Evansville, Indiana police intent on "sending a message" that online threats against police will not be tolerated organized a massive raid against a forum troll on an online forum. The police decided to bring a TV crew to film their raid against their critic, they also brought a SWAT team. Rather than knock on the accused's front door, which was wide open, the police instead threw two flash-bang stun grenades through their front window and storm door.
Unfortunately, rather than finding the home occupied by a gun-toting cop killer, they found an entirely innocent grandmother and 18-year-old girl, who were both shocked and confused.
Via The Courier Press:
EVANSVILLE -- Stephanie Milan, 18, was relaxing in her family's living room Thursday watching the Food Network when a heavily armed squad of Evansville police officers arrived on the front porch.[Note: The police reportedly threw two flash-bangs according to another local station, WFIE News, they said they threw one through their front window and another through their storm door, see below.]
Dressed in full protective gear, police broke the storm door of the home at 616 East Powell Ave. -- the Milans' front door was already open on the hot summer day. They also broke a front window. They tossed a flashbang stun grenade into the living room that made a deafening blast. A short distance away, a local television crew's cameras were rolling. The police had invited the station to videotape the forced entry of the residence.
Stephanie Milan said she managed to remain calm because she knew her family hadn't done anything wrong. Still, she was stunned and confused.The report goes on to state the news organization asked for a copy of their search warrant, but the County Clerks Office says they have no record of it, and the police and county prosecutor are refusing to produce it.
After speaking to Milan and her grandmother, Louise, police determined those inside the house had nothing to do with their investigation.
Police were executing a search warrant for computer equipment, which they said was used to make anonymous and specific online threats against police and their families on the website topix.com.
"The front door was open. It's not like anyone was in there hiding," said Ira Milan, Stephanie's grandfather and owner of the property for many years. "To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive."
Ira Milan said the perpetrator of the threats likely used Stephanie's Internet service connection from an outside location, which led police to the East Powell Avenue address.
But Police Chief Billy Bolin said, "We have no way of being able to tell that," and the concerning Internet posts "definitely come back to that address."
"I think it was a show of force that they are not going to tolerate this," said Ira Milan, "But what about the residents and what they have to tolerate?"
After noting he has lived there for 30 years, Milan said, "No one has ever been arrested at my house."
Bolin said Friday that department records indicated relatives associated with the address had criminal histories.
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said Friday he spoke to Bolin about the incident and was satisfied that police were justified in forcibly entering the home.
"They had what they thought were very specific threats against police officers, their families and the communities," Winnecke said.
He said police told him that the Milans' storm door and window were being repaired at city expense.
Workers were at the Milan home on Friday repairing the storm door and broken window. Carpet inside the house was stained with black residue from the flashbang grenade.
Ira Milan said police offered to pay for the damage. Laptops and a cellphone belonging to Stephanie Milan -- a May graduate of Signature School who will attend the University of Southern Indiana this fall and major in radiology -- were seized in the raid and remained in police possession on Friday.
Bolin said the SWAT team used its standard "knock and announce" procedure of knocking on the wall and repeating the words "police search warrant" three times before entering.
The police chief said the procedure doesn't require officers to wait for a response.
"It's designed to distract," he said.
The decision to use force
Police used what they called a law enforcement threat matrix to determine the proper response to information in the posts. One post mentioned explosives, and another specifically named Bolin and referenced the area where he lives. But no other officers' names or addresses were identified.
Sgt. Jason Cullum, a police department spokesman, said one person had posted that he possessed explosives, and that "Evansville is going to feel the pain." That threat, Cullum said, played a major role in dictating the police response.
Cullum said the conversation at topix.com which concerned officers began under a blog headline.
"It said, 'EPD leak: Officers' addresses given out,' or something along those lines. There were some generalized comments about people not liking the police, and that didn't really concern us," Cullum said, but then the threats became more specific and suggested officers' families could be at risk.
Time stamps on the postings indicated that they were made Wednesday evening. Cullum defended the department's action.
"We brought them out and talked to them," Cullum said of the Milans. "They were released at the scene. Investigators felt they were not involved in the posting.
"This is a little more difficult that a traditional crime scene, because we're dealing with the Internet. They definitely weren't expecting (a SWAT team at the door). The reason we did that is the threats were specific enough, and the potential for danger was there.
"This is a big deal to us," Cullum said. "This may be just somebody who was online just talking stupid. What I would suggest to anybody who visits websites like that is that their comments can be taken literally."
I did some digging with Google and I found a cached page containing the threatening comments. Check it out here. The user who posted the threatening comments is likely "usarmy," here's the posts in question:
usarmy, He also posted:
Lol at all da cops commenting,f#+k the police.you mfs need to b taught a lesson,always harassing n violating mfs rights. 4th of July a cops house gonna get hit.dont care about your kids or btchs lives.I dnt even care bout my own life.I got my reasons..times ticking.
Cops be aware.Note:I am proud of my county,but I hate police of any kind..I have explosives.:) made in America.Evansville will feel my pain.guess who's in the river. Here's a video report from another station, WFIE News. For whatever reason, they ignore the fact the SWAT team brought a TV crew along with them, though they report there were two flash-bangs involved and not one.:
Two U.S. judges have recently ruled that an IP address is not a valid way to identify a person. IP addresses change frequently and can be spoofed, also other people can log onto open wifi accounts. Under no circumstances should an armed invasion be launched based off a random IP address.
If you ask me, the film crew who filmed this raid needs to release all their footage. This was an incredibly foolish and violent act which could have ended with innocents being murdered in their home. The threats could have been investigated with a simple phone call, charges could have been filed in a civil fashion, the situation could have been diffused a multitude of different ways. Instead, the police wanted to "send a message," mafia style, that no one dare threaten their "gang." An innocent grandmother and 18-yr-old ended up getting flash-banged and raided as a result.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first innocent grandmother flash-banged during a botched raid, nor is it the second, it's likely it will not be the last.
UPDATE: The video was finally released two years later. It shows the police smashed their glass door down and staged an Iraq-style invasion in full military gear with assault rifles into the family's home, terrorizing them with flash-bangs, then cuffing the entire family at gunpoint. The cops are even seen cuffing an old grandmother sitting in her chair doing nothing in the name of "officer safety." After searching through the entire house, the cops have a good laugh at how quickly their glass door smashed to their battering ram, evidently the ease at which they can break into peoples' homes amuses them.
Chris runs the website InformationLiberation.com, you can read more of his writings here. Follow infolib on twitter here.