Rep. Brett Fairchild addresses House members during a debate Tuesday on no-knock warrants. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Rep. Tim Johnson says he can count on one hand the number of times he executed a no-knock search warrant during his 31 years in law enforcement.
The Bonner Springs Republican says he is certified in the use of special weapons and tactics and has written articles on the subject. There are times, he said during a debate Tuesday in the House, that officers need a no-knock warrant.
“I still remember one particular night,” Johnson said. “We did not have a no-knock search warrant. I was the point man. And as we went in, things went south very rapidly. I never saw the man with the shotgun. I didn’t.
“Not sure I remember hearing the blast. I do remember feeling pellets or projectile striking my leg. But I was engaged with another armed suspect. We should have had a no-knock search warrant. If we take that away from our law enforcement people, you’re taking away something that they need as a tool.”
Johnson urged House members to reject a proposal from Rep. Brett Fairchild, R-St. John, that would have required law enforcement officers to knock on the door and announce their presence before entering a resident. Johnson said his son serves search warrants in Johnson County, and he doesn’t want him hurt or dead.
Fairchild proposed amending House Bill 2299, which expands the window in which an officer can execute a search warrant, by adding the no-knock ban contained in House Bill 2133. The House rejected the Fairchild amendment on a 84-35 vote after hearing from several lawmakers with law enforcement experience.
Fairchild said people have had their liberties abused by no-knock warrants, and police enter the wrong house “more often than you would think.”
“There’s probably gonna be people that come up here and claim that no knock warrants are very rare. They’re not used very often,” Fairchild said. “But the statistics don’t show that. The statistics show that they actually are used pretty often. And they also show that they’re mostly just used to search for drugs, that they’re not used to go after violent criminals.”
Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said she felt obligated to support the ban on no-knock warrants for the people who are killed while sleeping in their beds.
“As I sat there, I realized I was becoming very nervous, because I realized I would have to stand on behalf of the family and the friends of individuals that were killed as a result of no knock,” Ballard said. “In your bed, late at night, sleeping, or at least minding your own business, and you’re killed.”
When police explain they had the wrong address, that “we were in the vicinity,” it doesn’t help the family or the loved ones, Ballard said.
“Mistakes do happen. lives have lost, and you can’t get them back,” Ballard said.
Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, said he could only imagine what it feels like to be be a law enforcement officer entering a dangerous situation. But there are two sides to the discussion, Miller said.
Miller pointed to the death of a Topeka police officer who was killed after entering a house without knocking during a 1995 drug raid.
“You’re laying in bed asleep, exercising your Second Amendment rights to defend yourself by having a weapon at your bedside, and the door comes crashing open,” Miller said. “How would you react?”
In the case he referenced, a jury acquitted the man who killed the officer.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, pointed to the example of a family raided by police because they bought hydroponic supplies to grow tomatoes. People should understand there isn’t always a violent criminal on the other side of the door ever time a no-knock warrant is used.
“We need to think about all of our citizens and not just those in law enforcement but innocent people who are being terrorized for no reason because of mistakes,” Clayton said.
Rep. John Resman, R-Olathe, said he executed “a great number of search warrants” during his 30-year career. Police always wear a uniform so people know who they are, he said, and most of the time they want to knock on the door to get people’s attention.
Large agencies have procedures or policies in place for the use of no-knock warrants, Resman said. The district attorney and judge have to know it is a no-knock warrant.
“I can’t imagine not knocking on a door unless it became absolutely necessary,” Resman said.
Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican and sheriff’s deputy in Coffee County, said he was a SWAT team operator for several years. There is a reason why police use a no-knock search warrant, Smith said.
For example, Smith said, a family member might tell police about somebody who is cooking meth in a house. The man is crazy, has an arsenal of weapons, and has made it clear that the minute he sees a cop show up in his driveway, the war is on.
“I’m not knocking on that door. Right?” Smith said. “And I’m not going to make my guys knock on that door.”
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