A Former Hammer's Lament: It's No Fun to be the Nailby William Norman Grigg
Sandy, Utah resident Mark Shurtleff was thousands of miles away when he received the news that his son and daughter had joined the ever-growing ranks of Americans whose homes have been violated, and families have been terrorized, by SWAT raids.
The Berserkers who invaded his home “showed up in masks,” Shurtleff protested, relaying the account provided by the victims. A dozen officers wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles “burst through the door screaming and yelling at my kids.”
Shurtleff’s 17-year-old daughter was in the bathroom when the strangers in body armor burst in and painted her body with the laser sights of their assault rifles. The raiders – a combined force of state police and FBI agents -- “trashed” the home, Shurtleff insisted, seizing the children’s computers and memory cards from his wife’s digital camera. They also intimidated his 20-year-old son into providing them with computer passwords and the key to the family’s gun safe.
“These John Wayne wannabes, freakin’ Clinton Eastwood `Dirty Harry’ tactics were absolutely unacceptable and unneeded,” Shurtleff complained on a local talk radio program. He characterized their behavior as “recklessly negligent,” and accused Scott Nesbitt, the chief investigator who presided over the raid, of making deliberate misrepresentations in the affidavit that resulted in the search warrant.
“When I’m cleared … and I will be cleared, there will be accountability and there will be liability on the part of these people,” Shurtleff promised.
The invasion of Shurtleff’s home followed a similar raid on the home of fellow Utah resident John Swallow. Neither of them is suspected of a violent crime. The treatment they received is increasingly commonplace in Utah and elsewhere in the Soyuz, but Shurtleff and Swallow were somewhat uncommon targets. Shurtleff served for twelve years as Utah’s attorney general. Swallow was his successor; he was forced to resign amid scandal after less than a year in that position. Shurtleff and Swallow are under investigation for suspected violation of campaign finance laws.
Complaining that the investigation had injured his reputation, damaged his career prospects, and traumatized his family, Shurtleff insists that he is “done standing back and being quiet.”
“I think if they’ll do that to me, with my entire life and career in service to law enforcement and public safety, they’ll do it to anybody,” Shurtleff declares, speaking with the incontestable credibility of someone who made a career out of ruining lives and terrorizing the helpless.
“He knows our procedures, he knows how we operate – this should come as no surprise to Mark Shurtleff,” observed Juan Becerra, a former FBI agent who had carried out SWAT raids carried out during Shurtleff’s tenure as attorney general. “He knows what all law enforcement procedures are because they’re common across the board.”
As in all encounters between the state’s credentialed emissaries of violence and the public upon whose honest income they prey, the primary emphasis during a “door kick” is the sacred imperative of officer safety.
Police who invade a home enter “with authority,” explains Becerra, invoking the statist shibboleth used to sanctify aggressive violence. “What you don’t know is what’s on the other side of the door.”
As it happens, behind the bathroom door in the Shurtleff home was a tiny 17-year-old girl.
“They burst [in on] my little girl – my 17-year-old – going to the bathroom, screaming at her to get out of there,” recalled Shurtleff. “When she steps out there are four men in body armor with weapons pointed at her chest.”
Shurtleff described the assault on his home and children as “unlawful.” The Utah State Police and FBI insist that the raids were carried out in strict compliance with the standard operating procedures that were followed during Shurtleff’s reign as attorney general – during which he saw nothing amiss in the deployment of a platoon-sized contingent of fully militarized officers to attack a an outdoor concert in Spanish Fork Canyon. This took place in August 2005, about four and a half years into Shurtleff’s term.
Utah County resident Trudy Childs and her family are owners of the “Smoky Mountain Ranch,” which would be leased to concert promoters for summer music events. This was done with the understanding that the promoter would comply with county ordinances dealing with public assemblies of 250 people or more. The Childs and their business partners obtained all of the proper permits, hired EMTs, and otherwise crossed all of the myriad t's and dotted all of the requisite i's.
The Utah County Sheriff’s Office, burdened with puritanical conviction that any gathering of young people must involve improper conduct, carried out two raids during the summer of 2o05 – one on July 16, the second on August 20th.
The second assault, according to Mrs. Childs, involved “armed and battle-ready uniformed SWAT officers, deputy sheriffs, and other law enforcement officers” as well as the deployment of a helicopter for air support. In a subsequent lawsuit, Mrs. Childs recalls that despite being the owner of the ranch she was “ordered off the land by officers during both raids. During the second one she was arrested without legal justification “because I questioned the authority of the officers to stop the concert and order me off the property.”
Prior to the concerts, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office dispatched undercover officers to purchase controlled substances, which – as anybody with a scintilla of knowledge about popular music culture knows -- are frequently available at such events. This provided the police with an excuse to describe the event as an illegal “rave.”
Few things more readily bring to the surface the latent heroism and sheer martial prowess of a police officer than the prospect of beating down a skinny, unarmed, terrified teenager. Mark Shurtleff’s teenage daughter can attest to this on the basis of personal experience. The same was true of the concert-goers who were on the receiving end of the August 2005 SWAT raid that Shurtleff found to be unobjectionable.
One performer who witnessed that blitzkrieg described seeing “a guy dressed in camouflage … toting an assault rifle…. A few `troops’ rushed the stage and cut the sound off and started yelling that everyone `get the f**k out of here or go to jail!”
Some of the Jackbooted intruders held leashes restraining drug sniffing dogs. One of them “alerted” to a concert-goer, who was attacked by four of the officers who “kicked him a few times in the ribs and had their knees in his back and sides,” the witness recounted. Another dog attacked a small, terrified teenage girl: “As she struggled to get away from it, the police tackled her. Three grown men proceeded to kick her in the stomach.” Similar accounts were offered by other eyewitnesses. Scores of attendees were arrested, the youngest of whom was 15 years old.
Seeking to justify this atrocity, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office described it as a didactic exercise. “Police want parents of teenagers to know the dangers of illegal, clandestine rave parties,” explained the Salt Lake Tribune, reciting from an official press release. The chief danger of such gatherings, of course, is that they attract the malign attention of tax-fattened sociopaths looking for targets of opportunity.
In this case, the raid not only offered SWAT operators a chance to kick ass in an entirely risk-free environment, it was an overture to an attempted land grab.
Following the August 20th SWAT attack, the Childs, who had planned to hold a benefit concert in 2006, received a snotty letter from Stephen Sorenson, the gelded hack who served at the time as acting US attorney for Utah.
“The United States has received information that you are again considering leasing your property for an outdoor music concert,” declared Sorenson. “If you choose to lease your land again for another similar event, we can assure you that there will be drug trafficking on your property. You property can be civilly forfeited to the United States if it is merely used for or facilitates the distribution of narcotics.”
“The Childs think Sorenson's sudden interest in their concert plans stems from the federal government wanting to get its hands on their land,” reported the Salt Lake Weekly. “Just one day before the US attorney sent the latter ... Sorenson had telephoned the Childs' attorney to make an offer on their land on behalf of two federal agencies.” The Feds had coveted that property since 1990.
“If they don't want to sell the land, all they have to do is say so,” simpered Sorenson. “If they want to avoid the risk of criminal or civil liability, all they need to do is not allow the rave on their property.”
The Childs weren’t planning a “rave,” but rather a benefit concert for Parkinson's disease research. As Trudy Childs pointed out, politically favored figures aren't put through the same wringer into which she had been fed.
“I attended the Rolling Stones and U2 concerts [in 2005] at the Delta Center, and my guess is there were probably drugs being used and probably people under the influence of drugs at both those concerts,” she pointed out. “Why don't [the Feds] send a letter to Larry Miller [who owned the Delta Center and the Utah Jazz]?”
The obvious answer is that Miller (who has since passed away) didn’t have what the Feds – of whom the petulant fascist Stephen Sorenson was a perfect specimen – were interested in stealing at the time.
None of this aroused the slumbering moral indignation of Attorney General Shurtleff, our newly minted paladin of civil liberties. The lawsuit filed by Childs and her associates was dismissed a year later.
Shurtleff continued to confer his benediction on SWAT raids, including one carried out by a specialized task force that targeted video merchants suspected of copyright violations.
In February 2011, the Statewide Enforcement of Crimes by Undocumented Residents (SECURE) dispatched combat-equipped officers to raid warehouse and homes in search of pirated CDs and DVDs.
“Piracy is stealing and it doesn’t just keep Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie from making a few more dollars,” warbled Shurtleff, supposedly consumed with zeal over the plight of the creative community. “This crime affects artists, writers, directors, backup singers, stage crew workers and every taxpayer in the U.S.”
How, exactly, does music and video piracy injure “every taxpayer in the U.S.”? It doesn’t – but it does deprive the tax-consuming class of its cut. Leo Lucey, the tax-feeder who grandly styled himself the SECRURE Strike Force Commander, explained: “These pirated goods are being shipped by train, truck, and air. This means taxes and fees are not being paid.”
Shurtleff and his SECURE Strike Force commandos – at least some of whom were probably involved in the August 2005 raids that shut down a CD release party in Spanish Fork Canyon – received honorary gold records from the Recording Industry Association of America for their anti-piracy crackdown.
As Attorney General, Shurtleff saw nothing exceptionable about using military tactics to execute warrants dealing with non-violent offenses. All of this occurred, of course, when he was part of the “who,” rather than the “whom” – when he belonged to the exalted fraternity of official coercion, before becoming a mere Mundane.
Shurtleff's perspective on routine acts of state terrorism has changed in predictable ways now that he’s a nail, rather than a hammer.
William Norman Grigg publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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