The Sandusky Sheriff department was contacted by the family of Bryan Jones because he was under the influence of alcohol, had at least one weapon and had threatened to kill his mother. After Jones refused to come out of the house, a flashbang device was set off and when the SWAT team entered the home, Jones was shot and killed by law enforcement officers. Much of the focus has been on the two members of the SWAT team who shot and killed Jones, little of the focus has been on who gave the order to use the flashbang device.
The use of such devices has been a problem in other areas, in May 7-year old Aiyana Stanley Jones was killed after being shot by a member of the Detroit Police forces SWAT team, a flashbang device was used there and according to family, the couch the 7-year old was sleeping on caught fire prior to the shooting.
In a May article on Reason – “Lessons from the Death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones” (link) the use of the flashbang is referenced:
Though touted as “non-lethal,” flashbang grenades have caused a number of deaths and serious injuries. The devices set off a wave of intense light and sound designed to stun everyone inside of a building long enough for police to enter and secure the premises. They’re indiscriminate. Their intended effect is to cause injury to everyone near them. That means they’re effectively a form of punishment on people who have yet to be convicted of any crime. And that includes innocent bystanders as well as suspects. And they are explosives, which means there is a very real risk of injury and destruction. Flashbangs have caused second- and third-degree burns, and ignited fires that have consumed houses.
The night of Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ death, police shot a flashbang grenade through the window of her home. Her family says it landed on the couch where she was sleeping, ignited the blanket laying over her, and set off flames that began to burn the girl just before she was shot. (The autopsy hasn’t yet been released.)
According to the Detroit Free Press, another Detroit-area police department is facing a lawsuit from the elderly couple Leonid and Arlene Marmelshtein, who say police battered into their home and detonated two of the devices during a 2004 marijuana raid. (Police found a small amount of the drug in an adult son’s sock drawer.) According to the Free Press, a police spokesman in that case called the use of the devices “entirely appropriate.” In allowing the lawsuit to go forward, U.S. District Judge Julian Cook disagreed, writing, “No reasonable law enforcement officer would have considered a confused elderly couple to be capable of producing the kind of tense and rapidly evolving uncertain situation which would require 10 police officers to make split-second decisions, including the use of two flash-bang devices.”
The use of the flashbang has been the topic of several court cases where it’s been questioned as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, one example is Boyd v. Benton County; City of Corvallis et al (link)
A court case was recently filed against the City of Detroit for a March 2 raid that involved a flashbang device – (link).
In 2003 (link) 57-year old Alberta Spruill died as a result of:
…a dozen heavily armed police–six officers from the Emergency Service Unit and six regular patrol officers–burst unannounced into her residence. They had a search warrant issued solely on the basis of erroneous information supplied by an unreliable anonymous informer who falsely claimed that illegal guns and drugs were stored at Spruill’s residence, that he had seen armed individuals there on three occasions, and that there were dogs inside. First the officers suddenly broke down the front door with a battering ram. Then they heaved a stun grenade into the apartment where it exploded with a blinding white flash, a deafening bang, and a thunderous concussion. Then they stormed in and handcuffed Spruill, placing her face down on the floor. She was coughing and screaming. Spruill, who suffered from high blood pressure, then began having difficulty breathing. An ambulance for Spruill was dispatched at 6:32 a.m. When Spruill arrived at Harlem Hospital at 8 a.m. she was pronounced dead. She had suffered a fatal heart attack.
The medical examiner performed an autopsy and announced that Spruill suffered “sudden death following a police raid” as a result of shock and fear caused by the stun grenade explosion and the stress of being handcuffed. The medical examiner also officially classified Spruill’s death a homicide–a death caused by another person’s actions. “She really was scared to death,” The New York Daily News wrote the day after the medical examiner’s announcement.
Since it’s being stated by family members that the reason officers Jose and Mario Calvillo shot Bryan Jones was because he was startled by the flashbang device and was reacting to that as opposed to threatening law enforcement, the policy of the use of the flashbang and who gave the order as well as the larger issue as to the overall appropriateness of the flashbang device should be delved into.