Today we are going to exercise our critical reading skills on this story. It is about a man in the Tampa vicinity who was shot and killed during a police raid looking for drugs. They found $2.00 worth of marijuana.
Go read the story, then come back here.
In a cursory reading of the story, it seems like a very simple situation. The police knock and announce themselves three times, then enter and search. They open the door to the man’s bedroom, he allegedly begins raising a handgun towards them, they shoot him and kill him. Most everybody would say it was justified because the man pointed a gun at the police, clearly he deserved to die.
But several things stick out as odd when you stop to consider the story more carefully. The first thing that bothered me while reading it was when the officers saw the man’s boyfriend on the couch and immediately moved past him. Wait, what? They yell and knock loudly many times, then when they open the door there’s a guy just sitting on the couch? Why didn’t he stand up when he heard the knock? And much more puzzling, why did the first officers simply move past him? Did they say anything to him? Did he say anything to them? What was he doing on the couch? Why did the officers not attempt to take him into custody or otherwise secure him? It seems very, very odd to be raiding a house and simply walk past the first person you find without interacting with that person or applying handcuffs or something. Maybe it would be enough to simply leave an officer to cover that person and make sure they do not try to jump in from behind, but the official report quoted does not say they did that. It says both officers moved past him, and makes no mention of other officers taking action or even being present.
After moving past the man on the couch, the two officers open the bedroom door and see a man raising a pistol at them. One officer fires his shotgun three times and the other officer fires his handgun twice. This also struck me as strange. If the man in the bedroom knew somebody was coming through the door, why was his gun lowered when the door opened? If he had heard the knock and knew the police were coming and intended to shoot them, he would already have his weapon leveled and ready to fire, he would not have his gun down at his side. If he knew the police were coming and he did not intend to shoot them, he would not be holding his gun at all. Why would he be holding his gun, but not be ready to fire it?
Let’s turn this around and look at it from the other side. Let’s start with the boyfriend on the couch. He was sitting on the couch. There is no mention of any other people present in the home besides the two men. Therefore, the boyfriend was alone in the room on the couch when the police entered. I don’t know about you, but I have never heard a loud knock on the front door and heard somebody yelling, “Police, search warrant” and simply sat there and ignored it. Standing up would almost be a reflex. I have a very difficult time accepting that the boyfriend could have heard that and simply ignored it. He may or may not have decided to let them in, but he would have responded in some fashion, be it going to the door, looking out a window, or running away.
Go back to the article, and scroll up to the picture at the beginning. It shows a huge swarm of police standing around an ambulance, presumably after the raid and shooting had taken place. There are a hell of a lot of police there for arresting one man with weed. But more importantly, notice the background. It is pitch dark beyond the flashing lights of the police vehicles. It is night. It is not dusk or dawn, it is the middle of the night. Suddenly the officers moving past the boyfriend on the couch takes on a whole new meaning. The boyfriend was probably sleeping! That would certainly explain why he did not answer the door nor even get up off the couch. He did not hear them because he was asleep.
Next I draw your attention to a small snippet in the article that seems insignificant. Let me quote it.
Westcott, a motorcycle mechanic who lived at 906 W Knollwood St. with his boyfriend, had no state criminal record besides driving offenses and a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest dating back 11 years.
No neighbors had complained to police about the house, although Westcott himself called police late last year because he learned that several men were plotting to break in and rob him.
Interesting, the man had asked the police for help in the recent past because he was threatened. In light of this, the next part makes much more sense.
Detectives said they learned from the confidential source that Westcott had a gun with him during the drug deals, and so enlisted a tactical response team to take him into custody.
He was in danger of his house being invaded by a group of men planning to rob him. Later we find out he is carrying a gun on his person. The latter is almost certainly a result of the former. He has a credible threat of being robbed, and he has a credible threat of his home being invaded. This is not paranoia, this is fear based on evidence.
Now let’s reconsider the bedroom door again, in light of this new angle. The man is in his bedroom late at night. He knows his boyfriend is in the next room on the couch, possibly sleeping. His door opens and a man with a shotgun is standing there. Most likely this man was wearing a mask or helmet, something that obscures his face, that has been true of pretty much every picture of a SWAT officer I have seen in my life. Imagine you had learned a group of men planned to invade your home and rob you, and one night your bedroom door opens and you see a man, face obscured, holding a shotgun. What would your reaction be? Would you think, “It must be the police!”? No fucking way.
I suspect his gun was at his side for one of two reasons. Either he did not hear anybody coming and so was caught by surprise when the door opened, and was still in the middle of reacting when he was shot, or else he did hear somebody coming but was unsure if it was a home invasion or simply his boyfriend coming in. If it was his boyfriend he would not want to shoot him or be holding a gun on him when he entered, so holding it at his side seems like a good compromise. He has been living under the threat of home invasion for a year. He would not be pointing his gun every time a door opened, he would simply keep it close at hand.
Now go back and look at the reason the police were raiding him in the first place.
Police had been conducting a narcotics investigation of Westcott and hoped to find large quantities of marijuana in his house. The search yielded only 0.2 grams — or about $2 worth — of pot, in addition to paraphernalia such as a digital scale, plastic baggies and jars with marijuana residue.
In February, according to police records, an informer began buying marijuana from Westcott on behalf of narcotics detectives, purchasing $160 of pot over about four months.
Hmmmm, $2 = 0.2 grams, and they bought $160 worth. $10 per gram, so 16 grams of marijuana over four months. The police bought 4 grams per month from him. Based on this, they hoped to find “large quantities of marijuana in his house.” Right now I am holding a cookie in my hand that is 92 grams. I’ve never handled marijuana before so I do not know how much four grams is when smoked, but simply by mass it is virtually nothing! I could hold that much in the palm of my hand and blow it away with a single breath. How the flying hell did the police expect that to lead to “large quantities of marijuana”? Back when my step-dad was a reporter, he wrote up news stories about the highway patrol busting drug mules with scores or hundreds of pounds of marijuana in their cars. I’m pretty sure his cop friend Larry would have laughed at four grams.
Now for the most mind-boggling part of the story.
On May 27, a BearCat armored car carried SWAT officers to Westcott’s home. As they exited the vehicle and walked toward the front door, Cpl. Bryan Felts, the team leader, loudly announced, “Police, search warrant,” according to multiple officers present.
A fucking armored car? For one single man with an uncorroborated report of owning a single pistol, all over 16 grams of pot? What the hell?
It really is disgusting but not in the least surprising what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri right now. The police acting like fucking marines causes bloodshed. They need to stop it and be taught once again that they are civilians. Police are civilians and they need to act like it. When they pretend to be military, they kill people who did not need to die. If they were really worried that he might flush his “large quantities of marijuana” when he heard the police knock, they could have waited until the next day and arrested him at work, and then served the search warrant on his home after he was in custody. He certainly would not have been holding a handgun while working on cars, he would have been holding wrenches and the like. The cops should be fired for incompetence resulting in the death of a man not yet even charged with a crime. The judge who signed the warrant should be disbarred for allowing this boyhood dick-waving to happen in the first place. The judiciary is there to restrain law enforcement, not enable it.