Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Financial Settlement

Time for a follow up to a story I blogged about back in 2006. In short, a man was suspected of being involved in the robbery of some PS3s. Rather than simply serve an arrest and search warrant the police called in a SWAT-type unit and in attempting an entry one of the SWAT guys shot through a door at Strickland as he came to answer their knock, killing him. He has since been kicked off the force but charges against him were dropped. He claimed that he had mistaken the sound of a battering ram for a gun shot.

It's just been announced that the family of Peyton Strickland, the 18 year old killed, have reached a settlement with the police for $2.45 million. The Sheriff involved in the case has issued an apology-

“I am profoundly sorry,” Causey said against a backdrop of the United States and North Carolina flags. “I cannot begin to imagine the immense sorrow the Strickland family must continue to feel, but they will forever be in my thoughts and prayers. It is my hope that the Strickland family will accept this apology and know that it is offered with compassion and sincerity.”

A bit of a change from his statement on the incident at the time-

“If this boy would’ve come to the door, opened the door, we probably wouldn’t be talking,” the sheriff said Sunday.

The problem is, of course, that he was on the way to the door- but the use of SWAT meant that he had virtually no chance. The police suspected he might be armed, because they had seen a picture of him on the internet with a gun- however, he was not armed with a gun during the commission of the crime and his previous record involved an assault with his fists. Nevertheless the cop in question, his senses obscured by hood, helmet and earpiece, and no doubt primed to expect armed and determined resistance, misheard the battering ram for a gun shot and he fired without first positively identifying his target.

My concern with the action was, and remains, the unnecessary use of a tactical unit to serve the warrant. The use of aggressive tactics with highly armed officers primed for danger surely exacerbates many situations- especially when coupled with a dynamic entry designed to throw the occupants into confusion. Not only that, there's no justification for shooting through a closed door, regardless of how many shots one hears. The police knew that Strickland shared the house with other people and had no proof that there were no other visitors in the house at the time.

Had the police chosen a less aggressive approach a young man would still be alive today- and regardless of his crime or criminal background, let's not forget that the standard practice is to establish guilt in a court of law. The increasing use of tactical teams to deal with increasingly less serious crimes can only lead to more incidents like this one.

That night, 16 armed officers from the SWAT team and campus police came to Strickland's rental home in a residential neighborhood.

Seven SWAT members, including Long, crowded Strickland's front stoop, waiting to rush inside. After one deputy knocked, Strickland put down his video remote and headed to answer the door.

When Strickland was a few feet shy of the door, Long fired through it.

All this for a few stolen Playstations and a couple of guys the police only thought might have been armed- and none of whom were proven to be guilty.

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