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June 4, 2008 -- Reason Online (US)

Grand Jury Ups the Charges Against Ryan Frederick, Indicts

By Radley Balko

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A Chesapeake, Virginia grand jury indicted 28-year-old Ryan Frederick on charges of capital murder yesterday. The more severe charge (he was originally charged with first-degree murder) means the state will likely seek the death penalty, though there has been no official announcement as of yet.

Last January, Frederick shot and killed Det. Jarrod Shivers during a drug raid on Frederick's home. Police were looking for a major marijuana growing operation in Frederick's garage. They didn't find one. Frederick had no prior criminal record, and had a misdemeanor amount of pot (he says a few joints) in his home at the time of the raid. His home had also been broken into a few days prior to the raid.

We now know that the police informant whose tip led to the raid was responsible for the break-in. We also know that informant had credit card fraud charges pending against him that were dropped just before the raid. What we still don't know is if his burglary of Frederick's home was done with the knowledge or consent of the police.

Special Prosecutor Paul Ebert pushed the unlikely theory yesterday that Frederick looked out his window, saw several police officers about to break into his home, heard them announce themselves as police, decided to shoot and kill just one of them, then surrendered. This is a guy who friends, former employers, neighbors and family describe as harmless and unconfrontational to the point of being meek. The idea that he'd knowingly kill a cop over a few joints is absurd.

Frederick had a job he enjoyed, a record of steady employment and strong recommendations from supervisors, and he'd just gotten engaged. Again, hardly the profile of a cop killer with a death wish.

Ebert also got the law wrong in his statement to the press. He said:

"Anytime someone kills a police officer, who is acting properly with a legal search warrant, that is a case of Capital Murder."

Well, no. According to the Virginia criminal code, the act has to be willful, deliberate, and premeditated. If you don't know that the men breaking down your door are police when you shoot and kill one of them, you aren't guilty of capital murder. Virginia doesn't have a Castle Doctrine, so you may be guilty of something. But it isn't capital murder. This is why Ebert is arguing the "peered out the window" theory.

The grand jury also indicted Frederick on a charge of manufacturing marijuana. Ebert hinted at this possibility a couple of weeks ago. I'm still trying to figure out what evidence they have for that charge. They found no plants in Frederick's home. They seized some grow lights and planting pots, but the guy is a gardener. His friends and neighbors-or one look at his backyard-confirm that.

It's unlikely that police had information of Frederick manufacturing marijuana other than the informant's tip prior to the raid, or they'd have included it in the affidavit to obtain the search warrant. That leaves only the possibility that they've rounded up someone since the raid who might testify that he bought drugs from Frederick, or witnessed Frederick's alleged marijuana operation.

At this point, it would be prudent to be wary of any informants with criminal records the police may bring forward to testify against Frederick.

The police did no controlled buys to confirm the informant's tip. They say their "surveillance" consisted of a few drive-bys over a three-month period, during which they reported no unusual activity. They claim to have done an extensive background check on Frederick, and found only traffic tickets.

Yet they felt compelled to break down his door after nightfall, based on a tip from a shady informant, and very little else.

Bad as all of this looks, there are a couple of glimmers of hope, here. The first is that Paul Ebert has a long and illustrious history of incompetence. He seems to be living up to that reputation here with his overcharging of Frederick. The other reason for hope is that judging from the comments threads at the Virginian-Pilot website, public opinion in Chesapeake seems to have shifted decidedly to Frederick's favor. The public is usually reflexively pro-police, particularly when a cop is killed in the line of duty. That there's now considerable doubt about this case is testament to just how poorly this raid was executed, and how poorly it's been handled since.

Prior coverage of the Frederick case here.

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