The SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant on an anonymous Internet user, but destroyed the home of an innocent grandmother instead.
The SWAT team in Evansville, Indiana, dressed in full protective gear, wanted to make an example of an anonymous Internet user who made malicious remarks and threats against the police in Evansville.
On tracing the IP address involved, members of the Midwest town's SWAT team plotted their raid on the alleged home of the person behind the malicious remarks, posted on an Internet forum.
To really make their point, they invited a local television crew to accompany them on the raid, in order to catch the whole thing on camera (see video above).
However, instead of arresting the author of the posts, the SWAT team instead attacked the home of an elderly woman, and confiscated her 18-year-old granddaughter's laptop.
Apparently the SWAT team did not have a name of the person they were going after, and barely had any kind of identity. They were merely working with the IP address of the person who logged on to the topix.com web forums and made nasty threats against local law enforcement.
According to an archived copy of the forum thread, the police department might indeed have had a reason to be worried. A person, using the handle usarmy, wrote, "Cops be aware."
What started the thread was a message from another user, claiming that the home addresses of Evansville Police Department officers had been leaked online, and usarmy was not the first person to reply.
However, when the person using that username wrote a response, they said some things that upset the police department. Among a slew of self-censored expletives, the author implied that they were considering an attack on an unspecified member of the police department.
One post from usarmy reads, “4th of July a cops house gonna get hit. dont care about your kids or btchs lives. I dnt even care bout my own life. I got my reasons..times ticking.”
Another reads, “I am proud of my country, but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives.:) made in America. Evansville will feel my pain. guess who's in the river.”
Ira Milan, the grandmother whose house ended up being targeted by the SWAT team, told the Evansville Courier & Press that she thinks the author of the posts used her granddaughter’s WiFi Internet connection from an outside location.
However, Police Chief Billy Bolin says, “We have no way of being able to tell that,” Bolin told the Courier, adding that the messages “definitely come back to that address.”
The police told the news service that they obtained a search warrant for computer equipment at Milan's house, which allowed them to collect whatever devices may have been used to make the anonymous forum posts.
However, after an inquiry was made by the newspaper, the Vanderburgh County Clerk’s Office was initially unable to locate a copy of the document. Vanderburgh County Prosecutor, Nick Hermann, also refused to comply with the request.
When Bolin was asked by the media to produce the warrant, he deferred their plea and insisted that producing the paper could compromise the investigation. What Bolin did have to say, however, was that the document did not contain the names of any suspects.
“We have an idea in our mind who it is, but we don’t have evidence yet,” Bolin told the Courier.
Police said that the hunch was strong enough for them to throw two flash-bang stun grenades through the front window of Ira Milan's home. According to the Courier Press, the front door was open at the time of the incident, and Milan says, “The front door was open. It’s not like anyone was in there hiding. To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive.”
However, authorities say it should prove their point. Sgt. Jason Cullem, a spokesman for the police department told the Courier, “This is a big deal to us. This may be just somebody who was online just talking stupid. What I would suggest to anybody who visits websites like that is that their comments can be taken literally.”
A day after the raid, 18-year-old Stephanie Milan’s cellphone and laptops were still being held by police.
A few days later, the police department concluded that the forum user was actually at a different address, just a few doors down from Milan's house. However, this time, police said they knocked at the front door.
Police Chief Bolin told the newspaper, “We knew that there were little kids there, so we decided we weren't going to use the SWAT team.”
Police say that they have now identified the suspect at this new address, but have not yet laid any charges.
Apparently the city will be paying to repair the damage it caused to Milan's home.