Near dawn break-in attempt by FBI scares, angers family
Gary Adams stands at the front door to his Bellevue home, which he says the FBI wrongly broke down as part of the Manchester drug raids Thursday. The door's cut glass was shattered in the attempt to enter the home.
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When Gary Adams heard a series of "booms" early Thursday, he figured one of the kids had left the TV on overnight. He had no idea, he said Friday, that law enforcement agents were about to flood his Bellevue house, looking for an accused member of the Manchester OGs gang who once lived there.
A few clock ticks later, agents broke open all three doors into his Orchard Avenue home, shattering glass. Then some 15 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and state and local police entered his home.
"When I hit that bend and turned," he said, pointing toward the staircase that lands near his front door, "there was a laser sight on my head."
An hour later the agents left, without their suspect, Sondra Hunter, who remained at large. An FBI agent apologized and promised the bureau would pay for the damaged doors, he said.
These days, agents don't hesitate to break doors. Several federal agents have been shot in recent years, and some of the 29 accused gangsters whose indictments were unveiled Thursday are accused of gun violations.
The entry to Mr. Adams' house, though, raises the question: Absent a search warrant, when can law enforcement knock in a door?
"If they have an arrest warrant for John Doe ... that is not authority to go into [Doe's] friend's house," said David Harris, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and a specialist in search and seizure. "Otherwise, a warrant for anyone could allow you to go anywhere that person could be."
"In this day and age, police are given quite a bit of leeway," said Alexander H. Lindsay Jr., a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. "Whenever law enforcement is executing a warrant, the safety of the officers in question is always a primary consideration."
The FBI, which coordinated the multi-agency raid on the OGs that netted 25 drug and gun suspects, declined comment.
Mr. Adams said his family moved from Manchester to Bellevue in June. There they rented a house that, some time before, had been occupied by Ms. Hunter, 35, whose family Mr. Adams knows.
"We have no association whatsoever with [Sondra Hunter]," said Mr. Adams, a 57-year-old who scalps tickets.
Law enforcement monitoring of his street apparently began some time before the raid. Mr. Adams said family members noticed people sitting in cars on the block during the week before the Manchester OGs take down.
It was sometime before 6 a.m. Thursday, and Mr. Adams was in bed, when he heard the booms, and then amplified speech. "I heard the loudspeaker say, 'Sondra Hunter, come out with your hands up,' " he said.
He looked out his window and saw a SWAT truck parked a few doors down, its light shining in his window.
His wife, Denise Adams, 58, went downstairs, as someone from outside broke the glass in the front door. Agents outside ordered her to freeze, and to open the door. She said she had to go upstairs and get the key to unlock the deadbolt, but as she took a step toward the stairs, the door was broken in.
Agents flooded in, Mr. Adams said, ordering the family of 11 -- he and his wife, their three children, and six grandchildren ages 2 to 16 -- to the porch.
He said they pointed guns at everyone. "How are you pointing those guns on those kids?" he said Friday. "My granddaughter came home from school yesterday, [and] said she couldn't even concentrate."
He refused to leave during the search and said his requests to see a search warrant were ignored.
The federal case against 29 accused members of the Manchester OGs includes six search warrant applications, but none are for the Adams house.
The FBI got a March 2 arrest warrant for Ms. Hunter. Like most federal arrest warrants, it does not include an address. A news release by the U.S. attorney's office on Thursday said Ms. Hunter lived on West North Avenue, about four miles from Orchard Avenue.
Bruce Ledewitz, a professor of law at Duquesne University, said an arrest warrant allows law enforcement to enter only the suspect's residence. If there are "exigent circumstances" that lead agents to believe the suspect is in another residence -- say, a very recent sighting, or a tip -- that can justify entry, he said.
"If they saw you enter there a week earlier," he said, "and they have no other reason to think you'd be there, they need a [search] warrant."
First Published March 5, 2011 12:00 am