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HEMPSTEAD, NY — An innocent woman hid in a closet when armed strangers unexpectedly broke into her apartment. While cowering in fear, she was discovered by one of the intruders — actually a police officer raiding the wrong address — who promptly shot her in the chest after opening the closet door.
A Flawed Warrant
The botched raid was part of a joint narcotics investigation by the Nassau County Police Force Bureau of Special Operations (BSO), the Town of Hempstead Police Department, and the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.
When officers had reason to suspect that someone was in possession of arbitrarily banned substances, a search warrant was signed by a New York judge, authorizing police to break down the suspect’s door at any time they felt appropriate without warning. The no-knock warrant was “justified by the possibility that evidence would be destroyed,” according to official documents.
The warrant left off a crucial fact. The target address was a residential property that contained 2 separate apartments. The downstairs and upstairs of the property were separated, and contained completely unrelated tenants. However, the warrant broadly (and negligently) granted police the authorization to search the entire premises without distinction — even though it included the home of a woman not suspected of any crime.
The raid team was dispatched to the property on May 13, 2010. It consisted of Officers Michael Capobianco, Carl Campbell, Joseph Grella, Dwight Blankenship, and Nassau County Police Sargent Hermann. Also present was Thomas Bidell, an investigator with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.
The men proceeded to use a battering ram to breach the door of the downstairs apartment, which belonged to the suspect of their investigation. Officers charged in with rifles and began searching the house. When they encountered an impassable staircase, one of them yelled, “Alternate breach!” and the men exited the home and proceeded with breaching the basement and upper apartment in a similar fashion.
Iyanna Davis, age 22 at the time, resided in the upper-floor apartment and was hiding in a closet after hearing the violent commotion in the downstairs living unit. She stated that she did not know the intruders were police officers and assumed the home was being targeted by criminal home invaders.
The officers had split up at this point and only Officers Capobianco and Campbell were on the upper floor searching Davis’ apartment. Versions of what happened next varied between police and the innocent tenant. The result was Officer Capobianco firing his rifle at Ms. Davis, striking her with a single bullet that traveled through her breast, abdomen, and both thighs.
Police made various claims about the shooting, including an assertion that Ms. Davis had jumped out of the closet, as well as another version that claimed she held the closet door shut as cops tried to open it from the outside, causing clumsy officer Capobianco to fall down and negligently discharge his rifle. The victim’s story, however, included her pleading for her life.
“I told them I was afraid and do not shoot me, and one officer screamed at me to put my hands above my head,” Ms. Davis said in a deposition. “That’s when I heard the shot and I felt myself sit down because the force actually knocked me back on my backside.”
The indisputable facts of the case held that Ms. Davis had nothing to do with the investigation, yet she ended up being shot while unarmed in her own home by a police officer who should never have been there. Despite this breathtaking display of negligence and incompetence, the department investigated itself and cleared its officers of any wrongdoing.
Finally, after wrangling in the legal system for over 4 years, Nassau County agreed to settle with Ms. Davis to the tune of $650,000. As part of the settlement, the police internal investigation was officially sealed. According to Charles Horn, Ms. Davis’ attorney, this was to prevent its many “inaccuracies” from coming to light, which were falsely presented to convey justification for shooting an unarmed woman.
Taxpayers footed the bill, and no police officers received any sort of reprimand or termination.
Police ineptitude and corruption are practically inevitable, but they are enabled and magnified in scope by the existence of intrusive laws and widespread militaristic enforcement techniques. An end to the cruel Drug War and the overuse of no-knock raids would prevent situations like this from ever occurring.