Fault Lines
19 September 2017
fresno home destruction

Debate: Fresno Cops Went Beyond Overkill While Raiding Casa Jessen

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 Mario Machado and Lou Hayes, Jr. to debate: “Did the Fresno Sheriff’s officers overreact in destroying the Jessens’ home?” This is Mario’s argument:

Do Not Use A Cannon To Kill A Mosquito

–Confucius, “The Analects of Confucius”

Forget the proverbial cannon. The main point of contention in a case pending before a Californian court is whether the city of Fresno was justified in bringing a real-life platoon to a farmer couple’s home to smoke out one unarmed homeless man, and whether destroying the home in the process was “excessive, unreasonable, violent, destructive […] intrusive […] unnecessary and unreasonable.”

Those are some explosive adjectives, indeed. And these commandos were backed up by, and received cover from, quite the arsenal. From the couple’s lawsuit:

To arrest a singular, unarmed, hungry, homeless person the Fresno County Sheriff’s and Clovis Police Departments deployed and utilized the following: a. Utilized over 50 vehicles; b. A K-9 unit; c. Two helicopters; d. Two Ambulances; e. One Fire Truck; f. A crisis Negotiation Team arriving in a large motor home, that Plaintiffs are informed and believe included communications equipment and other support equipment; g. A Robot; h. SWAT Team; and i. Back Up SWAT Team — Clovis City Police.

Not one, but 2 SWAT Teams?! Was the real-life Hancock holed up in the couple’s home? Anything is possible, but that seems unlikely, given that the only weapons in the house were David Jessen’s 2 unloaded shotguns, and a hidden .357 magnum, none of which were ever displayed or found by the illegal entrant.

As for the man’s (super)powers to be deployed against these officers who were suffering from a not-too-rare, but still severe, form of cowboyitis? The lonely mendicant had sticky fingers. No, not that kind of sticky digits.  He had the kind of sticky fingers that enabled him to take one half-tomato, an ice cream bar and some milk from the couple’s home.

Guess that brief sojourn inside the couple’s home turned out to be a fool’s errand, at least when it came to getting some real loot. But maybe he was not just lonely, but very hungry too.

Instead of calling for the Salvation Army, the local constables summoned every law enforcement officer in their rolodex – and their brethren – along with fire trucks, robots, and a crisis negotiation team. Yes, hindsight is always 20/20, but all it would’ve taken for the negotiation team to put an end to this “crisis” would’ve been a bullhorn and a meatball hoagie from Wawa.

But, ‘twas not to be. The cops playing soldiers arrived with their biggest guns, and let their inner A-Team take over, other people’s property be damned. Also from the couple’s lawsuit:

Ripped out the wrought iron door and interior door to the Jessen’s home office; b. Pulled the wall of the office off the foundation; c. Broke the window to the office; d. Teargassed the bathroom near the office; e. Shattered the sliding glass door to the home for “robot” entry; f. Ripped the wrought iron door off the laundry room; g. Teargassed the laundry room; h. Flash bombed the laundry room and the business office that resulted in breaking (6) windows; i. Teargassed the kitchen; j. Teargassed the master bathroom; k. Teargassed the sewing room; 1. Teargassed the bedroom in the northeast corner of the home; and m. Destroyed over 90 feet of exterior fencing with a SWAT vehicle.

It appears that the officers’ tear gas canisters got an old-fashioned house tour of the Jessen abode. Yes, the officers stayed away and decided to never jump the gun (no pun,) while they went through canister after canister, after flash bomb. Guess things could’ve turned out worse if they’d barged in on the homeless guy.

What’s almost as shocking as the officers’ blitzkrieg approach to negotiating with the intruder obliterating the property is that nothing in the Courthouse News article or the couple’s lawsuit indicates that the homeless man was harmed. Either he was very lucky, the cops and SWAT team were really only using the Jessens’ lot for target practice and training exercises, they’re really bad shots when it comes to tear gas (!), or a combination of all three.

For what it’s worth, the subheading for the chapter titled “Risk Assessment” for the SWAT California POST Operations Manual states that “agencies should conduct a threat assessment to determine the appropriate response and resources necessary, including the use of SWAT.” And then there is the guide titled “SWAT Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies,” authored by the important-sounding “National Tactical Officers Association,” or NTOA.

Throughout that document, the NTOA advises that its intent is “to provide support for existing teams and to enhance the physical and legal safety of team members engaged in a department-sponsored, high-risk and potentially life-threatening activity.” Maybe that day it was opposite day in Fresno for law enforcement, or the officers simply said to themselves “to hell with all that guidance.”

At best, the officers threw proportionality out the window, and at worst, used private property to stage a full-on field training exercise. It may help their future military law enforcement endeavors should they heed the advice of a true maître de guerre from the Far East:

Great results can be achieved with small forces

Sun Tzu, “The Art of War.”

Rebuttal: Lou does a damn fine job describing how the officers showed restraint while fishing Un out of the house, unharmed. However, I find it difficult to to see that full-on assault on the Jessens’ property that left it uninhabitable as necessary given the circumstances, and find it almost impossible to see that as de-escalation.

When you start with a homeless, unarmed man, and end up with $150 thousand in damages after you’ve sent a small battalion to the scene, with helicopters, that is the opposite of de-escalation.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Larry Brautigam
    16 March 2017 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Hero first responders.

    1033 children.

    ROE looser than any military, with shit recruit screening or training.

  • SCG
    16 March 2017 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    It definitely is the opposite of de-escalation. It is also business as usual in America today. Irregardless of the court’s ruling, the real losers are the tax payers.

    • Lou Hayes, Jr
      16 March 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      We are going to disagree what constitutes de-escalation, most likely. Curious as to what you would imagine as de-escalation in this particular incident…

      • Mario Machado
        16 March 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

        Good question Lou. I’m not sure, but what I’m positive about is that the scorched earth approach in this case was not necessary. Let’s start with all the vehicles, trucks. I know you point out that they can’t all get there in a clown car, but it’s still excessive.

        This was way too much, on a micro level. On a macro level, this is not a way to gain the public’s trust. Little things matter: if cops dress in military apparel, they will look more like an invading army than a helping hand (If the pic on top of the Courthouse News article is a picture of Un and a cop dressed in fatigues, I need say no more). So let’s forget about Un, as the ripple effect of that raid is what makes the cop-citizen relationship erode.

        It’s the little things that matter too. If an invading army of cops treats people like civilians instead of citizens, it makes things much worse. That is why I really enjoyed Norm Stamper’s cross, as he echoed that sentiment: http://faultlines.us/fault-lines/cross-ex-seattle-chief-norm-stamper-still-breaking-ranks/13456

        I ask you: do you think all of this was necessary to get to where they got?

        • Lou Hayes, Jr
          16 March 2017 at 6:54 pm - Reply

          Necessary is a mechanical standard, that can only be possibly confirmed through crystal balls and time machines…having exhausted all other measures. What we have in this case is a relative exhaustion of observation, surrender, negotiation, expulsion, and other techniques — all of which prevented face-to-face contact that could have gone very, very badly for both Un and cops. Things like medical contingencies, relief (due to stress induced fatigue), supervision, oversight, logistics all require people. And yes, it looks like a battalion of troops. But each of these tactical elements work together to prevent that unnecessarily forced face-to-face contact that may end in death. Was it necessary? I say probably.

  • Nick Selby
    18 March 2017 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Another issue that is sadly overlooked by Mario and the commenters is the level of threat from the barricaded man. You make the critical mistake of conflating what we learned later with what the officers knew at the time. If I am at the front door of a house and someone tells me that there are guns in the house, and they are unsecured but they are “hidden”, I simply must assume that the hiding place has been discovered. I would be a fool to do otherwise. Any unsecured weapons in the house simply must be considered to be in the control and possession of the barricaded subject – especially so when the subject states that he will shoot people who enter, as was the case here. I submit that any commenter who suggests that this fundamental tactical presumption is unreasonable has simply never been in a situation in which his life depended on such a tactical assumption proving correct. “Alone, hungry, afraid, and unarmed” is an assessment made from the comfort and luxury of time and distance from the dynamics of the event unfolding. If you disagree, I would respectfully ask you to ask yourself whether you are qualified (from a standpoint of experience and training) to form and hold the opinion you have arrived at. If so, great. If not, I ask you to reconsider your certainty.