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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Ronita McColley "Wrong House" SWAT Raid

     A confidential informant told an investigator with the Rensselaer County District Attorney's Office that a number of unidentified people were selling cocaine out of three houses in Troy, New York. On June 23, 2008, a member of the county drug task force sent an undercover operative into one of the houses where he purchased cocaine from a known dealer. A few days later, a judge in Troy issued four no-knock nighttime search warrants based on nothing more than the snitch's tip and one controlled buy.

     At four in the morning on June 28, 2008, an explosion inside the house at 396 First Street awoke Ronita McColley and her 5-year-old daughter. Seconds later, officers with the Troy Emergency Response Team (ERT) and county drug police, poured into McColley's home over her splintered door. McColley would describe that moment to a local reporter this way: "The flash and then the police coming into my house, and me not having any clothes on...It was just a lot of men looking at me, and there was no female in sight." (SWAT teams are almost entirely made up of male officers.)

     After breaking down Ronita McColley's front door, smashing a window with the flash-bang grenade--which burned a hole in her carpet and scorched a wall--and rummaging through her personal belongings, the police found no evidence of illegal drug activity. Some of the officers thought they had accidentally raided the wrong house. But no, this was one of the addresses the snitch had identified as a cocaine site. No one got hurt that night, including McColley's 5-year-old daughter. The SWAT raiders did not apologize for the destruction and terror they had visited upon this innocent mother and her child. Moreover, no one in authority offered to replace McColley's door, the broken window, or the carpet damaged by the percussion grenade. This wrong house SWAT raid was just another case of collateral damage in the drug war.

     In the other raids that night in Troy, the police also failed to find cocaine. Officers recovered small quantities of marijuana, but didn't take anyone into custody. The entire operation, from a drug war perspective, was a failure. Criticism of these fruitless and potentially dangerous no-knock intrusions prompted an internal police inquiry into the operation. On September 17, 2008, the Troy Record published excerpts from Assistant Chief of Police John Tedesco's report. According to Tedesco, "The bulk of this drug investigation was predicated upon the word of the confidential informant absent further investigation. Arguably, the reputation of proven reliable information of the CI was established. However, this fact alone does not negate the need to substantiate the CI's claims. Surveillance or controlled buys at the locations is the seemingly appropriate investigative pursuit to accomplish this function." (This is how police administrators write. The assistant chief could have said, "We shouldn't SWAT raid a dwelling on nothing more than the word of a snitch.")

     Ronita McColley's attorney, Terry Kindlon, gave notice of his intent to file a federal lawsuit against the city of Troy. Interviewed by a Troy Record reporter, the lawyer said, "I sometimes think...that rather than doing thoughtful, thorough police work, they phoned it in, and ended up throwing bombs at one of the nicest, sweetest woman I have ever met." (The raid would have been just as wrong had Ronita McColley not been a nice person.)

     Attorney Kindlon filed the civil rights suit in October 2008, and on March 4, 2012, the judge in a New York state U.S. District Court, ruled in favor of the city and the police.

     Because this mindless police intrusion into a dwelling at night did not result in anyone being shot or seriously injured, this case did not attract much attention in the media. The fact that cases like this were not rare was the real story, a reality then ignored by local media outlets uninterested in incidents that did not feature blood and guts. Had Ronita McColley, thinking that her home was being broken into by criminals, picked up a gun and shot a cop, she would have either been killed, or shipped off to prison for life. For reporters, that would have been a much better story. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, now a little later in 2020, maybe the lamp has been lite.