HOWELL -- The unsuccessful May 20 drug raid of a Howell family's home nearly cost the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotic Enforcement Team (LAWNET) the support of its only municipal member, the city of Howell.
City Council debated Monday whether to sign a new two-year agreement with LAWNET, the county's only drug-fighting task force. Council members said they were concerned about possible abuse of the state's new anti-terrorism laws by LAWNET officers during and after the raid.
The raid was perhaps the state's first known instance of law enforcement officers using new anti-terrorism police powers in a case unrelated to terrorism, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. But Brighton criminal defense Attorney Ron Plunkett said it's not the first time LAWNET has been heavy-handed.
LAWNET officers failed to leave a copy of the search warrant at the residence, the home of a single mother and her three children. Only a 17-year-old boy was home at the time of the raid, which produced no evidence of criminal activity.
Later, Livingston County Circuit Court officials refused to provide the mother with the affidavits that justified the search warrant.
Court and law enforcement officials cited the new anti-terrorism laws, signed into law in April, which make search warrant affidavits nonpublic. Last week, a new law sponsored by state Sen. Bill Bullard, R-Highland, was signed into law, making such affidavits public after 56 days.
ACLU Communication Director Wendy Wagenheim said the Howell raid was the first she's heard of in which officials tried to use new police powers designed to fight terrorism. It's just the kind of abuse the ACLU has feared could occur as a result of the federal USA Patriot Act approved by Congress in October and Michigan adopted in April.
"We have certainly feared with these laws that, if not now, how long would it take until police would abuse those powers," Wagenheim said.
Plunkett, who has defended clients in many cases involving LAWNET, said the task force has a reputation for using whatever means it finds necessary to fight drug crimes.
"Their motives are wonderful, but the tactics they use are sometimes heavy-handed," he said. "It's a scary thing when LAWNET comes into your house. There's sometimes 15 to 20 of them."
Howell Police Chief Roger Goralsky and City Attorney Dennis Perkins argued that the city would have no way to fight drugs without LAWNET.
Karen Bouffard is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.