Billings, Montana police say the 6 am raid they conducted in October 2012 was part of an investigation into a suspected meth lab. But there was no meth lab. And the 12-year-old daughter of Jackie Fasching suffered severe burns after the SWAT team used a broomstick to drop a flash grenade through a window into a bedroom where the girl and her sister were sleeping.
Police Chief Rich St. John told the paper, “It was totally unforeseen, totally unplanned and extremely regrettable. We certainly did not want a juvenile, or anyone else for that matter, to get injured.”
A photo the girl's mother provided to the Billings Gazette shows red and black burns down her side.
Fasching wasn't satisfied with that explanation. “A simple knock on the door and I would’ve let them in," she said. "They said their intel told them there was a meth lab at our house. If they would’ve checked, they would’ve known there’s not.” Fasching's husband, who suffers from congenital heart disease and liver failure, was in fact attempting to open the door to let the cops in just as they knocked it down.
As for the flash grenade, Fasching said it “blew the nails out of the drywall." There's also the matter of why, if they were looking for a meth lab, the police would have set off flash grenades in the first place. Meth labs are known to explode.
According to the Gazette, Chief St. John said investigators did "plenty of homework on the residence," yet somehow weren't aware that there were children inside. “The information that we had did not have any juveniles in the house and did not have any juveniles in the room,” St. John said. “We generally do not introduce these disorienting devices when they’re present. Every bit of information and intelligence that we have comes together and we determine what kind of risk is there. The warrant was based on some hard evidence and everything we knew at the time.”
It sounds like a pretty professional plan. Except that they were looking for a meth lab, and didn’t find it. And they weren't aware of the children permanently living in the home they claim to have thoroughly investigated. Clearly something went wrong.
St. John added, “If we’re wrong or made a mistake, then we’re going to take care of it . . . When we do this, we want to ensure the safety of not only the officers, but the residents inside.”
It seems clear that ensuring the safety of the officers was a high priority for the Billings SWAT team. But it's difficult to see how blindly dropping flash grenades into a bedroom shows much concern for the safety of "the residents inside."
St. John did promise to conduct an unbiased investigation of the incident -- and of the SWAT team he had just defended.
(The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.)