Can SWAT Kick in My Door If I Don't Pay My Electric Bill?
We've all missed a bill here or there. Normally, you're just facing a little late fee, not an entire SWAT team kicking in your door and shooting your dog. But that's exactly what happened to a Missouri grandmother in 2014.
"They put me and my son on our knees to watch her die," Angela Zorich told St. Louis's KMOV. "The officer squatted over her while she was dying with the search warrant, and he said, 'You know why we're here?' and I said, 'No I don't know.' When he said, 'We're here because your gas is off.' I lost it."
So why are SWAT officers executing no-knock warrants over unpaid gas bills?
No-Knock Knock Knocking on a Grandmother's Door
The lead officer in the SWAT raid, according to news reports, was part of the St. Louis Police Department's Problem Properties Unit, which targets neglected properties in the county. Zorich's attorney claims the officer obtained the no-knock warrant by fabricating a story about how her sons -- who were present during the raid along with her 6-month-old grandson -- were highly violent.
"Their claim was that it was really unsafe for me to not have gas service at my house, so you bring a SWAT team and you start firing at my poor dog," Zorich said. She sued, and during the trial police claimed her dog had charged at them. But photograph evidence showed the dog had been shot in the back, and a police shooting expert testified that didn't match the officers' stories.
Zorich recently settled with St. Louis County for $750,000, and the county now claims they've made changes to their procedures when applying for search warrants and their policy regarding the threat level used when conducting searches.
'They Are Experts'
"St. Louis County's Problem Property Unit marshals an immense array of resources to accomplish its mission," according to its website. "They are experts at using churches, volunteer groups, charities, governmental agencies and private sector businesses to make a positive and lasting change that benefits the community in general, the neighborhood and, more often than not, the problem property owner him/herself. We have coordinated remarkable changes in hundreds of properties."
Zorich's attorney, Jerry Dobson, believes police were tipped off by one of her neighbors for not having her gas on, but questions the need for a no-knock warrant, executed at gunpoint just hours after it was signed. "No evidence was going to be destroyed, you're not going to flush the gas meter down the toilet," Dobson told KMOV. "There is a disturbing lack of oversight."
- Timeline: A Botched Houston Police Raid and Its Consequences (Houston Public Media)
- 'Butt Dial': SWAT Team Responds to Accidental Pocket Dial (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
- SWAT-like Raid to Serve Student Loan Fraud Warrant (FindLaw Blotter)
- Teen Facing 40 Felonies for Swatting (FindLaw Blotter)
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