Judge condemns SWAT team actions

From Staff Reports

   A state Court of Criminal Appeals judge, in a separate order concurring with the court's decision to suppress evidence in the case of a Johnson City tavern owner, said he felt compelled to write "to express my astonishment and dismay over the manner in which the Washington County SWAT team treated the innocent patrons in the tavern searched in this case."
   Judge Jerry L. Smith said the SWAT team actions "merit the condemnation of anyone who believes that this country is not, at least for the moment, a police state."
   The case was not a hostage situation fraught with peril, Smith said, and officers had no reason to believe that everyone on the premises was potentially dangerous. The patrons' only transgression "appears to have been their choice of bars," Judge Smith said.
   "Nevertheless ... the members of the SWAT team restrained and handcuffed the customers at gunpoint. If the slightest bit of protest or resistance was offered by the customers, that individual was, according to [Sgt. Keith] Sexton, 'placed' on the ground through physical force. I am astonished and dismayed over this scenario."
   The judge said constitutional law prohibits such treatment unless there is reason to believe the patrons are armed or dangerous. "I am dismayed because Officer Sexton ... was not only unremorseful for this sorry business, but indicated that he and his team would do the same thing again."
   The judge further stated that as a member of both the private bar and as a government attorney he has represented many officers and found them to be "by and large, dedicated and responsible individuals who realize their duties must be carried out within the constitutional parameters established by a free society if that society is to remain free.
   "Somehow this familiar basic tenet of American civic life has become lost on the authorities conducting the search in this case. One can only hope they become reacquainted with it."