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Law & the Courts

Wisconsin’s Shame: Sheriff Clarke Weighs In

Among the many questions I’ve received in response to my article on the Wisconsin “John Doe” raids is, “What should happen when executing a search warrant on a home?” If the police are asked to search a home, and there’s no indication of a physical threat, how should they conduct themselves? While the Left has been mostly silent in response to the story, some lefty commenters have responded by asserting that’s simply how searches are conducted. In other words, if the police search a home, that’s how they do it. I reached out to Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. (subject of the most recent National Review cover story) for comment. Clarke said, “A simple knock on the door by a couple of suit wearing investigators with one…one uniform back-up to verify who they were was all that was necessary to execute this search warrant.” He added, “Would they do this in this fashion at a day care center with kids there if they were looking into a drug operation? The answer is no.”

He also had choice words for Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the architect of the John Does: “Chisholm has turned into a hyper-partisan politician instead of being a law enforcement officer by abandoning his duty to protect law abiding society. He has turned the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office into an institution of government that puts partisan politics ahead of protecting society from violent career criminals. He has gone soft on criminals and tough on political adversaries.”

Yet while Clarke’s approach would accomplish the twin goals of executing lawful warrants while respecting citizens’ rights and sense of security, it seems that the “show of force” method of law enforcement is gaining increasing traction. Here’s an account of the federal raid on Gibson Guitars, seeking — of all things — contraband wood:

While 30 men in SWAT attire dispatched from Homeland Security and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cart away about half a million dollars of wood and guitars, seven armed agents interrogate an employee without benefit of a lawyer. The next day [Gibson CEO Henry] Juszkiewicz receives a letter warning that he cannot touch any guitar left in the plant, under threat of being charged with a separate federal offense for each “violation,” punishable by a jail term.

And here’s the story of a man raided by the feds after being accused of throwing excess fish off his fishing boat:

Commercial fisherman John Yates and his crew were fishing for grouper in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico when Florida Fish and Wildlife officer John Jones boarded the boat. Jones, suspecting that the fishermen were keeping fish smaller than the 20-inch minimum, measured some of the catch and found 72 grouper that were undersized. As fisherman Yates tells the story, he got “a citation for short fish; it’s like a speeding ticket.”

Jones, who had been deputized as a federal officer, ordered the fish kept, but when the boat arrived on shore he determined that the fish in the crate were not the same ones he had measured. Yates professes surprise at what happened down the line.

“Three years later, all of a sudden they come with bulletproof vests and guns. They put me in handcuffs and they took me to jail,” he says.

What happened in Wisconsin is particularly egregious, but until more law enforcement officials adopt Sheriff Clarke’s approach, the process will continue to be punishment — a punishment imposed without due process and without the possibility of appeal.

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