[The following post was written by Charles "Rad Geek" Johnson with reference to an article I published last month titled "Burning down the house." It was originally published at Rad Geek People's Daily on January 28th. Rad Geek is a Las Vegas-based software developer and libertarian activist who frequently comments about police brutality and cop culture on his personal blog. He also maintains Gangsters In Blue which bills itself as "a blog against paramilitary policing and prisons" and aggregates police-related material from a number of websites including Cop Block.]
Here are the after-effects of some SWAT-police
non-lethal force in California, which burned a man to death earlier this month, and set his family’s house on fire in the process. Turns out he was the wrong man, and they were at the wrong house.
According to the Monterey County Weekly, the same police force that burned down the Serrato house and killed Rogelio Serrato in the fire
are probing what went wrong in the operation [sic]. Public-spirited fellow that I am, I’ll do what I can to help them figure it out. Here’s what went wrong:
Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. Among the most highly trained, and therefore most domineering and violent, are the members of urban SWAT teams, who go beyond everyday bullying and instead are trained to think of themselves as paramilitary strike forces who are occupying hostile territory, and engaged in a war of classic counter-insurgency.
As such, police in general, and police assault forces especially, are trained to enter every encounter with the goal of
taking control of the situation, by means of setting up confrontations in situations (no-knock raids, late-night forced-entry raids, etc.) where their chosen targets are most likely to be disoriented and easily terrorized, and by responding with maximal force in the volatile, disorienting confrontations that they create. For the sake of this maximal-force approach, they are equipped with an arsenal of weapons ranging from tasers and clubs to handguns and assault rifles, up to, and including, military helicopters and tanks. Worse, with all these weapons, they have institutionalized a culture of fact-free assertion and lies about highly dangerous weapons that they consider to be categorically
non-lethal — and thus to be used as a first resort, in virtually any situation, as long as it might give the cops a
tactical advantage over people who they intend to bring under their control (whether or not these people have ever committed any crime at all). These weapons continue to be used with no hesitation and no restraint, and continue to be called
non-lethal force, no matter how many people are killed by them. There are, for example,
tasers, portable electric torture devices which were originally sold as a less-deadly alternative to using a hand-gun in potentially life-threatening confrontations, but which cops now freely use for as part of
pain compliance techniques[ref name="source1"]
That is, torture.
[/ref] in everyday confrontations with the public. This would be bad enough on its own, but part of the reason they are used so freely is because they take no real exertion for cops to use, and are consistently billed as
non-lethal by police and media, even though there are hundreds of documented cases of people dying after being subjected to repeated taser shocks.
non-lethal device, which is especially heavily used by SWAT assault forces during paramilitary
forced entry house raids, are so-called
flash-bang grenades. These grenades, frequently referred to as
diversionary devices are actually incendiary grenades, which police hurl into rooms full of people in order to set off an explosion, which they hope will disorient and terrorize the people in the room — many or most of them completely innocent people who just had the misfortune of being in the same building — right before the assault force storms in with guns drawn. This is exactly what they did when they surrounded Rogelio Serrato’s house.
So why were they at Rogelio Serrato’s house anyway? Well, they had a search warrant to serve. They say were going to serve the search warrant using these hyperviolent, extremely dangerous stormtrooper tactics because they believed that Serrato had been with a man who shot up a music club on New Years’ Day. But by the time they got out to Serrato’s house, they already knew that they had the wrong address and the wrong man: he wasn’t at the club when the shooting went down, and the identification of Serrato as the man who was with the shooter was simply a case of mistaken identity.
Nevertheless, even though they found out that Serrato had nothing to do with the violent crime which had supposedly mobilized the SWAT team and justified the decision to storm the house in a paramilitary raid, it did turn out that he had a couple of warrants out on misdemeanors which had nothing to do with the shooting. So, they decided they were going to go ahead and arrest him.
Now, you might think that, once they had found out they were at the wrong address, and the only reason they had to worry about Rogelio Serrato at all was a couple of misdemeanor beefs having nothing to do anyone getting shot, they might have backed off a bit on the level of force; perhaps even just left a couple cops to wait around and pick him up next time he went to work or to the supermarket. But, no. I mean, look, he’s a Suspect Individual, and what’s the point of having such a fine, well-armed paramilitary assault force, if you’re not going to use it?
So instead they surrounded the house, bellowed into their bullhorns, and then, when he didn’t come out on command, they decided to make a hyperviolent forced-entry raid in order to roust him out. So they hurled a couple of their
non-lethal incendiary grenades into the house, which exploded, and set the house on fire. Rogelio Serrato, who was — remember — known not to be the man they were after; who was — remember — never suspected of anything other than having a couple misdemeanor warrants out — was killed in the house fire.
So, Monterey County sheriff’s office, here is what I have found in my probe, which I will helpfully share with you. What
went wrong here is that the cops believed they were on an
operation that required an extraordinarily violent storm-trooper raid, even though they already knew that their original reason for being there turned out to be a complete mistake, and even though they also already knew that the man whose family they were attacking was wanted only on a pair of misdemeanor warrants. In the interests of better protecting their own hides during this needlessly violent high-stakes
operation, they felt free to make use of dangerous incendiary grenades which are perfectly capable of setting a building on fire. No matter how many people or buildings are set on fire due to the use of these grenades, police consistently blame the victim (e.g., in another case:
It’s unfortunate that those guys packed that house with materials that were flammable[ref name="source2"]
!! Apparently a right-thinking, responsible citizen keeps their house on the assumption that at any moment police might be throwing incendiary grenades into their living room.
[/ref]), and just go right on asserting that these explosives are
non-lethal force, and defend them as
tools which provide the necessary means to the police’s completely unnecessary
operations. They even have the gall to tell the press that these dangerous explosives are
a life-saving tool, when explaining how they just killed a man by using them.
Do you feel safer now?
(Via Dr. Q @ CopBlock 2011-01-19.)