A SWAT team raided a family home and killed their dog because they were unable to pay their natural gas bill, according to a federal lawsuit filed this month.
According to the lawsuit, the plight of Angela Zorich and her family began at their home in St. Louis County, Missouri on April 25, 2014, when County Police officers visited the home to shame the family, publicly, for failing to pay their utility bill. After inspecting the home, and receiving a cuss from Zorich’s son, they fixed a “Problem Properties” sticker on the exterior of the window at the front of the property.
On April 28, Zorich called St. Louis County police department to find out what was going on, and what action (if any) she could take to resolve the situation. She was told that she was being investigated for two violations against the city code: failing to have natural gas or electric service. She admitted to not having a gas supply, but stated that her house did have electricity and requested a second inspection of the home to confirm her story.
But no inspection ever happened.
Instead, the very next day, the St Louis County Police Tactical Response Unit launched a devastating raid on Angela Zorich’s home.
The Riverfront Times gives a horrifying overview of the lawsuit:
Zorich was at home with several family members and her pit bull, Kiya, when a St. Louis County Police Tactical Response Unit burst through the door without knocking, according to her suit. The unit had at least five officers with M-4 rifles, supported by at least eight uniformed officers.
The officers entered so quickly, Zorich’s suit alleges, that Kiya didn’t even have time to bark. A tactical officer fired three shots into the dog, and the dog’s “bladder and bowels released and she fell to the floor.” The dog “was laying on the floor in her own waste and blood struggling to breathe. She had a gaping hole in her chest.”
Zorich claims the officers kept trying to talk to her about the natural gas, but she was focused on her dog, whom she’d raised as a puppy and who (she says) had “never shown agression to any person.”
At one point in the raid, Zorich alleges, an officer pointed his firearm at her son’s head and said “One word, motherfucker, and I’ll put three in you.”
After witnessing this horrific incident, Zorich was cuffed, arrested and entered into the custody of the local police station. The citations issued to Zorich, the behavior which supposedly justifies this militarized assault? Substandard siding, guard rail, screens, window glass and deck at the family home.
To St. Louis County, it would appear that being too poor to maintain your home to an ideal standard warrants a dozen armed men, dressed for war, to blast their way into your home and shoot your dog.
When Zorich was finally allowed home, she found a scene of utter devastation. The beds were overturned, items that had adorned her shelves had been thrown onto the floor. The place had been completely trashed.
“This is an example of police overreaching and using excessive force to get a family out of their house,” said Kenneth Chackes to the Riverfront Times, the attorney who represents Zorich.
The lawsuit alleges unlawful seizure, unlawful infliction of emotional distress (for the killing of the dog) and unlawful retaliation against St. Louis County officers, Corey Zavorka and Robert M. Rinck.
This case comes amid the growing concern over the increasing militarization of American police forces, exacerbated by a Pentagon program which gave nearly half a billion dollars in surplus military gear to local police forces in a single year. This equipment was rolled out in Ferguson, to suppress a population in protest over the killing of Michael Brown. In Wisconsin, a SWAT team raiding the wrong house threw a flash-bang grenade into a child’s crib, while the 2-year-old was in it – blowing a hole in the child. In Dallas, the SWAT team held a six-hour stand-off with an empty apartment. Meanwhile, the Detroit cop who shot 7-year-old Aiyana Jones as she slept in her grandmother’s arms after a raid on the wrong residence is back on duty.
While President Obama moved to end the program which armed local police forced with Armoured Personell Carriers, greande launchers, and M16 rifles – concerted action is required to bring the problem of America’s militarized police forces to an end. Until that action happens, egregious abuses of power like this will remain a stain on our nation’s conscience.