Juanita Thompson, an advertising professional, sat on a contemporary sofa in her stylish living room and wondered why a Howard County police tactical unit stormed into her home in the middle of the night to search for drugs.
"It was a really bizzare thing to happen to anyone," Thompson, 38, said yesterday, five days after police wearing hoods and helmets raided her townhouse in the 9400 block of All Saints Road in Canterbury Riding, a Laurel subdivision, and searched for illegal drugs.
Thompson said police placed her family in handcuffs for three hours.
"My family and I have never had any involvement with police, and to be met with a SWAT team is particularly traumatic," said Thompson, a former network radio executive. "The only thing I can compare it with is what I hear from people who were raped -- feeling that I was being violated."
Police raided her house at 12:45 a.m. last Friday and searched for drugs and drug paraphernalia, but found nothing. About 15 minutes later, another police unit raided the home of a neighbor, Martin Joseph Cummings, 33, and also came up empty. Cummings said police did not properly identify themselves when they burst through his bedroom door and awakened him. He said that raiders threatened him with violence and that he was held in a headlock.
During three-hour searches, police handcuffed Thompson and her three children, ages 16, 18 and 20. One of Thompson's daughters is away at college. Police did likewise with Cummings; his wife, 43; two stepsons 18 and 19; a nephew 13, and a sister-in-law 43.
Thompson is black and Cummings is a white man married to a black woman. One of his stepsons was arrested recently on drug charges, but Cummings said police did not find any drugs on him.
The incidents have prompted charges of police brutality and charges of racism aimed at neighbors in the predominantly white subdivision who reported drug activity. Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney has ordered an internal investigation of the raids.
The incidents came on the heels of a survey by the Maryland NAACP that called Howard's police department one of the five worst in the state in terms of brutality and citizen relations.
Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a county police spokesman, said officers followed standard tactical procedures during the raid. He said they wore police patches on their black uniforms and letters on their ballistic helmets identified them as officers. The officers also wore badges on the bullet-proof camouflaged vests.
Gardner said the officers handcuffed the occupants because they are trained to secure buildings after entering them to prevent injuries and the loss of evidence.
Charles Jerome Ware, general counsel for the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was disturbed by reports that police did not properly identify themselves and that they did not immediately display the search warrants.
The raids culminated more than a year of suspicion and rumors in the townhouse community.
Thompson says neighbors targeted her family simply because she is black and has four popular teen-age children whose friends visit frequently. She blamed the ordeal on racist white neighbors who hold negative stereotypes of blacks.
"I'm appalled that in this time and age, the color of your skin can still get you into trouble," Thompson said. "I know the kind of mother I am. I know the kind of household I have. I know the way I have raised my children. They have never been in trouble with the police for anything. Never."
Thompson said the reference in the search warrant to "stuff," was an incorrect interpretation by neighbors. She said visitors were asking for "Puff," her daughter's nickname.
Neighbors deny that race was a factor in the raids. They say they had been suspicious of drug activity for more than a year because they believe some visitors to the raided residences were drug users and sellers.
Debbie and Wayne Keyser monitored the activities at the Thompson home from three doors away. They said they did not witness any drug transactions but expressed no remorse for the raids.
"A lot of people in this community are real happy that there was some action taken because a lot of people thought police weren't doing anything," said Debbie Keyser, the neighborhood
police liaison, who reported the license tags of cars parked outside the Thompson home. "If they were not doing anything, it was up to a judge not to issue a search warrant."