Monday, July 22, 2013

The Militarization of America's Police Forces - Part I

Over the next three posts, I will be linking to three recent stories focusing on the militarization of America's police forces and the resulting consequences. These three articles include fascinating stories about policing in the 21st century.

The first story appeared recently in Salon and is entitled, "Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book": The new warrior cop is out of control."  Below are a few excerpts from the article.
Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that’s when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn’t slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi’s heart.

Sal Culosi’s last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: “Dude, what are you doing?”

In March 2006, just two months after its ridiculous gambling investigation resulted in the death of an unarmed man, the Fairfax County Police Department issued a press release warning residents not to participate in office betting pools tied to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The title: “Illegal Gambling Not Worth the Risk.” Given the proximity to Culosi’s death, residents could be forgiven for thinking the police department believed wagering on sports was a crime punishable by execution.

In January 2011, the Culosi family accepted a $2 million settlement offer from Fairfax County. That same year, Virginia’s government spent $20 million promoting the state lottery.
Other stories from the article involve several celebrities.

For instance, there is this one about Shaquille O’Neal.
It can also be difficult to trace an IP address to a physical address, which can lead to yet more mistaken raids. An example of that problem manifested in one of the more bizarre botched raids in recent years. It took place in September 2006, when a SWAT team from the Bedford County sheriff’s department stormed the rural Virginia home of A. J. Nuckols, his wife, and their two children. Police had traced the IP address of someone trading child porn online to the Nuckols’ physical address. They had made a mistake. As if the shock of having his house invaded by a SWAT team wasn’t enough, Nuckols was in for another surprise. In a letter to the editor of the Chatham Star Review, he described the raid: “Men ran at me, dropped into shooting position, double-handed semi-automatic pistols pointed at me, and made me put my hands against my truck. I was held at gunpoint, searched, taunted, and led into the house. I had no idea what this was about. I was scared beyond description.”

He then looked up, and saw . . . former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal, an aspiring lawman, had been made an “honorary deputy” with the department. Though he had no training as a SWAT officer, Shaq apparently had gone on several such raids with other police departments around the country. The thrill of bringing an untrained celebrity along apparently trumped the requirement that SWAT teams be staffed only with the most elite, most highly qualified and best-trained cops. According to Nuckols, O’Neal reached into Nuckols’s pickup, snatched up his (perfectly legal) rifle, and exclaimed, “We’ve got a gun!” O’Neal told Time that Nuckols’s description of the raid on his home was exaggerated. “It ain’t no story,” he said. “We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they make it seem like we beat him up, and that never happened. We went in, talked to him, took some stuff, returned it—bada bam, bada bing.”
There is also this one involving Steven Seagal.
In 2010 a massive Maricopa County SWAT team, including a tank and several armored vehicles, raided the home of Jesus Llovera. The tank in fact drove straight into Llovera’s living room. Driving the tank? Action movie star Steven Seagal, whom Sheriff Joe Arpaio had recently deputized. Seagal had also been putting on the camouflage to help Arpaio with his controversial immigration raids. All of this, by the way, was getting caught on film. Seagal’s adventures in Maricopa County would make up the next season of the A&E TV series Steven Seagal, Lawman.

Llovera’s suspected crime? Cockfighting. Critics said that Arpaio and Seagal brought an army to arrest a man suspected of fighting chickens to play for the cameras. Seagal’s explanation for the show of force: “Animal cruelty is one of my pet peeves.” All of Llovera’s chickens were euthanized. During the raid, the police also killed his dog.
The entire article is available here.

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