Md. panel hears testimony on police raids

March 04, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

Karen Thomas says she remembers the smallest of details about a Howard County SWAT team raid on her Ellicott City home in 2007, down to the time displayed on a clock as she heard her 10-year-old dog start barking.

In testimony yesterday before the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Thomas told how six masked men with guns had crashed into her home. Thomas was forced to the ground, handcuffed and heard a gunshot from the family room where her younger son was sleeping.

"You can't imagine, an unfathomable mother's nightmare had become my ordinary Friday-morning reality," Thomas told the panel in Annapolis.

The Senate committee is considering a bill that would require police agencies to improve recordkeeping on the deployment of tactical teams.

Thomas' younger son was safe, but her dog was dead. Her elder son, who was not there when the home was raided, was later arrested on charges of selling a gram of marijuana to an undercover officer, she told the panel.

Others witnesses told of similar incidents, including Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights in Prince George's County, whose two dogs were killed during a July raid on his home.

Calvo's account has received international attention, and supporters of the bill credit his case for focusing attention on the issue.

"Reporting alone is not going to address the issue. It needs to be coupled with additional efforts," Calvo said after the hearing. "But without good data and oversight, we won't be able to understand the patterns and the problems. As a result, we won't have that information in hand when we try to craft better public policy."

Eight of the 11 committee members say they support the bill - increasing the likelihood that the measure will go to the Senate floor for a vote.

Some who represented law enforcement agencies said that better SWAT training, not increased reporting requirements, would lead to improvements. Maj. Sam Billotti of the Washington County sheriff's office apologized to those who have been traumatized. But he said he opposes the bill because "all it's going to do is collect numbers."

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