There are essentially two kinds of warrants that allow the police to search a residence in pursuit of a criminal suspect or in connection with suspected criminal activity inside: “knock-and-announce” and “no-knock” warrants. Both warrants’ legitimacy and probable cause requirements have been discussed in scores of U.S. Supreme Court and state court decisions.
The knock-and-announce warrant is the one most often used by the police. This warrant requires the police to knock and announce their presence before entering a residence. A judge or magistrate issues these warrants after the police submit what is known as a probable cause affidavit that details the factual basis for the issuance of the warrant.
A no-knock warrant is a dramatic departure from the knock-and-announce.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court in Hudson v. Michigan effectively blessed the law enforcement use of no-knock warrants under two conditions: a traditional knock-and-announce warrant would (1) put an officer’s life at risk or (2) allow criminal suspects to destroy evidence.
The result of Hudson:
As many as 80,000 no-knock raids are conducted each year, according to Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University, and nearly half of them are carried out by highly militarized SWAT teams trained to kill any real or perceived threat.
“No Knock” raids carry a high potential for deadly violence against civilians and the police.
For example, in December 2013 a SWAT team with the Burleson County, Texas Sheriff’s Department conducted a no-knock raid on the residence of Henry Magee. The suspect killed one of the officers believing that his girlfriend’s life was at risk in a criminal break-in of the home. A county grand jury refused to indict Magee on a capital murder charge, finding that he had acted in self-defense.
In May 2014, just six months after the Henry Magee raid, a Killeen, Texas SWAT team executed a no-knock search warrant on the residence of Marvin Guy. One officer was killed during the pre-dawn raid when Guy shot him as he attempted to enter through a window. Guy was indicted by a county grand jury for capital murder. Guy remains incarcerated in a Bell County jail awaiting trial as prosecutors grapple with how to proceed in the case.
No Knock Warrants in Texas
The Marvin Guy case and other no-knock cases, resulting in either civilian or law enforcement deaths, prompted the Texas Legislature to debate legislation on whether to reform or abolish no-knock warrants in the state.
Like most other major cities in the U.S., Houston has also been forced to deal with tragic, fatal consequences of militarized no-knock police raids.
A now-infamous January 2019 no-knock raid by the city’s Squad 15 narcotics task force left two civilians dead and four officers wounded.
The families of the two dead civilians, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, have filed civil lawsuits against the city because the fatal no-knock warrant raid was based on falsified information. The civil rights suit alleges that HPD failed to hold the narcotics unit accountable for the raid and that the department under former Chief Art Acevedo allowed the embattled Narcotics Squad 15 “to thrive for years through deliberate indifference by supervisors up the chain of command all the way to the Chief’s office.”
Fallout from the disastrous “Harding Street Raid” also led to two Houston police officers, Gerald Goines and Felipe Gallegos, being indicted for engaging in organized crime and felony murder for lying to a judge to secure the no-knock warrant.
A recent no-knock police raid in Minneapolis left 20-year-old Amir Locke dead on a living room couch after he was shot three times by one of the officers involved in the raid. Like Breonna Taylor, who was killed during a no-knock raid by Louisville police in March 2020, Locke was an innocent civilian who was not a target of the raid and had no criminal history.
No Knocks = License to Kill
As they currently exist, no-knock warrants are a “license to kill” by law enforcement officers who have a preconceived notion about threat risk and are locked and loaded to kill before they ever enter a residence.
The city of Minneapolis has suspended the use of all no-knock warrants in the wake of Locke’s tragic death.
Every state should suspend no-knock warrants until they are banned or strict reforms put in place to limit when and how they can be used.
In the wake of Locke’s tragic death, Barry Friedman, faculty director of the Policing Project at New York University’s law school, told the Washington Post that no-knock warrants are the “most serious thing” the police can do, but “there’s almost no regulation” governing such warrants.
The New York Times reported in March 2017 that between 2010 and 2016, 81 civilians and 13 officers died during SWAT raids, including 31 civilians and eight officers who died in no-knock raids. More than half of the warrants targeted people of color, and half of the civilians killed were Black like Amir Locke and Breonna Taylor.
Since the horrific death of Breonna Taylor, all 50 states have considered bans on no-knock warrants. Only two states and a handful of cities have enacted such bans.
The state legislature passed on several bills that would have addressed no-knock warrants and “continues” to mull over the politics of acting. Some Texas cities are not waiting for the legislature. The Killeen City Council issued a ban last April on no-knock warrants. In May, voters in Austin will decide whether to limit (not ban) no-knock warrants.
No-knock warrants do not serve any legitimate law enforcement purpose other than to terrify occupants and put both officers and civilians at extreme risk. Until they are banned, law-abiding civilians will be killed in no-knock raids either because informants feed police bad information or officers lie to judges to secure their warrants. It is time to ban this militarized police tactic.