We have previously discussed our concerns over the seemingly exponential increase in “no knock” raids in the country where police give no warning before raiding a home. (here and here and here and here and here). A tragedy in Atlanta will only increase those concerns for many. Atlanta police say that they purchased drugs at a home and returned with a no-knock warrant late at 3 a.m. to arrest Wanis Thometheva, 30. They burst into the home and threw a stun grenade which landed next to the head of a 19-month-old sleeping in his crib and exploded. The baby is in serious condition and is in a medically induced coma. The pictures of the baby are too disturbing to post. The police found no drugs or weapons or even the man they were seeking to arrest in the raid. Update: Police have declared that the state officials have concluded that no further investigation is warranted into the raid or the use of the grenade.
Cornelia police Chief Rick Darby said that a multi jurisdictional force carried out the raid after drugs were purchased. The police cited the belief of guns being present as the basis for the no-knock warrant.
Notably, police arrested the suspect at another home and the family had nothing to do with the crime. There is always a risk of such innocent individuals being in a home — making the use of such grenades an obvious risk to the very young and the elderly.
Darby says that the police did not see any toys or children clothes that would have warned them of an infant being present. He says that his team is very upset over the injury to the child.
For those who are critical over the increase in no-knock warrants, the incident raises that same concern that magistrates are now granting these warrants with little thought and they are becoming the rule rather than the exception. The question is whether such injuries could be avoided if police announced themselves and demand entry. 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.