Appropriate amount of force in executing warrants — some things to think about

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsHouse Judiciary chairman subpoenas former White House lawyer McGahn Top Judiciary Republican reviews less-redacted Mueller report Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general MORE (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, recently questioned the FBI’s tactics in arresting President Donald Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneThe Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Heavily redacted Mueller report leaves major questions unanswered MORE in a letter he sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamIf you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again Graham challenges Dems to walk the walk on impeachment Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars MORE (R-S.C). also questioned the amount of force used in the arrest during an appearance on the Fox News show “Hannity.”

“The bottom line is, this seems to me over the top, and I don’t know what message was being sent,” Graham said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE told the Daily Caller that he was “very disappointed” to see the Stone arrest “go down that way” and said he will consider asking the FBI to review its use of force policies. “It’s something I’ll think about,” he said.

As someone who supervised the execution of dozens of arrest and search warrants, over the course of 30 years, let me provide Messrs. Collins, Graham, and Trump some things that professional law enforcement think about when executing warrants.

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First, second and last consideration when devising a pre-operational plan for the execution of a warrant is the safety and well-being of those participating in the warrant. Substantial research is put into the risk assessment of the target of the warrant. Scrutiny of all past threats is given due weight. The potential for the presence of weapons is also heavily weighed. The mental health status of the target is also assessed.

I don’t know what the FBI pre-operational plan reflects in terms of the above assessments. What I do know is that Mr. Stone has used colorful language in the past in making multiple personal threats, as evidenced by his email and texts.

Also known is that a U.S. Magistrate Judge sealed Stone’s indictment to make his impending arrest a secret. There are usually good reasons for doing this. The same U.S. Magistrate also reviewed and approved the affidavit for search warrant(s) which was also sealed to prevent prior notification and therefore the possible destruction or movement of evidence deemed critical to the investigation. This is standard procedure.

The pre-operational plan would surely have addressed entry tactics to include the number of entrance and exit points, the number of anticipated individuals and animals likely to be present inside, as well as the presence, location, and type of electronic devices that would need to be seized in an expeditious fashion in order to prevent destruction of digital evidence that could be effectuated in seconds.

The entry team would be dressed and equipped in a manner conducive to the risk assessment level addressed in the pre-op as well as manual guidelines. The pre-op would also likely have taken into consideration what options would need to be addressed if electronic surveillance were detected from inside of the Stone residence which could have slowed the entry and raised the threat level to the entry team.

Messrs. Collins, Graham, and Trump have evinced no evidence of any thought or consideration given to the safety of the federal law enforcement agents who were directed to arrest Mr. Stone and search his premises. Politicians tend to worry more about “optics” than the well-being of federal employees. A greater concern is expressed about “messaging” than getting the job done, which is all the FBI concerned itself with when effecting the Stone warrants.

Let me assure you that the protocols used in this execution of arrest and search warrants were appropriate, standard, and not in the least ‘unusual.’ All agents went home safely. The ‘arrestee’ was processed in standard fashion. Evidence pertinent to the investigation was obtained via the search warrants executed.

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While Mr. Trump ‘thinks about’ the FBI conduct with regard to the above-referenced warrants, I would also hope he thinks about the five Houston Police Department employees recently injured while effecting warrants in Houston. Two of the officers were shot in the face and face a “long road for recovery,” according to their chief. Additionally, perhaps he could spare some thoughts for the Virginia State Police trooper who was killed this past week after a man fired gunshots at officers serving a warrant. And the 17-year police veteran who was shot and killed as he served a warrant on Milwaukee’s south side this past Wednesday.

No law enforcement agent knows exactly what he or she will encounter when executing a warrant. No one really knows just what lies in wait on the other side of the door, no matter how much time and effort is put into the pre-operational plan.

Trust me when I tell you that no one thinks about what more can be done to conduct a warrant in a safe manner than those agents who put their lives on the line going in.

Perhaps Mr. Trump could give some thought about the safety and well-being of law enforcement personnel who risk their lives every day to ensure the well-being of our communities while he thinks about FBI warrant protocols.

I can assure him that the respective families of all those involved in the Stone warrants have, and so have the families of the officers in Houston and Virginia and Milwaukee.

Messrs. Collins, Graham and Trump should bear in mind what the families of law enforcement think about when they kiss their respective partners goodbye in the early morning hours preceding the execution of warrants — and what they think about all day until they are safely reunited… or not.

Some things to think about. 

Martin J. Sheil is a retired supervisory agent for IRS Criminal Investigation with 30 years experience, including service as coordinator of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) for the Gulf Coast Region, Branch Chief for the North Texas District (Dallas), Special Agent in Charge for the South Texas District (San Antonio) and as Director of IRS CI Asset Forfeiture in Washington, D.C.