SWAT Teams Are Killing People in Their Homes over Suspicion of Pot Possession

Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard the expression: “The operation was successful, but the patient died.”

That thought comes to mind when reading a Washington Post story entitled, “Marijuana Raids are More Deadly than the Drug.” The article highlights the fact that since 2010, at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected pot dealers have turned deadly, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A revealing ACLU report from 2014, entitled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing” found that nearly 80 percent of SWAT deployments were to serve search warrants.

Imagine, a SWAT team breaking your doors down in the middle of the night—and sometimes shooting and killing dogs—because they suspect someone inside is growing or possessing weed.

Today, 85 percent of SWAT operations target private residences.

When executing a search warrant wherein there has been no formal accusation of a crime, the police are essentially acting on the basis of probable cause that drugs will be found, which is not always the case.

This tactic essentially amounts to the use of paramilitary tactics to conduct domestic drug investigations in people’s homes. And, during these investigations, people get killed.

The 2013 case of Henry Magee is an example of how aggressive tactics can have disastrous consequences.

An informant had told police in Texas that Magee was growing pot in his home, which he shared with his pregnant girlfriend. In a pre-dawn raid, a SWAT team, using a flash-bang grenade, burst into their trailer. Thinking he was being robbed, Magee grabbed his gun and started firing.

Once the police announced themselves and the shooting stopped, a police officer was dead. They later found 10 pot plants in Magee’s home.

It took a grand jury 12 hours to acquit Magee of a capital murder charge.

“All of us felt that if I were in bed and heard anything that made me get up and get a gun, and all of a sudden my door explodes in, I’m shooting,” one of the jurors told the New York Times.

“Why in the world would you do a full-out assault on a guy growing pot?” asked the juror.

Great question.

The list of SWAT fatalities includes small-time dealers and people who sold the occasional joint to a friend, as well as people suspected of dealing more serious drugs, but who were found, after the fact, to only be in possession of marijuana.

Operating in the Shadows

It is not easy to get information about SWAT activity, according to the ACLU, which says militarization of policing in the United States occurs without almost any oversight.

Per the ACLU: “Data collecting and reporting in the context of SWAT was at best sporadic and at worst virtually nonexistent. Not a single law enforcement agency in this investigation provided records containing all of the information that the ACLU believes is necessary to undertake a thorough examination of police militarization.”

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