In January 2005, police in Baltimore County conducted a 4:50 a.m. raid on the home of Cheryl Lynn Noel and her husband Charles. The target of the raid was the couple's son Matthew, who police had pulled over three months earlier. During the stop, police found a bag in his car that they said contained a suspicious white powder. The police say they then found marijuana seeds and cocaine residue in subsequent searches of the family's trash (which can be conducted without a warrant). That was enough for them to get a warrant for Matthew's arrest.
After taking down the family's front door and deploying flash grenades, SWAT officers stormed up the steps and broke open the door to the Noels' bedroom. Matthew Noel was sleeping downstairs at the time.
Because their daughter had been murdered several years earlier, the Noels kept a gun near the bed. The 44-year-old Cheryl Lynn Noel stood in her nightgown, nervously holding the gun as, what she thought were intruders stormed her bedroom. Noel was shot twice by Officer Carlos Artson, who was wearing bulletproof armor, and who fired at her from behind a ballistics shield. As Noel lay bleeding on her bedroom floor, she was then shot a third time from close range. She died in her home. The police found only a misdemeanor amount of marijuana in the house.
The police later said the aggressive tactics were necessary Cheryl and Matthew Noel were legally registered gun owners, and because Charles Noel had been convicted of second-degree murder 30 years earlier. Noel, who pleaded guilty in that case, told me in a 2007 interview that the crime was a "shameful" incident from his youth that got out of hand after he and some friends had beaten a homeless man. He had served his time, and had no incidents of criminal violence on his record since. Charles Noel did, however, have a history of animosity with police in Baltimore County. Noel had been publicly critical of the way police had handled the investigation of his daughter's death. The police initially ruled it a suicide. Noel had long insisted it was a homicide, and was eventually able to persuade them to investigate it as one.
Cheryl Lynn Noel had no criminal record. She was described by friends as a devout woman who led Bible study groups on her lunch break. A few weeks after the family filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2006, the Baltimore County Police Department gave Officer Artson the department's "Silver Star" for "valor, courage, honor, and bravery" for his actions during the raid on the Noel home. It's the second-highest award the department gives to police officers. Five months after the raid, the head of the SWAT team -- Col. Jim Johnson -- was named the new police chief for Baltimore County.
In March 2009, a federal jury returned a verdict in favor of the police, finding that (1) the third shot fired into Noel was not excessive, and (2) sending a 16-member SWAT team into Noel's home at 5 am over trace amounts of marijuana and in the family trash wasn't excessive, either. In June 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the Noel family's appeal
Baltimore County Attorney Paul Mayhew made the city's position clear, insisting at the trial that "We do not apologize one minute" for Noel's death.
In July 2012, Officer Artson killed another man during a volatile forced-entry raid. Artson's SWAT team was raiding the home of 48-year-old Ronald Mevin Cox with an arrest warrant for Cox's niece, who was suspected of attempted murder. Cox was not suspected of any crime. Artson shot Cox when Cox came at him with a sword as the police broke into his bedroom.
In 2009 the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring police departments to issue detailed statistics on the use of their SWAT teams in response to the 2008 botched raid on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. In 2010, the Baltimore County Police Department conducted 120 SWAT raids, or one every three days. Baltimore City conducted an additional 289 raids. Those figures do not include raids by federal agencies like the DEA or BATF.
(The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.)