THE HIDDEN FORCE BEHIND GEORGIA'S MOVE TO LEGALIZE NO-KNOCK SEARCHES
Unanimous Public Opposition at Senate No-Knock Search Warrant Hearings
On March 4, a Senate Non-Civil Judiciary Committee passed Chairman Jesse Stone 's SB159 bill that proposes to legalize no-knock searches for the first time in Georgia history. Two days earlier the committee heard testimony but did not vote on SB45 , Sen. Vincent Fort's bill that also introduces no-knock searches. Both bills mirror no-knock search language in Rep. Kevin Tanner's HB56 which passed a subcommittee hearing two weeks prior. Stone submitted his bill immediately after citizens convinced Rep. Tanner to suspend pursuing his bill during the session due to growing public concern. Stone then scheduled a hearing for his bill the day after it was read in the Senate. SB159 may have slipped through with no opposition but weather threats caused state offices to close and the hearing to be delayed.
During the rescheduled Senate hearings no member of the public or law enforcement spoke in favor of the bills. All members of the public, two lawyers, a law enforcement officer and even the family member of a victim testified against it. So many members of the public signed up to testify that they ran out of time at the first hearing on Monday. Most members of the public wore stickers indicating opposition to the bill and they sat directly in the first two rows in front of the Senators. Nevertheless, 7 senators voted for SB159 after amending it and it passed out of committee.
Illegal No-Knock Raids Result in in Murder, Maiming
Awareness of Georgia no-knock searches escalated in 2014. On May 28, a 19-month-old toddler, Bou Bou Phonesavanh, was critically injured in his Habersham Co. home when deputies broke in expecting to arrest someone who had made a $50 meth sale to an informant. Reports indicate that Nikki Autry issued an illegal no-knock search warrant signed by Judge James Butterworth while Deputy Charles Long hurled a flash-bang grenade into "Bou" "Bou's" crib causing severe injuries to his face and chest. Over 35,000 people signed Sen. Fort's petition to pass "Bou" "Bou's" law that would require officer training and raise a standard from reasonable suspicion to probable cause. But SB45 has no provision for officer training and it actually would lower the standard in Georgia code from illegal to allowable with probable cause.
On Sept. 24 in Dublin Georgia, Laurens Co. undercover deputies broke into the home of David Hooks, a 59-year old construction company owner and grandfather. They fired at least 17 shots inside, some through walls, and Hooks died from multiple wounds . He was shot twice in the back while lying on the floor, according to family attorney Mitchell Shook. Hooks, a hunter, offered no known resistance even though he and his wife Teresa, thought they were being burglarized again. Sheriff Bill Harrell indicated that deputies were justified in killing Hooks because he had an unloaded shotgun on his person but the sheriff did not explain why Hooks would have picked up an unloaded weapon to defend his property. Deputies searched the home for 44 hours and did not find a single trace of drugs.
The deputies acted on a tip from a methamphetamine addict who burglarized Hooks' home and stole his SUV two nights earlier. Despite tipster Rodney Garrett's lack of credibility, Deputy Chris Brewer obtained a "knock and announce" warrant and got Magistrate Judge Faith Snell to sign it. But the deputies broke in instead, according to Teresa Hooks who survived the attack. Brewer has a long history of questionable tactics. In 2002, he filed a suit against District Attorney, Ralph Walke for libel, slander and breech of contract in performing his duties. Walke had refused to prosecute Brewer's warrants and contended to Brewer's superiors that Brewer had committed perjury at least six times.