Most memorable search warrant

The entry team has been briefed and they’re in position at the front door. A second team is standing by at the back door. Other officers are covering each of the windows to prevent someone from slipping away. It’s an impressive sight, all those highly-trained police officers dressed in black, holding enough firepower and break-and-rake tools to overtake a small country. On command, the entry team moves like a well-oiled, precision machine.

First, the distraction, a technique used to be sure the team members at the front door are able to make a safe entry into the home. CRASH! A side window is broken by an officer swinging a crowbar (Break). Shards of broken glass are “raked” away from the window frame and sill. BOOM! A flashbang is tossed into the bedroom. The cover officer aims his weapon at the inside and clears the room (Never insert the gun barrel past the window frame. You don’t want some thug grabbing it and taking it away). Now, with all attention diverted toward the crash and explosion, the battering ram hits the front doorknob. A second CRASH! The house is suddenly flooded with heavily-armed police officers who mean business. They’ve come for the wanted suspect and they’ve caught him with his “pants down” (sometimes you really do catch them that way!). People scream. Men run. Woman yell. Babies cry. Dogs bark. Cellphones ring. TV roars. Radios crackle. Handcuffs click. And finally…silence.

That’s how a search warrant execution can go. They’re dangerous. Exciting. Adrenaline flows like whitewater. Heart pounding against the inside of your chest. Pulse pushing against the neck.

Ah, yes…the excitement. But not so for me on one summer night…

It was to be the largest heroin bust I’d ever made. Hell, finding any heroin would have been the largest heroin bust I’d ever made. But this was supposed to be the mother-lode. I had all my I’s dotted and T’s crossed on the warrants and we were ready to make our move. I absolutely wanted no mistakes. None. So the team was briefed, re-briefed, and briefed again. Besides, we’d worked together for so long that we could practically do a safe entry with our eyes closed. Still, you never know.

Sometimes I preferred to surprise the bad guys by simply knocking on the front door (with everyone else hiding around the corner). Occasionally you get lucky and they open the door, thinking it might be Aunt Susie or one of their regular customers dropping by to re-up their supply. I decided to go for the door-knocking this time—the polite kind, not the cop-knock where you slam the door with the butt of your fist or end of a flashlight. Always use command presence, even with a door-knock, right?

Knock, Knock, Knock (gently, with my knuckles).

Footsteps.

I stand slightly to the side (I’m allergic to bullet holes).

The door swings open.

I’m prepared to grab my suspect and pull him outside.

It’s an elderly lady. White hair, glasses perched on the end of her bird-beak nose. Faded house dress. Slippers.

The stopper was instantly pulled on the boiling adrenaline. I felt it swirling away at the bottom of the bowl.

“May I help you?”

“Is Mr. Drug Dealer at home?” I ask.

“No, he’s out with some of his little friends.”

“Are you related to him?”

“No. I’m his grandmother’s live-in nurse. She’s here, though. Would you like to see her?”

“Is anyone else in the house, besides the two of you?”

“No, it’s just us. Can I help you?”

Well, I decided to go ahead with the search. We could always pick up Mr. Drug Dealer another time. So I stepped inside and explained the purpose of my visit. The nurse then led me to Grandma so I could repeat the whole story again, to her.

Grandma was at least 190-years-old and shriveled like a spoiled prune. She was propped up in a hospital bed in a room that smelled like a mid-summer construction site Port-a-John.

The nurse asked if I’d like a nice glass of iced tea?

“No thank you.”

I explained the search warrant to Grandma. She said she understood and asked if I was hungry.

“No, Ma’am.”

I told her that we needed to begin our search.

“No one is going to do any searching in my house,” she said. “Not without having something to eat, first. No man has ever left my house, hungry.”

She called for the nurse and told her to set the dining room table, buffet style.

“No Ma’am, we can’t eat. We’re here to—”

“Nonsense. You get all your little friends in here and tell them to grab a plate. Mary! Is the table ready, yet? Set our some of those homemade rolls, too. And the real butter. Don’t forget the butter!”

“No, Ma’am. Really, we  need to…”

She held up a skeletal version of a hand to stop me. “Hush. Now you go have a bite to eat and then you boys can go and do your little searching, or whatever it is you want.”

“Ma’am, really we can’t…”

One of the team members walked into room, with half a hot, buttered roll in his hand. The other half inside his mouth, lumped inside his right cheek. Between chews he nodded toward the dining room. “Food’s getting cold.”

The bread smelled delicious.

He raised his eyebrows and nodded again.

I knew when I was outnumbered and accepted the cold glass of iced tea that Mary held in her liver-spotted hand. I hadn’t eaten all day and was famished.

And that was the beginning of my first search warrant for the mother…uh…Grandma-lode of heroin.

True story…

*Break and rake is a technique used to draw attention away from the point of entry (POE). It’s a great distraction that often prevents suspects from arming themselves, or from escaping custody. Catching suspects with their “pants down” (off-guard) is often the safest way to effect an arrest in a dangerous environment. Having a snack while serving a search warrant is definitely not recommended.

  1. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    Lee, you have such a way with words. Another gem of a story here.

    And, Michael, the first thing that crossed my mind was contaminated food also. Must be my mean or suspicious streak.

  2. Dave Swords
    Dave Swords says:

    Lee, your story reminded me of a raid on a large bootleg joint about three in the morning. They had quite an operation – including a lady in the kitchen cooking skillets full of fried chicken. After we arrested those running the bootleg and checked everyone else for warrants before they were sent on their way, well, I mean that chicken was going to go to waste anyway …

  3. Ron DeLaby
    Ron DeLaby says:

    At the time I was doing this stuff in California the Penal Code section for knock and notice was “844”. Of course the white collars expected you, at 0 Dark-Thirty, to politely state who you were, and why you were there. “Police Officers. Search Warrant. Demand Entry.” AND you had to say it a couple of times, AND it had to be heard from the rear of the house by your cover officers to make certain anyone INSIDE could hear it. Only THEN could you kick the door. Well, of course by that time toilets could be heard flushing all over the neighborhood. So we devised a better way of doing it and made things a little more concise. One would step back as far as possible, given the length and breadth of the porch, grasp one’s baton and holster and fly at the door, foot raised for final contact. At precisely 0ne inch from connecting with the door the officer would simply shout..”844!”and blast through the door (A small hint? NEVER kick the hinge side).

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Jonathan – Yes, he lived there in an upstairs bedroom. He also used the basement for parties, where the old ladies never ventured (Grandma wasn’t able to walk without assistance, if then). And yes, we recovered quite a stash – the heroin we hoped we’d find, a fair amount of meth, a little bit of pot, several needles, burnt spoons and, unfortunately, a whole lot of nude pictures of Junior in various poses, alone. By the way, you’d be surprised at the number of nude photos that turn up while serving search warrants. Some people are totally embarrassed while others smile coyly and give you a wink. I just tried to hold down my lunch in many of those instances.

    Nothing in the rest of the house.

    A search of Grandma’s room turned up a gazillion medicine bottles, but the doctors and pharmacies verified each of them as legitimate medicines prescribed to her.

    Grandma asked me to take it easy on Junior, because he was a good boy and she loved him. She also invited us all back for Sunday dinner, an invitation we politely declined. Can’t say I didn’t think about that warm bread smell that Sunday afternoon, though. Bachelor life was tough back in those days.

  5. Marjorie Doering
    Marjorie Doering says:

    A cop’s instincts are probably a lot more trustworthy than a writer’s wild imagination. If I were writing a fictional version of this incident, I’d have considered having the nurse hiding the stash while Granny kept the cops busy with her “hospitality.” lol

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Nah, Grandma was harmless. Besides, Junior wouldn’t have wanted to place, or retrieve, anything near the spot on Granny where the son hadn’t shone in many years. And if he had, I wasn’t digging through the Depends to find it.

  7. Helen McMullin
    Helen McMullin says:

    Or that granny might be sitting on the drugs? That’s where I’d put it (well wrapped, of course) if I were Mr. Drug Dealer.

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Not a chance. These two ladies didn’t have a clue about Junior’s illegal activities. Thought he was a good little (40-tear-old) boy. We sampled the homemade bread (absolutely to die for), but that’s all.