward says:

$100 Worth of Pot

Pot, $100’s worth, was deemed a valid excuse to kill without warning a citizen of our country. 29 bullets is not an attempt to suppress hostile fire or disable a resisting assailant – it is attempted murder (“murder” being “illegal homicide”).

Now that we know they’re going to try to murder us no matter what, let’s be prepared to take some of these f@#%ers with us when they Gestapo their way in.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: $100 Worth of Pot

Agree with the first half, not so much with the second.

They went in guns blazing for something that is perfectly legal in other states. They were willing and attempting to kill for someone selling a drug where the side effects are being mellow and having the munchies.

By their actions they made clear their position: $100 worth of weed is a crime worthy of death, and they are more than happy to carry out the sentence themselves with no need for judge or jury or pesky trial.

As for the second half, while I don’t condone or support people deciding to return the favor and try to kill them first(one trigger-happy group of murderers is already one too many thank you very much), stories like this leave me in a position where if and when something like that happens I can’t exactly be surprised or find it in myself to classify it as tragedy rather than a darwin award/cause and effect.

If a dealer/innocent person accused of being a dealer knows that there’s good odds they’ll be shot dead rather than arrested, it won’t be surprising if some of them decide that they’ll risk a murder/attempted murder charge rather than death. It’ll be unfortunate, but it will not be surprising.

Anonymous Hero says:

Why bother lying if they’ll be let off the hook no matter what they do? Why bother getting a warrant if they’ll be let off the hook no matter what they do? At this point, these assholes are wasting tax-payer money by paying lip-service to the law. At this point it would make sense to just shoot people in the head and charge their family for the bullet.

Sinead O'Rebellion (profile) says:

"When you at war, you need a f---ing enemy"

"This drug thing, this ain’t police work. I mean, I can send any fool with a badge and a gun to a corner to jack a crew and grab vials. But policing? I mean you call something a war, and pretty soon everyone is going to be running around acting like warriors. They gonna be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, racking up body counts. And when you at war, you need a f—ing enemy. And pretty soon damn near everybody on every corner is your f—ing enemy. Pretty soon the neighborhood you’re supposed to be policing is just occupied territory. Soldiering and policing they ain’t the same thing" -Bunny Colvin

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“We can’t just start arresting cops, because who’s going to arrest them? Other cops.”

Considering the only other viable alternative is to kill these cops in just as cold blood as they would kill us, the only civil option would be to arrest them, put them on trial and send them to jail.

Of course, they’ll probably be disassembled organ by organ by their cellmates once they’re in jail, but at least we don’t have to see it happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

What can a law abiding citizen do?

Someone busts down your door, is it the police or a gang pretending to be police?
How can you tell in a split second?
Do you defend your family or not?

If police treated people as innocent until proven guilty, they would think about those questions above and adjust their tactics accordingly to protect themselves and the suspects.

But when you take the position that all suspects are guilty its easy for you to not care if you have to shoot the suspect dead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What can a law abiding citizen do?

I was reading how the Police broke down a door, rushed into a house, and shot the guy in his own bed and they woke him up and wasn’t sure what was happening and then was SHOT and killed. The police went to the WRONG HOUSE!!!!

This so-called WAR ON DRUGS is getting innocent people KILLED by the police. It’s getting people shot and killed over $100 of pot. It’s turned police into the biggest GANG in this country.

Judge DRED has turned out true after all. This blue gang is judge, jury, and executioner. Innocent or Criminal, everyone is the same in their eyes. Shoot first and ask questions later,..Oh wait, you’re dead. You can’t answer any questions. They move on to kill someone else.

ROGS (user link) says:

Robert Guffey,professor at UC Long Beach, and author of Chameleo, astory about military counter~intelligence stalking in the US,indicates that organized gangstalking by police affiliated military contractors, and surveillance role players, aka cultural role players is a real thing, andgives an example from South Carolina:

http://cryptoscatology.blogspot.com/2016/01/a-world-of-stalking-fools-strange-tales_24.html?m=1

Gary Mont (profile) says:

A cheery future - not.

Well well.

It seems America is finally becoming aware of exactly what the term “Police State” means… And it only took a few thousand dead civilians.

Be very interesting to see a comparison for the last ten years between Cops Shot Dead By Civilians VS Civilians Shot Dead By Cops.

As far as I can tell, once you reach this state, there is no going back, simply because there is no longer anyone in power to serve the public demands.

Once all the politicians and judges are on the Payroll, there is simply nobody left for the public to speak their grievances to.

Note how the officials in this case, as with all the others, simply exonerate all concerned – even when there is blatant evidence of criminal action, including witnesses and video footage.

Gird your loins America. You’re in for the ride of your life, and the last ride of your life, because you have been conquered by your own billionaires and you are too proud and too scared to even admit it has happened, let alone actually do something about it. Not that there is really anything you can do about it.

There is certainly nothing legal you can do about it anyway. The laws have all been Lawyered by and for the Billionaires now and dissent of any kind is now simply illegal.

At least you can take heart in the fact that the minions of the fascists, such as the cops, will be dumped as soon as the billionaires decide its time to leave the corpse of American and move on. Then the civilians can and will take their revenge on those who did the dirty work.

Fascism always succeeds in destroying its host nation, because the enemy is the always the nation’s wealthiest citizens.

The public does not want to stop them – it wants to be them.

All you can do now is wait for them to drain the USA and move on to some other nation. Then you can try and rebuild from the ground up with the very few resources the Fascist could not carry off with them.

That is of course, assuming the fascists do not start a war to help eradicate the evidence of their actions before they leave. In that case, you’re all just plain fucked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A cheery future - not.

My knee was about to jerk when you started mentioning fascism, considering how loosely that word has been thrown around university campuses lately, but you know what, you’re right.

This is TRUE fascism, coming straight from the government. Cops finding any reason to murder civilians with politicians being paid to accept it wholesale. Hell, they even hurt taxpayers by paying for their own mistakes through everyone else’s money.

Anyone who considers themselves an opponent of fascism these days needs to stop getting distracted and triggered by frog memes and start looking at what the police are doing. Oh, but the cops are scary to fight against, aren’t they? Yeah, they are, but if you really want to fight TRUE fascism, it’s going to take hard work. It’s going to result in injury and death, not fucking hashtags. If you’re not prepared for that, get a damn job and leave the impending revolution to people who still have their courage intact.

!ROGS! says:

Re: A cheery future - not.

! ….
The public does not want to stop them – it wants to be them.

Very insightfulon your part.

Our once vibrant left has been eating itself alive since the ADL spying on activists scandal of 1993.

And re:~ fascists do not start a war to help eradicate the evidence of their actions before they leave~

It isalready happening-this is what pure speech monitoring IS.

The DHS and the other alphabets, working internationally, and targeting each others activists in internet black bag jobs, and have been attacking dissenters heavily since 2008, and ramped up the web policing severely in 2011.

FBI Infragard is a key player in web censorship, and many of them work as sysadmins.You can look around this exact forum for examples.

WEBSCRUBBING. and WEBWASHING is how they hide the tracks of their pointy heels.

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