Friday, April 10, 2020
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Mayor Cheye Calvo Files Lawsuit Against Raid Perpetrartors, Introduces New SWAT Team Oversight Legislation
As the Maryland Gazette reported on June 25, 2009 ("Berwyn Heights Mayor Files Lawsuit Against County, State, and Sheriff"), "Eleven months after a Prince George's County sheriff's department SWAT unit raided the home of Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo, he filed a lawsuit to hold the county and state responsible and prevent future incidents." The SWAT raid, during which the mayor's two dogs - Labradors Payton and Chase - were "needlessly shot," occurred after "a package slated for delivery to the home was found to contain marijuana," though the mayor and his wife "were cleared of any involvement in drug activity, and police linked the [...] package [...] to a FedEx courier who was later arrested." However, as Reason's Jacob Sollum writes in a highly recommended piece that touches not only on this particular raid gone wrong but others around Maryland and across the country as well, the Prince George's police department "took nearly a year [...] to release its report on the incident," which concluded that, as usual, "the officers did nothing wrong" ("SWAT Gone Wild in Maryland: A Botched Raid on a Small-Town Maryland Mayor Exposes Widespread Abuse by the State's SWAT Teams"). Calvo filed his lawsuit soon after the department released its report (which did not, incidentally, include any sort of meaningful apology).
Of course, Mayor Calvo represents just one of many cases in which SWAT teams mistakenly, illegally, and/or irresponsibly storm a residence in search of major drug hauls - most of which are nonexistent. And, despite the deaths of his family's beloved dogs, Calvo remains among the luckiest of such targets; many people involved in botched raids end up dead or imprisoned (though pets too frequently find themselves among drug war casualties, as well). However, Calvo is also in a unique position of power - one from which he can promote positive changes in the law enforcement regime of which he claims he is "tired of being embarrassed," as he told the Gazette.
Indeed, Calvo did use his political might to push through legislation aimed at improving oversight of Maryland SWAT raids. In May and June of 2009, the mayor played an "instrumental" role "in getting state leaders to enact the nation's first statewide legislation to oversee SWAT team deployments," the Gazette contends. As local FOX affiliate WBOC-TV 16 reported on its website in a June 30 post ("New Laws Take Effect in Maryland"), the new law "require[s] local law enforcement agencies that deploy SWAT teams to report the deployments to the governor's office" in reports submitted "every six months." Calvo told reporters that "the law will create an oversight mechanism for deployments and make authorities more careful in how they use SWAT teams." As the mayor stated, "When you know someone is watching, you behave differently."