And I'll Huff and I'll Puff

No-knock search warrants used to be reserved for police drug raids, when evidence might disappear while suspects were answering the door. Not anymore, Twin Cities civil-rights advocates and attorneys complain.

During the early hours of January 9, a sleepy cab driver drove up and down Cedar Avenue with Apple Valley police investigators. They were looking for the house where he had dropped a teenage girl during his route earlier that evening. She had witnessed a murder that had taken place in Apple Valley that same night. Eventually the cabbie pointed to a house, indicating that the blue light bulb shining on the front porch made it stand out from the other houses.

A few hours later, the police served a no-knock search warrant on the house, using a sledge hammer to bash the back door in. Officers armed with guns and flashlights ordered the lady of the house, Heidi Grayhek, and her elderly mother-in-law down onto their knees while they secured the house, leaving her 21/2-year-old son alone screaming in his crib. The men, Grayhek claims, didn't identify themselves as police officers until several tortured minutes later.

Unfortunately for them, Grayhek has a better sense than most of what proper police protocol is; her husband is an officer with the St. Paul Police Department. Apparently the blue light in front of Officer John Grayhek's house that had attracted the cabbie's attention--a vigil for police officers who had died in the line of duty--failed to raise any flags for the Apple Valley investigators.

John Noltner

Sitting in his small South Minneapolis house, arms crossed tightly over his chest, John Grayhek has a decidedly injured air about him. He says he can't believe a warrant was issued to begin with, chalking it up to the fact that this was the first time Apple Valley police ever had to search for murder suspects.

"I talked to one of Apple Valley's sergeants that night after they had executed the warrant, and asked whether they had run the license plate of my vehicle parked in back. He said yes, that it was registered to a St. Paul address. Apparently they didn't pick up on the fact that the address was St. Paul police headquarters. They made no attempts to find out who lived in this house before they asked for the warrant. They didn't check phone records, power records, they didn't check with Minneapolis police for previous calls to this address, and they didn't get a record from the cab company of the female's final destination.

"If they had asked the juvenile girl's mother during the course of their interview with her who her daughter knew on this street or had bothered to check with the cab company--which is what they eventually did after barging into my house--they would have gotten the exact address," he says. The affidavit Apple Valley investigators filed to get the warrant stated that they believed the female might have been an "accomplice," and that they were looking for a weapon. But Grayhek claims Deb Schmidt, the assistant Dakota County attorney who prosecuted the case, told him and his lawyer that none of the police reports in the case stated a reason for the cops to believe the young woman had the murder weapon. "We never discussed that," Schmidt retorts. She confirms that she showed Grayhek and the lawyer "confidential" documents, but claims they only discussed why the cops ended up at the wrong address.

Either way, there would seem to have been no need for a no-knock warrant. Although no-knock warrants are designed for narcotics raids, when evidence and officer safety are at risk, in this instance it was issued to locate an unarmed witness. When police went back to question the girl's mother, she rattled off an address a block away from Grayhek's home that matched with the cab company's dispatch records. The police telephoned the house, and the girl came out voluntarily. She was released from police custody hours later.

Talking in quiet, unemotional tones, Grayhek shudders visibly when he thinks of his family being terrorized by his peers. "I don't know why they couldn't have called the phone company and gotten my phone number, called the house, and asked everyone to step out because they had a warrant on this female's arrest. Which is what they did 12 hours later." He contends that the police acted recklessly and says that in a meeting with Apple Valley Police Chief Roger Willow, Willow admitted as much. "I go in and meet with the chief and the first thing out of his mouth is, 'I'm reluctant to say anything to you because I know you're going to sue us,'" says Grayhek. "I wanted to see a copy of the search warrant, but Willow said that because they never found the suspect at my house, they might never file the affidavit. I said, 'Hold on, you have to file a search warrant any time it is executed.' He excused himself, I assume to call an attorney, comes back and says they have 10 days to file it, and we'll mail it to you five days after the 10."

Grayhek never got a copy of the warrant, which he contends is because the only person listed on it was a juvenile female and not the suspect, proof that Apple Valley was "headhunting for a witness." Although the several witnesses at the crime scene said that the murder in question had been committed by a single person, in a recent phone interview Willow defended the investigation, stating that at the time, they "weren't sure" whether they were looking for a witness or an accomplice. "We don't use no-knock warrants that often, but felt that it was warranted in this particular circumstance," he says. "Obviously the judge felt it was, too, because he signed it."

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