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Report: Law Officers May Violate U.S. Constitution When They Don't Knock

Nathan Bernier
Civil rights group calls for clearer policies

The Texas Civil Rights Project says law enforcement officers may be violating the U.S. Constitution when they execute warrants without knocking. The organization released a report Tuesday that says 70% of surveyed jurisdictions do not have written “no-knock” policies and that many other counties and cities may have inadequate policies or do not effectively implement those they have. Jim Harrington, TCRP director, says that is putting citizens and officers at risk.

“It’s dangerous both ways. We have to get away from this idea, well, we just don’t [knock]. You know any time we say it’s a narcotics warrant, we just don’t do it,” Harrington says.

According to federal law, police can execute a warrant without announcement only when there is sufficient evidence to conclude that contraband may be destroyed or a suspect may flee. According to Harrington, case law requires the evidence to be substantial in order to justify a “no-knock” entry. He says that in order to be in compliance with the law, each warrant should be determined "no-knock" individually. He added that the question of whether to uniform officers in raids should factor in to each determination. However, according to the TCRP report, many law-enforcement agencies treat “no-knock” entries as the norm rather than the exception when executing warrants, especially those involving narcotics.

“You’re probably not going to find too many police investigators that are going to knock. They’re just not going to do it,” stated San Antonio Police Chief William McManus in a deposition."

In December, Burleson County Sheriff’s Investigator Sgt. Adam Sowders was shot to death while on a no-knock warrant execution. The man who shot him, Henry Magee, faces a marijuana possession charge after a grand jury declined to indict him on a charge of capital murder. His lawyer says Magee thought he was being robbed when deputies in plain clothes entered his home before dawn.

In a separate incident in San Antonio, plain-clothes officers raided the home of two women and held them at gunpoint after receiving false information from an informant. The officers left more than an hour later, and the women were never charged with any crime.

TCRP says they have provided copies of “no-knock” policies to enforcement agencies statewide, and suggest that agencies incorporate training on the practices. 

The Attorney General’s Office granted the Austin Police Department an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. They were only required to release a portion of their no-knock policy, and were not included in the TCRP report.

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