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We've told the story of drug war canicide - dog murder - before here on the NORML Stash Blog. From the LAPD dog killing during dispensary raids to the Buffalo man who pleaded with cops to let him put his beloved pets in another room before cops gunned them down, and even the mayor of a town in Maryland forced to sit handcuffed near a pool of his slaughtered black labs' blood during a SWAT raid that turned out to be in error.
This incident in Missouri happened in February and is just one of the 100-150 militaristic raids on homes every day in America, most often to serve narcotics warrants, which usually means marijuana, the substance involved in almost half of all drug arrests. But never before have we brought you actual video of law enforcement protecting us from adults smoking a bowl in their own home and serving us by executing family pets in front of small children.
(Warning: if you love your dog as much as I love Roscoe P. Coltrane, my Jack Russell terrier, scratch its belly and get to your serenity place before you view this. It is very disturbing.)
If you notice toward the end of the video you can see what appears to be a small bong on the coffee table. The Columbia, Missouri SWAT team sure took down a big-time drug kingpin while he slept peacefully with his wife and seven-year-old child, huh?
(Columbia Daily-Tribune) Police discovered a grinder, a pipe and a small amount of marijuana, Haden said. Because the SWAT team acts on the most updated information available, the team wanted to enter the house before marijuana believed to be at the location could be distributed, she said.
"If you let too much time go by, then the drugs are not there," she said.
Drug distributors traditionally have a history with firearms, which is why the SWAT team is used when executing such warrants, [police spokeswoman Officer Jessie] Haden said. If the SWAT team believed they could have executed the warrant successfully during the daytime when the wife and child were not present, they would have, she said.
Well, the "drugs" weren't there, now, were they? But let's pretend they were. Let's say the man was holding enough marijuana to qualify for a felony charge in Missouri (over 35 grams). Are we to understand that holding any more than an ounce and a quarter in Missouri is justification enough to send SWAT to burst into a man's home late at night and start firing weapons and slaughtering his pets and terrorizing his wife and children?
And what exactly is it that made the SWAT team believe it couldn't execute a successful warrant in the daytime? The presence of his pit bull and corgi (yes, these cops shot a corgi) or that his wife and child would be away so he wouldn't mind going down guns blazing to protect his lucrative marijuana empire? And if he had enough pot to have a lucrative marijuana empire worth shooting cops over, how exactly did he manage to get rid of it all in the few hours between daytime and that night?
No, folks, the justification is simple: shock and awe. These cops are taught that "druggies" are dangerous armed hostile mentally deranged lunatics who all emulate Tony Montana from Scarface. Then they are taught how to dominate and intimidate and that one of the quickest ways you can do so is to show them you have the power of life and death. And they do this as a message to all the other "druggies" out there that they are not safe and that they are serious about engaging the "enemy" and winning the "war".
Radley Balko at Reason's Hit and Run (a top libertarian blog) has been following the story and promises an update from the victim's mother, who was present at the raid. Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake (a top progressive blog which has recently begun a new campaign for legalization), Scott Morgan at Drug War Chronicle, and Pete Guither at DrugWarRant have also been following the story.
In the end the victim pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia in exchange for dropping the charges of misdemeanor marijuana possession and second-degree child endangerment. Yes, you read that right: the police burst into this man's home, shooting weapons in his home and killing his dog with his seven-year-old sleeping in the next room and he's the one who was endangering his child by smoking pot in his own home.
Update: News of this raid and the video has gone viral and the Columbia Police Department is scrambling to put the spin on this:
(Columbia Daily-Tribune) In response to widespread "misinformation" developing on message boards and blogs, as well as a death threat toward Columbia police officers, Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid and Burton held a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Burton said police have fielded questions from several agitated callers concerning the two dogs shot. Some callers have received incorrect information that the corgi is the dog that was killed for being aggressive toward officers, and others told police they were told the pit bull that was killed because of its aggressive behavior was in a cage.
"It's simply not true," Burton said.
The chief, who is personally conducting the internal investigation, walked reporters through his understanding of the incident. Three officers shot at the pit bull, and the first missed completely, which is when the corgi is believed to have been shot in the paw, he said. The pit bull acted aggressively toward a SWAT member again as they pushed into the home, which resulted in the animal being shot, he said. After being shot, it moved to attack a SWAT member, which is when the dog was killed.
Here it comes: the victim was a dangerous druggie, a narcotics kingpin with a lethally aggressive pit bull. Because two confidential informants (read: snitches with something to gain by rolling on someone, true or false accusations be damned) alleged he had large amounts of marijuana and a police garbage search yielded pipes and baggies with pot residue on them.
(Columbia Daily-Tribune) "It was unfortunate timing," said Lt. Scott Young, SWAT commander.
Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, former SWAT commander, has said he is confident narcotics were in Whitworth's residence before police entry.
Columbia police spokeswoman Jessie Haden said there sometimes was a lag between the time a warrant was issued and when SWAT could execute the warrant. The problem was SWAT members' primary assignments, such as their role as beat officers or investigators, would take precedence over SWAT and they would have to work overtime to participate in SWAT operations.
So, in the police opinion, the mistake wasn't in sending automatic-weapon wielding cops into the family home, shooting up the place with a child present and killing the family pet. It's that they served the warrant too late to catch the victim with what they believed to be large amounts of weapons of mass destruction, er, marijuana.
There is a Columbia City Council meeting on May 17th at 7pm. Blogging's great, but in-person protesting and activism are better. I'm calling on our Missouri NORML chapters to come out and demand an end to these tactics. Click the link, join the one near you, and get involved in fighting back.
P.S. You'd think the ASPCA or PETA would be all over this, wouldn't you? I did, but found no reference to any police-shooting-dog stories on either of their websites. I once got in contact with people in their organizations but got no interest from them on addressing these clear cases of cruel and unethical treatment of animals. I even tried contacting Bill Maher, a high-profile PETA supporter and marijuana legalization supporter to spotlight the topic, but I've never received any response. None of these animal rights supporters seem to think a family pet has a right to be protected from police brutality if the owner is thought to be a "druggie".
P.P.S. Paul Armentano reminds me that in 2004, seven in ten Columbia, Missouri residents voted for the end of the "arrest, prosecution, punishment, or sanction" citizens for their medical use of marijuana, and six in ten voted for the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. So the dog was murdered and the family terrorized over something only 30%-40% of residents believe is a crime.
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