Advertisement

Opinion

Opinion

California search raises alarm

June 17, 2011

Advertisement

I bet you didn’t know that federal law enforcement officers representing the Department of Education (DOE) can break down your front door if you are suspected of violating the law.

I was not aware of this until I heard what happened to Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif. On June 7, at 6 a.m., Wright was awakened by a knock on his door. According to his account, he came downstairs in his boxer shorts, but before he could reach the door, federal police officers stormed in. They were looking for his estranged wife, who was not in the house. Wright has no criminal record.

Wright told local TV station “News 10” he was grabbed by the neck and taken outside to his front lawn. He says officers then awakened his children, ages 3, 7 and 11, and put them in a Stockton patrol car while his house was searched. “They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” he said.

DOE spokesman Justin Hamilton told the TV station that federal agents with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) served the search warrant. Hamilton would not say why the raid took place, but he said it was not because someone had defaulted on student loans, as some local media initially reported.

A statement from the OIG said: “The reasons for our search warrant are currently under seal by the court and cannot be discussed publicly.” The statement added: “OIG ... is responsible for the detection and prevention of waste, fraud, abuse and criminal activity involving Department of Education funds, programs and operations.” If they were consistent, they’d be breaking down the doors of many failing public schools that are wasting taxpayer funds and allow especially poor and minority children out so they can choose better schools and have a brighter future.

Constitutional attorney John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va. (Rutherford.org), says the Stockton incident is one of a growing number of examples threatening the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures ...”

Whitehead says the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act “opened the door to other kinds of invasions” beyond the search for terrorist suspects. Worse, the courts are increasingly approving this cozy association between government and the police. “The problems inherent in these situations,” he says, “are further compounded by the fact that SWAT teams are granted ‘no-knock’ warrants at high rates, such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.”

Two recent cases demonstrate the threat. In an 8-1 Supreme Court ruling last month (Kentucky v. King), Whitehead says the court “effectively decimated the Fourth Amendment by giving police more leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant when in search of illegal drugs which they suspect might be destroyed if notice were given.”

In the other ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court (Barnes v. State) said people do not have the right to resist police officers entering their homes illegally. Resistance, notes Whitehead, can be as simple as saying, “Wait, this is my home. What’s this about?”

If governments are permitted to slowly erode the Fourth Amendment and the public won’t resist, then not only that amendment, but others protecting speech, religion, the right to keep and bear arms and who knows what else could be in jeopardy.

Incidents like the one in Stockton should cause conservatives and liberals to be more vigilant about the encroaching power of government. If a gang of cops, acting on behalf of the Department of Education, can break down your door in possible violation of the Fourth Amendment, then none of us is safe.

The New York Times reports the FBI’s approximately 14,000 agents are being given “significant new powers” that will allow them more freedom to search databases, examine your trash and use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who attract their attention.

Worried now?

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email address is tmseditors@tribune.com

Comments

BigPrune 2 years, 10 months ago

It obviously isn't the Republicans who are the fascists.

Just look at California and New York - two very liberal states that have less freedom than anywhere. http://lasvegas.cbslocal.com/2011/06/16/land-of-the-free-new-york-and-california-come-out-at-the-bottom-of-individual-freedoms-study/

0

deec 2 years, 10 months ago

Sadly, these kinds of actions are all too common. "A Bellevue, Pennsylvania man is suing a dozen FBI agents for allegedly violating his and his family's constitutional rights when their home was wrongfully raided by agents wielding assault rifles. The Pittsburg Tribune-Review reported that FBI agents used a battering ram to enter Gary Adams' rented home in search of a former resident who was charged with being part of a drug gang. The agents had an arrest warrant, but no warrant to search the premises." They've been happening for decades in the "War on Drugs." No one cared, though, because they were just druggies. Reminds me of that quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/06/16/man-files-suit-after-terrifying-fbi-raid-on-wrong-house/

0

Gandalf 2 years, 10 months ago

By the way, unless the warrant (which is conveniently sealed) is for a hundred terrorists who have targeted the DOE. It does come down to unpaid student loans. Either taken out by fraud or just not paid.

0

Brent Garner 2 years, 10 months ago

Verity, I'm with you. Certainly don't want a heavily armed SWAT member breaking in on me while I am in the loo. Could be highly embarrasing.

As for this raid, this seems to be excessive especially given that the sought for individual was not living at the address raided and had not lived there for a year. Would seem to me that someone somewhere didn't do their homework.

As for the Indiana Supreme Court decision, gladly I don't live in Indiana. I do not believe the police, or anyone for that matter, should have the authority to break down doors and enter homes on any pretense. That sounds so Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, Assad Syria, Ahmadinijad Iran, Communist China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.

As for the 8-1 Supreme Court ruling, I am a bit chilled by it. I recognize the need to prevent the destruction of evidence. But, and again I am going to draw on Verity's reference to toilet flushing, how do we prevent innocent individuals who happen to be using the bathroom from being mistaken for flushing evidence away? There have, in my opinion, been far too many incidents where police break down the door of someone who is not a criminal--these usually result from either poor preparation by the police, poor police work, poor clerical work--incorrect address on warrant, and even police who can't find the correct address. Some of these have resulted in the deaths of the innocent citizens on the other side of these doors that were broken down. Citizens who had done NOTHING wrong and shouldn't have even been considered suspects. One was an elderly woman in her 90s who, upon the heavily armed police breaking down here door and bursting into her living room went promptly into cardiac arrest and died! The police should be held responsible for these incidents but according to these rulings probably won't be. Since there are no negative consequences for the police, this will only make these kind of incidents more likely to happen. This is not a good thing.

As for the Patriot Act, I whole heartedly believe we should find the bad guys both foreign and domestic who are planning terrorist/criminal activity. But, the powers granted the government under most provisions of the Patriot Act are simply, in my opinion, too broad, too far reaching, too intrusive. In the hands of a benign or good person, those provisions would not be abused, but do we have any confidence that such persons have occupied the positions of power in recent times or in the current time? Sadly, I would say the answer is negative. I was opposed to the passage of the Patriot Act and opposed to its extension.

0

verity 2 years, 10 months ago

I'm going to get me one of them noiseless toilets. Sure don't want the law breaking down my door when my pants are down.

0

pizzapete 2 years, 10 months ago

Maybe the police thought they heard a toilet flush and thought this guy was destroying the "evidence". In which case breaking the door down is perfectly justifiable according to a recent Supreme Court case.

0

voevoda 2 years, 10 months ago

This kind of police action has wide support among the American public, just as long as the individuals who are the targets really are "bad guys." Why do you think that TV action shows picture such home invasion scenes so often?
Cal Thomas is scandalized only because the household was American-born, the suspect wasn't in fact living at that addres, and because the police were associated with the Department of Education, which he despises anyway. If the suspect household was foreign-born and Muslim, and the police unit was associated with Homeland Security, Thomas wouldn't have said a word against it. Too many Americans are perfectly content to have Constitutional guarantees suspended for certain categories of people.

0

bobberboy 2 years, 10 months ago

i guess his wife was hiding in the basement all the time.

0

worthlessljworldposter 2 years, 10 months ago

wow. if OIG comes at you with that kind of gusto, on behalf of DOE....as a very special few Lawrence residents know, they have evidence that you are committing student aid fraud or have made serious threats to DOE employees. the fact that they were going after the wife based solely on address points to threats, but the Chechnya-style handling will invite litigation which her family deserves to win.

0

hipper_than_hip 2 years, 10 months ago

If the SWAT team breaks down your door, they're coming to kill you.

0

Shane Garrett 2 years, 10 months ago

"We are becoming the Soviet Union." Try these pictures Liberty one. http://www.ringospictures.com/index.php?page=20110501

0

jhawkinsf 2 years, 10 months ago

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute says .... The U.S. Supreme Court rules 8-1 ...

When the court makes it's 5-4 decisions, there is a lot of room to agree or disagree with the decision. When the vote is 8-1, then I look more skeptically at those who disagree. The Rutherford Institute looks like the ACLU on steroids. God bless their first amendment rights to say whatever they want, but I think they might be the ones way out there on the fringe.

0

Getaroom 2 years, 10 months ago

crackle: The change you are talking about began in earnest with your buddy George W Bush. Can you say HOME LAND SECURITY and "PATRIOTISM"? Perhaps one day you will be capable of connecting the right dots and say something useful. Your one liners are tiresome at best. Talk about about cut and paste, you are the king of drivel. Time for you to go get more coffee....again....and again and again and again and again...............................

0

Flap Doodle 2 years, 10 months ago

How's that hopenchange working out for you?

0

SnakePlisskin 2 years, 10 months ago

These people want control of our lives. It's just the way they are.

cait48, you need to shake the allowing idea. Nobody controls you. The American experiment has worked so far. But, noboby says that it will continue to work without effort from you and others that want to be free. So goes the old saying, Freedom isn't free.

0

Cait McKnelly 2 years, 10 months ago

"Resistance, notes Whitehead, can be as simple as saying, “Wait, this is my home. What’s this about?”" "If governments are permitted to slowly erode the Fourth Amendment and the public won’t resist..."

How can the public resist when the previous statement says we aren't allowed to?

0

kernal 2 years, 10 months ago

There are members of both sides of the political fence who were against The Patriot Act as it was written and those who were for it. Ditto for the extention. A progressive and an ultra-conservative were behind the push to get Obama to extend it to 2015. That will give the idiot Congress plenty of time to take away more of our freedoms until the Constitution, and our country, becomes unrecognizable.

Both conservatives and liberals need to be more diligent about what's real and what's paranoid fantasy in Washington.

0

TopJayhawk 2 years, 10 months ago

I agree Lib one. And remember, it was a conservative columnist who pointed this out.

0

Liberty_One 2 years, 10 months ago

I hear stuff like this all the time and I cannot fathom why anyone would want the government to have as much power as it does. I want the minimum amount of government possible so that crap like this doesn't happen. You people who are so in love with the potential of an all powerful government that can run society, this is what you get. We are becoming the Soviet Union.

0

Gandalf 2 years, 10 months ago

In the other ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court (Barnes v. State) said people do not have the right to resist police officers entering their homes illegally. Resistance, notes Whitehead, can be as simple as saying, “Wait, this is my home. What’s this about?”

I don't give a rats behind what the Indiana SC says. If anyone, man, god or devil illegally entered my home I would not only resist I would shoot to kill.

0

Commenting has been disabled for this item.