MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — In the wake of a pre-dawn SWAT raid conducted by the Mobile Police Department that left a 16-year-old dead, an Assistant Professor of Law at the Vanderbilt Law School, critiques the tactics used by the department.
The focal point of the controversy has hit on the department’s decision to raid the home while those inside were asleep.
“You’re going to surprise someone,” Farhang Heydari with Vanderbilt Law School said. “When you surprise someone in their home in the middle of the night, whether they’re a law-abiding citizen or a criminal, the chances that they’re going to reach for a firearm are much greater.”
While Mobile Police Chief Paul Prine said pre-dawn search warrants allow officers to cloak themselves in the element of surprise, Heydari said that makes the operation more dangerous for officers and citizens.
When police entered the home, they encountered 16-year-old Randall Adjessom pointing a laser-sighted handgun at the officers, prompting officers to shoot and kill him; however, that wasn’t who the police were looking for.
At least five people were in the home at the time of the raid, the youngest being eight years old.
The department’s Narcotics Unit had been investigating complaints of suspected drug activity and distribution at the home. After developing probable cause, they sent a SWAT team to raid the home at 5:30 Monday morning.
“It’s totally reasonable for people to ask for help, but it’s the police department’s job to think about what’s the appropriate response,” Heydari said.
Heydari questioned the department’s need to enter the home when they did. He said the children would likely be at school a few hours later.
“You know, I don’t think any officer wants to be put in that situation, so I want to know; why did he have to go in at that moment?” Heydari asked.
City leaders scrutinized the department’s decision to use a pre-dawn strategy, saying that those inside the home could have thought the commotion was an intruder.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has since placed an immediate suspension on all pre-dawn search warrants conducted by MPD.
With the contention of a pre-dawn raid, the police department has called it a ‘knock-and-announce’ search warrant. Heydari explained the protocols surrounding the ‘knock-and-announce’ rule.
He said officers, under the knock-and-announce rule, are usually supposed to wait 15 to 20 seconds from the time they knock on the door to the time they breach the door.
“Fifteen to twenty seconds is not a lot of time in the middle of the day when people are in their kitchen or living room,” Heydari said. “It is completely insufficient at night.”
While it’s not known how much time elapsed between knocking and breaching in this case, Prine said his officers made multiple attempts to knock and announce before they entered.
“The idea that we knock and announce is to alert everyone, not only in the home but outside the home, that our presence is there and that we’re coming in,” Prine said.
The man police were looking for, 18-year-old DeAngelo Adjessom, wasn’t at the home at the time of the raid. He turned himself in on Possession of Marijuana charges, a drug that many states are trying to legalize.
“No marijuana warrant is worth somebody dying,” Heydari said.
In Monday’s press conference, Prine said nothing of a significant amount was found at the house.
Adjessom’s death marked the fourth deadly encounter with MPD this year.
“Just because you have SWAT Team doesn’t mean you have to use it,” Heydari said.
Following the raid, Stimpson asked former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Kenyen Brown, to comprehensively review the department’s policies, procedures and training as it relates to the use of force. The findings of that review will be made public in the next 90 days.
WKRG reached out to MPD for additional comment following our discussion with Heydari. They declined our interview request until they have further information they are willing to discuss.