Police to pay for error Ex-officer calls raid on his home 'pure Hollywood'

Tab put at $600 or more

Officials defend their actions as 'by the book'

March 09, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Police Department has agreed to pay for damage to the home of a former officer who was erroneously served with a no-knock search warrant in a dawn raid that damaged doors and floors in his house.

The case was dropped when investigators discovered that the person they should have been seeking was a narcotics detective in their ranks -- a detective who has been disciplined as a result of the motorist's complaint that led to the raid.

Phillip A. Banks, a 16-year police veteran who was fired from the county department in July 1994 after having an extramarital affair, was awakened at 6: 30 a.m. Jan. 6 when a team of officers from the Maryland State Police burst into his Carroll County home.

"It was a total Gestapo action," Banks, 42, said of the raid on the Westminster duplex he shares with his wife and her son. "When I heard the noise, I knew what it was -- I'd been on the other side of the door [as an officer]. I closed my eyes and put up my hands and did what I was told to do.

"They kicked open a closet door, knocked a picture off the wall. They threw the battering ram on the oak hardwood floor and scarred it up. This was pure Hollywood."

Banks estimated the damage to his duplex to be $600 or more. The damage to his family and his reputation in the neighborhood was worse, he said. State police officers brought an armored car, blocked his street, battered down his door, damaged his floor with the battering ram, brought in a police dog and frightened his then-fiancee's 4-year-old son, he said.

But the decision to serve the warrant, and the choice of state police tactical officers, were defended by the two agencies involved.

"It was done appropriately; it was done very efficiently and by the book," said Capt. Greg Shipley of the Maryland State Police, whose Special Tactical Assembly Team Elements (STATE) group served the no-knock warrant.

Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey said county police considered two factors in requesting a no-knock warrant: Banks had been charged with several offenses, including second-degree rape and assault, in the past and he had three guns registered to him.

Shipley said the state officers knew a young child was in the house before they entered and acted accordingly. "Their priority is to ensure the child is not put in harm's way," Shipley said.

Shipley said the state police served the warrant on Baltimore County's behalf because Banks lives in Carroll County -- where Baltimore County police have no jurisdiction.

In the warrant, issued Dec. 31 and signed by District Judge A. Gordon Boone Jr., the investigating officers said Banks had impersonated a police officer by stopping a motorist on Interstate 695 near Loch Raven Boulevard on Dec. 26 and threatening to ticket her after she cut him off in traffic.

But the man who stopped the woman was an undercover narcotics detective employed with the Baltimore County Police Department. Banks questioned why police didn't discover that earlier and also why a no-knock warrant had been issued for a misdemeanor offense.

"It's like, why get into a gunfight over a parking ticket?" asked Banks.

According to the warrant, the motorist told police the car she cut off was a red Pontiac Firebird driven by a man not in uniform, who pulled her off the highway by showing her a white placard that said "POLICE" in red letters. She said the man was abusive, according to the warrant: He made an obscene gesture at her, shouted at her, threatened to ticket her or call her parents, then sent her on her way.

The woman's complaint first was routed to internal affairs and then to the investigative services unit at the Towson precinct, Toohey said. When a query about the incident was broadcast on the police radio's patrol channels, one officer said, "That sounds like Phil Banks," Toohey said.

Banks' photo and four others were shown to the woman who filed the complaint and to her passenger. The driver chose pictures of Banks and another man, saying either could have been the Firebird's driver. The passenger chose only Banks' photograph, Toohey said.

Banks said he had no guns in his house, although he once owned three. He also said -- and court files showed -- that the rape and assault charges stemmed from a romantic relationship that ended badly, and that he had not been convicted.

Banks said he felt that the police investigation was not thorough. The Firebird was a departmental car, he said, and his red Firebird had been in a repair shop for months.

Toohey acknowledged that the Firebird was a departmental car, but defended the warrant decision.

"Given this man's arrest record and given the three guns [registered to Banks], the judge found probable cause for a no-knock warrant," Toohey said. "When we found out it was not Banks, we turned our attention to the narcotics detective."

Toohey said the department has agreed to pay Banks "whatever his homeowner's insurance doesn't cover" for damage inflicted during the warrant service.

The narcotics officer involved in the traffic incident that provoked the warrant to search Banks' house has been counseled, and a letter about the incident has been placed in his permanent file, Toohey said. He declined to identify the officer.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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