'Showtime Syndrome' Strikes Evansville, Indiana
William Norman Grigg
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bound by our oaths and by our loyalty to the State and to society
to meet force with force, and cunning with cunning… We have a government
worth fighting for, and even worth dying for….
Captain Michael J. Shaack, in his overcooked "expose" Anarchy
and Anarchists (1889)
absolutely has to have law and order. If that’s removed, all kinds
of chaos and violence will result," insisted Evansville, Indiana
Police Captain Andy Chandler in an interview with Pro Libertate.
Absent the heroic intervention of the State’s oath-bound servants,
an innocent senior citizens and her teenage granddaughter might
be terrorized in their home by men armed with assault weapons and
armed marauders who attacked the Evansville home of Ira and Louise
Milan on June 21 were oath-bound servants of the State. The
assault was conducted by the local
SWAT team, in the company of an impossibly sycophantic local
television reporter named David Shepherd, who had been brought along
to chronicle the daring raid.
operation was not to protect the "community" from
criminal violence, but to arrest and punish an unidentified individual
who had posted what were described as "specific threats"
against the police in an online forum.
employed a "knock and announce" procedure in which the
incantation "Police search warrant" was shouted three
times before the front door was broken down with a siege engine
and two flash-bang grenades were hurled into the home.
None of this
was necessary, but it certainly looked bitchin' on camera.
door was open," a shaken and most likely disgusted Ira Milan
later to the Evansville Courier-Press. "It’s not
like anyone was in there hiding. To bring a SWAT team seems a little
Acting as the
voice of the Evansville PD, television correspondent Shepherd explained
that the armored assault team took "extra precautions because
of the severity of the threats."
to make an objective assessment of the nature and credibility of
those threats, since Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge David Kiely
sealed both the initial warrant and a second one issued after the
SWAT team had wrecked the Milan family’s home. This was done in
defiance of the Indiana State open records act, which requires that
the results of a search warrant be made public.
claim that "specific threats" were made against police
officers and their families by an anonymous poster to the topix.com
on-line forum. One of the posts declared: "Cops beware! I’m
proud of my country but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives
… Made in America. Evansville will feel my pain." Another claimed
that the home addresses of Evansville police officers had been leaked
to the public.
'EPD leak: Officers’ addresses given out,’ or something along those
lines," explained department spokesman Sgt. Jason Cullum. Although
one post reportedly mentioned the Evansville Police Chief, no other
officers were named, and no addresses were listed. Although Cullum
asserted that a SWAT raid was necessary because "the threats
were specific enough, and the potential for danger was there,"
his casual description suggests that the investigation wasn’t particularly
rigorous – especially in light of the fact that the assault on the
Milan home took place roughly a day after the messages were posted.
were questioned, some computers and cell phones were seized, but
no arrests were made. Shepherd concluded his report by intoning
that the continuing investigation "hits close to home for many
of these brave officers."
officers," of course, had just conducted a military raid against
a harmless elderly couple and their teenage granddaughter in reaction
to nasty things said about the police by a blogger who had apparently
piggybacked on the home’s Wi-Fi signal.
is the first SWAT entry we’ve done that involved in serving a warrant
addressing a threat against a public security officer," Captain
Chandler – a well-spoken, candid, and personable 24-year veteran
who until recently commanded the SWAT team – told Pro Libertate.
Asked if the
department would react with the same zeal in addressing similar
online "threats" against a private citizen, Chandler replied:
"Absolutely we would use a SWAT team to deal with this kind
of threat against anybody. We have taken action to deal with threats
and harassment of this kind."
is about 120,000, and the larger urban area is about a quarter of
a million," Chandler observes. "People would be astounded
by the number of reports we get of intimidation and threats arising
out of domestic violence situations or other conflicts."
Chandler, the Evansville SWAT team does an average of five call-outs
a month. At the risk of making what could be construed as a disastrous
policy recommendation, I’m constrained to ask: If a SWAT call-out
is justified for every "credible" threat of aggravated
violence, shouldn’t the team be deployed every day in defense
of the besieged citizens of Evansville?
account, the investigation that led to SWAT operatives beating down
the open door of an elderly couple’s home was a model of urgent
efficiency prompted by an exigent threat to Evansville’s intrepid
notified by informants on the street about postings on a website
that threatened officers," he recalls. (Those "street"
informants were people who read the internet posts and called the
department.) "We get a lot of criticism, some of it profane,
which is just an exercise of free speech. But then the comments
crossed the line by actually starting to call out the police chief,
with the poster claiming that he had access to weapons that would
penetrate our tactical vests – all officers on our force are required
to wear the vests – and that he and his 'boys’ were coming for officers
and their families."
a number of subpoenas associated with that address," Chandler
continues. After conducting "surveillance and intelligence
collection" on the suspect and the neighborhood, the department
"found that there had been over a dozen shootings in the area
since the beginning of the summer, some of them gang-related."
All of this
information was used to conduct an assessment using a "Threat
a document – a checklist – that we review. We fill in the blanks,
and every answer has a score associated with it. Is the suspect
a known offender? Was it a violent offense? Did he resist arrest?
Is there drug trafficking in the area? The scores are tallied up
and the threat is placed in an appropriate range of responses."
Assessment Score" is then compiled, and the appropriate response
is chosen from three options. The higher the "Matrix"
score, the more militarized the response.
A total of
1-16 points means that the supposed threat is considered "SWAT
optional"; 17-24 points means that the SWAT commander should
be consulted; if the score is 25 points or higher, SWAT deployment
"Threat Matrix" form lists a number of individual criteria
dictating "mandatory" SWAT deployment; for instance, if
the subject is believed to possess an automatic, semi-auto, or bolt/lever
action rifle, or explosives. In the fashion of a Scrabble game,
the use of home "fortifications" – such as burglar bars
– is awarded "double point value." The same is true if
the subject has a military or police background, or a record that
includes "resisting arrest" or "assault on a police
officer" (which are weighted more heavily than crimes of violence
against Mundanes, such as homicide, armed robbery, and assault).
of the "Threat Matrix" is to assess the danger to officer
safety – not the potential threat a subject poses to the
public at large. As Chandler puts it, "Every SWAT raid involves
an element of risk, and we chose the method that would ensure the
safety of the officers serving that warrant."
A less self-congratulatory
assessment might be that the department chose a SWAT team as a way
of "sending a message" – a conclusion amply justified
by the involvement of an "embedded" reporter and camera
crew. This wasn’t a case of a police department isolating and neutralizing
an identifiable threat; it was another example of the notorious
Syndrome" at work.
The role played
by the "Threat Matrix" in justifying a military raid on
an elderly couple’s home underscores the distant but unmistakable
kinship between domestic paramilitary operations and "counter-terrorism"
strikes conducted by the military and CIA overseas. The "Matrix"
operates in a fashion similar to the formula used to justify "signature
strikes" against suspected "militants" in countries
like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
As human rights
activist Marcy Wheeler points
out, "signature strikes" are conducted against "patterns,
rather than people": Someone who is "associated"
with a "suspected militant" through a cell phone conversation,
or mere geographic proximity, can be considered an appropriate target
for a drone-fired missile strike. According to the Obama administration,
anyone who meets the undemanding "threat" criteria is
considered a "militant" by default until he or she is
fashion, the home of Ira, Louise, and Stephane Milan, was targeted
for a military strike on the basis of a "threat assessment"
that had nothing to do with them.
Asked to address
this perceived similarity, Capt. Chandler observed that "The
military has a built-in loss factor. Whenever they carry out a mission,
lives will be lost, including those of innocent people. Law enforcement
cannot do that; 'collateral damage’ isn’t acceptable."
"collateral damage" isn’t limited to fatalities – as the
terrorized elderly couple and teenage girl victimized by the utterly
unnecessary SWAT raid on June 21 can testify. Given the indecent
eagerness of police departments to acquire military-grade drone
technology, future "Threat Matrix" assessments could well result
in drone strikes, rather than SWAT raids.
a local TV news account, the Evansville PD maintains that the invasion
of the Milan home "was well worth it to keep everyone safe."
But even if we were to describe juvenile online comments as a "threat,"
it’s nonsense on stilts to claim that "everyone" in Evansville
was endangered by them.
Sgt. Jason Cullum, the police embody the "community,"
and they can be paralyzed with fear by an anonymous, solitary internet
Troll. "We’re not going to let these type [sic] of people take
over and have us scared in our own homes," he told the local
Fox affiliate. From this perspective, the SWAT team’s home invasion
was not a grotesque act of overkill reasonably described as an act
of state terrorism, but a pre-emptive strike against forces that
threatened the existence of law and order itself.
element that played a tacit but unmistakable role in the decision
to deploy the SWAT team was the
recent enactment of Indiana Senate Bill 1, which recognized
the innate right of citizens to use lethal force to repel "unlawful
entry into their homes by law enforcement officers or persons pretending
to be law enforcement officers." That measure, which was signed
into law just weeks ago, was denounced by police unions as a measure
announcing "open season on law enforcement."
likely that the purpose of the June 21 attack on the Milan home
was intended as a show of force – a demonstration that the police
were willing to deploy overwhelming force to assert their continued
dominance. This would certainly comport with the paramilitary mindset
by Gabe Suarez, who spent 12 years as a police officer in Santa
Monica: "When I was on [the] SWAT [team] our view [was] that
'We will always win....even if we have to burn down your entire
house by bombing it....we will win’."
with permission from Pro
Norman Grigg [send him mail]
publishes the Pro
Libertate blog and hosts the Pro
Libertate radio program.
© 2012 William Norman Grigg
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