The horrendous police shooting of Breonna Taylor reminded me of a case I once did some work on — a case which demonstrates how cops can miserably fuck up when they investigate illegal drug cases, especially when their warrants depend on the info provided by confidential informants.
It came within a hair of going as murderously wrong as did the raid on Ms. Taylor’s apartment.
One very early morning back in the 1990’s, a number of apartments in a middle-class coop in a New York suburb were raided by a combination of Drug Enforcement Agents and New York City narcs, front line troops in the “War on Drugs.” (Remember the “War on Drugs?” That was the “War” that preceded the “War on Terror,” which itself preceded our current “War on Reality.”) This high-powered task force was acting on info received from a C.I. (confidential informant), a small-time drug dealer they had arrested previously and turned into an employee.
The C.I.’s job, for which he was paid around $30,000 a year (our taxes at work), was to scope out and inform on big-time drug dealers.
This C.I. had been collecting his salary for a while but not making his target numbers. He had a vital reason: if he actually did inform on big-timer dealers, they’d kill him. So to keep his salary flowing while remaining alive enough to spend it, the C.I. decided to turn in what he swore in an affidavit were some big time drug dealers who operated out of specifically designated apartments in that building.
He was lying.
It must have been quite a sight, all these fierce drug warriors dressed in vests with their employers’ names in big letters across the breast, carrying battering rams and heavy weaponry, moving like ghostly pre-dawn avengers outside the building.
The people whose doors the task force battered in were naturally terrified as armed strangers burst into their apartments – none of the invaders identified himself as a cop.
Not one of the apartment owners was a drug dealer.
One young woman, who worked for New York’s Environmental Protection Agency, was stripped and body searched.
Another, a young mother, an ER nurse, was up early to care for her new baby. Her husband had already gone to work as a Correction Department guard at New York’s huge fortress prison, Riker’s Island. Had he been home when a bunch of armed people crashed into his apartment, he certainly would have grabbed and fired his licensed gun, as did Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend. And the intrepid War on Drugsters would certainly have returned fire, as did the Louisville police.
Two other victims of the raid, an elderly couple, had retired from successful blue-collar work lives. One of them had chronic heart problems.
These people became our clients and filed a lawsuit for every solid reason you can think of. Years later, after many judicial roadblocks, they got a settlement but not a very large one. Our clients never got what they all really wanted: an apology. Apparently, it’s part of the police code never to say “We’re sorry.”
That code, as well as qualified immunity, must go. And the judge who signed that no-knock warrant based on the word of some cops…well, something should be done about him, too.