Civil rights group calls for changes to no-knock policy


by JADE MINGUS / KVUE NEWS and Photojournalist MATT OLSEN

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Posted on February 18, 2014 at 6:26 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 18 at 6:56 PM

AUSTIN -- The Texas Civil Rights Project unveiled a new report Tuesday that studies how state law enforcement agencies approach knocking on someone's front door and announcing they are there before executing a search warrant.

The December death of Burleson County Deputy Adam Sowders is a driving force behind the report. Henry Magee shot and killed Sowders when he and other deputies entered Magee's home to execute a search warrant. Magee claimed self defense, and a grand jury did not indict him, so he won't stand trial.

"A good policy like this may be what could have prevented this tragedy," said Texas Civil Rights Project director Jim Harrington.

The Texas Civil Rights Project says many of the state's largest law enforcement bodies do not have formal policies or training in place to prevent unlawful no-knock entries.

"We are advocating this policy proactively to avoid problems that might happen and get police better trained to understand more what the Fourth Amendment obligations are," said Harrington.

The Travis County Sheriff's Office and the Austin Police Department don't have written no-knock policies, but they do have standard operating procedures that govern search warrants. Both agencies rely on judge approval of a no-knock warrant before they proceed.

"In those cases, our SWAT team has trained extensively, and they have procedures in place in how they conduct those warrants," said Travis County spokesperson Roger Wade.

The Texas Civil Rights Project has battled this issue in court. In 2009, San Antonio police officers raided the home of Lindsey Bishop and Carolyn Clark without identifying themselves as police. TCRP says no-knock entries are common and can be dangerous for officers and residents.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the officers' no-knock entry into the couple's home was unwarranted and in violation of the Constitution.