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Pinellas Sheriff announces changes to search warrant protocols

Posted at 11:19 AM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 17:22:35-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Starting immediately in Pinellas County, “dynamic entry” or “no knock” search warrants will only be used as a last resort, according to an announcement made by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri Tuesday.

Deputies will now have to exhaust all options before barging unannounced into someone’s home to serve a search warrant.

It comes in the wake of local and nationwide protests. Gualtieri says while many of these policies were already being used in practice, a written policy is now official.

Gualtieri says the “dynamic entry” search warrants, where officers barge into a home without waiting for someone to answer the door, are rare. However, he says it used to be common practice to prevent suspects from destroying evidence before an officer entered a home.

“The classic case is as the police are approaching the front door to serve a drug search warrant, they hear someone inside say it’s the cops flush the stuff!” Gualtieri explained.

Yet, Gualtieri says it comes with a lot of extra danger since the people inside might not be able to distinguish between law enforcement and someone breaking in.

“I’d rather spend a day or two days figuring out another solution then send in a bunch of cops through that door with guns and having people on the other side who don’t know who they are and we end up in a shootout,” he added.

That was the case in Breonna Taylor’s death in Kentucky, where officers executing a “no knock search warrant” charged into Taylor’s apartment. Her boyfriend, who says he didn’t know it was officers entering the home, fired upon the officers. Officers fired back and fatally struck 26-year-old Taylor.

Taylor's boyfriend recently filed a lawsuit against the Louisville Police Department over the no-knock warrant and claiming he fired his weapon in self-protection as part of the stand your ground defense.

Gualtieri says Pinellas County’s policy was already in the works at the time of Taylor’s death, but what happened to her highlights the potential danger with serving “dynamic entry” search warrants.

Starting now, Pinellas County deputies have to get permission from a commander to use a “dynamic entry” method and only after other options have been exhausted and the threat to lives is mitigated. One option is for deputies to focus on arresting a suspect outside of their homes and trying to execute warrants on homes that are not occupied.

Jabaar Edmond is a community activist in Pinellas County and says these changes, and others, can’t come soon enough.

“I’ve been meeting with the mayors, I’ve been meeting with the police chiefs before all this and now there is a difference. A catalyst of change has started all over the United States from here in Pinellas County to New York and California,” Edmond elaborated.

Edmond applauds the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for making the change and hopes it will lead to more discussions nationwide.

“We have to get in that uncomfortable place where we are changing something that we may think doesn’t need to be changed. We are not celebrating. We are still marching towards change. It’s a marathon and the marathon continues but we have taken a step with these issues being on the table,” he added.

Gualtieri says above everything, deputies need to do everything possible to avoid situations where someone could be greatly injured or killed. “If I’ve got to knock on a door and I don’t care if it’s a family member of a cop or a suspect and I have to tell them their loved one was killed from executing a search warrant and they ask why, it better be worth it,” Gualtieri said.

The change comes as rallies continue nationwide pushing for law enforcement changes.

RELATED: Pinellas law enforcement launch deadly use of force task force

In July, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office launched a new task force to investigate officer or deputy-involved shootings and incidents that result in severe bodily injury. The change means that an outside agency investigates shootings, tasering or use of force and that agency will decide if an officer’s actions were warranted and if they should face any charges.

The change is part of a partnership between several local agencies including the St. Petersburg Police Department, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Clearwater Police Department and Pinellas Park Police Department. The Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Investigative Task Force has already been tapped into to investigate an August 7 officer-involved shooting where a St. Pete Police Officer shot a man after she says he began choking her.