Friendly Fire

When 12 COPS arrived at Andre Madison's house for a routine drug bust, they wandered into a ferocious gunfight with themselves.

Exacerbating the internal dispute is the fact that the ERU is composed not of full-time staffers but of officers who voluntarily take monthly leaves of absence from their jobs in other units. Kroll, for example, normally works in the juvenile unit. "When I go over to ERU, other officers have to cover my work when I'm gone," he says. "That creates resentment."

The heavy workload, low staff levels, and ambiguous composition of the unit made it a particularly contentious subject in relations between Chief Robert Olson and the Police Federation union. The enmity reached crisis proportions after the Madison raid and the removal by Olson of a popular commander in the unit: In December, the 58 ERU members voted to disband unless the ERU's annual $2,000 training budget was increased, and units who join them on raids (such as the community-response and crack teams, and the public-housing unit) were given more instruction. The cops took their complaint public by packing City Council chambers, and following up with a news conference near the Father of Waters statue.

It was during this turbulent time that Deputy Chief Bill Jones asked Champlin Police Chief Allen Garber--a 26-year veteran of the FBI whose extensive SWAT team experience included a stint as a member of a joint federal-city high-risk entry unit in Minneapolis--to study the facts surrounding the Madison raid and provide opinions about how similar incidents could be prevented. Garber read all the relevant documents, interviewed eight officers from the ERU and one from public housing, and relied on his own experiences when drawing up his report. Among his conclusions was that "given the totality of the circumstances at 2216 26th Ave. N., ERU and the Police Public Housing Officers acted in good faith and to protect their lives."

But the details of the report ratified some of the ERU members' frustrations, while at the same time chastising the unit for being strategically "lax." In the hands of a shrewd civil trial lawyer like Bennett, it could prove to be an explosive and expensive document for the MPD and Minneapolis taxpayers.

In the report, Garber noted that while all the participants in the raid were present at the briefing, specific assignments for the public-housing officers on the perimeter were not given out. Nor were specific instructions provided about seeking cover and shooting protocols. It was assumed, he said, that the unit's standard operating procedures would cover those details. Later in the report he noted that no standard operating procedure existed for officers on the perimeter. He also pointed out that the public-housing cops never had a chance to do any reconnaissance: "The first they saw of their positions was when they were running to the rear of the house as the ERU Officers were executing their entry."

Echoing a long-standing concern of ERU members, Garber recommended that non-ERU personnel working on raids with the unit train with ERU. And he questioned whether the ERU executes too many warrants and relies too heavily on dynamic (door-ramming) raids. "There are other alternative tactics that ERU is aware of. However when so many raids are conducted using dynamic entry, other tactics may be forgotten."

Finally, Garber advanced perhaps the only plausible explanation so far of how a routine raid could have devolved into a free-for-all gunfight. Having noted that the relatively inexperienced public-housing officers found themselves running into a vulnerable, open area they had never seen before as the raid began, he wrote, "the possibility exists that the two flash diversion devices that were thrown in the rear of the house by ERU members, as a diversion, were mistaken as gunfire.

"When the ERU Officers inside the residence shot and their rounds penetrated the house," he continued, "the perimeter Officers were in grave danger of being shot. Thus the perimeter Officers felt they had to shoot because they had no cover. If the Officers had cover they may not have shot into the house." In plain terms: If the raid had been better planned and coordinated, the cops in the back may not have started shooting, those at the front may not have returned fire, and no one might have been injured.

In response to Garber's report and the ERU protests, the MPD has increased the budget and coordination of the unit's training programs. In February, an agreement was reached that will enable other teams to conduct the lower-risk warrants, theoretically reducing the ERU's workload. As recently as last week, ERU personnel were sent to Camp Ripley for more training.

But some members of the unit, such as Kroll, remain dissatisfied. He points out that the unit continues to be staffed on a monthly, part-time basis, and claims that he executed 50 warrants in July alone. Requests for more advanced and protective equipment, including sturdier gloves, more vests, and radio-equipped helmets, also have been paid lip service, according to Kroll. "Has the chief kept his word?" he asks. "In a word, no." Numerous phone calls to Lt. Shirleen Hoffman, commander of the ERU, were not returned.

Thus, until (or unless) there is a criminal or civil trial related to the Madison raid, it is difficult to determine what its legacy will be within the ERU. Given the pervasive use and high-risk nature of the unit, the stakes are no less than life and death. Yet, as Garber's report states, "The warrants have even become routine to the suspects and their friends, relatives, and associates. Instances have occurred where children in the target location seem not concerned or afraid when the Police break in the door during warrant execution." It could have been a lot worse last November 7.

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