Is American law enforcement out-of-control?

By Tom DeWeese
web posted October 11, 1999

A new independent investigation and two congressional committees are now vigorously digging into what really happened in Waco, Texas in 1993 at the compound of the religious sect called the Branch Davidians.

Amidst all the renewed hoopla over astonishing confessions of the failure to reveal its use of incendiary weapons by the FBI, a painful reality is beginning to take form: law enforcement may be a growing threat to the Constitutional liberties of all Americans. The main official in charge of protecting our liberties is Attorney General Janet Reno. She has failed and perhaps it is time to call for her removal from office.

Janet Reno's rule at the Justice Department has overseen the destruction of the FBI's once pristine reputation as the world's number-one law enforcement agency. Reno is one of the top officials who must also be held responsible for the "militarization" of law enforcement. Reports are now being investigated that the FBI used members of the Army's crack "Delta Force" in the siege at Waco. Such use is a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids the use of U.S. military personnel in civil law-enforcement activities.

There are specific reasons why wise lawmakers of the past forbade such activity. They feared the creation of a totalitarian state. Using military force that was created to bring mass destruction on our nation's enemies into a local police action was considered to be extreme over-kill and dangerous to the civil liberties of the citizens of this nation. The history of that justifiable concern can be traced directly back to George Washington when he surrendered his military power to the civilian government after the Revolution. Washington knew it had to be done to prevent the creation of a military dictatorship.

Under the Justice Department rule of Janet Reno, such concerns have been waived. Not only is the military being used in more civil actions but civil law enforcement also is being beefed up with military equipment representing massive fire power, including: helicopter gun ships; automatic weapons; flash-bang grenades; special body armor; helmets; night vision goggles and high-tech listening equipment. A former police chief in New Haven, Connecticut says he was, "offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted." It's all justified as a way to protect us against terrorists and to fight the drug war.

Following the examples of FBI actions in Waco and the assault on Randy Weaver's family at Ruby Ridge, federal, state and local police forces apparently now feel free to use this massive fire power as a regular tool in their law-enforcement practices.

Reports are growing of law enforcement's abuse of power at all levels of government involving military-style raids on private homes. Many, using illegal or questionable search and seizure practices result in property destruction, destroyed families and even death of innocent victims. And It's all happening on Janet Reno's watch.

Most Americans have now heard the shocking reports of deadly force used by the FBI and the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) during the siege of the Branch Davidians. Eighty two members of the sect, including women and children, were killed when federal agents set fire to their compound. Since 1993 the FBI had denied using "pyrotechnic" tear gas canisters, thought to have started the fire. However the government was forced to admit that such power was used when proof recently surfaced.

Evidence has emerged to demonstrate that Justice Department officials blatantly lied about: the use of the canisters; the fact that agents fired shots from helicopter gun ships; that phone lines were cut so sect members couldn't communicate with agents; and agents actually blocked escape from the fire by shooting into doorways when Davidians tried to run out of the inferno. Reno denied it all until video tape and eye-witness accounts caught her.

The Waco assault is not the first time that such massive fire power has been used against Americans who have not even been charged or convicted of a crime.

Randy Weaver's innocent wife was shot and killed when more than 400 FBI and BATF agents descended on their home. Mrs. Weaver was simply standing in her doorway holding her infant child. As her body lay dead in the house, her husband was taunted by agents over a loud speakers as they said, "Good morning Mrs. Weaver. We had pancakes for breakfast, what did you have?" The agents also shot Weaver's fourteen- year-old son in the back.

The war on drugs is being used more and more as an excuse to violate citizen rights, particularly the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unwarranted search and seizure.

Most recently, a police SWAT team in Compton, California broke into a home about 11:00 p.m. on August 9, 1999. They killed a retired grandfather by shooting him twice in the back. They then handcuffed his widow to a chair as she sat wearing nothing but panties and a towel. Six others were taken into custody. None were charged with a crime. Police thought the house was being used as a mail drop by a drug ring. The charges were false.

In 1998, Houston police shot and killed Pedro Oregon Navarro during a drug raid of his house. Police were there because of a tip from a man arrested for public drunkenness. The drunk told police he would lead them to a drug dealer if they let him go. Without corroboration or a warrant, police raided Navarro's home and shot him twelve times because Navarro went for a gun to defend himself during the 1:40a.m., military-style raid. Navarro wasn't a drug dealer.

A few years ago, in Pennsylvania, agents burst through the door of the home of Harry and Theresa Lamplugh early in the morning and stuck machine guns in their faces. Without ever telling the Lamplughs why, or who they were, agents spent over six hours ransacking their home, taking personal papers and over $15,000 in possessions. At one point the agents decided to take a break and have a pizza party in the home. They tossed pizza and half empty drink cans about the house. In short, they trashed the home. Meanwhile, the Lamplughs were not permitted to dress, eat or even go to the bathroom. As they left, one agent stomped the family cat to death and kicked it under a tree. No charges were ever filed against the Lamplughs. The case has been sealed and no property has ever been returned.

This is law enforcement out-of-control and most of it has happened under Janet Reno's authority. Offending agents or local police officers in these and many other examples of abuse, have not been dismissed or demoted. Reno has taken no action to stop it.

Of course Reno isn't the only one to blame for this blurring of lines between civilian law enforcement and the military. Over the last several decades, Congress has been providing legislation to bring U.S. military equipment, intelligence, and training into civilian law enforcement. The result is a changed mindset by local police forces. "To Serve and Protect" had been the motto of local police across the nation. But today, a paramilitary attitude is replacing it. Police with such training begin to look at citizens as potential perpetrators instead of individuals with Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Instead of protecting the freedom of the community to live their lives and move about freely, the police force seeks to lockdown and restrict activity. It becomes a matter of course for local police forces to lobby their city councils for gun laws to disarm the citizens, for the safety of the cops who may want to come crashing into a victim's home unannounced.

It is the job of the military to use violent force to destroy its enemy. It is the job of a civilian police force to protect the rights of due process for citizens and get them into a court of law where locally elected judges and a jury of peers can decide a law breaker's fate. If liberty is to be preserved, the two approaches don't mix.

Many things need to be done to stop this abuse. Asset-Forfeiture laws need to be repealed or changed. Congressman Henry Hyde is fighting to achieve this. Asset- Forfeiture laws are being used by local and state police forces to take assets from criminals. They use the money to buy more equipment and beef up local police forces even more. The trouble is, the laws allow them to take property used in a crime, even if the perpetrator didn't own the property. For example, in Washington, D.C. an elderly woman had her house taken away because her grandson was dealing drugs out of it. She was innocent, but paid the price. Asset Forfeiture is a "growth product" for police. They want all they can get.

However, Congress continues to move in the wrong direction on the militarization of the police force. The current Defense Appropriations bill carries language that will strengthen military involvement in civil law enforcement, in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Among other things, the bill allows military assistance to civilian law enforcement on a cost-free basis. Such provisions will only assure that requests for such assistance will become more commonplace. The war on drugs and terrorism is blinding our law makers to their first duty - the preservation of individual liberty. It must be stopped.

Why then, blame Janet Reno for the growth of out-of-control police enforcement? Because under her watch such violations have not only grown more frequent, but her targets of massive reaction has become curiously selective.

For example, while Reno's troops bring down massive firepower on the Branch Davidians and police storm troopers break down the door of the Lampughs, the open violence of environmental terrorists has been ignored. In fact, the FBI's files on such groups are virtually empty. Reno has specifically ordered the FBI to stay away from such investigations.

Meanwhile avowed green terrorist groups like Earth First and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) openly call for death of American citizens and the destruction of private property. In 1998, the Earth Liberation Front caused over $12 million in damages after it lit fires to destroy a new hotel in Vail, Colorado. The ELF took the action after it lost a court battle to stop the construction of the hotel.

The Vail attack was only the biggest and most visible attack by these radicals. Anyone living in the West knows that environmental terrorism has been going on for years. Ranchers and timber companies have been the biggest targets, sustaining millions of dollars in damages.

People for the ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) and its underground sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have been involved in violent activities as well. ALF has caused millions of dollars in damage to the fur industry, medical testing labs and is literally blackmailing McDonalds with threats of violence.

On June 18, 1999 Earth First and the Anarchists of Eugene staged a violent riot on the streets of Eugene, Oregon. The stated purpose was to "take the streets back from the automobile." Windows were broken out of local stores including a Taco Bell, a leather store and the local branch of U.S. Bank. When one gray-haired motorist exited his vehicle to confront the protesters, he was immediately surrounded by the rioters who then gleefully smashed his car's rear window. He ran for his vehicle and drove away to the cheers of the crowd, with one rioter yelling, "Either stop or we'll beat the hell out of you."

Police found themselves in direct confrontation with violent rioters and several police cars were destroyed. Yet there was no national publicity about the incident. More importantly there was no federal investigation. The rioters openly announced their plans when over three hundred of their lot met to organize in a meeting held at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Such terrorists seem to remain immune to police notice. If massive fire power and helicopter gun ships can be deployed to a private home simply on suspicion of illegal activity, why is action not then taken against a mass meeting of groups who have openly published their intentions to perpetrate violence against innocent victims, private property and whole towns? Is it because the political agenda of those terrorists and the nation's Attorney General is the same?

These are the reasons why Janet Reno must be held accountable for the growing threat of civil law enforcement. Under her watch, the Justice Department is quickly becoming a tool for very unsavory and questionable forces in the nation. She is a threat to the First Amendment protecting the free expression of religion. She has ignored the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

She is a threat against the Fourth Amendment that guarantees that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated." She has protected and prevented the investigation of violent elements in the nation. There are many problems with the nation's law enforcement. The first step in fixing them must be the firing of Janet Reno.

Tom DeWeese is the president of the American Policy Center, Herdon, Virginia, a grass roots, activist think tank. It maintains an Internet site at

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