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.

The use of no-knock warrants has skyrocketed during recent years, causing alarm for those who believe that private property and civil liberties are being taken for granted during the course of these police actions. More sobering, they say, is the fact that citizens have almost no legal recourse, even in the case of police negligence.

For example, Minneapolis is gaining a reputation for overusing no-knock warrants, with the numbers served by Minneapolis's Emergency Response Unit (ERU) leaping from 35 in 1987 to more than 700 in 1996, more than their SWAT counterparts in Los Angeles. ERU supervisors themselves have said no-knock warrants are being overserved without respect to genuine need or concern for people's safety on either side of the door. Last winter, a memo from ERU supervisors circulating among police administrators charged that "the department is unduly endangering citizen and officer safety for no reason other than to further political agendas" and "using high-risk search warrants to solve neighborhood livability issues."

Indeed, the department suffered some chagrin last November when 12 police officers served a no-knock on a suspected marijuana dealer's house in North Minneapolis ("Friendly Fire," 9/17/97). The ordeal, in which one officer is presumed to have shot another in the neck, turned up only a minute amount of marijuana; no drug charges were filed. ERU Sgt. Bob Kroll's team served 50 such warrants in one 13-day period last year--roughly the same number its counterpart in St. Paul serves in a year. Commenting on the Grayhek case, Kroll says that using a no-knock warrant to track down a witness simply isn't done. "You just wouldn't issue that level of a warrant for a witness," he says. "We don't do that, not in Minneapolis."

But Hennepin County criminal defender Joseph Margulies isn't a bit surprised that the Apple Valley police were able to obtain the warrant. "The question you have to ask yourself is why these officers are seeking no-knock warrants when even the federal drug agents generally do not," he says. "Television has glamorized no-knock scenarios to the point where officers have come to expect them to be the norm. It's become a completely reflexive response, part of a tabloid mentality. No wonder so many Minneapolis communities feel so much animosity toward the police."

Grayhek's attorney, Paul Rogosheske, agrees. "Judges will sign anything at 3 in the morning, especially when they know they have complete immunity. You think that you're safe in your house, that cops and judges are liable for their mistakes. Well, they aren't."

Grayhek has about two months to file a civil lawsuit against the Apple Valley Police Department, claiming that his toddler still has nightmares about, as the boy calls them, the "bad men" who came and smashed through his back door last winter. Although Apple Valley paid to replace the door that was ruined during the course of the search (the only item that was damaged physically), Grayhek's attorney believes that the family is due more.

"My hope," says Rogosheske, "is that these people will get compensation to pay for counseling and for pain and suffering. The problem is that you have to prove that the cops acted negligently. But in this case, the degree of negligence is way up there. For example, any half-alive person knows that cab companies keep dispatch records."

Minneapolis criminal attorney Frederick Goetz thinks that the Grayheks were lucky that the cops deigned to pay for their new door. "Because police immunity precludes any damage claims, most people in these cases are just out the money," he notes. "You really need to prove that the police had malicious intent, and even then it would be extremely unusual to recover damages. The tides are turning toward protecting police power rather than individual rights."

Having worn the shoe on the other foot, Grayhek says he's one Twin Cities police officer who'll be cautious about wielding his powers. "This whole experience is going to make me think twice before I go and get a search warrant because now I know what the repercussions are."

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