California search raises alarm

June 17, 2011


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


Gandalf 6 years, 9 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.

kernal 6 years, 9 months ago

Looks like we have the dumbest comment early in the day. Shooting a Federal officer will get you a life long vacation with no amenities.

kernal 6 years, 9 months ago

Still, if a federal agent id's him/herself as such and you shoot and ask questions later, you will live in a cement and metal cube for the rest of your life.

JustNoticed 6 years, 9 months ago

The point is such an invasion of your home is no longer illegal. Your First Amendment and other Constitutional rights have been eroded over the past several years and it's not a partisan thing at all. This is how it happens, a slow erosion until it's all gone. It's gone now but we just don't really know it yet.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

Yup, that's that will happen when Gandalf greets the police at his door with a gun in his hand.

TopJayhawk 6 years, 9 months ago

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

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

It's the same exact conservative columnist who was all in favor of the Patriot Act and Americans' subsequent loss of civil protections.. The same conservative columnist who said things such as "Like other wars, sacrifices must be made for the greater good" and "it looks to be accomplishing its objectives, and the law enforcement agencies are on the front lines seem pleased with it."

It was LIBERALS who opposed most provisions of the Patriot Act because of the obvious potential for abuse, to which Cal's response is "Liberals paint themselves with that brush by trying to defang law enforcement of all stripes — at any expense. That's what conservatives like myself want to prevent. "

The only reason Cal got worked up this time was because of the initial report that this incident happened because of unpaid school loans. Turns out that wasn't true, and there wasn't an "illegal" search either, but Cal had a full head of steam he didn't want to go to waste.

I wonder if Cal Thomas realizes just how wrong he was in his support for the Patriot Act and how right liberals were to oppose most provisions of it. Nah. Probably not.

kernal 6 years, 9 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.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 9 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?

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

Considering that none of us know what the search warrant was for, it "might" be premature to be assuming it was a "bad" thing.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 9 months ago

How's that hopenchange working out for you?

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 9 months ago

And there's snap; adding nothing to the discourse.

somedude20 6 years, 9 months ago

it is giving me an erection, thanks for asking

Orwell 6 years, 9 months ago

Your bought-and-paid-for right wing clowns in Congress are doing a fine job keeping it from happening, assuring that only the rich will continue to benefit.

Getaroom 6 years, 9 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...............................

salem58 6 years, 9 months ago

BUT, it was your buddy Obam who extended the patriot act so that these types of things can keep happening, and happening, and happening, and get worse and worse and worse. It really doesnt matter about the parties, its been obvious that there is a bigger plan here and whoever becomes prez will keep moving forward with the corruption.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 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.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

I thought it was the Supreme Court that interpreted the Constitution. It's been a long time since high school civics class. Has the Rutherford Institute replaced the Supreme Court?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Liberty - You really need to add "in my opinion" to the above post. Only then can it possibly be taken seriously.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

See, that wasn't so hard. You are absolutely entitled to your opinion.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Have you looked at the case involved?

I did, and it seems like a rather extreme decision to me.

It involves the police breaking down somebody's door because they heard noise that suggested the person might be destroying drugs. They did that while in fact they were pursuing somebody else, possibly with a warrant for that person.

So, you're sitting in your living room, the police break into your home without a warrant because they heard a suspicious noise. Seems like a 4th amendment issue to me.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

If the police acted inappropriately, there is a legal remedy. Speaking to the media is not it. You said they "possibly" had a warrant. The article clearly says they did. And the police are not speaking because they are under a court order not to.
Let the legal process play itself out before we make wild assumptions about people's rights being violated.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

The case has been decided by the SC - that's the one I'm referring to.

The warrant was for a person not in the apartment they entered by breaking down the door.

I fully agree with Ginsburg's dissent - the police had probable cause and opportunity to obtain a warrant, and that would have been the proper course of action.

There are a number of things in the majority opinion that have an odd quality, and give too much leeway to the police.

Warrantless searches are assumed to be unreasonable, unless there are "exigent circumstances" - in my view, saving somebody's life is an exigent circumstance. Banging on a door & hearing some noises inside doesn't/shouldn't really qualify as one.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

"The warrant was for a person not in the apartment". Using a little logic, the police, in order to obtain the warrant, must have had some reason to believe the person was there, otherwise they could not have obtained the warrant.
And while it's well within your rights to "fully agree" with Ginsburg's dissent, it's just that, a dissent. My initial point was that when the court rules 5-4 on any issue, there seems to be much room to disagree. When the ruling is 8-1, agreeing with the dissent puts you way out on a tree limb.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Read the case, please.

The police were pursuing a suspect who entered an apartment building - they didn't know which apartment he entered once inside.

They smelled some pot coming from an apartment, banged on the door, claimed they heard noise indicating the destruction of evidence, and broke in.

The person they were pursuing was not, in fact, in the apartment at all.

And, I'm not even sure they had a warrant for that person - I'd have to look again at the case.

I'm not that impressed by the numbers argument - large majorities are often wrong on matters of fact, and interpretation, if you look at our history.

This opens the door to great abuse by law enforcement - all they have to do is claim they heard noise indicating the possible destruction of evidence.

deec 6 years, 9 months ago

If I remember correctly, the "suspicious noise" was a toilet flushing.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Jafs, We all come into certain issues with preconceived notions of right and wrong and how we believe certain issues should be resolved. I do, you do. My preconceived notion is that Supreme Court decisions that are 9-0 or 8-1 are pretty clear. And that is especially true with today's court that has 4 very conservative justices, 3 very liberal, 1 pretty liberal and 1 swing vote. Lopsided majorities in my opinion are lopsided for good reason. They are the correct interpretation of the Constitution. That's my preconceived notion. You have a different preconceived idea. You went into this discussion looking for a certain result. When that didn't happen, you saw a glimmer in the dissent of Justice Ginsburg. She agreed with your preconceived notion and now you feel justified with your idea, one justice agreed with you. I'm not being critical of you or your opinion. You're certainly entitled to them. And as I said, we all have preconceived notions, nothing wrong there either. The courts sometimes makes decisions that I disagree with and sometimes I can't understand how they came to the conclusions they did. It happens all the time to all of us.
But I really think, from having read your posts here and in previous posts (posts that I really respect), I really think you came into this with an idea of what the Supreme Court should have done and any deviation from that was going to be wrong, in your opinion. Either way, I respect your opinions and enjoy the conversations.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

I simply looked at the case, and disagreed with the decision.

If it had been a unanimous decision, I probably would still have disagreed with it.

Yes, I think that the founders clearly valued individual rights and freedoms, and sought to protect individuals from the power of the state (ie. government)).

Decisions like this are counter to that intention, as far as I can tell.

Thanks - I also enjoy our conversations.

pizzapete 6 years, 9 months ago

What I remember about this case was that the police saw a guy on the street selling drugs, probably crack cocaine. They chased him to an apartment, but lost his there. While they were there, they smelled marijuana, knocked on the door where they thought it was emanating from, heard a toilet flush, and decided to break the door in.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

I remember a 60 minutes episode on which Justice Black was interviewed - not generally considered a liberal justice.

He responded to the question "Doesn't all this (4th amendment, etc.) just make it harder for the police?" by answering "That's exactly what it's supposed to do".

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

"Harder for the police" - yes. Impossible - no.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

In this case, the police had probable cause and the opportunity to get a warrant, but they chose not to do so.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

It's a May Day parade. What else would you expect? Yeesh.

hipper_than_hip 6 years, 9 months ago

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

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

"Paranoia strikes deep. Into the heart it will creep."

voevoda 6 years, 9 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.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

How on earth, Gandalf, do you get from voevoda's comment to s/he wanting sharia law??? Sounded to me like it's just the opposite.

voevoda 6 years, 9 months ago

Gandalf, You don't have a clue who I am. I understand what Shari'a law is to American Muslims: a system of religious precepts that guides Muslims in the spiritual and ethical realm, rather like Talmudic law guides Jews and canon law guides Roman Catholics. Sharia in this sense does not conflict with the US Constitution. Understanding that doesn't make me an adherent of Shari'a law; it just makes me an educated person.
If you understood what Shari'a really is, then you'd realize that Muslims who follow it have the same protections under the First Amendment as do Christians who follow the Bible.
And yes, Muslim Americans too should enjoy the same Fourth Amendment protections that Cal Thomas calls for in this case.

littlexav 6 years, 9 months ago

actually, i'm pretty sure the first amendment guarantees a right to sharia law... not that i think you've ever read it.

littlexav 6 years, 9 months ago

that was ill-stated. i mean, shariah law guides such things as the disposition of assets upon death. if you have a shariah will, and you can't have it probated because there's a law preventing you from having a shariah will, and the only reason is that "shariah" is viewed as bad and scary by white christians, then your first amendment rights are being violated. and yes, it's "purely secular" but those guiding principles were developed by the Prophet and his "apostles," so muslims should have the right to use those rules in their wills.

forewarning: if you say anything about honor-killings i won't be able to take your response seriously.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

No...he was scandalized because he thought the search warrant was obtained for unpaid school loans. But I think you may be correct in thinking that Cal wouldn't be worked up were the person a foreign-born Muslim. Rather he'd be talking about how it's better to be safe than sorry.

pizzapete 6 years, 9 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.

verity 6 years, 9 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.

Brent Garner 6 years, 9 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.

deec 6 years, 9 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/

pizzapete 6 years, 9 months ago

True, the "War on Drugs" has given our government way too much power to raid our homes, confiscate our property, and imprison us.
Could you imagine losing your home, farm, car, or boat because the police found marijuana there? http://www.fff.org/freedom/1193c.asp

BigPrune 6 years, 9 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/

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Fascists come in all political colors.

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