Earlier this year, Louisville (KY) police officers killed an unarmed woman during a no-knock drug raid. Breonna Taylor was killed after her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, opened fire on SWAT officers Walker believed were criminals entering their home. The officers claimed they had announced their presence before entering. A 911 call placed by Walker — a licensed gun owner — indicated no warning had been given.
“I don’t know what happened … somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend…”
This completely preventable tragedy again prompted discussions of no-knock warrants and their use by law enforcement. This latest killing continued the long narrative of violent actions by drug task forces, who supposedly avail themselves of no-knock raids to increase the safety of officers and occupants. But all no-knock raids seem to do is increase the chance officers will provoke a violent reaction they can use to justify the killing of anyone on the premises. The raid that killed Breonna Taylor was a complete failure. The suspect being sought wasn’t in the house and no drugs were found.
A few small reform efforts targeting the use of no-knock warrants have been made. The Houston Police Department had no choice but to rewrite its rules after a no-knock raid ended with two citizens dead, five officers wounded, and two of those officers hit with multiple criminal charges.
A judge in South Carolina has taken it upon himself to step up and address the huge problem local law enforcement apparently isn’t quite ready to confront.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty late Friday afternoon ordered state judges and magistrates to stop issuing “no-knock” search warrants to police.
Beatty’s order said that the majority of state search warrants in South Carolina are issued by magistrates, the lowest rank of judicial authority. But a recent survey, Beatty wrote, revealed that “most (magistrates) do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants and do not discern the heightened requirements for issuing a no-knock warrant.”
It’s not a ban. It’s a moratorium. But it should decrease the chances someone in South Carolina will be needlessly killed by overzealous drug warriors. The short order issued by Judge Beatty says no no-knocks warrants will be approved until there are some clear ground rules in place.
IT IS ORDERED that a moratorium upon the issuance of no-knock warrants by all circuit and summary court judges of this state take effect immediately and remain in effect until instruction is provided to circuit and summary court judges statewide as to the criteria to be used to determine whether a requested no-knock warrant should be issued. This instruction will be provided by the South Carolina Judicial Branch.
It also points out that judges have been handling these requests carelessly. And this carelessness is killing people.
It further appears that no-knock search warrants are routinely issued upon request without further inquiry. In recognition of the dangers that the execution of no-knock warrants present to law enforcement and members of the public, and in order to ensure that these warrants are issued based upon the proper constitutional and statutory criteria,
I FIND it necessary to address the issuance of no-knock search warrants by circuit and summary court judges statewide.
It has been addressed. No-knocks are no-go in South Carolina until further notice. Cops will just have to do warrant service the old fashioned way — one that appears to be far less dangerous than the supposedly “safer” option.