By Kevin Hayden
A joint drug task force from Weber and Morgan county, Utah, executed a search warrant on Todd Blair’s house on September 16th, 2010, resulting in the shooting death of Blair only two seconds after entry was made.
The “Weber-Morgan Strike Force” initiated an investigation into Blair’s residence with a focus on his roommate, Melanie Chournos. Police stated in their application for warrant that Ms. Chournos would likely destroy evidence upon their arrival, and requested a night time, “no-knock warrant” for the squirrely female. However, prior to the raid, law enforcement became aware of the fact Blair’s roommate had moved out of the house. With warrant already in hand, or rather, still back at the police station, the Strike Force decided to conduct the night time raid anyway.
Friends and family of Mr. Blair plainly admit to his drug usage, but said he was a drug addict and not a drug dealer.
After the SWAT team hit the door three times in an attempt to open it, and as the video clearly shows, Mr. Blair appears in a far hallway, shirtless, and with a golf club in his hands.
Certainly, any reasonable person would arm themselves at the sound of their front door being kicked in for fear of becoming a victim of robbery, or worse.
Caution: video contains actual raid footage, including the shooting.
Unfortunately for Mr. Blair, the home intruders were seven police officers in body armor, along with the full protection of the District Attorney’s office behind them. Strike Force Sgt. Troy Burnett immediately shoots Mr. Blair three times, in the chest and face, without giving any commands to surrender or drop the golf club.
This should startle and shock the conscience of anyone reading this article. How many times do we read in the news that “Police Serve Warrant at Wrong House” or “Police Shoot and Kill Man at Wrong Address”? If you find yourself being awakened to the sounds of your front door being kicked in,perhaps you should simply lay down like a sheep until you are certain it is not the law enforcers. Are we supposed to place our personal safety on hold until we positively identify who it is that is breaking and entering?
Police rarely announce their presence until they are already coming through the door. It can happen to anyone; it merely takes botched intelligence or lack of planning, and armed men wearing badges might be killing you tonight for merely standing in your hallway in a moment of panic and confusion. No chance to surrender, no option to apologize, or even wipe the sleep from your eyes – two to the chest and one to the face – and you’re back asleep.
As a former police officer, I understand there needs to be a balance; law enforcement need to protect themselves, as do home owners, but I feel as though it boils down to one simple, common denominator: the failed War on Drugs. Local departments are given Federal money for drug arrests, regardless of the size, quantity, or quality; it is a carrot on a stick, being dangled in front of their face. The more arrests a department makes, the bigger their budget grows, allowing for additional units, overtime, fancy new gear, and other incentives, not to mention asset forfeiture laws that enable police departments to seize houses, cars, cash, and weapons, many times without the need for an actual conviction!
Where do all of these people go who are arrested for petty crimes? More often than not, they are placed into “for-profit, private prisons.” These companies, such as Corrections Corporation of America, are traded on Wall Street based upon the number of bodies that are imprisoned within. CCA, and others like it, have extremely powerful lobbyists who have the ears of Senators, Police Chiefs, and the DEA. In fact, America incarcerates more citizens per capita than any other nation in the world.
Communist China, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Iran, etc. et al, have lower imprisonment rates than the United States of America; Home of the Free. As with any investigation, one need only “follow the money…”
If we dissect the video, and apply all of the usual law enforcement cautions, warnings, and training, we still have a shooting that in my opinion, should be up for prosecution. Instead, the DA’s office publicly stated that the officer-involved shooting was “justified.”
Police officers are ingrained with the “21 foot rule”, which states that a person armed with a knife or similar edged weapon, can cover 21 feet of open ground in the same amount of time it takes for an officer to recognize the threat and draw his weapon [approximately 1 1/2 seconds]. While this is a proven, and intelligent training lesson, officers executing a search warrant already have their weapons ready, have the element of surprise, and are going through the front door with the anticipation of confronting a deadly adversary. I believe it is prudent to say that the “21 foot rule” doesn’t necessarily apply in Mr. Blair’s situation, given the odds stacked against him.
Secondly, with furniture between Mr. Blair and Sgt. Burnett that would slow his approach, along with the fact he was only armed with a golf club, I believe this shooting was a bad decision and the result of a trigger happy front man. Sgt. Burnett later made statements recalling the event, saying that Blair was within arm’s reach of him when he fired, although the video clearly shows Blair a minimum of 8-10 feet away, if not further.
The Huffington Post reports Sgt. Burnett as saying, “I was always confident in my close-range shooting ability, and the ammo, I’m absolutely pleased with. It did its job.”
This boils down to willfully shooting a man in the face and being in control of your emotions, muscle memory, and reactions. If you can not be trusted to apply logic and calm reasoning in adrenaline-filled situations, perhaps you are not cut out for being the point man in a SWAT stack. There is a massive difference between effectively sizing up the situation and hesitating under pressure. I suppose some of us prefer to make sound decisions, even at the slightly elevated risk of delaying our action for a second or two, instead of blindly reacting out of panic, tunnel-vision, and fear.
“I didn’t think about saying words [giving verbal commands to surrender]. I just thought about not getting hit…or slashed or whatever,” Burnett told investigators, saying that he thought the golf club was “a sword or something.” He also said that it did not appear to him that Blair was moving toward him, an admission that could prove crucial in a federal criminal or civil case.
These statements are indicative of “coaching” on what to say rather than true recollection of the events surrounding the decision to shoot or not. Without the inclusion of the “sword” reference, Sgt. Burnett’s armor and helmet, if he were wearing one, would have surely protected him against blunt force trauma from the golf club and it is likely that supervisors who responded to the scene; perhaps even their own internal investigators, suggested Burnett mention fear of being “…slashed, or whatever” in order to further justify the use of deadly force.
Law enforcement officers can use deadly force only when they fear great bodily harm or imminent death, and if Sgt. Burnett was only afraid of being hit by a golf club, it stands to reason that a jury would find the facts leading up to the shooting did not warrant deadly force given the totality of the circumstances: seven-person SWAT team, no-knock warrant, element of surprise, armor, if any, as well as distance, lack of advancement or aggression, etc.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the raid was hastily planned, diverting from protocol. Sgt. Burnett told investigators that it is “absolutely not our standard” to carry out such a raid with as little planning as was done, reports the Tribune. The raid was conducted so hastily, in fact, that police forgot the warrant. According to the Tribune, in the video it obtained, an officer can be heard asking: “Did somebody grab a copy of the warrant off my desk?”
Blair’s death raises the question of why multiple, heavily-armed officers were sent to raid a drug addict – and why Weber and Morgan counties in Utah would even need a “Narcotics Strike Force.” Local police forces are able to keep property they seize in drug raids, often without the necessity of a conviction, creating a perverse incentive to reinvest in military equipment and carry out additional raids in the infamous War on Drugs.
After searching the entire house, police only recovered some drug paraphernalia and a single, small pink baggie with what appeared to be a white crystal substance.
Kevin Hayden is a former New Orleans police officer-turned-truth seeker. He endured Hurricane Katrina’s chaos and societal collapse in the days following and after 5 years in New Orleans, moved to Oklahoma. Kevin currently runs www.TruthisTreason.net and works on local politics and education about our monetary, food, and foreign policies while building an off-grid shipping container homestead and helping people become prepared. He can be contacted directly at Contact@TruthisTreason.net
[Editorial note: I am aware that it is much easier to play Monday-morning quarterback when dissecting an incident caught on film, but I believe in police accountability, regardless of the situation, and if no one else is willing to say what needs to be said, then I will be more than happy to offer my opinion.]
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