By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
By Ray Downs
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Lindsay Toler
By Jon Gitchoff
By Lindsay Toler
Feb. 6 started out as just another day in the life of Annette Green.
The 37-year-old Wellston woman was doing what she could to make her home habitable. Three weeks earlier, the city had condemned the two-story house at 1534 Valle Ave. that Green rented from her mother. There was trash outside, and the plumbing and sewage systems leaked. Green's friend Kelvin Brown came over around 9:30 a.m. to repair water leaks and patch holes in the walls. Green paid him with cocaine, the currency she knew best. By early evening, he'd smoked three rocks and was hard at work beneath the upstairs bathroom sink.
Just two of Green's six children, all boys, were home. But there was plenty of company. The seven people inside Green's home when most of St. Louis was sitting down for dinner knew each other by such monikers as "Hunk" and "Chong" -- Brown was called "Old Man." Everyone was pretty much doing what they always did at Green's house: smoking weed, watching cartoons, playing video games, taking naps, stereo on upstairs. Just kicking it. No big deal.
Green, a longtime crack addict, was at the end of her last binge. Shortly after 5 p.m., she called her sister Betty Williams. "She wanted to borrow $30 from me," Williams recalls. "I was mopping my room, because I have a handicapped son and the dog had urinated on the floor by his wheelchair. So I told her, 'Call me back.' Then I said, 'As soon as I get through mopping, I'll call you back.'" It was the last time the sisters spoke to each other.
While Williams cleaned her floor, more than a dozen St. Louis County police officers gathered at the police academy in Clayton to plan an assault on her sister's house. A week earlier, police obtained a search warrant on the basis of the word of an informant, who told the cops that Montray Williams, one of Green's nephews, was selling crack from the house. In a sworn affidavit used to get the warrant, Officer Gerald Shepard, using standard cop lingo that appears on hundreds of warrant applications filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, told Judge Mary Schroeder the informant "has provided information to this affiant on previous occasions that all proved to be accurate and reliable." Thanks to this unnamed source, Officer Shepard swore, police in past cases had executed several search warrants that netted drugs and weapons and resulted in numerous arrests. Now, Shepard said, the snitch had seen as much as 4 ounces of crack packaged for sale in Green's house, with another quarter-pound due for delivery within a week. At a conservative $150 per eightball, each ounce would have been worth $1,200. The informant also told the police to watch out for a .45-caliber pistol and a .38-caliber revolver.
The word of an anonymous snitch and Shepard's claim that he'd watched the house and seen a lot of foot traffic was good enough for the judge who signed the warrant. But there were plenty of hints that this raid would be, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a tragedy.
In his sworn affidavit, Shepard told the judge that a search at the same house a year earlier had resulted in the recovery of a handgun and cocaine, as well as the arrest of three people for outstanding warrants. But much of Shepard's information, provided under penalty of perjury, wasn't true.
The single pebble of suspected crack recovered from a dining-room table didn't test positive for cocaine (nonetheless, the police, who routinely carry field-testing equipment still hauled Green to jail). "The substance we found, we don't know what it was, but it was not controlled," admits county prosecutor Robert McCulloch. He speculates that it was something used to dilute drugs or that Green was ripping off her customers. "One or the other," he says. Then again, it could also have been a chunk of soap, rock salt or a dried-out piece of potato, all of which can resemble crack.
Shepard also swore that Montray Williams was on probation for a drug violation, but that wasn't accurate. Green's nephew had completed his probation in 1998 and wasn't in any trouble with the law, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections and county court records. As for those three people arrested the previous year for outstanding warrants, police reports show just one person at the house was arrested for a warrant, stemming from an unspecified misdemeanor offense out of Bel-Ridge Municipal Court. Green was arrested and released after booking -- police accused her of unlawful use of a weapon and selling drugs despite no hard evidence she'd broken any laws. Prosecutors also wouldn't press charges against another woman whom police booked on suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia.
Shepard didn't tell the judge that officers didn't have to look hard for the rusty but loaded Colt .38-caliber handgun. Green, a woman who'd never been charged with a violent crime, told them to look under the chair where she had been sitting when the cops rushed in. She never threatened anyone. "Of course, in your own house, you can have a concealed weapon, so there's no crime committed there," McCulloch says. "She didn't flourish the weapon or anything along those lines."
Despite the flawed affidavit and evidence that Green's home was a small pond with tiny fish, police prepared to hit the house as if Pablo Escobar lived there. Helmeted officers donned extra-heavy Kevlar vests and armed themselves with submachine guns while Shepard, Officer Christopher Steib and a third officer drove by the house to gather last-minute intelligence and make sure they had the address straight. As point man on the nine-officer entry team, Steib's job was most critical. He would be first through the door and would head for what he perceived as the most threatening area.
When the three officers returned to the academy, they briefed their colleagues on what to expect, with Shepard warning that a gun had been found during the previous raid and that drugs or weapons might be hidden just outside an upstairs front window. The plan, essentially standard operating procedure for the St. Louis County Police Department's Tactical Operations Unit, was relatively simple: Steib would knock on the door and yell, "Police! Search warrant!" Within seconds, two officers would break down the door with a ram. Then police would swarm through the house, guns drawn, to find and handcuff anyone inside before they could destroy drugs or grab weapons. In this particular case, a sergeant would stand outside, watching the front window. If anyone inside made a move, he'd radio an alert. Meanwhile, masked officers assigned to the county Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force would stand in the back yard, ready in case anyone tried to flee.
The briefing concluded, officers piled into a van and headed to Green's house, about 15 minutes away. As they left, they called the Wellston police and told the local cops they were coming. They would have to hurry. State law mandates that search warrants be executed, if at all possible, during daylight hours. It was 5 o'clock. Already canceled twice for lack of manpower and daylight, the warrant, signed a week earlier, would expire in three days.
The officers parked just south of the home so no one would see them, but their best efforts at surprise failed. When the van pulled up, Green was chatting on the phone with a neighbor and happened to look out a window. "Hey, the police are here," Green said, then hung up the phone. Before they reached the front door, officers knew they'd been made. As they advanced toward the house, the sergeant assigned to the front window saw someone move the blinds aside and peer out. "County police! Search warrant!" the sergeant yelled as his colleagues ran for the porch. He also radioed what he'd seen. An officer in the backyard also saw someone look outside.
Once the cops were at the door, Steib knocked and yelled, "County police, search warrant!" Then the two-man ram team broke down the door. Relying on flashlights attached to their guns, officers poured into the dimly lit house, shouting "Police!" and ordering people to lie on the ground or put their hands in the air. Steib went left and headed for the stairs, once again yelling, "County police, search warrant!" as he placed his foot on the first step. That was when he heard footsteps.
Someone was coming down. Whoever it was had something shiny in his or her right hand -- Steib thought it was either a gun or a knife. Steib says he yelled, "Police! Stop!" as the person rounded the upper stairwell corner and came into full view, never saying a word. Other officers heard Steib yell, "Show me your hands!" Then there were gunshots.
Intending a three-round burst, Steib instead fired four bullets -- understandable, given that the MP-5, the same machine gun shown in the infamous photograph of the Elian Gonzalez raid, fires at the rate of 900 rounds per minute. The .40-caliber bullets sprayed Green across her body. One hit her left shoulder, another tore into her left lung, a third ripped through her liver and the fourth struck her right elbow, going clean through. Steib walked outside and told a sergeant, "I'm off," meaning he was the one who had fired and was immediately relieved of duty. The sergeant told him to sit in the van. Inside the house, Green's 12-year-old son went from playing video games to stepping around his dying mother in the stairwell. "I saw my momma laying right there with her blood running down the step," he told detectives.
Green had been carrying a foot-long bolt -- her relatives, who accuse police of planting it on the stairwell, think it may have been part of a makeshift brace constructed of two-by-fours that was used to secure the front door. She was dead on arrival at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Tragedy aside, the result was much the same as a year earlier: a half-ounce of pot found in someone's pocket, a .25-caliber pistol, a shotgun and a rifle. Once again, prosecutors filed no charges.
Green, the third unarmed African-American shot dead during county anti-drug operations in less than a year, lies in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Officer Steib, who fired from a distance of about 6 feet, is the only living eyewitness, according to police accounts. Two officers who were right behind him in the stairwell told detectives they were looking elsewhere when shots rang out. Steib was soon cleared by police investigators and returned to duty within two weeks, long before a grand jury concluded he'd done nothing criminal. Steib continues to work the point on county drug-search warrants. It's a prestigious and dangerous position, the place assigned to the sharpest cop on the squad.
"He was among the best officers there," says Lt. Jeff Bader, commander of the Tactical Operations Unit. "You put your best up there. They have a lot of confidence in the officer involved in the shooting. They know he can handle his own problems."
Police brass have expressed regret but won't apologize, saying Green didn't stop when ordered, leaving Steib with no choice but to pull the trigger. "He has no time left to make a decision," Bader says. "As tragic as these decisions are, he either runs or protects his fellow officers."
For police, this was an honest, if deadly, mistake. For Williams, who identified her sister's body, it's something far more serious. "They murdered her," she says. "They're covering their tracks. That's all. You know how they do. I ain't got to tell you, you ain't got to tell me. It doesn't make no difference if she was a drug addict or what.
"She was a human being."
Green's death -- and the police response to it -- has ratcheted up anger and distrust of law enforcement in a community already outraged by the shooting deaths of Earl Murray and Ron Beasley on June 12 last year. Beasley was just along for the ride when Murray allegedly sold crack to an undercover officer assigned to the county Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force, a unit composed of detectives from the county and a dozen municipalities. Municipal detectives assigned to the task force are deputized by the county and must follow all county-department rules and regulations.
Like Green, Murray was, at most, a chump-change dealer, hardly worth the risk police took when they decided to take him down during rush hour in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box near the Interstate 70 interchange at Hanley Road in Berkeley. As with Green, the plan to nab Murray was relatively simple: An undercover officer would buy drugs from him, then signal other officers, who would move in and make the arrest. But Murray didn't want to go to jail, and so he stomped on the accelerator of his Ford Escort as officers approached. First he hit reverse, locking bumpers with a Drug Enforcement Administration SUV that had moved in behind him. Then he tried going forward, spinning his wheels while a Dellwood detective assigned to the task force and a DEA agent invited to help with the bust stood in the car's path. If the Escort broke free of the SUV, the two drug warriors feared they'd be hit. And so they opened fire, killing both men.
Once again, the take was insignificant -- police found a quarter-ounce of crack and a small amount of heroin under the bloodstained front seat. Once again, neither man carried a weapon. After about a week on leave and three weeks on desk duty, the Dellwood officer returned to the street, more than a month before a grand jury agreed with police and prosecutors who say she fired in self-defense. DEA officials won't comment on when their agent returned to duty or in what capacity. Although the entire operation was under the direction of the county drug task force that is attached to the county's drug-enforcement bureau within the St. Louis County Police Department, county police officials have distanced themselves from the killings, noting that neither of the shooters drew county paychecks. "They weren't shot by my officers," says Chief Ron Battelle.
That's not how the community sees it. During a Feb. 26 town-hall meeting at the Grace Church of God in Christ in Wellston, many in the audience of about 100 drew comparisons between the Green and Berkeley cases. "If you don't see us as human beings and shoot us like animals, that's a problem," thundered Tiahmo Ra-uf, a local leader of the National Action Network founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Such angry talk drew loud applause while Battelle and four County Council members assured the crowd that they took the sentiments seriously. Councilman Robert A. Young IV (D-2nd District) admits he's not sure where the drug war is going, but he's not willing to let up. "Disbanding the tactical unit, I don't believe at this point, is something I want to do," he told the crowd. "What other tactics are we going to use? These criminals are armed to the teeth sometimes. Mistakes can be made."
The council and County Executive Buzz Westfall have appointed a 10-member citizens review panel, the Police Practices Review Committee, which will analyze the killing in Wellston, as well as the Berkeley shootings. It's an unprecedented step, one that could make the cops accountable to someone other than internal police investigators. The panel says it plans to study both cases and recommend any needed changes in policies and procedures.
But several civil-rights activists have already dismissed the panel as too little, too late. For one thing, the panel has no power to subpoena information from the police, so they're stuck working with whatever the cops choose to tell them. Activists also criticize the panel's membership, which was determined by Westfall and County Council members with little public input. "They're a group of custodians of the status quo, and political handpicked lackeys," complains the Rev. Phillip Duvall. Duvall and other critics say any police-review panel should include at least one member with a relative or close friend who has had a drug problem. Otherwise, it's too easy to cast drug users as bad guys in black hats who deserve to get shot at. Duvall suggests including someone who has personally struggled with drugs, noting that a person can mend his ways. "Is the president of the United States less credible because he has a DWI conviction?" Duvall asks.
Duvall doesn't mince words about the killings. He can't understand why detectives needed to rush up to Murray's car in such a public place with so little to gain. As for Green, if the police put lives at risk by busting down doors with innocent children inside, they should have a darn good reason, he says. "They better be producing some large quantities," he says. "Why would you use a highly trained paramilitary unit that costs thousands of dollars to fund and to train and the most they get is a traffic-stop bust? North County is turning into the killing fields. Shooting is replacing lynching, because it's going unchecked and it's not being charged."
County Councilman Charles Dooley (D-1st), the only African-American on the seven-member council, says his constituents may not agree with such hot talk, but the activists have a point. "I think some of the rhetoric is not representative [of the community], but some of the concerns might be," Dooley says. "The concern is, when police come into African-American communities, are they cautious in our community as opposed to any other community? Those are some legitimate concerns. I think most of the community is waiting to see what the review panel has to say."
Dooley urged Westfall to set up the review panel and helped choose its members. Although he says one death is too many, Dooley defends county police. "This is not to diminish a loss of life, by any stretch of the imagination, but they do 200 or 300 of these [raids] every year with no incident," he says. Like Battelle, Dooley says the Berkeley shooting was different from the Green slaying because the officers who fired weren't county employees. "The county has a good record of being conscious of people and their surrounding environment," he says. "This is just an unfortunate situation."
But when county police run out of luck, odds are, a black person will suffer the consequences.
A Riverfront Times review of more than 300 drug-related search warrants served in St. Louis County in 1999 and 2000 shows the police routinely use paramilitary force to raid the homes of nickel-and-dime dope dealers, mostly in black neighborhoods, often with disappointing results. As of early April, fewer than 80 of the 375 people identified as dealers in search-warrant affidavits had been charged with crimes. Those who face charges after warrants are served typically receive five years of probation, with no jail time.
Lt. Tom Jackson, commander of the county drug-enforcement bureau, concedes that a sizeable percentage of drug raids end with no charges filed. He offers several explanations. "Finding the person and finding the drugs does not necessarily conclude in a conviction or even charges being formally filed," Jackson says. "When you go in and there's a target in the house ... and the dope's in the house, if you can't physically put that person with the drugs and there are other people in there who could potentially possess those drugs, even with the best of information, it is often difficult for a jury or even a judge to say, 'Yes, this is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that that person and those drugs go together.'"
The officers on the tactical team are some of the county's finest. Between 20 and 50 officers each year ask to be transferred to the unit, which usually has no more than five vacancies. Once there, each officer receives more than 250 hours of training each year, 25 hours more than the national average as reported in a 1997 study conducted by Eastern Kentucky University researchers. Despite training, drug-sniffing dogs and the power to turn a house upside down in search of drugs, the cops often come up empty-handed. During the two-year period examined by the RFT, the police in 330 warrants reported finding no drugs in 40 searches and just residue in another 16 cases. "They're easy to hide," says Jackson. "They're easy to flush. That's the bottom line. I can't tell you how many times we've gone into drains in basements and found some in the drain. They're just easy to dispose of."
Time also works in the dealers' favor. Drug-search warrants served the same day they're signed by a judge are extremely rare in St. Louis County -- under state law, a warrant must be served within 10 days. Waiting a week, as the cops did in the Green case, is commonplace and often spells failure, especially with low-level dealers, who are likely to smoke whatever they can't sell within a few hours. "The drugs come in, we get the information and we act on it as rapidly as we can," Jackson says. "But, often, as quickly as it comes in, we get the information, it's good information and by the time we show up there, they've had a chance to move a good portion of it."
McCulloch has no easy explanation for the number of targets who have escaped charges. "It could be any number of things," he says. Some who otherwise would have faced charges may have agreed to become informants, he says. He also notes that people other than targets named in warrrant applications may have been charged as a result of searches but says he doesn't know how often that happens.
Most drug-related search warrants served in St. Louis County are served in black neighborhoods. Five ZIP codes in predominantly black communities accounted for more than half of the warrants served in St. Louis County during the two-year period examined by the RFT, when police served no search warrants in several upscale communities such as Ladue and Frontenac. In Clayton, the only drug-search warrant served during those two years was executed when Washington University police summoned city police after finding a suspicious package mailed to a student. Cops searched the package -- not the student's room -- and found marijuana inside. The sole warrant served in Creve Coeur was issued in July 1999, when police found pot after pulling over a motorist who told them, "There is a lot more in my house, and too bad you can't get to it." Those words were enough for a judge to sign the warrant.
County police aren't alone in serving the bulk of warrants in black neighborhoods. Notwithstanding Dooley's claim that police serve as many as 300 warrants each year, the county tactical unit averages 180 warrants a year, according to police and court records. Many of these are obtained by municipal police agencies, not county detectives. Even so, court records show county investigators get most of their drug-search warrants for black neighborhoods. And the tactical unit that serves those warrants is virtually all white men. Of the 30 officers assigned to the unit, four are black and one is a woman.
Some cops are bothered by the pattern. Tom Mayer, president of the Missouri State Fraternal Order of Police and a member of the St. Charles County tactical team, says he sees the same economic demographics in his jurisdiction. "I have a concern with the lack of enforcement activity in wealthy areas on drugs, personally," he says.
Jackson, the county drug-enforcement-bureau commander, bristles at any notion that police weight their warrants toward black areas. "We don't base anything we do on the race of the individuals," he says. "We really have to go where the drugs are and where our investigations take us. We go where the complaints are, where the drug problem exists, where our informants tell us the drugs are and where we have the capability of concluding that those drugs are there and that those are drug houses." Battelle defends the Green raid as a response to neighborhood complaints. "We were not there on our own," he told the crowd at the Wellston church. "We were there because citizens sent us there. They told us there were problems at that house. Do you not want us to fight the drug problem in St. Louis County?" Jackson says police received two anonymous complaints about Green's house on the county's drug hotline over a period of several months.
Green was hardly an atypical target for county drug enforcers. During the period examined by the RFT, police obtained search warrants on the basis of controlled buys of as little as $10 worth of drugs. Battelle dismisses complaints that such operations are overkill. "Some people may say low-level drug dealers are no big deal," Battelle told the Wellston audience. "Well, let me tell you: It is a big deal. Our kids don't get drugs from high-level drug dealers."
But there were less risky ways to accomplish the mission in Green's case.
Green last fall pleaded guilty to selling less than 5 grams of marijuana -- well under a quarter-ounce -- to an undercover officer in 1998, a crime that earned her five years' probation. She violated her probation by not visiting her probation officer, prompting the state Department of Corrections to issue a warrant for her arrest. "Why didn't they just go there and arrest her?" asks her sister Betty Williams. "That would have closed the house down right there. She was always there. They could have gone in and locked her up for five years." (Indeed, that's exactly what happened to an accomplice in Green's marijuana case, who is now in state prison after having his probation revoked for failing drug tests.)
Although Shepard's affidavit doesn't mention Green's arrest warrant, Jackson says police knew she was wanted. "There was more to the case than that," he says. "That was an issue, but the larger issue was, there were drugs in the house, and that's what the warrant was for. There was not necessarily one individual that we believed was dealing drugs out of the house." He adds that police thought Montray Williams, the target named in the warrant application, would be in the house on Feb. 6. But for all the police intelligence and surveillance, he wasn't there when the raid went down.
The city of Wellston could have resolved neighborhood complaints short of force by simply evicting Green and everyone else in the house. The house, with an assessed value of just $1,690, was condemned on Jan. 17, but city officials didn't follow through on a vow to "abate the premises" by Jan. 30. Wellston environmental officer Lewis Clark, the man responsible for enforcing the city's housing laws, did not return several phone calls from the RFT. Green's sister says the city had given her extra time to repair problems, but city files don't reflect that. McCulloch says the police didn't know that the house had been condemned.
Jackson doesn't see eviction as an option. "If you think that out, there's lots and lots of drug houses throughout St. Louis County and everywhere," the lieutenant says. "We have to address them in the manner that seems most practical, keeping in mind our mandate is to enforce the law."
Time and again, Jackson, a point man himself on the tactical unit before going into the investigative end, uses the words "efficient" and "effective" to describe how the police go about their business. "I was a paramedic for a long time," he says. "I've always, I guess, been wanting to do this kind of thing. But the reason I did it [worked point] while I was there was, I didn't think anybody could do a better, more effective, more efficient, safer job than me, quite frankly. Everybody who does that job believes the same about themselves. And breaching [taking down a door with a ram] is an art form. It's like the point man. The people who do the breachings, they're artisans."
Of course, things can go wrong. "It reaches a point where you say, 'Whoa, this is a kind of risky thing,'" Jackson says. Bader, the tactical-unit commander who worked point earlier in his career, learned this firsthand 11 years ago while handling the ram during a raid at the home of a suspected marijuana and cocaine dealer who was known to collect firearms. "When the front door came open, he was standing there with a gun," Bader recalls. "I got caught in the crossfire." Actually, there was no crossfire. The dealer didn't get off a shot. Bader was wounded in the leg by a fellow officer who also shot the shotgun-toting dealer four times. The dealer lived and was convicted on assault and drug charges. Until the Green case, that was the only time county officers had shot anyone while serving a warrant. As with Green, the necessity of a surprise strike was questionable. The dealer had 10 pounds of marijuana, far too much to flush even if police had knocked on the door and waited for someone to open it.
Noting that private-practice psychologists examined Steib and pronounced him fit for duty, Bader says the public shouldn't be concerned that Steib was back on point less than a month after he shot Green. "I don't see why there should be a concern there, and I'll tell you why," Bader says. "The reason why is, simply, we had people who were independent of the department rule that this officer was capable of performing the job of being a police officer."
Steib declined comment, citing the pending review by the Police Practices Review Committee.
Statistics show St. Louis County is no different than the rest of the nation when it comes to using paramilitary force to enforce drug laws. A 1997 study by Dr. Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University criminology professor, found that the number of tactical-unit call-outs shot up 1,589 percent between 1980 and 1995 as a result of increased use of SWAT teams to serve search warrants and an explosion in the number of tactical units. Twenty years ago, SWAT teams weren't commonly used in drug cases -- just 40 percent of such units in 1980 were used to serve search or arrest warrants. By 1995, 94 percent of SWAT teams in America were serving warrants, and the number of teams had increased from 63 in 1980 to more than 250.
St. Louis County has seen similar numbers. Between 1981 and 1991, the county tactical unit served 593 search warrants. During the past 10 years, the team has served 1,767, thanks in part to more detectives assigned to the county's drug bureau and a decade-old county policy of serving warrants for any agency that requests it, at no cost to the requesting department.
For Kraska, Annette Green's case is all too familiar.
After eight years of studying the use of paramilitary force by American police, Kraska has reached a simple conclusion: Cops nationwide are using one-size-fits-all sledgehammers to pound gnats, with tragedies such as Green's the inevitable result: A 12-year-old child blown away by a shotgun blast in Modesto, Calif. A Denver man shot to death by police who went to the wrong address. A SWAT commander in Oxnard, Calif., who mistakenly shot a fellow officer three times.
"If someone was to say, 'What's the most important thing you've come to after all this research?' I would say it's the stupidity of the approach that police are adopting using SWAT teams going after drugs," Kraska says. "Nobody can make a credible argument that it's wise public policy to conduct 40,000 drug raids a year by SWAT teams when the bulk of them are for relatively minor drug offenses. Does the potential benefit yielded out of this warrant the extreme tactics taken? I would answer with a resounding 'Absolutely not.' It's hard after you examine this for awhile to not come to the conclusion that this is a solution in search of a problem. To me, it's clear that the police have this thing in place and they're looking for something to do with it, obviously putting themselves in harm's way and citizens in harm's way. This stuff is intoxicating for them."
Kraska says the average cop agrees with him. "This is a real guess, but I suspect about half the law-enforcement community doesn't care for all this gung-ho paramilitary approach to policing," he says. "I teach a course every semester with about 60-65 people in law enforcement, all in management. I'd say 40-45 of them agree with everything I'm saying. I'd say about 20 of them really object to it." A few departments have backed off after tragedies, near-disasters or lawsuits. A captain in one large department in the Southwest told Kraska's researchers that his department was doing 500 raids a year in the early 1990s, until the danger became too obvious. "We did a crack raid and got in a massive shootout in an apartment building," the captain told researchers, who promised him anonymity. "Shots were fired and we riddled a wall with bullets. An MP-5 round will go through walls. When we went into the next apartment where the bullets were penetrating, we found a baby crib full of holes. Thank God those people weren't home."
But departments that scale back tactical operations for minor drug cases are the exception. "As long as the drug war is being fought with as much intensity as it is -- and I suspect with our new president, that intensity might even increase -- I can't foresee this kind of thing tapering off," Kraska says.
Certainly not in St. Louis County.
"Until the community says that street dealing is OK and gang drive-by shootings are OK, it's going to be our job to get out there and try to stop it," says Jackson, who objects to the use of the term "paramilitary" to describe the tactical unit. "Calling it 'paramilitary' really does a disservice to what they are, which is police officers doing a very difficult job which they're required to do. When we're going to serve a search warrant, there's no completely safe way to do that. It's a dangerous thing. Low-level drug dealers kill more people in the United States than anything else. I think there are more people killed over crack cocaine than for any other reason. Murder used to be a crime of passion. Over the past decade or two, it became a crime of drugs. Most of the people doing the killing are low-level drug dealers."
Her friends and family called her Nette. Just who she was depends on whom you talk to.
Wellston Police Chief Linda Whitfield, a lifelong city resident who knew Annette Green, won't say much about her. "She's just a resident of Wellston," the chief says. "I knew her through relatives, you know, over, like, 30 years." Whitfield also says she didn't know that Green had a drug problem. "Not until recently," she says. "Not until all the stuff happened, not until recently." In two years, Wellston police didn't obtain a single drug-search warrant, according to county court records. Whitfield won't say why. "I really can't answer that," she says. "We haven't since I've been chief. We do it, but my detectives handle that." She also won't say what she thinks about the raid on Green's house. "I have no comment," she says. "I'm just neutral."
Green's mother, Bertha Williams, says Chief Whitfield knew about her daughter's problems with crack and gave her hope that she would overcome drugs. "I know she said she talked to her," Bertha Williams says. "Linda said she was really straightening herself up." And how did Whitfield come to know Green? "Well, she was the police," she answers simply. "This is a big family. And Wellston is a small place."
Green's relatives insist she was harmless to everybody but herself. "Check the police reports," says her sister Betty. "There's nowhere where she broke in or stole nothing or robbery -- you know how people on drugs do. She wasn't that type of person. I'm not going to say she was no saint, because she wasn't. But she was brought up in church. The only bad habit that she had was the drugs. She didn't get around, she didn't steal, she didn't do anything to anybody."
Brown, the plumber who took crack for payment, told the police that the most he ever saw Green sell was a $50 rock. In an affidavit used to obtain the fruitless warrant served a year before the fatal raid, police say an informant bought $50 worth of crack from her. Williams says her sister was at the bottom of the St. Louis drug marketplace, allowing her home to be used as a smoke house because she couldn't afford drugs herself. "Where the company would come in at her place, she would let people that was going to purchase drugs come there and smoke at her house," Williams says. "That's how she got her little piece."
The constant stream of visitors drew the attention of neighbors after Green moved in during the summer of 1999. But one of the closest neighbors, a woman whose front window affords a full view of Green's home, says the house was no trouble.
"I didn't know her well at all," says the neighbor, who's lived on the block for more than 25 years. "When I seen her on the street, she would say hi and like that, you know. Otherwise, no, we didn't know anything, except there was some gossip going around and that there were a lot of cars coming and going and coming and going and going, back and forth. It looked kind of funny. I didn't worry too much about it, because I never seen anybody act like they was messed up or anything like that. You know how those things are. As far as her boys and stuff, I don't even know them at all. There was never no wild parties or nothing like that. It was quiet all the time over there, except for the coming and going. There wasn't no wildness going on at all."
Three months after the shooting, the neighborhood still talks about Green and the way she died. "And we all hate very badly that it happened," says the neighbor, who asks that her name not be published. "Everybody just hates it real bad. You just don't know what to do. There's nothing you can do."
Friendly or not, Green wasn't happy with her life. She started using drugs in high school but managed to graduate from Halter High School. "I think she was somewhere around 18, 19 years old," her sister says. "She hid it from the family for a long time. We didn't know she was messing with the drugs for four or five years. After we heard she was doing drugs, we were in denial for almost a year. We heard it, but we kind of passed it off until we started seeing signs of her not wanting to hold a job, being put out of places where she's not paying her bills. She couldn't control it. There were times she would break down and cry to my mother, saying she didn't like the way she was living."
Green liked to style hair, and she enrolled in computer classes after high school but dropped out several months before she completed the program. About eight years ago, long before her first brush with the law, she checked herself into an inpatient drug-rehabilitation clinic. She stayed for about a month while her mother and sister watched her children. But she couldn't stay clean. Her relatives learned to not give her money--if she needed clothes or food, Betty Williams says she would buy the items herself, then give them to her sister. "Anybody that know what cocaine do for you, they know that it's very, very hard to kick that habit," she says. "A lot of people feel that it's easier to stay on than to try to kick the habit. I guess she was one of them."
The family acknowledges that Green could have been a better mother to her six sons. "The only thing that they really had problems with is her sleeping in and them not going to school like they should," her sister says. "She didn't abuse her kids. The kids, they knew what she was about. But they loved her." Green's relatives pitched in when they could, often watching the children and buying them clothes. Today, the children are getting counseling to help them overcome the tragedy. Some are doing better than others. "There's one who's kind of having problems," Betty Williams says. "The 12-year-old that had to step over her, he's to the point where he don't like nobody to say nothing about his mother. I guess the kids at school, they bother him about his mother and stuff. They say things -- you know, 'Your mother's a crackhead' and stuff."
No one who went to Green's standing-room-only funeral called her a crackhead the day she was buried. A memorial service at the Wellston Community Center drew several hundred people. Top county officials have also expressed their sympathy. Councilwoman Edith Cunnane (R-3rd) told the crowd at the Wellston church that she made a half-dozen calls to housing programs in hopes of finding someplace where Green's children could stay. "I'm not here in judgment of whether something went wrong or didn't go wrong," Cunnane said. "I'm concerned that six kids are sleeping on the floor."
Bertha Williams, 71, is raising her daughter's children just a few blocks from where their mother died. She'd like to get out of Wellston but has no prospects for housing elsewhere. "I never thought in a million years this might happen," she says. "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Green's mother and sister say they have no bitterness toward Steib, whose name they don't know. Betty Williams says she prays for him and his family. "I do not have any hard feelings toward him at all," she says. "If running out there and jumping up and down in the street would bring her back, I'd do that. But it won't bring her back, hating nobody. He's got to live with this. But he knows what happened. Everybody's blessed with a conscience. If his conscience don't bother him, I most certainly won't. He'll have to deal with God on that."
Williams says she doesn't want to know the name of the man who killed her sister. But Lavon Williams, Green's 16-year-old son who was napping upstairs when police broke in, feels differently.
From the porch of the house where his mother died, Williams says he's been helping fix up the place so his grandmother can sell it. A brand-new door with a deadbolt has replaced the one broken by police. Above the doorway is a bouquet of plastic flowers, a memento of the funeral. It's midafternoon on a school day, but Lavon isn't in class. "I woke up too late," he explains.
Lavon says he sometimes comes back to the house at night to play cards or to party. He's not worried about the police returning. "They won't come back," he says. "They better not come back." And he most definitely wants to know who killed his mother.
"So I can look him in the eye and ask why," he says.