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JUST AN "UNEVENTFUL EXECUTION" OF A SEARCH WARRANT

 

By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
December 23, 2008
NewsWithViews.com

The Lorain County Sheriff’s Department is reportedly “puzzled” over Internet reaction to its Dec. 1 raid of Manna Storehouse, an organic food-buying and distribution co-operative owned by John and Jacqueline Stowers of LaGrange, Ohio, a small rural community near Cleveland.

As word of the raid spread across the Internet, sheriff deputies found themselves likened to Gestapo, and the department was denounced for using a SWAT team and threatening the family with semiautomatic rifles.

According to deputy Capt. Richard Resendez it was an “uneventful execution” of a search warrant, nothing more, and he denies online accounts of a SWAT team being used.

“There was no SWAT team there,” he said. “They had one uniformed patrol officer who wore a black-style uniform who is assigned to a warrants unit, but that’s his daily uniform. There were no guns held to anybody’s head.”

“All we did was secure the residence and the Department of Agriculture did the rest,” he added.

Resendez has admitted that one officer carried a shotgun into the house and that the family was kept in one place to “control” the area “as is standard r any search warrant,” but there was no
SWAT team and no semiautomatic weapons.

“We don’t even have semiautomatic weapons,” he said.

No semiautomatic weapons? Really?

The tactical police shotgun, nicknamed the Great Intimidator, is a semiautomatic weapon, considered by many in law enforcement to be the “premier police long gun,” superior in certain circumstances to a rifle.

NewsWithViews has learned that the side arm carried by its deputies can vary, but each officer is issued a SIG-Sauer .40 caliber, a semiautomatic pistol.

SWAT Team Tactics

Discussing the raid with NewsWithViews.com, attorney Maurice Thompson, agreed that technically it was not a SWAT team that raided the Stowers’ home and storehouse.

“It would not be accurate to call it a SWAT raid. But it was a forced entry into the house by police with guns drawn. They had the house surrounded by guys with guns out. They weren’t pointing guns at people, but their guns were out. They were there and it was very forceful. There was physical force used. It was SWAT team tactics, but not an actual SWAT team.”

The Search Warrant, with an affidavit by ODA agent William Lesho attached, and the Sheriff’s Incident Report, written by Deputy Heath Tester who participated in the raid, were posted online by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The two documents, especially the short and highly sanitized Incident Report, indicate that the various accounts on the Internet of what Thompson calls SWAT team tactics are not far from the mark. The family was “herded” into the living room, browbeaten though apparently not struck, and not allowed to make phone calls.

The team of 10 sheriff’s deputies showed up at the Stowers’ home at about 11:42 am, Monday morning. Tester notes that the deputies were wearing official jackets and uniforms marked Sheriff, but makes no mention of anyone identifying themselves, which the Search Warrant required them to do.

He specifically notes that the lead deputy – Ed Gawlik – “was wearing a clearly marked Sheriff’s Dept. Kevlar vest and raid pants, as his duty uniform as a member of the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force.”

The Task Force is a U.S. Marshals Service operation, set up with local law enforcement agencies to catch “violent adult criminals …with outstanding state and federal felony warrants for gun crimes.”

Deputy Gawlik presumably felt his military outfit -- complete with Kevlar vest – worn when going after violent felons packing heat would be appropriate gear for raiding an organic foods co-op occupied by a father (who wasn’t there at the time), two women and a bunch of kids – with no history of violent behavior by any of them.

Gawlik knocked at the door, Katie [called Tina in the Report] answered, and when she realized who they were “she stated she needed to get the ’Owner’ and started to close the door … Deputy Gawlik stopped the door from being shut and proceeded inside.”

She was “handed a copy of the search warrant” and four deputies – “the inside security team” -- piled into the house after Gawlik. Jacqueline Stowers was upstairs conducting a home-schooling lesson, but came down to see what was going on and became “confrontational,” trying to stop the deputies from going upstairs and refusing to answer questions about who was with her in the house.

“Ms. Stowers then started claiming that we were in her residence illegally,” although she was given a copy of the search warrant. “After a couple minutes of explaining the situation to Ms. Stowers she agreed to clear the stairway and allow Deputies to pass.”

Two deputies “escorted” Jacqueline and Katie “to the living room area where they were asked to remain while the rest of the house was cleared.” There would have been at least six deputies in the house, so the two mothers had little choice but to stay put where told and worry about what was happening to their children.

Gawlik and Tester went upstairs, “where we encountered eight other subjects in an upstairs bedroom. The Subjects ranged in age from infant to upper teenage. It appeared as if they were conducting school type activities.” Jacqueline, downstairs, “yelled out, ‘David call your father.’”

While Tester was “dealing” with the eight kids, Gawlik saw teenage David Stowers in another bedroom talking on a cell phone and “advised” him to go downstairs to the living room, which he started to do but Tester noticed that he was still on the phone.


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“Seeing that part of the search warrant listed cellular phones as an item to be collected, I yelled out for Deputy Onderko to take the phone.” Onderko “made contact” with David, asked for the phone, and when David turned to go back upstairs, Onderko “grabbed David by the arm and guided him back down the steps, where the phone was recovered without further incident.”

Now why was Onderko in the house? He was assigned an outside task of securing the property. A Case Supplemental Report by Sgt. Donald Barker explains Jacqueline’s part in precipitating a sudden shakeup in personnel assignments.

Onderko, with Barker, had been working outside -- but when the “confrontation” with Jacqueline Stowers began Barker heard the ruckus and decided to go inside and help “secure” the place. As he stepped off the back deck he slipped on the icy steps, hurting his back and left leg.

Unable to walk or stand he ordered detectives Onderko and Kovacs to go inside and help Tester and the other four deputies. He was later taken to a nearby hospital. His place was taken by James Rico.

Once the two women and their children were huddled in the living room, the house was turned over to William Lesho and the ODA and Health District agents.

Barker writes that at some point during the search the deputies learned that John Stowers was on his way home, “and he may have been deer hunting” -- which sounds like code for “Hey, guys, Dad’s driving back and he’s got a gun.” There was no need to worry. John Stowers arrived and was “cooperative.”

What Wasn’t Reported

The Incident Report is precise to the minute regarding the time of the team’s arrival, and carefully gives the names of the last two deputies to leave the premises (Curtis and James Rico, who replaced Barker). But there is no note as to what time that was, when the search itself began, or how long it actually lasted.

Nor does the Report say how many ODA and County Health District agents were on hand – or when they arrived -- to help Bill Lesho conduct the search and load vehicles with hundreds of pounds of meat and other products, computers, etc.

There’s hardly any description of what the deputies said to the family members (except that they “explained the situation” to Jacqueline Stowers), no mention of reading anyone their rights or explaining why they were there (so, presumably, they didn’t), and it’s obvious from Onderko’s grabbing the cell phone from David that telephone calls were not allowed.

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Lastly, there’s just a brief mention about interaction between the deputies and the children, who found themselves suddenly alone in the upstairs schoolroom. First, there’s a lot of noise downstairs, then their mothers disappear and strange men dressed in black enter the room. Accounts of the children being traumatized have been dismissed by the sheriff’s office as “absurd.”

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The team of 10 sheriff’s deputies showed up at the Stowers’ home at about 11:42 am, Monday morning. Tester notes that the deputies were wearing official jackets and uniforms marked Sheriff, but makes no mention of anyone identifying themselves, which the Search Warrant required them to do.