Sheriff deputies in Lake County, Florida are the focus of public outcry after they went to the wrong home to arrest an attempted murder suspect, did not announce they were officers, and then shot and killed Andrew Lee Scott, 26, when he pointed a gun at the strangers at his door.
Scott went to the door armed after he heard pounding on his door at 1:30 a.m. Since the officers did not identify themselves and Brown was not expecting someone at such an early hour, he clearly thought it was trouble. It was.
They were looking for Jonathan Brown who is suspected of attempted murder. Brown had been seen in the complex and his motorcycle was parked across from Scott’s front door. So the only connection to Scott was that the motorcycle was across from his door in a large complex. Yet police still did not announce that they were officers.
This is technically not a “no knock” search. In such searches, there is no knock but the officers are supposed to announce their identities in going into the property. We have seen tragedies like this one involving such searches. Indeed, I have criticized the increasing use of “no knock” warrants. Police now routinely ask and receive warrants that waive the constitutional requirement to “knock and announcement.” Not only is this requirement codified in the U.S. Code, but it is viewed as a factor in determining if a search or seizure is reasonable under the fourth amendment. In 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wilson v. Arkansas that the requirement was indeed part of the constitutional test and in Richards v. Wisconsin the Court later rejected categorical waivers for “knock and announcement” for cases like drug investigations. Police must show on a case-by-case basis that they have reasonable suspicion of exigent circumstances.
In this case, it would seem that police should have been more careful to announce their identities since they had no clear evidence that the suspect was in the apartment. Given the time of night and the large number of lawfully held guns, the chances that the owner would be in fear of the visitors was great — particularly in a crime ridden neighborhood. I understand the fear of letting the suspect know of the presence of the officers but, given the dangers, the balance of considerations favors identification by the officers in my view. What do you think?