6 Things I Learned When The Cops Raided My House By Mistake
You probably believe that if you aren't breaking any rules, you have nothing to fear from the police. It's part of what holds society together. Well, that, and the promise of new episodes of Game Of Thrones. But sometimes -- only during TV's off-season, of course -- injustices happen. It happened to me. My girlfriend and I had our house raided by the police, and we were nearly arrested for drug possession. Because our downstairs neighbor was a drug dealer. How does that happen? Guilt by osmosis? Listen up ...
If Your Lease Is Wonky, You Could Get Caught Up In A Drug Raid
We lived in an old house converted into a duplex on a quiet, suburban street. Our house was the only rental on our block. The basement was one apartment, and the ground floor comprised the other apartment in the duplex. We shared a laundry room. Pretty normal arrangement, as far as sleeping-and-shitting places go, but we later found out that the house was only registered as one rental unit. Our landlord had separate leases for the units and separate everything else, but there was only one address, which means that legally, it's one house. That becomes really important when the cops decide they aren't particularly fond of what's happening in it.
Anyway, my girlfriend and I had originally rented the basement unit, but when the upstairs neighbors moved out, we took over their apartment, because windows are just ... super great, you guys. Some new neighbors moved in downstairs, and at first, they seemed like perfectly nice people. They were extremely friendly, asking us if we needed anything when they headed to the store, greeting us whenever we passed -- normal neighborly things.
They were just like a couple from a Norman Rockwell painting, except for the hidden bricks of cocaine.
But soon things started getting strange. I noticed they had lots of visitors.
"Well, of course, they're so friendly!" I told myself, in my best Barney Fife voice.
But the visitors all drove nice cars, like Escalades and Mercedes.
"How wonderful; their friends are so successful!" I bumbled.
My girlfriend and I also noticed police cars driving by our house several times a day, but since we had only just moved upstairs from the basement, which had no windows, we assumed that the police traffic was normal. Maybe our street was a standard route for the police to get to and from their station, or maybe they were patrolling the elementary school two blocks down the street from us. After all, you can never trust a second-grader.
"Keep walkin', old man."
But everything changed one morning when I woke up to go to work. When I got to the stop sign at the end of the block, two police cars were driving toward me, and when I passed them, they immediately did a U-turn, threw on their lights, and pulled me over. I admit I kind of rolled that stop sign, but two cars to pull me over seemed excessive. An officer approached my car and politely asked me if I knew why I was pulled over. But as I started to offer some bullshit excuse for rolling the stop sign, another cop came running up behind the first officer with his gun drawn, screaming at me to get out of the car.
If You Don't Want To Look Like A Drug Dealer, Buy Lots Of Furniture
At this point, I thought they had mistaken me for someone else. I asked what was going on, but he just kept pointing his gun at me and yelling "Get out of the car, put your hands up, get out of the car" until I complied. Slowly, I got out of my car, then a third cop threw me against it, cuffed my hands behind my back, and searched my pockets, taking my wallet and phone. As I was thrown in the back of the squad car, I started to wonder if perhaps this wasn't a very elaborately disguised robbery.
Though acquiring multiple police cars does seem a bit excessive to steal pocket cash and a smartphone.
Then a detective started asking me questions, insisting that I "knew what was going on" despite the fact that I so clearly didn't. He told me they were raiding the house, and asked me if there were any guns in the house, if I knew how many people were in the house, and if I knew about my downstairs neighbors' drug operation. When my answers to these questions proved unsatisfactory, the detective told me that they were looking for the neighbor, and that they believed my girlfriend and I might be working with them.
There were a few reasons for this: First, there's that whole "legally only one rental" thing. Thus, the police had no idea that there were two separate apartments in the house. Second, the basement apartment was furnished, while the upper unit was not. We had only been living upstairs for three weeks or so, had been too cheap to buy much furniture. Other than a bed, a few chairs, and a dining room table, we didn't have much. Turns out there's another kind of person who doesn't have much: drug dealers.
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Since the cops had been watching the house for a few weeks, and since the police could only see into the mostly empty upper unit where my girlfriend and I lived, they assumed we were in on it. When I tried to explain to the detective that there were two units in the house and the people they were looking for only lived in the lower unit, the detective responded by saying: "Well, we have a warrant for the whole house."
And by god, they were gonna use it.
There Was A Fair Amount of Nudity
So there I was, sitting in the back of a police car, watching from across the street as the police charged into my house. I listened over the radio as the police directed teams to all converge on the house at the same time. About ten black SUVs surged in, and about 30 cops in full raid gear charged at my apartment. They even used one of those battering rams to bust in the side door. It was almost awesome, like an action movie ... happening to your home and family.
"Well there goes the security deposit."
Inside was my sleeping girlfriend, as well as our pit bull. Our dog happens to be friendlier than a thousand Mr. Peanutbutters, but historically, cops and pit bulls don't get along, and I was afraid she would end up shot. I had begged the police to let me come in with them so my dog wouldn't be scared, but of course, they didn't allow that.
I wasn't able to see the next part from the police car, but my girlfriend said that the police stormed in screaming at her to get on the floor, to take care of the dog, and other orders that couldn't possibly be followed simultaneously. An officer later told us this was intentional, to create a sense of confusion, because "we have a plan, and we don't want you to come up with a plan." My girlfriend shoved our dog back into the bedroom and then was forced to lie naked on the floor (did I mention she had been sleeping naked?) while the police cleared the rest of the apartment.
Because if you're going to handcuff people and tear their home apart, might as well take their dignity while you're at it.
After the cops decided there were no crazy people hiding anywhere, they found some clothes for my girlfriend to put on, then sat her down. One officer watched over her, while others started tearing apart our house. It was like that scene in Fame but in reverse, and somehow more traumatizing.
The Police Made Idle Chit-Chat With Us As They Destroyed Our Belongings
After the police had cleared the house, they led me, still handcuffed, into my apartment. Sitting in my living room was my girlfriend, as well as the girl who lived downstairs. At this point, we learned two things about her boyfriend, whom we'll call Druggie McDealerson:
1) It was actually him that the police were looking for, and...
2) He wasn't home.
While waiting for him to turn up, the three of us sat in the most uniquely awkward silence you can imagine. Dozens of cops walked up and down the stairs, in and out of our apartment, pulling clothes out of closets, dishes off of shelves, things out of boxes, leaving it all in messy piles around our apartment.
"So when you don't find anything, you guys are gonna clean up my place ... r-right?"
One police officer stood watch over us, making the most inappropriate small talk this side of anything-at-a-urinal:
"Oh, that's a nice guitar you have, I play too."
*They destroy the guitar, looking for drugs*
"I see you have a sewing machine, how handy."
*They destroy the sewing machine, looking for drugs*
But if we asked this cop anything about what was going on -- what they were looking for, what happens next, just ... what, please, what? -- she immediately shut down.
"The anxiety will help take your mind off of us destroying everything you own."
My kitchen became the police force's mobile office. They brought tons of stuff upstairs from the basement, and spread it all out on the kitchen table. The only things I could see were a couple of guns and large Rubbermaid bins -- the kind people store Halloween decorations or old junk in -- filled with who knows what.
The girl who lived downstairs -- we'll call her Drugette McDealerson -- apologized to us about a dozen times. She told us that this was actually the third time that she was in a house raid, "but it was never my fault -- I just have really bad luck." My girlfriend said exactly what you're thinking: "Maybe you need to start thinking about who you're hanging out with if this is the third time you've been raided."
The officer guarding us kept up the chatter -- she told us how she started as a uniformed cop, then worked prostitution for a while, then got into drug enforcement -- all while my girlfriend and I made plans to move straight the hell out of this place. We did end up doing that, by the way, about five days after the police raid.
To a place with ITS OWN GODDAMN ADDRESS.
The three of us had been sitting there for two or three hours before Druggie finally came home -- turned out he had been at the nearby casino all night -- and was immediately cuffed and brought to sit with us. The police started bringing us each back, one by one, into one of the bedrooms in my apartment. That was their mobile interrogation room.
The Cops Will Threaten You Even If -- ESPECIALLY IF -- You Don't Know Anything
I sat alone in my spare bedroom with two detectives. They asked all sorts of questions, starting with seemingly innocent ones, like where I work, how long I'd lived here, how long I knew the downstairs neighbors, etc. The niceties out of the way, they asked if I had ever bought anything from the couple downstairs, if I had ever accepted any items from them, if the neighbors had ever given me money. After responding, respectively and truthfully, "Nope, never, if they did I would have more furniture," the questions started becoming confusing.
Because the process had been so calm and clear up until then.
The detectives asked me how much cash I had in the house, right now. I worked part time on the weekends as a bartender, so I tended to have a few hundred dollars from those shifts in the house. When I told them this, they said "So that $40,000 we found hidden downstairs isn't yours." Shocked to find I was within a five-mile radius of that much money, my only response was to laugh.
Pro-tip: Police don't like that.
One detective asked why I was laughing, and I said that it was just ridiculous that I would have that much money, and that it definitely wasn't mine. Then they said that I sounded like I was lying, and I spent the next several minutes convincing them I had no idea that there was that much cash in my house. Trust me, if I had 40 grand in cash, I wouldn't be renting a duplex. With no furniture.
"If you're gonna try and peg the brick of hundreds on me anyway, think we could peel off a few and buy me a couch?"
They then asked me how often I went in the shared laundry room. I said every couple days to do laundry (duh). They asked if I had ever seen anything strange in the laundry room (no). They then asked me how it was possible that I could go in the laundry room every couple days and not notice my downstairs neighbor's "rig" sitting in the utility sink. When I asked what they meant by "rig" they said, "You know, his set-up, all his equipment." I asked them what that was, as I had never seen anything in the utility sink other than a drain plug. The detectives kept pushing me to say I saw something in that sink, but they would not clarify what exactly I was supposed to have seen. I believe that they were lying about the "rig" in order to see if I would admit to knowing more about my neighbor's operation than I did (which was nothing), because I still have no idea what they meant. I suppose a fancy bong or something? A drug blender? Is that what they do -- blend them?
The detectives closed their interview with an ominous ultimatum: If I didn't want to be charged with something, I had better tell the police everything I knew about any possible drug dealers. Since I didn't have any information like that to give, I was reasonably frightened.
Yup: charged for not confessing without a lawyer present. Just like the Founding Fathers intended.
The Ordeal Doesn't End When The Raid Does
After tearing apart our home and interrogating us, the police seemed to finally believe that my girlfriend and I were not connected to our neighbors' operation. They arrested our neighbors, but my girlfriend and I were not charged. We couldn't put the ordeal behind us quite yet: For one thing, cops don't clean up their mess, even if they find out you're innocent. Our house was trashed.
One of the first things we did was call our landlord. Even though the police had found us innocent, our landlord was pissed, and insisted that we were to blame for her house being torn apart and one of her tenants getting arrested. Because of our ... machinations? I never did follow the logic. We decided that we were moving out immediately, so she threatened to charge us with an eviction if we didn't pay her two months' rent for the privilege. We moved out a few days later. We didn't pay the extra rent, but she did keep our deposit. Fair's fair, I suppose.
Admittedly, ol' Druggie McDealerson probably cost her a fair bit of cash, too.
But even after moving to a different city, we still weren't done. Nearly six months later, my girlfriend got a phone call from the county's public defender office, saying she'd been subpoenaed to testify in our neighbor's trial. For the defense. She was expected to testify in support of the person that dragged us into this mess. For months, she had anxiety dreams, thinking about having to relive the event in court, in front of the police that tore our house apart, saw her naked, and terrorized us. Fortunately, the day before the trial, our old neighbor ended up taking a plea deal, but the subpoena still caused a huge amount of stress in our lives when all we wanted was to forget any of this happened.
Probably not much of a plea deal if she was the best witness they could scrounge up.
It's been about a year since the raid, and the trial ended a few months ago, but I am still affected by the ordeal. Whenever a police car pulls up behind me, or I see an officer on the street, I immediately panic, even though I'm not breaking any laws. I'm too terrified to even speed now, because the thought of interacting with a police officer terrifies me, which I guess is probably a net positive for everyone involved? A lawyer told me that I'd probably have grounds to sue the police, but I'd rather just put the event behind me. I don't want money, and I especially don't want to endure a long, drawn-out trial -- I just want to roll an occasional stop sign in peace. It's a meager dream, but it is mine.
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