Patti Davis: Botched Home Raid a Sign of the Times

It sounds like something out of a police state in another part of the world. Or perhaps, if you pay close attention to the plight of the poor, a poverty-riddled neighborhood somewhere in America where drugs and violence define everyday life. A police raid on a house, doors smashed in, guns fired, lives lost … and then the admission that it was all an unfortunate mistake.

But this time it happened in the quaint, small town of Berwyn Heights, Md., and it happened to the mayor.

Mayor Cheye Calvo came home late in the afternoon of July 29 and discovered a package addressed to his wife that had been left at the front door. He brought it inside, didn't open it and set it aside for his wife. Calvo said hello to his mother-in-law, Georgia, who lives with them, and took the family's two black Labrador retrievers, Chase and Payton, out for a walk. He waved to several people who were sitting in cars near his home, never suspecting that a nightmare was about to unfold.

When he came back, Calvo went upstairs to change clothes for an evening event. His mother-in-law was in the kitchen when she saw masked men with guns running toward the house. Not surprisingly, she screamed as they kicked in the door. They shot Payton who was standing beside her. They then turned their weapons on the other black lab, Chase, who was running away from them. They killed him, too.

Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights since 2004, heard the shots just before he was grabbed and forced to walk down the stairs backward in his boxer shorts and socks into the waiting bloodbath. His mother-in-law was handcuffed on the bloody kitchen floor next to the body of one of their dogs.

Mayor Calvo came downstairs into a new time in America, in which no one is presumed innocent and guilt is only an assumption away.

Cheye Calvo tried to tell the armed men who were holding him and his mother-in-law hostage, who had just assassinated the family's pets, that he was the mayor. They called him crazy and left him handcuffed in the living room for nearly two hours. "They" were police officers who never bothered to inform the local Berwyn Heights police of their planned operation. Tracking a drug ring, Prince George's County Police intercepted a package addressed to Calvo's wife, Trinity Tomsic, a finance officer for the state of Maryland. That package, that Mayor Calvo unwittingly brought into his home, was full of marijuana, part of an elaborate scheme that used the addresses of unsuspecting victims to help deliver the goods. Several days after the raid, authorities arrested several men, including a FedEx delivery man. And County Police Chief Melvin C. High finally admitted that "Ms. Tomsic and the Calvo family were innocent victims of drug traffickers."

For Trinity Tomsic, who arrived home in the middle of the raid, the episode is a nightmare from which she will probably never completely awaken. "They were my kids," she later said of her pets. "All I could see was the blood and tissue of my dogs" surrounding her handcuffed husband and mother.

While Chief High later expressed regret for the incident, he stopped short of offering an apology. And Sheriff Michael A. Jackson, whose department executed the raid, defended his department's actions.

It's not the first time something like this has happened in Prince George's County. In November, another family was targeted for what was later deemed a mistake. Their dog was shot to death in their front yard. When Calvo called for a U.S. Justice Department investigation last week, he noted "reports of similar misconduct, including service of warrants at the wrong address, excessive use of no-knock entries and other unjustified killings of family pets. This has happened before, and without oversight, it will happen again." Calvo acknowledged that because of his position as mayor, his case has been getting the kind of exposure that the average citizen could never hope for. "What saddens us most is that all too often, these injustices go unnoticed by law-enforcement officials and those who are victimized are forced to suffer in silence," he said.

The incidents aren't isolated to Maryland. A few years ago, a 57-year-old woman in New York's Harlem died of a heart attack after police detonated a flash grenade during a raid on her home. Another case of mistaken identity.

While rare, these cases say something about our culture. A country is not just defined by big sweeping events like wars and treaties and elections. It's defined by what goes on in neighborhoods, towns, homes. In the past eight years, we have seen our privacy invaded in the name of "homeland security." We have all been living in a climate of "shoot (or accuse) first, ask questions later." And that attitude is contagious.

Imagine being Georgia Porter, one minute cooking dinner, the next handcuffed on the kitchen floor, inches from the bloodied body of a dog who was part of her family. Imagine Cheye Calvo hearing the shots from upstairs, not knowing what was happening, and then finding himself handcuffed, helpless, forced to kneel in his underwear. Imagine Trinity Tomsic dealing with her defiled home--not only did the police slaughter their dogs, they tracked blood all over the house in a search that yielded nothing.

You need to imagine all these things because, in a way, we all live in that house. It's called our country, and this is what's starting to happen here.

Prince George's official country Web site defines itself as "a county of livable communities." That's what we all wish for--a livable community, a home where we feel safe. We want to feel that if the bad guys come, we can call the police and they will be the good guys. We want to believe that if we're innocent, armed men with government badges won't handcuff us and shoot our pets and wave their weapons in our faces.

But more and more of us don't believe that.

The next president will not only have to deal with the economy, with global warming, with wars in other countries … he will have to deal with fear and rage at home. A country does not only lose itself by what happens on other shores; it loses itself in living rooms, kitchens, backyards. America will lose itself when we look around us and nothing feels like home anymore.