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Civil rights group wants policy on knocking before officers raid a home

Nearly two months after a Central Texas man shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy entering the man’s home to execute a search warrant, the Texas Civil Rights Project released a report Tuesday that criticizes some law enforcement agencies for not having a written policy about when an officer can raid a home without knocking first.

The Austin-based group found that “there is a statewide custom of making no-knock entries on less than reasonable suspicion.” Among 161 jurisdictions that responded to the Civil Rights Project’s request for information about specific policies on when an officer can enter a home to execute a warrant without knocking, only 53 said they had written policies, according to the report.

Jim Harrington, director of the Civil Rights Project, said the Austin Police Department was not included in the sample because it did not release information on when officers knocked or not.

The Police Department’s policy on fugitive and search warrants is available online, but Veneza Bremner, a senior police officer, said Tuesday that the department’s “standard operating procedure” includes information about knocking while executing warrants.

Because the standard operating procedure includes tactical information, Austin police did not release it to the Civil Rights Project to protect the safety of officers executing warrants, she said.

Harrington said that officers should only enter homes without knocking if doing so would endanger the safety of officers, residents or bystanders; give suspects time to destroy evidence; or if suspects are a flight risk. Too often, he said, officers execute warrants without knocking when there isn’t a reasonable fear that evidence will be destroyed or someone will get hurt.

“It’s dangerous for the officer and it’s dangerous for the civilian,” Harrington said.

Just before 6 a.m. on Dec. 19, Burleson County Sgt. Adam Sowders entered Henry Magee’s rural home in Somerville, about 65 miles east of Austin, without knocking as a group of investigators were executing a search warrant, The Associated Press reported. Authorities were looking for guns and marijuana, but Magee shot and killed Sowders. His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said Magee thought he was being burglarized.

Magee had a small number of marijuana plants and seedlings, and guns he owned legally, DeGuerin said, and on Feb. 6 a grand jury indicted him on a charge of possession of marijuana while in possession of a deadly weapon. However, the grand jury declined to indict Magee on a capital murder charge.

“Police officers raiding homes without notice, that is, without knocking and announcing their presence, have jeopardized their lives and the lives of Texas homeowners,” the Civil Rights Project said in a statement.

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