| The Columbus Dispatch
As cities across the country propose banning “no-knock warrants,” Ohio’s attorney general and prosecutors from the state’s three largest counties by population want to retain but restrict the practice.
State Attorney General David Yost appeared Thursday with the prosecutors from Franklin, Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties to seek legislative support for proposed changes to state law covering such warrants that he called “more nuanced and more surgical than an outright ban.”
No-knock warrants, which allow law-enforcement officers to force entry to a property without knocking or otherwise announcing their presence, have been the focus of national controversy since police in Louisville, Kentucky, fatally shot Breonna Taylor while using such a warrant on March 13.
Taylor, 26, an African American woman, died when Louisville Metro police officers fired 25 times during an exchange of gunfire with her boyfriend, who said he thought their apartment was being invaded and shot at police.
Under the proposal by Yost and the prosecutors, which they outlined in a letter to the governor and legislative leaders:
- A judge could only approve a no-knock warrant if provided with an affidavit containing facts to establish that a traditional “knock and announce warrant” would result in a “substantial risk” of serious physical harm to officers.
- A showing of “probable cause” would be required rather than the undefined “good cause” in the request for the warrant.
- Officers must wear readily identifiable markings and identify themselves as soon as possible upon entry.
- Law-enforcement agencies that have body cameras must wear and activate them when executing a no-knock warrant.
Despite the legislative calendar “growing short,” Yost said he hopes the revisions to the Ohio Revised Code can be considered by legislators this year.
Yost and the prosecutors — Franklin County’s Ron O’Brien, Cuyahoga County’s Michael O’Malley and Hamilton County’s Joseph Deters — noted during a news conference held via Zoom that no-knock warrants are and should remain rare, but shouldn’t be eliminated because they can be a safety tool for police.
Yost said there are times when law-enforcement officers face such a grave threat in entering a property occupied by individuals known to be armed and dangerous that no-knock warrants “are indispensable to preserving life.”
He and the prosecutors concede in their letter that “no-knock warrants can also be dangerous for the occupants of the structure… some of whom may be utterly innocent of the criminal activity giving rise” to the warrant.
Yost added that restrictions on the use of the warrants are necessary, in part because Ohio is a “castle doctrine” state, where homeowners can legally use deadly force to defend themselves against a perceived home invasion.
O’Malley said no-knock warrants are used less than once a year in Cuyahoga County, but “when law-enforcement needs that tool, it’s critical for the safety of all law-enforcement personnel.”
Deters said Cincinnati police over the past five years have requested no-knock warrants “less than 10 times per year and served less than five per year.”
The warrants are used much more often, however, in Franklin County.
Columbus police Deputy Chief Tim Becker testified in August during a City Council hearing that the city’s Narcotics Unit used 331 search warrants last year. Becker said that 27% of those — 92 — involved no-knock warrants.
Following the hearings, Columbus City Council approved policing reforms that placed new restrictions on no-knock warrants in the city, banning them in connection with any fourth-degree felonies or lesser crimes, any marijuana offenses or whenever children are thought to be present.
O’Brien said he thinks that if the proposed changes in state law are approved, they won’t affect the additional restrictions created by City Council’s initiative.
He said no-knock warrants are necessary in rare, highly dangerous situations, but “it makes sense to narrow (their use) and make sure we have uniform standards.”
In addition to debates going on in cities across the nation about no-knock warrants, Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans in Congress have advocated banning the warrants for federal law-enforcement officers.
Louisville Metro Police Sgt. John Mattingly, who was wounded by Taylor’s boyfriend during the raid, and Det. Myles Cosgrove, whose gunfire ballistics determined killed Taylor, will face no charges after a grand jury determined last month they were “justified in their use of force” because Taylor’s boyfriend shot first.
A third officer, Brett Hankison, who had been fired by the police department in June for firing his weapon from outside the apartment, was indicted on three counts of wanton endangerment because some of his bullets entered another apartment occupied by a man, a pregnant woman and a child. He pleaded not guilty on Sept. 28.