March 16, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Ed. Note: In light of the recent lawsuit filed against Fresno County authorities for destroying a home during a raid, we have charged Lou Hayes, Jr. and Mario Machado to debate: “Did the Fresno Sheriff’s officers overreact in destroying the Jessens’ home?” This is Lou’s argument:
You probably don’t know the name Chanley Un. In police reform circles, he’s #ChanleyUn, as a social media hashtag memorializing his unnecessary and senseless death at the hands of overzealous, undertrained police officers. Say his name.
Except for one pesky fact: Chanley Un was not killed by the Fresno County (California) Sheriff’s Office. The reason he’s still alive is because the Sheriff’s Office used contemporary by-the-book strategies and tactics to bring about his capture on June 11, 2016.
But that’s not to say everyone is happy about what the Sheriff’s Office did that day. David and Gretchen Jessen filed a lawsuit this week against Fresno County and the City of Clovis, for property damaged by SWAT officers during the standoff.
Un was an intruder in the Jessens’ unoccupied home. Area construction workers had notified police when they believed Un broke a window to gain access to the rural home. Police arrived, confirmed a break-in, set up containment so no one could escape, and notified David Jessen. When David arrived at the home:
The owner opened the door with his key but the suspect quickly grabbed hold of the handle, pushed the door back and re-locked it, saying he was armed and would shoot anyone who came inside. The department said the homeowner admitted to owning a few guns and that some of them weren’t locked up.
When police made requests to surrender, Un replied:
(1) “I am not ready to,” (2) “come in and get me,” (3) “if you come in I will shoot.”
In addition to a hidden shotgun, David admits in the lawsuit that he:
told the Sheriff that there was a loaded .357 magnum hidden in the house that again, was so concealed that it could not be found or discovered by anyone.
And thus began what the Jessens claim was:
a full-scale, massive, military-like training session for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and the Clovis Police Department.
The emergency response included an estimated 55 vehicles, with a crisis negotiations “motor home,” an armored SWAT truck, helicopters, ambulances, and a fire truck. In the end:
the Fresno County Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit brought in a robot equipped with a camera to scope out the house. The robot was able to determine that the suspect holed up in a barricaded room. The Sheriff’s Office said SWAT members then re-deployed the tear gas in room the suspect was in. This time, the suspect finally left the room after some resistance, after which he was arrested.
But the standoff did cause considerable damage to the Jessens’ home, according to the lawsuit:
Ripped out the wrought iron door and interior door to the Jessen’s home office;
Pulled the wall of the office off the foundation;
Broke the window to the office;
Teargassed the bathroom near the office;
Shattered the sliding glass door to the home for “robot” entry;
Ripped the wrought iron door off the laundry room;
Teargassed the laundry room;
Flash bombed the laundry room and the business office that resulted in breaking six (6) windows;
Teargassed the kitchen;
Teargassed the master bathroom;
Teargassed the sewing room;
Teargassed the bedroom in the northeast corner of the home; and
Destroyed over 90 feet of exterior fencing with a SWAT vehicle.
Critics may argue this to be another example of heavy-handed militarized police behavior, similar to dynamic drug raids. This time, the Jessens claim that the purpose of the raid was to:
capture a singular, surrounded, unarmed, hungry, homeless person who posed no danger to anyone, and cooperated in leaving the neighbors residence earlier.
I couldn’t disagree more. This is not only completely reasonable, but this response might even reach the gold standard of modern tactical policing.
First, police believed (and have to assume) that Un is armed; he threatened to shoot officers. (Plus, what made David so sure his guns were hidden better than our dad’s Playboy magazines?) The situation of a barricaded gunman is actually exactly what SWAT teams were designed for. Any comparison to drug raids at this point is moot. The situation at the Jessen home more than justified a full tactical roll-out.
Second, it’s not too much to allow our cops to protect themselves by both ballistic cover and manpower. The mere wearing of helmets and heavy armor does not turn cops into militarized brutes. Nor does the sheer number of cops. (How many rescuers does it take to care for one cop who takes a bullet from the gunman?)
Third, the initial and subsequent police behavior is an exact demonstration of de-escalation. The difference is that this de-escalation isn’t a typical face-to-face conversation outside that most observers imagine, with regards to this topic; rather this is a broader strategic de-escalation or stabilization where teams of officers exploit time, distance, cover, experts, and resources. What resources, you ask? From the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office:
The current SWAT and CNT consists [sic] 1 Lieutenant, 4 SWAT Sergeants, 2 CNT Sergeants, 16 SWAT Deputies, and 8 CNT Deputies. (NOTE: CNT is Crisis Negotiations Team.)
Plus a whole lot of support staff, such as the bomb unit for their robot, police canine, and paramedics. The Clovis Police Department tactical function was also helping. These specialized resources and people do not show up and pour out of a clown car. Fifty vehicles for a barricaded gunman incident are typical. Besides, who cares how many cars the officers drove in, unless you’re worried about greenhouse gases?
Fourth, and lastly, breaching windows and doors keeps officers at a safe distance from the unknowns inside a home. The ability to observe and stay back is yet another technique to keep the dangers from escalating. The tear gas is an injury-free (but irritating!) way to move a hidden subject towards the exits. The flashbangs cause a momentary distraction to tip the scales towards the cops.
The deliberate actions of the SWAT team that day on June of 2016 followed a compassionate, and thoughtful, strategy of gradually exhausting and escalating options. As cited in the lawsuit, the team:
used bull horns, Robots, SWAT vehicles, tear gas canisters, and flash bombs and numerous weapons at numerous locations
The exhaustion of options is what makes a case for the “necessity” of police actions, even though the legal system does not require such exhaustion nor use the necessity standard. Teams that attempt less intrusive methods are ahead of their time; they go beyond the legal standard of “objectively reasonable.” But this maturity continues to prove itself as safer for both cop and suspect.
The Sheriff’s Office clearly made choices that day. They chose between destroying the Jessen home or prematurely entering the home, either by canine or human officer. The entry by police dog or man is an unnecessary jump in strategy that can unreasonably escalate the conflict.
That all too often leads to a point where the time to make decisions is compressed, bad decisions are made, and people get needlessly shot and killed. (This debate would then have been: What was the urgency? Why didn’t the cops slow things down and wait?)
Might Chanley Un have been apprehended without force or with his life intact had the very first deputy simply walked inside the Jessen home? Very possibly.
But America has been clear it doesn’t want that style of reckless, thoughtless, expedient policing. Critics continually ask police officers to slow down, call in the experts, and take an analytical (rather than fearful or emotional) approach to crises.
It’s a shame this had to happen in the home of an innocent family. But the Jessens do not get to control or filter the style of policing when such an emergency exists. David and Gretchen certainly suffered a loss that day. And a serious one at that. Their castle was violated.
The alternative is to toss proven police strategies and tactics into the wind and hope for a good outcome. By prioritizing life over property, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office allowed Chanley Un to add a few more notches to his already lengthy criminal record. And to keep his name from becoming another hashtag.
This was ultimately a good process that led to a good outcome. Job well done, my brothers and sisters.