On Sept. 30, 2020, a SWAT team burst into the Henderson County, Indiana home of Chris Reiter under a falsely obtained warrant. Reiter’s girlfriend, Tiffany Napier, was severely injured as police ransacked the house, ultimately finding nothing before departing without acknowledging any wrongdoing on their part. Reiter has since filed a lawsuit alleging violations of his constitutional rights, and dedicated himself to helping others hold police accountable. Reiter’s efforts recently led to another arrest when he attempted to help the father of a victim of abuse by Clarksville police. Chris Reiter and Tiffany join Police Accountability Report to discuss their efforts to seek justice.
Studio: Stephen Janis
Post-Production: Stephen Janis, Cameron Granadino
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible.
And today, we will achieve that goal by showing you this video of a man who had been the victim of police brutality attempting to file a complaint against the cops who abused him. But it’s what happened when he tried to hold police accountable that is even more alarming; pushback by the same department that reveals just how hard it is for civilians to fight back against police overreach.
But before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have video evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at email@example.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please help us out by giving a like or a share or a comment. And you know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. Okay, we’ve gotten that out of the way.
Now, as I already made clear at the beginning of the show, our primary job is to hold cops accountable. It’s a process we take very, very seriously. That’s why we do our best to document and share what we learn to empower you, the people who watch us. But sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to remind ourselves why this is so important, and how many people across the country risk their liberty to do so.
It’s also worthwhile to acknowledge that holding police to account often entails pushback from other institutions like the mainstream media and politicians. Which is why I’m showing you the video you are seeing now because it tells a tale of a person who has faced not just a botched raid, false arrest, and the injury of his loved ones. He also was arrested when he later tried to help someone else hold police accountable. If it sounds like a twisted tale, it is. But it’s also a case that embodies both the spirit and the serious obstacles to watching cops, how hard it is to push back against their overreach and fight for our rights regardless, and how some people simply endure no matter what.
The story starts with this video. It depicts the moment when a Southeast Indiana regional SWAT team descended on the home of Chris Reiter in Waynesville, Indiana, on Sept. 30 of 2020. According to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Reiter, the SWAT team was serving a falsely obtained warrant searching for drugs. A warrant, we will learn later, had little to do with illegal narcotics, to say the least. But that didn’t stop the battery of officers in full battle gear from violently entering their home. Just watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Tiffany Napier: I’m coming.
Chris Reiter: Hold on.
Tiffany Napier: I’m coming. Wait!
Chris Reiter: Hold on. Hold on.
Tiffany Napier: Wait.
Chris Reiter: Hey, we’re opening it! [Commotion in background]
Tiffany Napier: Wait! Please wait!
Chris Reiter: Okay, whoa.
SWAT Officer 1: Step out!
Tiffany Napier: [Shouting in background] Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Now, it’s worth noting, no drugs were found. And, as I already said, the lawsuit alleges that police instigated the militarized tactics you are seeing over something other than a crime. But even though the search was far from fruitful, the cops still manhandled Chris Reiter’s girlfriend, Tiffany, who you couldn’t see, but you can hear, and they threatened their family dog. Take a look.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Chris Reiter: What in the hell?
Tiffany Napier: [Commotion in background] Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
SWAT Officer 1: Come out with your hands up! Hands up.
Tiffany Napier: Oh my God. Please don’t shoot him!
SWAT Officer 1: Come here. Stand behind me. Show me your hands. Put your hands up. You’re fine. Come here. Come here.
Chris Reiter: Record.
Tiffany Napier: [Wailing] Why are there so many cops here?
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Still, even though police could not find any hint of drugs, even though Mr. Reiter and his girlfriend Tiffany Napier had not broken the law, the officer continued to search and harass both of them. Just look.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Chris Reiter: What’s the warrant for, before you go in? I don’t even know what the warrant is.
Dude, I thought y’all shot.
SWAT Officer 1: No.
SWAT Officer 2: No.
Chris Reiter: I was like, what the fuck are they shooting for?
SWAT Officer 1: I think that’s why you delayed, because you were coming out [inaudible].
Chris Reiter: Well, hell yeah. I thought you were going to shoot me.
SWAT Officer 1: I know, man. I’m like, at least I’m going to be looking [inaudible] if I got it on TV. [Laughs]
SWAT Officer 2: I’ll read it after. Okay?
SWAT Officer 1: Yeah.
SWAT Officer 2: Whatever you need, man.
SWAT Officer 1: Yes, sir. [Sound of handcuffs clicking]
Taya Graham: Now, after a lengthy search turning up nothing, and after handcuffing Chris and injuring Tiffany, the officers simply departed without a word, without an apology, not even acknowledging the unnecessary risk and trauma the entire ordeal had inflicted on the family. It was only after Chris filed this lawsuit that the officers involved were finally forced to confront the truth about what had actually occurred and the real motivation behind it.
Now, Stephen has been reviewing the court documents, and I will be discussing with him later what this says about the case. I will also be talking to Chris and Tiffany about how this raid was not just suspect, but also prompted by the mainstream media’s obsession with policing and the need to use it as fodder for a boundless appetite to be entertained.
But first, I want to show you another incident that happened after the raid, an encounter with police that occurred after Chris decided it was time to dedicate his life to holding police accountable. That’s because the video you’re watching now shows Chris helping a disabled man file complaints against officers who had injured his son during an arrest.
Chris had agreed to serve as a guide for the elderly gentleman who was seeking some justice from the Clarksville Police Department; that department, he alleged, had abused his son during an illegal arrest. However, when they arrive, almost immediately, there is pushback. Just look.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Chris Reiter: Yep. Can you hear me? Oh, can you hear me? Yeah, we’ll try this one more time. We need some assistance out here, please, if there’s a clerk available. Okay. Yeah, probably. Would you mind coming out and speaking with us, sir? Well, we’re going to have to talk about an incident that we’re going to need records on.
Dispatcher: Okay. Well, you won’t be able to get any records today.
Chris Reiter: Well, I still want to request them today.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: When cops on the scene suddenly produced a warrant to arrest him, it seemed like, once again, the police department was acting in bad faith. Just look.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Chris Reiter: I made the call about two or three minutes ago. All they’ve got to do is come out and get this document. But I did request for them to give us the CAD report as well as the actual police report on that incident that they would have by [inaudible].
Oh, there you are. I’m Chris.
Police Officer: John.
Chris Reiter: Nice to meet you, John.
Police Officer: Well, would you mind turning around and putting your hands behind your back? You have an active warrant.
Chris Reiter: For what?
Police Officer: From 1999. Possession of marijuana.
Chris Reiter: You’re full of shit.
Police Officer: No, I’m not.
Chris Reiter: Yeah, you are.
Police Officer: Turn around.
Chris Reiter: I have never had marijuana.
Police Officer: Turn around. Put your hands behind your back.
Chris Reiter: All right. Joe. Yeah, he can film.
Police Officer: You’ve got to put that phone down.
Chris Reiter: I don’t even do marijuana. You guys are doing this to try and get a lawsuit, ain’t you?
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: And guess what? They were. Turns out the warrant was for a marijuana possession charge from 1999 for a man with a last name that sounds the same as Reiter, but was spelled with two Es and a D. I’m not kidding. These cops were so intent on retaliating against Chris, they tried to arrest him for someone else’s crime.
Now, Chris was eventually released after he pointed out the error, but not before police had again inflicted him with the trauma of the arrest of an innocent man. But before I talk to Chris and his girlfriend Tiffany about how all these troubling encounters with police have affected them and the consequences for their lives, I’m joined by my reporting partner, Stephen Janis, who’s been looking into the case and reviewing the documents and reaching out to police for comment.
Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: First, you’ve been reviewing the court documents related to the lawsuit regarding the raid. What have you learned?
Stephen Janis: Well, I’ve learned that this has got to be the most flimsy pretext I’ve ever seen. If you look at the lawsuit, the entire justification for the raid had to do with some property disputes over an estate. It’s absurd to go in there with flash grenades, with an AR-15, injuring people, violence. But it is really indicative of the misuse of SWAT resources, and the whole law enforcement-industrial complex obsession with militarized policing. It is really, indisputably, a bad, bad SWAT raid.
Taya Graham: Now, there was also another party working behind the scenes that may have played a role in the raid. It’s something we’re familiar with on this show, which we call copaganda. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Stephen Janis: A famous cultural theorist, Neil Postman, said, “We are going to amuse ourselves to death.” Well, in this case, it is literal, because this sheriff had been on several cop shows, including Live PD, and was trying to pitch another cop show. And the way he was going to make this great fodder entertainment was to raid these poor people’s houses and literally almost kill them. You’re looking at one of the worst amalgamations of American excess, the law enforcement-industrial complex on one side, and the criminal justice system on the other side, creating some sort of horrible suffering stew of people’s misery that’s put up and put on the screen for our own entertainment. It’s despicable.
Taya Graham: Finally, you reached out to the police regarding Chris’s second false arrest. What are they saying?
Stephen Janis: Well, they’re not saying a lot right now, but I think just watching this shows exactly what we’re talking about in the show over and over and over again: That these tools that are supposed to be able to hold police accountable, the paperwork you can fill out, the civilian review boards, are just down the street from us, they really don’t mean anything if a guy can arrest you when you show up. Police continually use the tools of law enforcement, of criminality, to retaliate against critics. And that, to me, really is about as un-American as it gets. This is very problematic.
Taya Graham: And now to get more on what happened during the raid and his efforts to hold police accountable going forward, and to hear how this has impacted both of them, I’m joined by Chris Reiter and Tiffany Napier. Thank you both for joining me.
Chris Reiter: Thanks for having us, Taya.
Tiffany Napier: Thank you for having us.
Taya Graham: First, tell me about the incident when you went to make this complaint or records request. Why were you there and who were you with?
Chris Reiter: Well, I was with the father of a victim of police brutality, an excessive force case that’s actually made mainstream. An investigation is being done by the Fedson it. But my activism that I started due to being a victim of police brutality in the past led me to creating the YouTube channel, which in turn victims reach out to me now. The person that I was with was the father, his name is Joe. His son had fled the police in Kentucky, and when they caught up to him, they lost all control. They yanked him out of the car and just beat the boy to a pulp. There were two Hardin County Kentucky officers and a couple of Post 4 state police. I believe it’s Post 4. It might be Post 5. I think it’s Post 4.
Tiffany Napier: No, it’s four.
Chris Reiter: But the beating was really, really bad, Taya. Just for example, the kid got hit 32 times that we counted with the flashlight, with the big Maglite. He was tased four times, four cycles. He had been in the car with his girlfriend at the time, which, I later learned that she was pregnant. And I was told that it was reported that she was also tased just sitting in the passenger seat, doing nothing at all, wasn’t even involved in any of it.
What I was doing was he had told me that he was intimidated by the police, and that when he did try to go and file grievances and stuff, they scared him out of there. And so I told him, hey, I’m not scared of them. I’ll go with you and I’ll file one myself. So I did. I strapped up all my camera equipment and I went with him.
Taya Graham: You were there to make a complaint on the behalf of a police brutality victim and his family. When did things suddenly go south?
Chris Reiter: Pretty much right off the bat, Taya. They weren’t very happy that we were there. As soon as they found out we were there to do a grievance – I’m talking about the police – They weren’t happy with our presence. You can tell it was not going to go real well. But the dispatcher, which is how you communicate, there’s a phone in the lobby. And to be able to contact the supervisor that we needed, you’d have to go through this dispatcher over this intercom system. The dispatcher got short with me and said that they were going to call a road patrol officer in when I specifically asked for a supervisor for nothing more than to file a grievance. I knew then that that was an intimidation factor, that they were going to send an armed officer in uniform to come and confront us. That was pretty much at the point I knew it was getting ready to go south.
Taya Graham: You were there exercising your rights to petition the government for redress of grievance. How did this turn into an arrest?
Chris Reiter: That’s a good question, Taya. I’m still not real sure how it turned into an arrest, but I’ll tell you what they said. They came out, the armed officer in uniform came out, and I was talking to the supervisor. I’d just turned in the grievance complaint form to the supervisor, filled out and done. The officer comes out and he says, you’re under arrest for a warrant from 1998. Now, I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know what he was talking about. And I hadn’t identified either. My first question obviously was how would you have a warrant for somebody…? You don’t even know who I am?
He starts presenting. He puts me in the handcuffs, and I’m under arrest at that point. But I stood on my rights. I knew not to offer anything unconstitutionally against myself. I told them, I do not give consent to a search. I told them that they’re not to shut my cameras off, so on and so forth. And they violated all of them. I was in handcuffs. He was shutting my cameras off. He was going into my pockets and getting ID. And he said, yep, that matches. Well, he was talking about my name, okay?
And Taya, I carry an audio recording device that’s about this big, and it looks like a USB drive. And the officer didn’t realize that it was an audio recorder. Later after I got out of jail, we listened to what was recorded on that device. And the officer explained, he actually admitted to a conspiracy with his supervisor at that time. I later learned what they had done. He said it into the mic.
He said that they had ran my license plates on my vehicle, which was parked in a public parking lot. I wasn’t in it. I wasn’t attached to it. But they had figured out what vehicle we came from, ran my license plates, and he admits to fabricating details to create a warrant, to create an arrest is what he had said. Long story short, it could have been an old case file that maybe was similar in nature, the name was close, but there were details that had to have been later added to create a warrant.
Taya Graham: Do you think this warrant was manufactured to retaliate for your filing complaints and having a police accountability channel?
Chris Reiter: Yes, absolutely. In my personal opinion, Taya, I absolutely think they fabricated the whole thing. There’s more details that I haven’t… Well, I’ve published them. The address that they said from the original charge? Never existed. There’s never been that address ever.
Tiffany Napier: Nope.
Chris Reiter: The whole story just falls apart on their end.
Taya Graham: How has this impacted you and Joe? I would imagine there are financial costs for you, attorney’s fees, car impound, bail, et cetera. And this must have been intimidating for Joe as well.
Chris Reiter: Joe is intimidated. He’s a strong guy. He stands up for his family and his son and his rights and all that. He’s got a good poker face. But behind the scenes, Joe is just a really sweet man who doesn’t want any confrontation with anybody. And he did get intimidated by that.
Taya Graham: This is not your first encounter with law enforcement. There was a terrible incident where your home was raided. Who came into your home, and was this a no-knock warrant?
Tiffany Napier: Well, it was Clark County Sheriff’s Department, and they were assisted by the Southern Indiana Regional SWAT team. When they came, it was supposed to be a knock and talk warrant. They were supposed to announce, talk to us, have a conversation. They executed it as a no-knock warrant. They did not announce themselves. They came at dark, and they used a battering ram. That’s how they knocked on our door.
Taya Graham: So Chris, they enter your home with a battering ram in a very aggressive way. What happened next? What did they say to you?
Chris Reiter: Well, the first thing was our dog. We had just gotten a new pitbull. He was a puppy, too. Full of excitement. Well, when they were trying to bust the door in, they weren’t successful on the first hit or two. It was obviously a battering ram. It was really hard, shook all the pictures on the walls and everything. Well, the dog went flying to the door. He ran straight to the door. Good dog. And then I’m apparently a good dog too, because I jumped straight up and ran right to the door with him. I didn’t even grab a gun or anything. I just ran to the door in my pajamas. Taya, it got scary.
I instinctively opened the door, and when I did, they fired a weapon. I’m almost positive it was an AR. I’ve got a lot of experience with guns. I’ve done a lot of shooting. I’ve shot several ARs. To me, that was the shot of an AR. Now, thankfully, it must not have been pointed at me, but the area that it was fired in is just a small eight-foot by four-foot porch, an enclosed porch. I could feel the repercussion. I felt it in my chest.
My first thought was that I had been shot because the lasers were all over my body. There were all these SWAT teams completely decked out in all their military gear, and the lasers were all over me. And then bam, the shot went off. That’s what I opened the door to was that, was the firing of the weapon with the lasers. And I immediately thought I was hit. I kind of felt my chest, and then I thought, no, no, they shot Diesel. I looked down at the dog and he was still barking away at them. He wasn’t down. I thought, okay, well, they didn’t shoot us.
Well, then I realized I had kind of instinctively pushed the door back shut again. I screamed, stop shooting, stop shooting. There’s a viewing window on our door and I put my hands in it and I said, please don’t shoot anymore. And then I started opening the door back up. Well, I could hear Tiffany coming behind me, who had started recording. I didn’t know that she was behind me recording, but I heard her come running.
And then I actually was being addressed by one of the officers who had calmed down quite a bit when I reopened the door. I was working with him. He said, put your hands behind your back. Stay calm. Turn around. I was doing all those things. I put my hands behind my back for him, and as soon as he clicked the second handcuff, this huge six-foot-four, 300 pound guy with a ponytail jumped over the rail of the porch, grabbed me in a full nelson. He had his gun in his hands, and he was dragging me out to the porch, hitting me in the head with this gun, fighting me. And I was not resisting. I worked with him as much as I could to prove to everyone that I was not fighting, but I was getting beat up, Taya, by this man.
I ended up just taking a face dive in handcuffs with this 300 pound man on me, and just straight to the concrete face first. Well, when I did, I looked up and I realized that the SWAT team members were now coming to beat me up too. They jumped in thinking he needed help, I don’t know. But they came in and they started hitting me with their guns while I was face first in handcuffs on the pavement. And Donovan, the big guy, we later learned was Donovan Harrid, he cracked me in the head as hard as he could with the butt of his pistol. And she came to the door at that point with her camera. She was holding her phone recording it. The last thing I remember actually hearing at that point was Donovan yelling, no recording, and jumping off of me and running towards her. And I’ll let her take over from here.
Taya Graham: Tiffany, I can hear in the audio that you were concerned for your animals and for Chris. Do you have any idea what was going on? And also, we hear you scream on the audio. What happened then?
Tiffany Napier: Well, I had no clue who could have possibly been at our door. And I had no clue who could have been so angry that they were making our whole house shake when they were at the door. It was pure chaos whenever I went outside. I seen that they had Chris, and I was trying to record that. And whenever they did find out, well, Donovan Harrid, right whenever he found out that I was recording, I don’t know if you can see it in the recording. Well, I seen him coming right at me. And at that moment, I didn’t have my phone in my right hand anymore. I had switched it over to my left. What he ended up grabbing whenever he was trying to grab the phone was my hand. And whenever he went to pull it, you could see if you were there, you could see him. It was all of his force coming down, and I was up on our step and he pulled me so hard that it pulled me down off of the step. And that’s whenever my T-12 was re-fractured and my right rotator cuff was torn.
Taya Graham: We hear this blood-curdling scream in the audio. When did you realize that you had a serious injury?
Tiffany Napier: Well, the pain that I felt, it was instant. Anybody that’s experienced any type of fracture or break, you know it, you feel it. You know that there’s definitely something wrong. I don’t think that I was feeling it to the full extent of the damages I received because I had a lot of adrenaline going on. There was a lot of fear I was experiencing. And once that started wearing off, then I started feeling the injuries a lot more, and that’s whenever I started asking, can you guys get me an EMT? My adrenaline’s apparently wearing off. I’m starting to really hurt. And they told me, just wait until this is over, and that’s the only answer I got. They never got me any sort of EMT.
Chris Reiter: They refused us throughout the entire five and a half hours they were here. I don’t mean to interrupt, but…
Tiffany Napier: No.
Chris Reiter: It was intense, because it was about 15 minutes in, she started saying, guys, I’m hurt. And their answer was, well, you’re going to be fine. We’ll be out of here soon. They kept saying things like that, everything’s going to be okay. You’re fine. Well, she wasn’t fine, Taya.
Tiffany Napier: I wasn’t okay.
Chris Reiter: After the event, when we finally did go to the hospital on our own – The police never did get us EMTs.
Tiffany Napier: No.
Chris Reiter: Her new image showed a for sure new big fracture as well as he had pulled her arm so hard that he had actually also hurt her rotator cuff.
Taya Graham: This is just absolutely horrifying, and I am so sorry that you went through this, but there is insult to this injury. You two were supposed to be TV content, right? This raid was supposed to end up being entertainment.
Chris Reiter: Apparently, Taya. Yeah. The sheriff of Clark County, Indiana, he is the author of the show 60 Days In. I’ve done a lot of research on this, but they got their start by having their moment of fame being on Live PD, the television show, Live PD. And then they did the eight or 10 years of Jamie’s show, Jamie Noel’s show, which was 60 Days In.
And I learned later that they were canceling the contract for 60 Days In and that this same team, this agency, the people that broke in our door, were trying out for new content so they can create a show that they call Narcoland. What they’ve been doing is they have been executing these no-knock raids in hopes to find drugs so that they can have content for their new TV show that they’re pitching to replace the TV show 60 Days In.
They’re executing these without doing their due diligence to even know if these warrants are substantial. What’s the word? Substantiated. They’re not actually substantiating these warrants. What they’re doing is they’re trying to rush to beat a timeframe that’s required for this new TV show’s content to be produced.
Tiffany Napier: Basically they’re just going out and filming and then creating their PC to fill in the blank space.
Chris Reiter: On the legal side.
Tiffany Napier: Yeah.
Chris Reiter: They’re coming backwards and trying to make a probable cause after the fact.
Tiffany Napier: Yeah, to fit their narrative.
Chris Reiter: Because they’ve already busted in people’s doors. That’s what they’re doing. If they get the slightest little inclination that someone might have drugs in their home, this team is just busting in their house and expecting to find drugs. And I’m sure the camera crew is just one vehicle behind them. And that’s how they did the Live PD when they did this area. The camera crew would follow the police. The police would initiate, and then after a few minutes of the police interaction, then here would come the camera crew out of their SUV or whatever that was following.
We didn’t see the SUV here that night, but one of the officers that came in was wearing… It was a strap. I’ll always remember it. It said Vivitar on the strap. And the camera was just this little cheap, something you would buy at Target. I’m assuming the only reason that he could have had this camera on him, because it wasn’t the professional one they used for the raids. This was his own personal little camera. The only thing he could have needed that for would’ve been B-roll content. I think they intended on recording a little bit with their own little devices, and then the camera crew was probably going to come in.
Taya Graham: Were either of you ever charged with anything?
Chris Reiter: That’s two different questions. No, we were not charged with anything. There was nothing to charge us with.
Tiffany Napier: They tried to get you for your trash can.
Chris Reiter: Not to say they weren’t making attempts. They were desperate to find a reason to charge.
Tiffany Napier: Yes.
Chris Reiter: They were doing everything from questioning her, trying to get her to incriminate me, telling her to say that I beat her up or hurt her back.
Tiffany Napier: Well, Donovan Harrid and another officer pulled me off to the side and they were like, we heard that you had hurt your back previously. I said, yeah. Well, we were told that Chris did that whenever he beat you up. I was like, no. And they kept questioning me, asking me the same thing. I was like, are you wanting me to lie to you? I was like, is that what you’re trying to get me to do is to lie? Because I’m not going to do that. But yeah.
Chris Reiter: They made a lot of attempts like that, Taya. This doesn’t compare to that, that was obviously the most egregious. But I have a trash can that I’d purchased from the city I lived in 10 years ago. And I purchased the trash can, but it still has the city name on the side of it. One of the things that one of the officers wanted to arrest me for, he was talking to the other cops. He said, his trash can’s from Jeffersonville. Can we arrest him for that? And the other cops kind of laughed at him and said, no. Well…
And then they said, but can you produce a receipt? Can you produce a receipt? I got lucky and actually had the receipt in my computer. I showed them a receipt for a trashcan from 10 years ago, but they didn’t have anything to charge us with. Okay? There was no charges whatsoever, but the warrant was actually… They fabricated the reason. They thought we had drugs. They were told by a source that I’m not going to name, but we know who it was, who lied to the detectives and said that her and I were involved in the Mexican mafia distributing and manufacturing drugs from our basement.
That was what they were really here for. But what they used was my uncle had just passed away and he left me the executor of a piece of his will. Well, actually the whole will, but specifically there was a motorcycle and trailer that he wanted to make sure that I maintained, like I chose what to do with it. Either I was to keep it for myself, or… It was his will. That was what they created their reason for being here on.
They actually ended up taking it, Taya. They took the motorcycle that my uncle had just passed away and left to me. I wasn’t going to keep it anyway, but I wasn’t just going to sell it either. I planned on honoring my uncle’s life with that motorcycle. I wanted to do a paint job in his memory and let his bike crew ride it for memorials and charity events and things like that. That was actually what I was planning on doing with it. But they took it because they had to do something to cover for their falsification of all this. They never gave it back. I never got it back, even though they knew it was mine before they ever took it.
Taya Graham: Now, I think one of the most troubling aspects of this case is not just what it says about policing as an institution, but how we are creating a form of law enforcement that literally creates more problems than it solves. What do I mean? Well, consider the often quoted and perhaps not fully understood maxim called Chekhov’s gun. It’s an idea credited to the venerated Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was known for writing famous plays like The Cherry Orchard, which depicted the trials and tribulations of life in Russia during the latter half of the 19th century. But he’s also famous for an idea he espoused to fellow writers about how to approach the act of writing itself.
In a series of letters, he described a rule that if you introduce something in the first act of the play, you better do something with it by the third. To illustrate his point, he described a pistol hanging on the wall at the beginning of a play, which he used to make the case for a rule of thumb now called, as we said, Chekhov’s gun. “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall,” he wrote, “Then in the following one, it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there.”
Now, I know we’ve just entered one of those PR moments where you’re scratching your head and saying, tTaya, why are you talking about a long-dead Russian playwright? What does Anton Chekhov have to do with policing in America in the 21st century? That’s a fair question. Let me try to answer.
I think the point Chekhov was trying to make is more profound than it seems. For him, the gun represents not just a prop, but an idea. That is, the implications of the gun are both manifold and simple. It is a vehicle for violence, and its presence portends it.
Now, I’m not a Chekhov scholar, and I’m sure there are many who will argue correctly that Chekhov’s point was that you don’t introduce things into a drama that you don’t use, that it should have meaning or purpose or it shouldn’t be there. But I think it’s interesting that this concept, however one might interpret it, was illustrated by using a gun. Because that same concept, that by introducing an idea, it ultimately must be used, can be applied to both fiction and reality, particularly when it comes to how much money and resources this country dedicates to training police with militarized tactics and the idea that spending espouses.
Case in point is the current controversy over something called Cop City. It’s a proposed $90 million training complex planned for construction on the outskirts of Atlanta that is currently facing pushback from activists and residents alike. The conflict, though, is not just over the fact that the construction is being funded by a group of anonymous donors, and it’s not solely focused on the notion that while millions are being spent on police training in Atlanta, Atlanta is suffering through one of the worst affordable housing shortages in the country. No, there is much more to the objections to this tribute to American policing set to be built on an old growth forest than just money and priorities.
What’s also raising serious concerns is the type of training police partisans hope to undertake at this facility. For example: urban combat scenarios, high speed chases, SWAT raids, sniper training, the list goes on. The point is this, to reference my favorite movie, Cop Land, this destination resort for warrior cops is going to further the idea that has made American law enforcement so problematic: that somehow, for some reason, police are in a pitched and ongoing battle with the people they purport to serve.
How many times have we witnessed unnecessary and extravagant SWAT raids like the one experienced by Chris and Tiffany, only to later learn that there was some nefarious or untoward reason to conduct it other than public safety? How many times have cops lied to conduct risky intrusions on private property and an innocent person ends up traumatized or dead? Just think of Breonna Taylor, where cops conducted an illegal no-knock raid in Memphis, Tennessee, and shot her six times, even though she had never committed a crime.
In fact, an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union found that of the roughly 45,000 SWAT raids conducted in 2014, only 7% – That’s right, 7% – involved hostage taking or barricade situations that was the original justification for SWAT teams in the first place.
My point is that building a shrine to militarize policing is putting the proverbial Chekhov’s gun in their hand and saying, you better use it. In other words, the idea of a Cop City is just as potent as the thing itself, which is why opponents of Cop City are working so hard to prevent the 90-acre complex from being built in the first place. It’s like Chekhov’s gun on the wall. An idea that starts with training police with a military mentality ends up inevitably to it being used, even if the circumstances don’t warrant it.
Like the gun on the wall, training cops to stomp around like urban warriors strapped with flash grenades and automatic weapons gives them the idea that that’s the whole point. And thus, they become a lethal solution in search of a problem. It is hard to conceive of a more anti-community policing message than Cop City. It is impossible to countenance a more pro-militarized policing statement than a training base better equipped than your average public school or community library.
What do you think is going to come from arming cops to the teeth and teaching them to rappel down buildings? Officer friendly standing on the corner handing out lollipops? I don’t think so. And that’s why Cop City and the idea behind it should be considered as more than just a debate over how much or how little to spend on policing. That’s why we need to examine the proposal to tear down an old growth forest so law enforcement can chase each other around as more than a matter of resource allocation or budgeting.
My point is that the Cop City is an idea, so to speak, about both what American policing is, and more importantly, who we are. It is an expression of the idea that there is part of America that does not have Constitutional rights, that we the people are, in fact, inevitably divided into groups: one that is policed, and one that isn’t.
I think the best way to illustrate the danger of a facility like Cop City is to refer to the words of our colleague Eddie Conway. As many of you may already know, Eddie, a former Black Panther and political prisoner, passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 76. He was a tireless advocate for the people, a community builder, and a champion of civil rights. And to me, a mentor, a friend, an inspiration, and a colleague who I will miss dearly, to say the least.
But Eddie was also a writer who published several books about his experiences in the struggle against injustice and inequity. And there is a quote from his book that was read as part of his eulogy that I’ve been thinking about ever since. It was an excerpt from his book Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther. And in it he tells a story of militarized policing that prompted a realization that would change his life forever. Eddie was serving in the army in Germany at that time. He was preparing to request to go to Vietnam to avenge the death of his friend who had died there. While he was just about to sign the papers to leave, he picked up a copy of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. And this is how he described that moment that changed his life forever:
“On the front page,” Eddie wrote, “Was the photo of a Black woman on a street corner in Newark, and in the center of the street there’s an army personnel carrier. This was a picture of the so-called Newark Riot. I saw one of those box tanks with treads. On top of that thing is a 50 caliber machine gun and a belt of bullets, the kind we used to wear around our necks, but it was pointed at the Black women. I was a medic. I knew the damage those 50 caliber bullets could do, and I knew if you pressed that button, it would go off 25 to 50 times before you could stop it. I looked at that weapon, I looked at the women. There was this little white soldier that was sitting in that tank and he was pointing it at these Black women. And I thought, ‘Something is wrong here. The army, my army, is pointing machine guns at Black women. One of them could be my mom.’ And right there, looking at that picture, I woke up.”
Goodbye, Eddie Marshall Conway. We love you and we’ll remember you forever. And thank you for helping to build a better future for all of us.
I want to thank my guests, Chris Reiter and Tiffany Napier, for speaking with me, and for their patience with me during some of my technical difficulties. Thank you both so much. And of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And of course, I have to thank my mods and friends of the show, Noli Dee and Lacey R, for their support. Thank you. And my super patrons, including David K, Matter of Rights, John R, Lewis P, Chris R, Pineapple Girl, and Shane Bushta. We appreciate you, and I will thank every single patron personally in our next livestream.
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