POLITICS
09/22/2013 10:11 am ET

More on the Burley Raid

On Wednesday, we published my report on the 2007 drug raid of Geraldine and Caroline Burley, in which a team of DEA agents and deputies from Wayne County, Michigan covered their faces and refused to reveal their identities. The women have since had difficulty with their lawsuit because for the last 6 years, none of the police agencies involved will tell them the names of the men who raided their home.

But as outrageous as the story is, there are several more details that didn't make the final edit. Among them:

-- In the affidavit for the search warrant, the affiant officer claimed that a police informant bought marijuana from someone who was in the Burley home. But the informant's statement is different. The informant only described buying marijuana in the Burleys' back yard, not from anyone who had come from inside the house. By the informant's account, there was nothing to tie the drug sale to the Burleys, other than that the man who sold the informant the drugs happened to be standing in their yard. That probably wouldn't have been enough to establish probable cause for the raid.

-- The affidavit also doesn't accurately describe the Burley home. For example, it describes the informant has having walked into the Burleys' yard, but fails to note that there's a chain link fence around the yard that the informant would have had to climb over. This is also a neighborhood where many homes look alike, and the description of the Burley home does nothing to distinguish it from the houses around it.

-- The affidavit is also nearly identical to the affidavit for the nearby home that the police searched either at the same time, or shortly after. (The house all of the officers deposed by the Burley attorneys claimed to have been searching at the time the Burleys were raided.) The only differences in the two documents are the description of the homes and the physical description of the alleged drug dealers. Other than that, the two drug transactions apparently went down in identical fashion. That's certainly possible, but it's odd that the two transactions would be described in precisely the same way, word for word.

-- Toward the end of the trial, attorneys for the Burleys asked Friedman if they could put the women on the stand to say that they had recognized the voices of the DEA agents who had testified earlier in the trial as the men who were in their home. Friedman allowed it, but he also indicated his suspicions about the questioning. He sternly warned the attorneys that he took perjury very seriously. For emphasis he added, "I'm serious, dead serious." He apparently didn't believe the women. It was on the basis of that testimony that he entered his judgment as a matter of law, dismissing the case before it could get to the jury. This is also where Friedman was overruled by the appellate court. They ruled that the credibility of the Burleys testimony on this matter should have been left to the jury to decide.

-- Friedman also referred to the voice testimony as "trial by ambush." This is the same judge who had no problem with the way the DEA agents waited until well after the statute of limitations had run to claim that they weren't the agents in the Burley home.

-- Friedman also allowed into evidence the fact that the women received Social Security disability benefits, and that Caroline Burley had once sued a hotel after falling. At the same time, he refused to allow into evidence the disciplinary records of the agents named on the DEA report, or whether any of them had been named in previous lawsuits. In other words, the jury could hear information about the two women's past that could possibly discredit them, but not any information about the pasts of the DEA agents.

-- During the trial attorney Stanley Okoli was able to get the defendants to establish that eight officers are required to properly execute a drug raid: three on the parameter, and two inside. But "Group 6" only had twelve officers. This means that when the DEA agents claimed that the group was split in two and conducted the raids on the Burley house and the nearby house simultaneously, they were admitting that they had conducted those raids in an unsafe manner. That, or they were lying about splitting up. This is the portion of the trial where Okoli says he was able to take the defense by surprise, in front of the jury. The defense will likely have an explanation in the second trial.

I'll post an update when we know the final resolution to all of this.

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