Columbia police announce further changes to SWAT policy

Monday, May 10, 2010 | 5:27 p.m. CDT; updated 8:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 10, 2010
Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton answers a reporter's question during a press conference on May 10 at the Columbia Police Department. Burton was discussing the recent incident in which a SWAT entered a Columbia residence while serving a search warrant. SWAT officers shot and killed a pit bull inside the residence. The wife and child of the warrant's defendant were both inside the residence at the time the SWAT team entered.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department has made more adjustments in its SWAT team policies, Chief Ken Burton announced at a news conference Monday afternoon.

"We did some things wrong," Burton said. "And I'm telling you, it won't happen again."


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The use of the department's SWAT team in conducting a drug raid will now:

  • Require the approval of a captain in the department in charge of the area where the raid is to take place
  •  Require that a location be under constant surveillance once the warrant has been issued
  • Not take place when children are present except "under the most extreme circumstances," Burton said.

Burton called the new policy "probably one of the most restrictive in the country."

The department has faced criticism — and even received death threats — since a video of a Feb. 11 drug raid on a Columbia man's home was posted on the Internet. The video captured the sound of Jonathan Whitworth's pit bull, Nola, being fatally shot by SWAT team officers. The Whitworths' Welsh corgi was also shot during the raid, which took place with Whitworth's wife and 7-year-old son in the home.

The raid came eight days after police obtained the warrant on tips from two confidential informants. Police suspected Whitworth of dealing a large amount of marijuana but only found a pipe and what police described as a misdemeanor amount of marijuana.

Whitworth later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and was fined $300. He has not filed a lawsuit or a complaint with the department, though his lawyer said Monday that Whitworth was still considering all his options.

Monday's news conference was the department's second in less than a week. On Thursday Burton answered reporters' questions with Mayor Bob McDavid at his side to dispel false rumors about the incident and also to announce that raids would now be served within eight hours after police obtain a warrant.

Still, the department's policies on the treatment of dogs and suspects remain unchanged, and Burton defended the actions of the officers involved. The department's internal review of the incident would be completed later this week, Burton said.

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gloria morisaki May 10, 2010 | 7:26 p.m.

I hope the kid was taken out of the home. From the you tube video it appears the parents were awake- the tv was on ( 3 am. I hope the kid wasn't awake) and didn't answer the door, even though the police clearly identified themselves. and really , a pit bull as a pet ?? I don't think so...well taste aside, the whole drama would have been avoided if one of the adults had answered the door. and the guy crying about his dog ... I didn't hear him ask about the kid.. where is child protective services on this one??

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 10, 2010 | 7:49 p.m.

Gloria, why in the world you are talking about 3 AM? The linked CPD press release says the warrant was served at 8:27 PM, so I wouldn't be surprised if the parents and the child were all awake. It didn't seem like the SWAT team gave them that much time to open the door in my opinion and from my recollection of watching the video. As for the pit bull, that's been well-discussed here over the years. I've known some very sweet pits over the years and the two border collie mixes my family had would likely have reacted in a similar manner to someone breaking down our front door. You sure seem to be in a rush to break up a family over a misdemeanor plea.

(Report Comment)
sarah kate May 10, 2010 | 8:25 p.m.

This whole ordeal just makes me sick. I watched the video and cried. I myself have a pit bull. I am not a drug dealer or thug. She is a great family pet that gets along well with children and animals of all kinds. Many people consider animals to be members of the family. For the Swat team to shoot the dog is just heartbreaking. All the dog was doing was barking- which most dogs would do at intruders, regardless of breed. I really wish the police department could find anohter way to subdue animals in a situation like this. Also they should be more aware of a situation before entering a house. I cannot imagine how tramatizing it must have been for the child to have these men bust in his house and shoot his pet. How sad of a situation. I wish the department would make some changes on animal policy. Although the owner of the house made some bad choices my heart goes out to him and his family.

(Report Comment)
Debby Phillips May 10, 2010 | 9:17 p.m.

I am a dog owner and as well as an 18 year member of the veterinary industry and I am shocked and saddened by many things in this case. First of all, the physical damage that could be inflicted by a dog of any size on a fully uniformed SWAT officer is minimal. Secondly, rather than shoot the dog, close the door or ask the owner to restrain the dog (these actions do take calm heads, which are often lacking in these situations).

I am a law abiding citizen, but if my house were to be breached by a SWAT team, my two extremely friendly and well socialized Welsh Corgis (the same breed as one of the dogs shot by the SWAT team) would most likely bark and bare their teeth at these strangers yelling and waving their arms. If you were an animal and strangers behaving in this manner entered your home, you would instinctively react the same way. Just the sound of the poor dogs screaming in pain and fear as the officers shot them should inspire shame in these officers.

For myself and many others in our country, our pets are members of our family. I would not equate a dog's life to a child, but the emotional attachment is very similar and these short-sighted officers killed a member of this family. What would the response be if the child had been shot or wounded instead? Do police officers not treat the shooting or killing of a police dog as if the perpetrator has shot or killed a human officers?

The reality is that police officers (particularly part-time SWAT officers as these were) are not adequately trained at what to do in a situation that proceeds in a manner they don't expect. Recently, in a leafy suburban Oakland CA neighborhood, police officers shot and killed a deer that was in someone's yard even though it was presenting no danger to the officers and Fish & Wildlife representatives were on their way.

The worst part is that the suspect wasn't even guilty of what they served the warrant for. This horrible event and the emotional havoc wreaked upon this family could have been easily avoided with proper training, calm officers and sufficient investigation.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 11, 2010 | 6:50 a.m.

@ John Schultz

3 AM historically is the time of night a Soviet citizen could expect the KGB to come knocking on his/her door. Perhaps the suggestion is that we too live in a police state.

Unless they have experienced it in another country, I don't believe any American has an idea what it's like to live in a police state.

(Report Comment)
Jose Melendez May 11, 2010 | 1:12 p.m.

How are raw cannabinoids or cannabis LAWFULLY(1) included in US Controlled Substances Act Schedule I, drugs with "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision"?

Compare this to legal Marinol, a synthetic chemical that works like THC, a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. At 100 percent strength, Marinol is around four times BC Bud's potency, about twice as strong as hashish. Generically named Dronabinol, warning labels specifically PERMIT driving and using machinery when users know how the medicine affects them.

31 states "in the United States" have medical marijuana laws on the books, if not enforced(2).

Even the title of U.S. Patent No. 6630507, "Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants"(3) demonstrates currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and no lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

are cannabis and cannabinoids _legally_ prohibited? Also, AFAIK these facts are routinely suppressed at trial, under what conditions may exculpatory evidence be lawfully omitted?




Any attorneys care to comment?

(Report Comment)
Jane Doer May 12, 2010 | 10:09 a.m.

Those of us taking issue with it are not just the pot heads, cop haters, and PETA members who watch YouTube as the police would like to believe. Many of us understand that while this was not a case of a guy getting popped taking his medicine, it was also not a guy who blew up his kid and neighbors while cooking meth. We know there are people with meth labs around here, not to mention far more dangerous and violent crimes than people selling drugs. I fear more the people trying to BUY them. I think a lot of us could rattle off a few "good leads" on places to check around town for suspicious activity. You can see it, many times in broad daylight. Will SWAT investigate? Are most search warrants even served by them? Are most "tips" even followed up on? What this man was caught with, in the privacy of his own home, was a substance that has less of a physiological impact than alcohol. Yet the latter would have been perfectly legal- and socially acceptable- to have in his home around and in front of his child. The amount on the premisis was small, not enough to get him more than a fine. Police acted to slow, obviously. Drug dealers, like any other merchant, don't buy goods to keep them. They sell them, why wait over a week? What they had was bad intellegence from an informant. It was the polices responsibility to verify the information, and have control over the situation that they engaged. This was not a hostage situation, or something that in anyway dictated that they had to act in that manner. They choose the time and place. Prior to engaging, if they were unable to gather further intellegence to support the claim that was made, they could have at least surveyed long enough to have seen a child was present. They could have watched the traffic in and out of the residence. They could have seen them let the dogs out. They should have prepared. This made us no safer. Those resources were wasted. The kid was put in a tramatic situation by the police not his parents. Lives were turned upside down, and for what? The possibility that a crime may have taken place? Which if true, still would have had a lessor negitative impact on the family and community then these actions, and many others that take place in the streets and homes of Columbia on a daily basis.

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