Kansas City Cops Tell Man They'll Kill His Dogs And Destroy His Home If Forced To Obtain A Search Warrant
from the i-keep-a-gun-holstered,-but-only-on-the-right-side,-that's-the-cop-side dept
Good news, citizens! You have the right to refuse a warrantless search of your premises. It's a right that's guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. But that right won't protect you from the consequences of your failure to roll over for law enforcement. Nope, the right to not be subjected to a warrantless search can actually be held against you -- not in a court of law, mind you -- but by the police themselves.
Eric Crinnian, an attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, says police came to his door looking for parole violators, and got upset when he refused them permission to tramp through his house and paw through his possessions. In fact, he claims, one cop went so far as to threaten to shoot his dogs if he made them abide by the requirements of the law by getting a search warrant to look through his home.Here's the direct quote from the news article:
“If we have to get a warrant, we’re going to come back when you’re not expecting it, we’re going to park in front of your house, where all your neighbors can see, we’re gonna bust in your door with a battering ram, we’re gonna shoot and kill your dogs [...] and then we’re going to ransack your house looking for these people.”This sounds suspiciously like a threat (several threats, actually). This is the classic "you can do this the easy way or the hard way" persuasion technique that's been deployed by law enforcement since there's been law enforcement. Even when not spoken out loud, the "or else" always hangs in the air when LEOs "ask nicely" for permission to do things they can't legally do without your consent.
Rarely is this threat spoken with such clarity and detail, however. As both Reason and the Volokh Conspiracy note, the threat delivered by a KCPD officer may not actually be illegal.
John Hamilton, an associate professor of criminal justice administration at Park University and a retired Major with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, told the news station that the officers' threats may not be illegal, though they're inappropriate and it's possible they violate department policy. He also pointed to the matter of appearances, saying that such behavior "makes it tenuous when you appear in front of the court in a case like that."Not exactly illegal, but not very helpful should this incident result in a lawsuit. In fact, Missouri's laws give police officers leeway to make threats such as these without repercussion, as Reason's J.D. Tucille notes.
Missouri has a statute that defines a "credible threat… against the life of, or a threat to cause physical injury to, or the kidnapping of, the person, the person's family, or the person's household members or domestic animals or livestock" as aggravated stalking and might fit the bill in this situation. However, that law explicitly exempts law enforcement officers "conducting investigations of violation of federal, state, county, or municipal law," which is more than a little disturbing.In all likelihood, the citizen who exercised his Fourth Amendment rights will be the only one who is punished (in one fashion or another) for the officer's threats. Making these allegations public will decrease the likelihood of the KCPD following through on its offer to tear apart Crinnian's home and shoot his pets. Of course, this could just as easily go the other way. The PD has already promised to retaliate for his refusal to permit an unconstitutional search. It may up its level of retribution in the wake of this public embarrassment.
There's also this to consider. While the officer's words may sound like a threat, what he's saying may not be a threat. It may just be a simple observation of what doing this the "hard way" will entail.
Some people have hypothesized that the police officer was merely describing the normal warrant execution process rather than threatening to retaliate by causing gratuitous property damage. I think it's worth noting that these are not inconsistent. It would not surprise me to learn that the police routinely retaliate against people who make their lives difficult by causing gratuitous damage during the warrant execution process.No-knock warrants are always more damaging than those announced by a knock on the door. Police use different tactics depending on their perception of the person they're serving the warrant to. People with the power and money to retaliate in court are often handled with more respect (and less collateral damage) than those that are perceived to be powerless (yet somehow more dangerous). Note how an arrest of celebrity is carried out much differently than arrests of millions of nobodies.
"We'll come back with a warrant, but we'll make you wish you had consented earlier." It's almost extortion and yet, it's almost certainly not punishable under Missouri law. Gotta love that Fourth Amendment protection, which grants you the right to turn down a warrantless search, but instead subjects you to a violent, noisy, destructive search of your house once the proper paperwork is secured.
Hopefully, Crinnian's public complaint will either a) force the KCPD to conduct an orderly, non-dog-shooting search of his premises or b) move any judge asked to sign this warrant makes sure the KCPD has dotted every evidentiary "i" and crossed every reasonably suspicious "t." Better yet, let's hope it convinces the PD to drop its apparently errant investigation of Crinnian.
But the underlying message is both terrible and crystal clear. You are protected from illegal searches, but not from petty retaliation conducted under the color of law. The system has checks and balances, but these are essentially meaningless when the balance of power has shifted this far out of whack.