Don Clark, a 63-year-old veteran, was shot and killed in his St. Louis home on Feb. 21, 2017, by members of the city's SWAT team serving a no-knock search warrant. His family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the police department and city. (Photo submitted)
St. Louis has become the first Missouri city to completely ban no-knock search warrants, or warrants that allow police officers to enter a property without announcing their presence.
Surrounded by family members whose loved ones were killed during no-knock raids, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones signed an executive order Tuesday banning the practice that has been criticized nationwide for harming innocent people.
“Public safety and policing must be responsive to the needs and concerns of the community,” Jones said in a news release. “This is an important step for our city and in line with action taken by municipalities across the country.”
In June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, St. Louis aldermen approved an ordinance banning no-knock search warrants specifically for drug cases. Missouri Democrats attempted to ban no-knock search warrants statewide last year, but the proposed measures didn’t gain any traction.
The national call for bans on no-knock warrants began after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician, was shot to death on March 13, 2020, after plainclothes officers raided her apartment in Louisville, Ky.
During a House committee hearing in fall 2020, legislators heard stories from people around the state where no-knock warrants had been deadly or traumatizing. However, representatives from Missouri Sheriff’s Association and the Missouri State Troopers Association testified that no-knock raids are so “rare” they don’t need to be regulated.
According to the mayor’s press release, the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department has not used no-knock warrants in the past year, but the executive order “strengthens the city’s long-term commitment to reimagining policing and building trust between community members and the police force.”
The order prohibits police officers or any public safety official from seeking or participating in the execution of a no-knock search warrant within the city boundaries. And it further states: “A police officer shall not ask law enforcement officers outside of the City of St. Louis Division of Police to execute search warrants in the City of St. Louis to bypass this executive order.”
Before entering a residence on the basis of a warrant, it states police officers must “announce audibly” that they have a police search warrant at least three times. The order also requires that “the majority of officers who enter the location” must have an activated body-worn camera.
“Nothing in this order shall be construed to limit the ability of SLMPD to respond to immediate life safety incidents with appropriate protocols,” it states.
Annually, the police department will report the number of officers who are being investigated for potential violations of the order or who have been disciplined, according to the order.
Among those at the executive order’s signing – which was closed to the public and media – was the son of Don Clark Sr.
Clark was a 63-year-old veteran from St. Louis who walked with a cane because his diabetes caused him to have swollen limbs, poor hearing and fading eyesight.
On the night of Feb. 21, 2017, after Clark had fallen asleep, a SWAT team of more than 17 police officers raided his home, along with two of his neighbors’ homes, in search of drugs and guns in South St. Louis.
All 17 fully-armed officers formed one long “stack,” rammed his door in without announcing themselves, and shot and killed him near his bed, according to a lawsuit filed against the police department and city by Clark’s family on June 30, 2021.
The lawsuit claims that an officer falsified information to obtain the search warrant for Clark’s home, and the behavior is a pattern within the police department. It also alleges that the officer who killed Clark used excessive force. The lawsuit is still pending.
Sherrie Clark-Torrence, Clark’s daughter, told The Independent last year that the family hoped the lawsuit would lead to policy changes in the city and state, including a ban on “no knock” warrants.
“If these warrants are causing this much pain to people’s families,” Clark-Torrence said, “then it shouldn’t be in existence.”
Don Clark Jr. was at the signing Tuesday, and he was among a group who rallied on June 7 and demanded the mayor ban the practice, along with other highly-criticized police practices.
“It’s a really good first step and shows the mayor is understanding our concerns and hearing our cries,” Don Clark Jr. said. “Hopefully after today, no one else has to experience what my family has been through.”
This article has been updated since it was published to correct an error.
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