Here in Chesapeake, on February 4, 2009, Ryan Frederick was convicted of manufacturing marijuana for personal use and voluntary manslaughter in the death, slightly over a year earlier, of Detective Jarrod Shivers who was fatally wounded in the course of serving a search warrant on Frederick’s Portlock neighborhood home. The case has been followed in great detail from its beginning at Tidewater Liberty. It would be easy to dismiss this as just another drug related crime but there are consequences for every citizen of Virginia from this tragic incident that threatens both our safety in our homes and our rights under the Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution requires that warrants be issued only for probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation on the part of the officer requesting the warrant. However, this warrant was based entirely on the unsupported claim of a confidential informant who alleged Frederick was engaged in a far larger marijuana growing operation than later proved to be the case. What little supporting investigation was done, a check of DMV and credit information, pointed to a contrary conclusion, that Frederick had a full time job and lived within his means. Frederick had no criminal record nor had there ever been any complaints from neighbors or calls to the location. Nonetheless, the warrant was issued based on the sworn affidavit by Detective Kylie Roberts that the unsworn statement of a known criminal was accurate. The detectives instructed their informant, whom they knew to have no legal means of entry to Frederick’s property, to confirm the operation was still there, but claimed they did not know he participated in a burglary, in effect an illegal search, to carry out their order.
Three days after the burglary, the Chesapeake Special Investigations unit, essentially the drug enforcement squad, raided Frederick’s home. I do not use the term raid lightly, as it became clear from trial testimony that there was never any intention to allow Frederick to peacefully accept the warrant. The seventeen officers at the scene were divided into a primary team which would serve the warrant at the front door and a smaller team which would simultaneously ‘knock and announce’ at the detached garage behind the house where the marijuana grow operation was supposed to be located. Note that there was no suspected evidence in the home itself which could be easily destroyed.
The complex plan fell apart rapidly when put into practice. Fredrick, who had gone to bed, was awakened by banging and the barking of his two large dogs at his front door. Fearful that the thieves had returned, he armed himself and went to investigate, but, just as Frederick entered his living room, the police attempted unsuccessfully to breach the door, instead they just knocked out a portion.
Had the police set out to simulate a home invasion robbery, they could not have done a better job. Frightened, Frederick fired a shot at movement he saw through the gaping hole in his door, fatally wounding Det. Shivers, who was covering the entry team in the front yard.
No explanation has been provided by police for attempting to serve the warrant in such an exceptionally violent and hurried manner. There was no evidence that could be easily destroyed, no hostages to rescue and no reason to believe he would resist if he were aware the police were there and thus no reason to not allow him time to answer the door and determine that police were there to serve a warrant and peacefully allow them entry.
At trial, the jury accepted that Frederick did not know police were at his door, they did, however, reject his plea of self defense, establishing a dangerous precedent that home invaders must be allowed to gain entry to a home before the occupant can use deadly force to repel them. This very limited view of self defense imperils every Virginian and emboldens home invaders with the knowledge their prey will be inhibited by the prospect of prosecution if they do not sacrifice their advantage by waiting for entry to be completed. If this view of self defense stands, we might as well not lock our doors, as they no longer have any meaning.
In the months after the incident, the Chesapeake Police Department conducted a review of the case, but has not revealed any results to the public, other than their intent to purchase more effective body armor. Under our theory of government, police have only those powers granted them by the people. But the people cannot exercise their proper oversight of the police if the police continue to refuse to explain their choice to force entry when safer methods for serving the warrant were clearly indicated.
This incident leaves every Virginian at risk of unreasonable search on the word of an informant with a grudge or of home invasion by thugs confident their victims will be reluctant to act.
Worse, both citizens and police will remain in mortal peril so long as the police use tactics which force citizens to make life or death choices in mere seconds, while uncertain who is coming through their doors, and why.