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May 28, 2008 -- Reason (US)

Ryan Frederick's Preliminary Hearing

By Radley Balko

Return toDrug War News: Don't Miss Archive

(Original article w/ commentary)

Yesterday was the preliminary hearing for Ryan Frederick, the 28-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing murder charges for killing a police officer during a drug raid (see this wiki for more on Frederick's case). The police account of the raid as portrayed in the Virginian-Pilot yesterday differs pretty drastically from other accounts. A few items from the hearing worth noting:

* The police say sixteen officers were present for the raid, and that they were divided into two units, one at the front door to the house, and one unit that was prepared to enter the detached garage. This differs sharply from what Frederick's neighbors told me. One woman told me she came outside after she heard shots, and saw one car and two officers at Frederick's home. It was only later that other officers arrived.

* Pay close attention to this one: According to a reporter I spoke with this evening who attended the hearing, Detective Kelly Roberts testified that the police announced themselves four times, waiting four seconds between announcements. You can see part of this testimony at the Virginian-Pilot link.

After the fourth announcement (presumably, about sixteen seconds), they detected movement in the house. Roberts says a light "changed." It was at this point that they announced "Eight ball! Eight Ball!" a code signaling that the raid had been compromised. At that cue (pardon the billiards pun), they took down the door with the battering ram.Think about the implication, here. The police come to Frederick's home to serve a knock and announce search warrant. He's asleep in his bed. Sixteen seconds after the first knock, it isn't the fact that he hasn't yet come to the door that triggers the violent, forced entry. It's that there is a "change" in the light. It's the light that makes them conclude the raid had been compromised. Not the flush of a toilet, or the cock of a shotgun. A light. How do they know that light isn't someone coming to answer the door, possibly to allow the police to come in for a peaceful search?

What this means is that, as I've written before, there's no real difference between a no-knock and a knock and announce warrant. Once the warrant has been issued your door is coming down, and there's not much you can do about it.

This then raises the question of what exactly you're supposed to do when someone knocks on your door, and announces that they're the police and that they have a search warrant. Don't come to the door, and they're going to break it down and come after you. Come to the door to verify it's really the police (by no means a given) -- and to let them in if it is -- and your very movement toward the door can, also, be a trigger to break the door down and storm your home. Arm yourself and wait for them to come in? You're practically begging them to shoot you.

Seems your only option is stand somewhere in your own house with your hands in the air, wait for the door to come down, and hope the raiding officers don't mistake your t-shirt for a gun, or possibly trip or mistakenly fire and accidentally kill you. Be prepared to be thrown to the ground, stepped on, handcuffed, and have the barrel of a gun pointed at the back of your head.

This is just one of many conundrums posed by the proliferation of paramilitary-style police raids. The people on the receiving end of the raids are put in positions where it's nearly impossible to even know what the right response is, much less be in a position to make it. Not to mention that, at the same time, they're being subjected to trauma that makes any sort of clear-headedness or careful consideration of their options pretty much impossible. Make the wrong decision and you're either dead or facing a felony charge.

* Roberts also testified that none of the police officers fired a shot. What, then, are we to make of the .223 casing police recovered from Frederick's home? The police recovered only a .380 pistol from Frederick's home. I haven't been able to get the Chesapeake Police Department to tell me what type of gun the SWAT and narcotics teams carry, but many carry the sort of a gun that would fire a .223. So far, neither the police nor Paul Ebert have offered an explanation for the casing

* Frederick's attorney James Broccoletti made a good point, too. According to Roberts' own testimony, Frederick fired only after the battering ram breached the lower panel of Frederick's door. This is a pretty good indication that Frederick's mindset was one of self defense (never mind his clean record, and praise from neighbors, friends, and prior employers). If this were a premeditated attempt to kill a cop (which no one who knows Frederick says he's capable of ), and if Frederick knew these were police officers due to their alleged repeated announcements, why would he wait until they had broken down his door to begin firing? And why would he give up after firing just two rounds? Those seem like the acts of someone who's scared and uncertain, not someone hellbent on killing himself a cop.

* The prosecution says Det. Shivers was in the front yard when he was shot. Gun experts I've queried say it's doubtful that a bullet from a .380 pistol could go through a door and then, according to the autopsy, also go through Shivers' arm, and then penetrate Shivers' chest.

Frederick has told friends and family that he fired when he saw the bottom part of his door had been breached, and that someone was reaching up through the hole to grasp at the door knob. This seems more plausible, and more consistent with the autopsy. If Shivers was reaching through a hole in the door when Frederick fired at him, it's not difficult to see how a bullet would have first struck Shivers' arm, then his chest. It seems less likely that the bullet would have traveled through Shivers living room, through his front door, into his yard, then through both Shivers' arm and chest.

* Prosecutor Ebert has said that he may file felony drug charges against Frederick at a later date. I find this dubious, given that it's been four months since the raid, and the only illicit substance thus far recovered was the misdemeanor amount of marijuana.I see a few possibilities, here. Ebert could try to tie the gun to the pot possession and get Frederick for using a gun in commission of drug crime. I'm not sure how that sticks, given that Frederick wasn't smoking or selling the drug when the raid went down.

Ebert could also try to say the gardening equipment was evidence of a grow operation, even though the police found no actual marijuana plants. Given that Frederick's neighbors have said he was an avid amateur gardener, I would think it would be pretty easy for him to show the equipment had a legitimate purpose. The third possibility is that Ebert's sitting on some new evidence that he hasn't yet released. If you'll remember, Chesapeake police announced several weeks ago that they had seized Frederick's phone records. Perhaps they're preparing to trot out a few people who will claim to have bought drugs from Frederick. Maybe Frederick did sell some marijuana here and there, though everyone I've talked to insists he was a no more than a recreational, small-time pot smoker. Remember too that it's pretty easy to get an informant to say whatever you want him to, particularly if you're willing to help him wriggle out of other charges. I

In all, today's hearing offered up a bit more of the information that the police department has been sitting on for four months, but it raised quite a few more questions than answers. The case now goes to the grand jury, which is almost certain to indict Frederick on whatever charges Ebert asks from them.

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