What Happens When a Civilian Kills a Cop in Self Defense?
A man is staring down death row, after killing a police officer during a no-knock SWAT raid. His case is not that uncommon.
By Alex Henderson / AlterNet
January 21, 2015
The careless use of SWAT teams in no-knock drug raids -- when heavily armed police burst into a home without warning -- has resulted in a long list of innocent people being killed or seriously injured in the United States. 2014 alone found SWAT teams in Georgia senselessly killing businessman David Hooks and maiming toddler Bounkham “Baby Boo Boo” Phonesavanh. And when those raids victimize people who aren’t even selling drugs, narcotics officers seldom face criminal charges and are given every benefit of the doubt. But if, on the other hand, Americans shoot narcotics officers during militarized drug raids—perhaps believing that they are being robbed and are acting in self-defense—charges of first-degree murder are likely. The case of Marvin Louis Guy in Texas is a glaring example.
Guy, an African-American man who is now 50, was the target of a no-knock drug raid on May 9, 2014. Narcotics officers, operating on a tip from an informant who claimed that Guy was selling bags of cocaine, carried out a SWAT raid on his home in Killeen, Texas at around 5:30 AM—and Guy grabbed his gun and opened fire. Charles Dinwiddie, one of the officers, was hit and died two days later. Guy was charged with capitol murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty despite his assertions that he thought he was acting in self-defense. Guy’s trial is scheduled for June of this year.
No drugs were found during a search of Guy’s home, only a glass pipe and a grinder—which indicates that Guy was, at worst, a recreational drug user and not a drug dealer. Journalist Radley Balko, author of the 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, has commented on the case in the Washington Post, saying: “The fact that the police didn’t find any drugs in the house suggests that Marvin Louis Guy didn’t know he was shooting at cops. Drug dealer or no, unless he had a death wish, it’s unlikely that a guy would knowingly fire at police officers when he had nothing in the house that was particularly incriminating.”
A very similar incident occurred in Burleson County, Texas on December 19, 2013, when a SWAT team carried out a no-knock drug raid on the home of Henry Magee (who is white). An informant had claimed that Magee had a major marijuana-growing operation, and during the raid, Magee shot and killed one of the officers, Adam Sowders. Although Magee stressed that he believed he was being robbed and had no idea he was shooting at police officers, he was facing the possibility of being prosecuted for capital murder. But in February, a grand jury decided that Magee legitimately believed he was acting in self-defense—and Magee was not indicted. The Magee case has been referenced in a Change.org petition urging prosecutors to “please drop the capital murder and attempted murder charges against Marvin Louis Guy.” The petition notes that Guy thought he “was defending his wife and home, just as Magee believed he was doing.”
Dick DeGuerin, Magee’s attorney, has pointed out that the grand jury’s decision to not indict him is the exception instead of the rule: in most cases, Americans who kill a narcotics officer during a drug raid are vigorously prosecuted—even if the evidence indicates that they genuinely believed they were acting in self-defense and the raid was not justified. And that is the history that Marvin Louis Guy is up against: a War on Drugs in which the burden of proof is on the victims of militarized drug raids rather than those carrying out the raids. The convictions of Cory Maye, Ryan Frederick and Christina Korbe in the past bear that out, demonstrating that Guy could have a hard time getting a fair trial. And given Texas’ long history of racial oppression, the fact that Guy is African-American and the officer he killed was white indicates that his attorneys will have a major fight on their hands.
The Maye case is one of the most egregious examples of an innocent victim of the War on Drugs going to prison for acting in what he believed was self-defense. In 2001, Maye (who is African-American) was renting a duplex apartment in Prentiss, Mississippi when neighbor Jamie Smith, who lived in the other half of the duplex, became the target of a narcotics investigation. Narcotics officers, acting on a tip from an informant who claimed that large amounts of marijuana were being stored and sold in Smith’s apartment, obtained a warrant for a no-knock drug raid for both sides of the duplex—and when the raid was carried out at around 11 PM on December 26, 2001, officers found only a small amount of marijuana in Smith’s apartment. Smith was arrested without incident.
Maye testified that on the night of the raid, he was asleep in his living room when a loud crash woke him up. Thinking he was being the victim of a robbery and wanting to protect his baby daughter (who was asleep), Maye went into a bedroom and grabbed a pistol—and when officer Ron W. Jones broke into that bedroom, Maye fired three shots. Jones was killed, and Maye was charged with first-degree murder, convicted by a predominantly white jury and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
In court, Maye testified, “After I fired the shots, I heard them yell, ‘Police, police!’ Once I heard them, I put the weapon down and slid it away. I did not know they were police officers.” And Maye’s girlfriend Chenteal Longino (who lived with him) testified: “He was defending himself and my child.”
Maye was on Mississippi’s death row awaiting execution when Balko first wrote about his case in 2005—and Balko’s reporting brought the case a lot more attention than it had been receiving. In September 2006, Maye’s death sentence was overturned, resulting in a new sentence of life in prison. In 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that Maye was entitled to a new trial, and when he pled guilty to manslaughter in 2011, Maye was sentenced to ten years in prison with time already served. Maye was released on July 18, 2011.
Similarly, Chesapeake, Virginia resident Ryan Frederick said he believed he was acting in self-defense when he killed narcotics officer Jarrod Shivers during a paramilitary SWAT raid. On January 17, 2008, narcotics officers carried out a no-knock raid on Frederick’s home based on an informant’s claim that he was growing marijuana in his garden. Frederick, evidently believing that he was being robbed, fatally shot Shivers—and after the raid, the only thing officers found was a small amount of marijuana (a misdemeanor in Virginia). No marijuana plants were found. But on February 4, 2009, Frederick was sentenced to ten years in prison for voluntary manslaughter despite his assertion that he thought he was acting in self-defense and didn’t know Shivers was a police officer. Balko, on March 18, 2008, had commented: “Ryan Frederick is merely the latest citizen to be put in the impossible position of being awakened from sleep, then having to determine in a matter of seconds if the men breaking into his home are police or criminal intruders.”
Like Maye and Frederick, Christina Korbe of Indiana Township, Pennsylvania (a Pittsburgh suburb) said she believed she was acting in self-defense when she fired a shot that killed a narcotics officer who was bursting into her home. The target of that investigation was not Christina Korbe but rather, her husband Robert R. Korbe, who was suspected of drug dealing and eventually pled guilty to that offense (in 2010, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for cocaine distribution, mail fraud and illegal possession of firearms). However, there was no concrete proof that Christina Korbe herself had any involvement in drug trafficking. She was home with her two children when, around 6 AM on November 19, 2008, officers showed up with a warrant to arrest her husband; FBI Special Agent Samuel Hicks was the first to burst through the door (a battering ram was used), and Korbe has said that she shot him thinking he was a robber and didn’t realize he was an FBI agent. Korbe stressed that she was trying to protect her two children when she fired the fatal shot.
Prosecutors would have loved to put Korbe away for life, but instead, she agreed to a plea bargain. Korbe pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges, and in January 2011, she was sentenced to almost 16 years in prison. In September 2013, Korbe sought a reduced sentence, but her request was denied.
Abby Martin, host of “Breaking the Set” on RT and a blistering critic of U.S. drug policy, has characterized the United States as a country with a “two-tiered justice system that shelters police from accountability time and again.” And nowhere is that more evident than in the U.S.’ failed War on Drugs. The aggressive prosecutions of Maye, Frederick and Korbe—and now, Guy—is quite a contrast to the treatment that narcotics officers typically receive when they kill or injure innocent people. There have been numerous examples of narcotics officers killing people who clearly weren’t selling drugs—the Rev. Accelyne Williams in Boston in 1994, Annie Rae Dixon in Tyler, Texas in 1992, the Rev. Jonathan Ayers in Toccoa, Georgia in 2009—and in none of those cases did the officers involved stand trial on felony charges. At an inquest held after the death of Dixon (an 84-year-old African-American woman who was a paraplegic), a predominantly white jury decided that narcotics officer Frank Baggett, Jr. (whose gun went off and sent a fatal bullet into Dixon’s chest) didn’t even deserve civil charges. Texas’ Smith County Commissioner Andrew Mellontree, in a 1992 interview with the New York Times, commented: “People can’t accept the idea that an 84-year-old grandmother gets shot in her bed, and it’s not even worth a negligence charge.”
Nor will there be criminal charges against the SWAT team member who, on May 28, 2014, invaded the Habersham County, GA home of Alecia Phonesavanh at around 3 AM and tossed a flashbang grenade that disfigured her baby and blew a hole in his chest. The officers in that SWAT raid were looking for Phonesavanh’s nephew, who was suspected of making a $50 methamphetamine sale. But the officers obviously conducted a sloppy investigation because the nephew didn’t even live in the home that was raided. Nonetheless, a grand jury, in October 2014, declined to indict any of the officers—and to make matters worse, Habersham County hasn’t given Alecia Phonesavanh or her husband any money to cover their baby’s devastating medical expenses (which have exceeded $900,000 so far). The SWAT officers, despite terrorizing the Phonesavanh family, acted with impunity. But if Alecia Phonesavanh had thought she was being robbed and injured the SWAT team members in any way, it’s quite possible that—unlike those who maimed her baby—she would have faced a vigorous prosecution.
There is a disturbing pattern at work: Baggett was given every benefit of the doubt for needlessly killing a bedridden woman of 84, while Maye got the death penalty for shooting Jones in what he believed was self-defense. There will be no criminal charges for the serious injuries inflicted on toddler Bounkham Phonesavanh, but Frederick received a ten-year prison sentence for shooting Shivers in what he believed was self-defense. And in Texas, prosecutors certainly aren’t giving Guy the benefit of the doubt. They’re out for blood.
Clearly, U.S. drug policy is being carried out in a reckless, irresponsible fashion that often endangers innocent Americans—especially people of color—violates their 4th Amendment rights, and penalizes them should they try to defend themselves. And if the War on Drugs’ ugly and racist history is any indication, Marvin Louis Guy is fighting an uphill battle all the way.
Sleeping 7-year-old girl shot in head during no-knock police raid on wrong home
DETROIT, MI — A Special Response Team shattered a family’s window in the middle of the night, hurled a flashbang onto a couch next to a sleeping girl, then charged in and shot her in the head. The hyper-aggressive tactics were made worse by the fact that police had taken it upon themselves to raid both sides of a duplex, when their suspect was only known to reside in one of them.
Parents Search For Answers After Police Raid Of Wrong House Seriously Injures Their Toddler
The child spent five weeks in a coma...
According to Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh, the Georgia home they shared with their four children and extended family was raided by police with incorrect information and a ‘no-knock’ warrant earlier this year. Not only did the 2 a.m. incident disrupt a family displaced after a fire destroyed their home, they said, the officers’ actions resulted in serious bodily injury to their youngest child, 18-month-old Bounkham Jr.
Alecia recalled hearing “Bou Bou” screaming shortly after the SWAT team burst into the residence and tossed a ‘flash-bang’ grenade in the direction of the toddler’s crib.
“I immediately went to grab him,” she said, claiming officers took him away before she could reach him.
“I asked if he got hurt,” she recalled, explaining he was being escorted to an ambulance at the time, “and they said ‘No, your son is fine. He has not sustained any serious injury.’”
Authorities did acknowledge he had lost a tooth in the raid; however, Alecia indicated that her son’s actual injuries were far more severe. Furthermore, she and her husband were reportedly prevented from seeing him for two hours.
Bounkham Sr. said he realized his son was likely hurt severely when he saw the shape of his crib.
“Burnt marks on the bottom of the crib,” he recalled, and the “pillow blown apart.”
Ultimately, the distraught parents learned the extent of his injuries which, according to Dr. Walter Ingram, were burns that tore his “chest wall … down to the muscle” and “his face down to bone, down to his teeth.”
The child spent five weeks in a coma and has since undergone extensive surgeries amounting to nearly $1 million in medical debt.
“Before this,” Alecia said, “we didn’t owe anybody anything. And now after all this, they have completely financially crippled us.”
Though the family is fighting in court to force the county to pay the medical costs, officials claim a state law prohibits them from compensating the family under the assertion that doing so would amount to a gratuity.
A Georgia SWAT team shot and killed an armed homeowner during a September 24 drug raid sparked by the word of a self-confessed meth addict and burglar who had robbed the property the previous day. No drugs were found. David Hooks, 59, becomes the 34th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
According to his family, Hooks was not a drug user or seller, but was a successful businessman who ran a construction company that, among other things, did work on US military bases. Hooks had passed background checks and had a security clearance.
Cops bust into, raid wrong house
Homeowner claims she and her son were held at gunpoint
Houston - The front door to Barbara Thomas' home in Cashmere Gardens was damaged and her outdoor garden lights outside were crushed into tiny pieces. Inside her home several items were broken and knocked off the walls. Thomas said it was a result of Houston police officers who came to her door to search for drugs. The problem is they were at the wrong house.
"They told me to get down," Thomas said. "There were guns everywhere. I mean, the long guns with lights on them. I was crying hysterically."
Thomas said she didn't understand why Houston Police Department narcotics officers were in her home.
She lives there with her son, who is autistic, and said they were both forced to sit still in the living room.
"I know at least three (officers) were right there because they had guns directly at me and my son, and the rest I know were going through the house."
Man charged for shooting when cops went to wrong house
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Imagine you’re up watching our late night news when you hear your back door rattling, then see a red laser pointed on your chest. One Portsmouth man claims that happened to him.
Brandon Watson said he was protecting his family when his wife heard noises in the back yard on January 3, 2013: “She said, ‘oh my gosh, someone is in the backyard.'” The noises got closer and then she heard the clicking of the backdoor handle.”
In a neighborhood where weapons are everywhere, Brandon Watson didn’t hesitate to grab his own legally purchased gun. It was a decision with lingering repercussions.
Michigan Cops Raid Wrong House, Shoot Beloved 15-Year-Old Dog
Authorities who went to the wrong house in search of a wanted fugitive and shot a beloved family pet are refusing to take responsibility for their actions, according to a Michigan attorney who has filed a lawsuit against them.
AN innocent couple’s home has been wrongly raided for the 41st time – just days after police pledged it would never happen again.
Matthew Jillard and Claire Hayes told last week how they have suffered 18 months of their home being mixed up with another 100 yards away.
Police promised them they had fixed the problem – but blundering officers made the same error at the weekend.
Now the couple, who have never been in trouble with the law, have vowed to move.
Office worker Claire, 42, said: “This was the final straw. They apologised but I feel the only thing we can do is move house.
“I spent an entire day talking to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and they promised me it wouldn’t happen again because a computer marker had been put on our house to stop a future mix-up.
“They seem incapable of solving this problem.”
Police keep confusing the couple’s home in Repton Road, Birmingham, with one round the corner in Repton Grove. Matthew, 38, was once confronted by 10 officers in bullet-proof vests.
SWAT team throws flashbangs, raids wrong home due to open WiFi network -- Whoops!
Those anonymous Internet threats came from up the block.
They then sent an entire SWAT unit to execute a search warrant on a local house, one in which the front door was open and an 18-year old woman sat inside watching TV.
The cops brought along TV cameras, inviting a local reporter to film the glorious operation. In the resulting video, you can watch the SWAT team, decked out in black bulletproof vests and helmets and carrying window and door smashers, creep slowly up to the house. At some point, they apparently "knock" and announce their presence—though not with the goal of getting anyone to come to the door. As the local police chief admitted later to the Evansville Courier & Press, the process is really just “designed to distract." (SWAT does not need to wait for a response.)
Officers break the screen door and a window, tossing a flashbang into the house—which you can see explode in the video. A second flashbang gets tossed in for good measure a moment later. SWAT enters the house.
On the news that night, the reporter ends his piece by talking about how this is "an investigation that hits home for many of these brave officers."
But the family in the home was released without any charges as police realized their mistake. Turns out the home had an open WiFi router, and the threats had been made by someone outside the house. Whoops.
Radley Balko, who has tirelessly publicized the problems created by the promiscuous use of SWAT teams, reports that federal police in Atlanta have used a SWAT team to help the recording industry enforce copyright law. Even worse, the target wasn’t even a commercial piracy operation:
this listing just goes on and on and on and on...
In fact, inspectors from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) had inspected Strictly Skillz only two days prior to the raid and found everything in order.
A small organic farm in Arlington, Texas, was the target of a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search. Members of the local police raiding party had a search warrant for marijuana plants, which they failed to find at the Garden of Eden farm. But farm owners and residents who live on the property told a Dallas-Ft. Worth NBC station that the real reason for the law enforcement exercise appears to have been code enforcement. The police seized "17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants ... native grasses and sunflowers," after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement. The raid lasted about 10 hours, she said.
An Epidemic of "Isolated Incidents"
"If a widespread pattern of [knock-and-announce] violations were shown . . . there would be reason for grave concern."
—Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in Hudson v. Michigan, June 15, 2006.