Citing death of Breonna Taylor, state's attorney wants to ban no-knock warrants in Baltimore

BALTIMORE — Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has directed city prosecutors not to authorize “no-knock” warrants, saying the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, demonstrates these warrants are too risky.

“The ends do not justify the means,” Mosby wrote her staff Wednesday. “Seventeen states do not allow this tactic, and our office will also no longer sign off on this dangerous measure.”

Police are usually required to knock on the door and announce their presence when serving an arrest warrant. But officers may request written approval from a judge to conduct a no-knock warrant if they believe that announcing their presence could cause evidence to be destroyed or people to be hurt. It’s up to a judge to approve or deny that request.

Mosby’s order drew swift criticism from the Baltimore Police union. Union President Mike Mancuso urged city judges to continue to use their discretion and approve no-knock warrants when justified.

“A judge should be the only person who decides whether a no-knock is warranted, after a thorough review of the probable cause in the affidavit,” he wrote. “This action is completely irresponsible and an overreach, though predictable. We urge all Baltimore City judges not to get caught up in the agendas of others, but to continue to follow the facts as presented.”

The tactic of no-knock warrants has drawn fierce criticism around the country after Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, was shot and killed in her home by Louisville Police officers serving a no-knock narcotics warrant last March. Taylor’s boyfriend has said he fired one shot, believing an intruder was breaking in. An officer was wounded in his leg.

Police opened fire and shot Taylor multiple times. She died in the hallway; her boyfriend was not hurt. Police found no drugs in the house. Last month, a grand jury in Kentucky indicted one of the officers on charges of wanton endangerment for firing aimlessly into the wall. None was indicted on charges for her death. That decision incited protests in the streets and led about 75 people to march through Baltimore.

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Meanwhile, state and local lawmakers took up measures to ban or restrict the use of no-knock warrants. In Baltimore County, Councilman Julian Jones has pushed legislation to limit the use of no-knock warrants there. His attempts at reforms have met resistance from county police. Some officers defend no-knock warrants as an important tool in dangerous situations, say, if a suspect has hostages or guns.

“One of the most dangerous places for a police officer serving a search warrant is in front of a door, knocking,” Mancuso wrote online. “This action gives violent criminals the opportunity to arm themselves, which should never occur. The element of surprise should be afforded to police whenever the circumstances permit.”

It was not immediately clear how frequently no-knock warrants are approved in Baltimore. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore Police said the office doesn’t track the number. A spokeswoman for Maryland courts said she would look into whether the judges track when they grant approvals.

Patricia DeMaio, the city’s deputy state’s attorney of major crimes, acknowledged prosecutors don’t have authority to stop police from executing a no-knock warrant approved by a judge. DeMaio, however, said Mosby’s directive makes clear the office does not approve of such tactics.

“We work with our law enforcement partners and we have the same goal in mind, which is the pursuit of justice. But we also have to look at what the citizens of our country are saying that they want,” DeMaio said. “We can’t sit silently.”

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In 2012, a Reisterstown man attacked an officer with a sword when police rushed into his home on a no-knock warrant. They shot and killed him. Police were searching for a suspect in an attempted murder.

Prominent Baltimore defense attorney Warren Brown said officers have plenty of discretion on how they execute a warrant, regardless of whether it’s knock-and-announce or no-knock.

“If they don’t get a no-knock, they will go and tap lightly at the door and announce very quietly that it’s the police,” he said. “No one says they have to scream it.”

Brown said determined officers and judges will still find reason to justify a no-knock warrant. Still, he recognized Mosby’s message.

“It’s something that is consistent with the mindset of a lot of people, that this may be a little anachronistic,” he said, “That this is a dinosaur.”

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(The Baltimore Sun Justin Fenton contributed to this article.)

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©2020 The Baltimore Sun

Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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