It’s unlikely police and federal agents had cause to point weapons at children in Mark Shurtleff’s home, a consultant in police tactics and a criminal defense attorney said Wednesday.
Ron Martinelli, who leads a police and forensics consulting firm in California called Martinelli & Associates, said guns should not be needed to execute a search warrant for a suspected white-collar crime on persons with no violent history.
Law enforcement sometimes asks the judge permission to use force if it fears evidence will be destroyed upon officers announcing themselves. But in a political corruption case, like the investigation into Shurtleff and his successor as Utah attorney general, John Swallow, investigators would be seeking computer hard drives and documents.
"Everything there takes a long time to destroy with no reasonable threat to the officers," Martinelli said.
Shurtleff on Wednesday also received sympathy from Kent Hart, the executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Hart said even if there were guns in Shurtleff’s home — as are in most Utah homes — that should not have prompted law enforcement to display weapons.
"I’d say the likelihood that he was going to pull out his guns and start shooting is pretty low," Hart said.
The FBI and the Utah Department of Public Safety served search warrants Monday on the Sandy homes of Shurtleff and Swallow. They also served a search warrant on the home of Renae Cowley, a former key campaign staffer for Swallow and Shurtleff. The search warrants for Monday’s searches have not been disclosed.
Only Shurtleff has complained about how the search warrant was executed. He was out of town Monday, but said the raid traumatized his teenage daughter, who was in the bathroom when officers in body armor pounded on the door and ordered her out, a laser sight pointed at her chest. Shurtleff has said the investigators also broke through a door.
The FBI and the Department of Public Safety has neither confirmed nor denied whether those tactics were used, but have insisted no one was mistreated and protocol was followed.
The DPS manual calls for officers to wear body armor whenever they work in public. The manual gives no specific guidance on when to draw weapons while serving a search warrant.
When detectives receive a search warrant, they typically meet with everyone who will serve it and determine what, if any, threats exist. Martinelli said the officers and agents who served the warrants Monday should have realized there were no histories of violence and — in the case of Shurtleff and Swallow — the suspects had a certain standing: lawyers who had been office holders. All that should have mitigated any concerns about threats to law enforcement, Martinelli said.
Martinelli raised the possibility it was the FBI that influenced the tactics Shurtleff has described.
"Because they never do any real street work and they’re basically detectives in suits," Martinelli said of the FBI, "they get overly carried away like they think they’re on television."
The Utah Legislature, in the session that ended in March, passed a law stating police "may use only that force which is reasonable and necessary to execute" the search warrant. The law takes effect July 1.
Hart said he would have liked Shurtleff to be more sensitive to use of force by police while he was attorney general.
"But I’m glad he realizes police do make mistakes and ordinary citizens are often mistreated," Hart said. "The police were doing their job but didn’t have to do it with guns drawn."
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