Local police departments are more routinely employing SWAT-style raids in the course of their work, with more than 50,000 such events taking place per year. “The percentage that go wrong is very small,” said Peter Kraska, a criminal justice professor at Eastern Kentucky University. “However, when it goes wrong, it goes extremely wrong.”
In “Deadly Force: Arming America’s Police,” Fault Lines investigates the increasing adoption of military-like tactics by civilian police forces. The film airs on Al Jazeera America on Friday, February 28, at 9:30p EST and Saturday, March 1, at 5:30 p EST. It debuts on Al Jazeera English on Tuesday, March 4.
Here are four examples of what can happen when SWAT teams are dispatched to investigate suspected low-level criminals—and the unfortunate consequences that can result from an overzealous and perhaps over-equipped police force. WARNING: These videos contain some upsetting images.
March 7, 2008—A SWAT team from the Columbia (Missouri) Police Department (CPD) served a search warrant for marijuana at the home of Jonathan March, a man with no prior felony convictions. Its raid involved the explosion of five concussion grenades and the death of two dogs, both shot with machine guns.
October 14, 2008—A CPD SWAT team recovered four crack rocks, 2 pipes, and $4,000 in cash in a drug raid that left several children in the house distressed. They also arrested an elderly woman, 68-year-old Wanda Scott, on a paraphernalia charge.
February 11, 2010—In a drug raid gone awry, the CPD SWAT team shot two of a family’s pet dogs, killing one in front of a young child. The police would only discover an insignificantly small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the residence. CPD Police Chief responded to the outcry that followed the serving of this warrant, saying the officer’s actions were “appropriate.”
May 5, 2011—A SWAT team raided the house of ex-Marine Jose Guerena at 9:30 am. Thinking that his house was being robbed, Guerena hid his wife and son in a closet before picking up a rifle for protection. Upon spotting the rifle, members of the SWAT immediately fired off 70 rounds. Though Guerena was struck 22 times, police refused to let paramedics tend to his injuries—which would prove fatal—for over an hour. Guerena never fired a shot. In a settlement reached in September 2013, the family of the slain former Marine received $3.4 million from the various police agencies who played a part in his death.