Knock, knock

Today, the Chesapeake Police are burying one of their own, by all accounts a brave and dedicated detective who lost his life doing his job as he saw it. But when the mourning is done, it will be time to look at this tragedy and ask some hard questions about the procedures, especially no knock searches, that may have led to this brave man’s death.

Some 36 years ago, I came within seconds of killing a New Orleans Police officer.

I was a dental student working my way through school. My wife and I were so poor the folks on welfare looked down on us. We lived in a trailer park in a declining part of the Chef Menteur area and our trailer and car had both been repeatedly burglarized. Shortly after midnight, one weekday evening, I awoke to a loud crash, followed by a repeated rattling and thumping. Fearing a home invasion robbery, a grabbed my shotgun from under the bed and went toward our living room. There I saw my door knob and lockset on the floor and a gloved hand protruding through the hole where they belonged, repeatedly jerking the door back against the door chain I had secured before going to bed. Through the frosted glass in the top of the door I could see the silhouette of a large man with a gun in his other hand. The chain would not hold long against the pounding it was getting, so I raised my shotgun to fire on the silhouette while I still had the element of surprise on my side, but in my last second shoot/no-shoot appraisal, I saw, in the corner of my eye, a blue light flashing through a gap in our curtains. Instead of firing, I shouted, “Stop, the police are here” and got the answer, “I am the police!” the first words he had spoken.

In another trailer, one row behind me, a neighbor had called to report a woman being beaten. It had happened many times before, but the woman never pressed charges after her husband sobered up. The police officer had tired of those calls and had decided to catch the man in the act so he could be prosecuted without the wife’s cooperation. So he set about to surprise him by crashing in unannounced, but he turned one lane short of the right trailer.

Another police car arrived and went on to the right trailer to deal with the domestic disturbance and the errant policeman and I sat for a long time on my steps to reflect on how close we had come to a disaster. Crashing into a person’s home unannounced is a dangerous thing to do. It is especially so if the person is NOT a criminal, as the possibility of it being the police will not occur to them.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the City of New Orleans refused to pay to repair my door.

The Chesapeake Police have released very little information about the warrant their detective was serving, nor have they said what results the search produced. The young man who has been charged with first degree murder claims he thought he was being robbed and had no idea he was firing on a policeman.

What if he is telling the truth?

13 Responses to Knock, knock

  1. FRANTZ says:

    I THINK THIS SHOULD REALLY BE A HAZARD OF THE JOB. I RESPECT THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO PUT THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE EVERY DAY TO PROTECT US, BUT I WOULD THINK THAT THE MAJORITY OF DEATHS OCCUR WHEN AN OFFICER DOES NOT TAKE THE PROPER PRECAUTIONS. IF THE OFFICER WANTS TO USE THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE, HE/SHE MUST SACRIFICE THEIR SAFETY TO SOME EXTENT. NOW I’M NOT BELIEVING THAT THIS GUY THOUGHT HE WAS BEING ROBBED RIGHT OFF THE BAT. I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS GUY. BUT IF HE IS A LEGAL CITIZEN HERE, THEN HE HAS SOME RIGHTS. HOWEVER, IF THE OFFICER HAD A WARRANT, HE PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN SAFER SERVING IT AND NOT JUST BREAKING DOWN THE DOOR. REMEMBER . . . THEY MIGHT BE BRAVE, AND THEY MIGHT DESERVE OUR RESPECT AND THANKS, BUT THEY ARE STILL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES. I WILL KEEP HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS IN MY PRAYERS AS I KNOW THEY ARE GOING THROUGH A ROUGH TIME.

  2. earthbound says:

    Interesting article, and cool blog. As a well-armed citizen myself, I can certainly envision the scenario you shared. This story and the recent events in Chesapeake will hopefully cross my mind if I’m ever in a similar spot, but you never know.

    I would hate to see this fiasco get any worse than it already is, but I have a horrible feeling that the CPD will now proceed to cover their own asses and play the victim here. They didn’t hesitate to charge the home owner with the steepest penalty they could, which even by definition does not fit and could be the undoing of the entire case. I do wonder what further information will come from the investigation, but I feel the real lesson has already been taught (if not learned).

  3. Brian says:

    If we weren’t so devoted to our foolish War on Drugs, the officer would be alive today.

  4. DJ says:

    I have been following this story. I agree with the sentiment that someone needs to review their procedures. No knock search warrants should not be legal. I understand that at times it is good to have the element of surprise but that can be accomplished by clearly and loudly stating who you are before entering the home and trying to get a response after a diligent effort then entering the residence. Unfortunately, this isn’t how the scenario plays out. not to mention the risk of losing evidence down the toilet. But how much can really be lost in the mater of a few minutes it would take to identify ones self. Especially for the amount of stuff they were looking for to orchestrate a drug raid of that magnitude. Sad part about it is the city and CPD will do everything they can do to cover their ass and to say the followed protocol even if they didn’t. I feel for the family of the fallen officer as well as the other victim who know will lose everything because of an over zealous police department. Just my two cents.

  5. johnwilburn says:

    The Chesapeake city government has much to answer for – hopefully they have finally tap danced, smoke screened and obfuscated once too often…

  6. perry babb says:

    I do have a problem , the truith will hopefully come out at the trial. There are some concerns about what is being said what happen and what actually happen. Let the boy out of jail, change your procedures and learn from your mistakes CPD. I am going to help support this boy defence, so the CPD don’t hang this man. I will wait and see if he gets a fair trial or not. We will see.

  7. Chuck says:

    Doc, unfortuante incident and situation all those years ago for you. But, what if Frederick acted in the appropriate manner you did? You knew a man with a gun was at your door, you saw it. Even so, you stayed your hand. Frederick admits to knowing nothing about what was on the other side of the door. He shot anyway. He now must face the consequences of the choice he made. No doubt that cop all those years ago should not have tried to force entry into your home. Now, if he was at the right home, and heard acts of violence from inside, then the exigent circumstances exception to the search warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment would have applied. But that wasn’t the case, he was wrong. CPD did have a warrant for drug activity. Inherently dangerous, demanding of tactics designed for the safety of everyone. The search warrant service went badly because Frederick shot without identifying his target. He was scared, no doubt. I don’t know what he knew or what he should have known. I do think that if he had not shot at an unidentified target, he would have been served a misdemeanor summons for possession of marijuana, probably would be allowed in the first offender program and after a year the charge would be dismissed (common practice for first offenders in Court). Instead, a police officer is dead. Frederick should not be held blameless and the CPD should not be villified.

  8. Don Tabor says:

    Chuck- I think you are holding Frederick to an unrealistic standard. I did not fire immediately because I had years of experience with firearms, as you no doubt do as well. I was confident that even if the door chain gave way I could still maintain control of the situation, at least for a few more seconds, so I had time to stop and regain situational awareness. Had my wife been home alone, I would not have expected the same hesitation on her part, the right thing for her to have done would have been to neutralize the threat as soon as she identified it AS A THREAT. After all, the advantage she would have held was momentary, and would have been over as soon as that chain broke. She would have no way of knowing if the intruder was going to fire as soon as the door opened or if there was more than one. At her skill and experience level, she would have been justified in acting while she still had her best advantage.

    The same is true for someone like Frederick who had only recently bought a gun for protection. Just because someone did not grow up with firearms as a part of their lives does not mean they give up the right to bear arms and defend their life. I don’t know if Frederick fired through his door or not. The story keeps changing. But even if he did, if he believed he was under attack by a thug bent on taking his life, and that firing then was his last reasonable chance to defend himself, then for someone with his skill and confidence level, he was justified. When someone is knocking down your door, they are invading your home, and you have every right to assume hostile intent on their part. It would have been the responsibility of the police to be absolutely sure that Frederick knew it was them and not a thug.

    On the other hand, I do hold the police to a very high standard because it was their choice to initiate a forced entry into the home. If, in the confusion of the moment, bad things happen, it is the responsibility of those who create the circumstances to control what happens. There were other, non-confrontational ways to conduct that search, the police chose to make it dangerous and as far as I can tell from what is publicly available, Frederick acted in a reasonable manner for someone with his experience.

    Perhaps you or I would be expected to hold fire a bit longer, but that does not mean the standard should be the same for everyone.

  9. Chuck says:

    Ultimately, the jury will have to decide if Frederick’s actions were reasonable in the face of the evidence that the CPD will provide at trial. Unfortunately, there will continue to be many, on both sides, that will disagree with the jury no matter what they conclude. But, that is our right as U.S. citizens. That is what makes this country great, as you know. I hope that facts come out and we are all privy to them so we can make an informed judgement.

  10. lookmanohands says:

    Chuck, in response to your assertion that “if he had not shot at an unidentified target, he would have been served a misdemeanor summons”…Posthumously? Assuming we have the facts, the door was being broken down as he shot. His option? Hold your fire, wait a few seconds until the unknown assailant makes entry (so you can satisfy some arbitrary, moving point of the law?) while you’re standing there with a gun pointed toward the door. Oops its a cop. Too late. Who has quicker reactions? A trained cop or a stoned kid who worked late today? We’ll apologize to his Mom later. Bottom line: we pay these guys (me included) to be the professionals we count on to excercize good judgement while we arm them with guns provided by our taxes. I define good judgement as being able to reasonably predict the outcome of one’s actions AND the ability to weigh to risk verses benefit. We’re supposed swallow the premise that CPD is justified employing an armed assault because anything’s possible in a drug raid. We can’t have it both ways. They didn’t have a lot of info ref this case and chose to act on it in an extreme fashion. Frederick didn’t have a lot of information and chose to act in an extreme fashion. The difference? CPD had the time to sort out the facts before acting. They didn’t give Frederick that chance. Det. Shivers deserved a better working environment. Frederick deserves a better government.

  11. David Hood says:

    I dont know Ryan Ferderick at all. I think he is being given a raw deal by the Chesapeake Police department. The whole raid was wrong from start to finish. I think that if Ryan knew that is was a police raid he would have never fired his gun unless he wanted to die. They want to charge him with murder when it was a accident. They want to charge with growing marijuna for sale when they hardley found anything. They are mad because a cop was killed and they want to get him for that. He should be alowed to be on bale until his trial , he is not public enmy #1.

  12. The damage done to the deceased officer,his family and Ryan Frederick is bad enough but the true damage here is to our Constitution and the Justice system as they are victims of political posturing. The war on Drugs is and has always been a fraud . A way for national politicians to involve themselves in a law and order issue that is rightly the states jurisdiction for the purpose of electioneering with a emotional issue.
    It is already obvious to me that the judge in this case is anything but an impartial trier of fact and has done her best to assist the prosecution in ways subtle and direct. The prosecutor has been allowed to enter into evidence a video of a re-enactment that will be viewed by the jury with confusion as it attempts to be passed off as what really happened. This is a case that will need a higher court to sort out and unfortunately for him more jail time is most likely in store for Ryan Frederick.

  13. Some Guy says:

    “No knock search warrants should not be legal.”

    They’re not. Our governments have been ignoring the constitution for their convenience for quite a long time.

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