We’ve recently been talking about far-flung cases of police extremism seen in this country.
Little more than a year ago, a Pennsylvania State Police paramilitary squad pretty much ruined a private home outside Hummelstown. You know the place? Just outside Hershey? Maybe 15 miles from the center of Lebanon County?
A Special Emergency Response Team allegedly knocked the structure off its foundation with an armored vehicle, gassed it with the family dog still caged inside and broke most every door and window.
What on earth merited this kind of scorched-earth response? A gang of bomb-tossing anarchists? An officer-involved shooting? A trained sniper holed up on the second floor?
According to a lawsuit filed recently in Dauphin County court, it was a woman responding to a search for her estranged husband by opening her front door, which ended up broken anyway.
Well, then. This estranged husband must have been one bad egg. Police don’t do this kind of thing chasing your average alleged criminal. Except the man was wanted on charges of solicitation to perjury, obstruction of law and witness intimidation.
Well, then. They must have been really hot on his tail, and really, really, really afraid he was going give them the slip. Except, at the time his house was being smashed, he was in Annapolis, Md., with his lawyer, who said he had previously informed police that the man planned to turn himself in upon charges being filed.
The woman had reportedly just showered. She answered the door in a towel to find guns pointed at her. She consented to the search and was called a liar when she told troopers her husband was not home. They threatened her with obstruction of justice.
The estranged husband’s lawyer said police didn’t have a search warrant when they first showed up but later obtained one by neglecting to tell a judge that the woman consented to the search. According to the lawsuit, most of the damage was done after they obtained the warrant.
Immediately after the incident, state police told The Patriot-News that the woman with the open door had been uncooperative. They destroyed her house and held her and her 12-year-old son at gunpoint to ensure they weren’t facing an ambush — from an otherwise empty home.
The state Attorney General’s Office is defending the state against the woman’s lawsuit, which is disappointing. We hope there is something Titanically important we don’t know, because there is no scenario in which one man wanted for an apparently nonviolent crime necessitates a special emergency response, with its associated disassembly of private property, not to mention the shredding of niceties such as the Constitution and its various protective amendments that prevent these sorts of things.
Unfortunately, details of those extenuating circumstances, doubtful though we find their existence, likely wouldn’t come to light even were they present. Another side effect of a militarized domestic police state (aside from increasingly over-the-top, wildly disproportionate responses) is an information vacuum.
The woman wants — get this — only $100,000 to compensate for her home’s destruction. We can’t help it. We’ve got the image of Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movie holding the government hostage for a ransom of … “one MILLION dollars,” in a age where billions are routinely bandied about and spent by your government on things like highly advanced police equipment and weaponry.
In this case, unlike Dr. Evil’s, the state ought to pay up, move on and find a better way — a far better way — to assess and neutralize the threat posed by a caged dog, a 12-year-old and a woman wearing a towel.
Information from a Chambersburg Public Opinion editorial was used in this piece.
Lebanon Daily News