A controversial raid by Howard County police of two Laurel homes last October has prompted the county police department to revise its policies for conducting drug search and seizure operations.
However, a police internal affairs investigation concluded that police tactical officers did not use excessive force while searching the homes of two families, Chief James N. Robey said yesterday.
Officers stormed into the homes early Oct. 19 in response to complaints from neighbors about suspected drug activity. They found no evidence of drugs in either home.
A tactical unit entered the home of Juanita Thompson in the 9400 block of All Saints Road in the Canterbury Riding section of Laurel at 12:45 a.m. Oct. 19. Officers placed her and three children in handcuffs for three hours while they searched for drugs, she later complained.
Fifteen minutes later, officers entered the nearby home of Martin Joseph Cummings and handcuffed him, his wife, two sons, a nephew and a sister-in-law while searching for drugs. He charged that officers used excessive force when they entered without identifying themselves, placed him in a headlock while he was in bed, and threatened him.
Police officials said the officers identified themselves to Cummings. A spokesman said they followed procedure when they held him down in his bed because they were unable to tell whether he had a weapon.
Still, Robey said, the incidents demonstrated a need for changes. In conducting raids under the new procedures officers would:
* Gain approval from a sergeant and an officer who ranks at lieutenant or higher before conducting a search and seizure.
* Consider the time of day when making raids to avoid late night or early morning searches when possible.
* Decide which of three entry procedures to use in entering a building. They range from normal entries, where there is little reason to fear evidence may be destroyed to high risk entries, where police believe there could be danger to officers, occupants or bystanders.
* Use discretion when handcuffing people. If police believe the search will take a long time, arrangements should be made to place the occupants in a secure room without handcuffs if circumstances permit. Officers could avoid cuffing small children and elderly people.
"What we're saying with this is let's not make things more inconvenient than we have to," said Chaney, adding that the procedures would not endanger officers or make it more difficult for them to carry out searches.
He said he did not know whether the new procedures would have made a difference in the two Laurel raids.
Thompson, who said she is considering civil action against the police department, said she viewed the policy revision as an admission of wrongdoing.
"It's contradictory to me," said Thompson, who nevertheless added that she welcomed the changes. "If you didn't think you were wrong, why do you feel a need to institute new policies and procedures."