A pre-dawn telephone call usually means one thing: federal agents have just come storm-trooping through someone’s home, making an arrest before the Sun comes up. A rattled mother, lover or spouse is usually making the call. They are terrified and upset. What happens next? they want to know.
I was hoping to sleep in this morning, so when my cell phone rang, I assumed it was my alarm. But the tone was not right. I could see a number I did not recognize on the screen of my cell phone. It was six a.m. Not the sort of time for a friend to call to shoot the breeze about last night’s football game. Too early, too, for a telemarketer on a random hunt for my cash.
My cell phone is reserved for family, friends and a handful of clients. Family and good friends are programmed such that their name appears on the screen when the phone rings. I am not organized enough to do likewise for clients and their families. I looked at the number this morning and went down a checklist of clients under federal investigation.
A few moments later, I returned the call. It was the mother of a client. Her son has been under investigation for months. A relative of his was arrested earlier in the year and accused of participating in the unlawful trafficking of pain medication from Florida. I have spoken to federal prosecutors about this case, making no secret of the fact that I am counsel for this boy and making clear that he was not to be interrogated without my consent.
And then weeks passed. The weeks turned into months. The months turned into the changing of a season or two. I would not be surprised if my client’s family began to think the calamity of a federal indictment would pass them by. The feds are a slow-moving beast.
"About twenty DEA agents came to my house this morning," the mother said. "They took" her son.
Some part of me wants to be angry about this storm trooping before dawn. I know the drill. There was a briefing. Armed men and women were given a description of the client and of the home they planned to burst into. They donned raid dark raid jackets, with large letters announcing to the world that they were federal agents. They planned this coordinated attack, scheduled for the pre-dawn hours to enhance the element of surprise. The raid was planned and executed with military precision. I assume there is some DEA briefing book or memo on how to terrorize a family just so when making an arrest. Some bureaucrat spent the first few hours of his day, or perhaps it was the concluding hours of his yesterday, going over a checklist, making sure this raid went just right.
I suspect the agents assembled harbored secret visions of glory. They were all Seal Team 6, for a few glorious moments planning the take down of Osama bin Laden. Adrenaline must rage just before you rouse a sleeping family at gunpoint to demand to know where their son is sleeping.
I’ve had many reports from families terrorized in this manner. Mothers call enraged about being held at gunpoint, about rude men barking orders, about siblings of the target crying while agents trash a home. The law enforcement response reads like a bad police report: Officer safety requires a raid of this sort. Drug dealers are known to be armed and dangerous. Blah, blah, blah.
There may be cases in which raids such as this are necessary. Cases involving a target who has no idea the feds are looking for him. Targets who are known to be dangerous. Men and women accused of violent crimes.
But that was not this case. The feds have known about my client for months. They talked to him once before he was represented. I contacted the feds to ask to turn him in when and if things came to the point of an arrest. In diplomatic terms, relations with the foreign and now warring powers were established through the back-channels that experienced lawyers always use in cases such as this.
So why was the mob-scene necessary?
I suspect it has to do with three things: First, the agents need target practice with live rounds. You can practice a raid as many times as you want, but until you have done a few with unpredictable people terrorized beyond their wits, you have not been in the sort of battle that hardens combat nerves. I suspect unnecessary raids of this sort are given a sub silencio justification among the DEA top mutts as a means of generating practice for the agents.
Next, I think it is regarded as a morale-boosting exercise. The agents have now all drawn blood together. They have stormed the citadel of an American home, crossing a threshold that used to be regarded as sacred. I suspect every federal agent in the land has a little act hunger this week, a craving for the bold stroke: we riled up law enforcement dogs with all the talk of 9/11 and new terrorists in their midst. Was this morning’s raid a little psychodramatic therapy for the pistol-toting class?
Finally, the element of terror, for this assuredly was an act of terrorism in so far as the consequences for the client, his family and friends were concerned, undermines the will to resist of those potentially at risk for similar treatment. Word travels on the street. A couple dozen feds bursting through the door before Sunrise is a powerful statement about who owns the streets.
Notice that among the rationale for this thuggery there is no claim that this raid was justified. It was not.
It used to be the case in Connecticut that when a defense lawyer established diplomatic relations with the feds on behalf of a client, a quiet means of turning the client in when charges were lodged could be arranged. You simply appeared with your client at FBI headquarters, or some other location, and handed him over. There was no raid. No waste of tax dollars. (I wonder if we will get a press release on the overtime costs associated with this raid.) No senseless terror for families. No glory and chest-thumping for eager agents.
But times have changed. David Fein, the new United States Attorney, won’t permit line prosecutors to make agreements to turn folks in. This hotshot, who cut his teeth in the Southern District of New York, where U.S. attorney’s feast on fear and hostility, wants to make his mark in Connecticut. He reserves the right to raid and compel, in high-profile cases, perp walks before news crews tipped off to the tantalizing prospect of a man in chains. Morale is low among the old-guard in the U.S. Attorney’s office. All this pimp-waling for justice strikes a raw nerve.
I know federal agents read this page. I get verbal raspberries from them every now and again over some taunt or sneer. So I hope this gets posted on a DEA/FBI bulletin board: Shame on you people. This morning’s raid was a waste of money, an abuse of trust and a sad sign that the Fourth Amendment does not mean what it once did. I hope you don’t feel like heros this morning. You are not. You are gun-toting thugs hiding behind badges. If you wanted my client, all you had to do was call me and we would have appeared at the time and hour of your choice. You knew that, and yet you chose to ignore it. Why?