STOP the War on Children

June 22, 2011

Even Education Department Has Power to Invade and Search Homes

Dr. Karen Gushta

A loud knock at the door at 6:00 a.m. by a stranger would surely be unsettling, if not frightening. Who could it be? What do they want? Is one of my family members hurt? Such questions would race through our minds.

 

But on June 7, before Kenneth Wright of Stockton, California had a chance to find out who was banging on his front door at that hour, it was broken down by a team of more than a dozen federal police officers. After barging into his home, one of the officers grabbed him by the neck and forced him down onto his front lawn, clad only in his boxer shorts.

 

As Wright later told a local TV station, the fully armed officers then woke up his children, ages 3, 7, and 11, and confined them in a Stockton patrol car while they searched his home.

 

The person the officers were looking for was not there—his estranged wife. That did not deter them from handcuffing Wright and detaining him in a squad car for six hours while they searched for evidence that was identified in a warrant he was shown at the end of his long ordeal.

Evidence of what? According federal Department of Education Press Secretary Justin Hamilton, the DOE’s Office of Inspector General had executed a warrant “with the presence of local law enforcement authorities” in regard to a “criminal investigation.”

 

As FoxNews.com reported, Hamilton would not comment on the specifics of the case, since it was part of an “ongoing investigation.” But he said, “We can say that the OIG’s office conducts about 30-35 search warrants a year on issues such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.”

 

How does an ongoing investigation by the Department of Education into possible “bribery, fraud, or embezzlement” result in sending a team of officers to break down your door at 6:00 a.m. and carry out a six-hour search of your home?

Apparently, it’s not a far step to take. According to FindLaw.com blogger Stephanie Rabiner, “The Homeland Security Act of 2002 amended the Inspector General Act of 1978 to allow the DOE’s Inspector General to carry firearms, make arrests, and seek and execute warrants for investigatory purposes.”  

“Like all warrants,” wrote Rabiner, the “warrant executed upon the house of Kenneth Wright was first approved by a judge after he was presented with evidence of probable cause. The DOE can ask a judge for a warrant, but it cannot issue one itself.”

This should bring relief to all those with students loans in default who might have heard initial media reports that the search was related to an unpaid student loan. But it doesn’t relieve the rest of us who now realize that even the Department of Education has the power to enter our home to carry out a search and seizure of private papers and documents if they’ve obtained a proper warrant.  

 

Warrants, as the Fourth Amendment guarantees, can only be issued “upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

 

But don’t count on being able to read the warrant before officers start rummaging through your personal papers and effects. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment does not require that you have the right to read a warrant issued or question it prior to its being carried out. In its 2006 decision, United States v. Grubbs, Justice Scalia delivered the court’s opinion refuting the defendant’s claim that a search of his home had not been carried out properly, stating, This argument assumes that the executing officer must present the property owner with a copy of the warrant before conducting his search. … In fact, however, neither the Fourth Amendment nor Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure imposes such a requirement.”

Mark Reichel, Kenneth Wright’s attorney, is now calling on Congress to amend Rule 41 to require those executing federal search warrants to provide a copy of the entire search warrant at the outset of the search. He has also filed a claim of “excessive force” used against Wright.

According to constitutional expert John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, the larger problem exemplified in the Wright case is “The militarization of American police” and the fact that “federal agencies having nothing whatsoever to do with national defense now see the need for their own paramilitary units.”  

The Department of Education is but one of 73 agencies in the federal government, according to Whitehead, that “have secured the services of fully armed agents–often in SWAT team attire–through a typical bureaucratic sleight-of-hand provision allowing for the creation of Offices of Inspectors General (OIG). Each OIG office is supposedly charged with not only auditing their particular agency’s actions but also uncovering possible misconduct, waste, fraud, theft, or certain types of criminal activity by individuals or groups related to the agency’s operation.”

 

The case of Kenneth Wright “is not the first time a SWAT team has been employed in non-violent scenarios,” writes Rutherford. “Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling. In some instances, SWAT teams are even employed, in full armament, to perform routine patrols.”

 

Rutherford details the problems that arise in these situations, including the killing of innocent victims by officers too quick to shoot first and ask questions later. “The problems inherent in these situations are further compounded,” says Rutherford, “by the fact that SWAT teams are granted “no-knock” warrants at high rates such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.” According to Rutherford recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have even done away with the need for a “no-knock” warrant altogether, “giving the police authority to disregard the protections afforded American citizens by the Fourth Amendment.”

 

The fact that Department of Education officials now have police authority is so foreign to our understanding of a constitutional republic governed by law and the consent of the governed that the story of Kenneth Wright leaves us incredulous.

But as Patrick Garry observes, writing at RenewAmerica.com, “The danger of big and unlimited government is that, over time, it can distort the most basic notion of sovereignty and principal-agent. Under the U.S. constitutional system, the people are sovereign: they are the principal, with government as their agent and servant.” But “big government” brings unbounded bureaucratic discretion and a threat to the rule of law. 
The next time you get a loud knock on your door at 6:00 a.m., you may want to grab your pocket copy of the Constitution. Or is it already too late?

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Coral Ridge Ministries and author of The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk. Dr. Gushta is a career educator who has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate level teacher education, in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. Dr. Gushta served as the first international director of Kid’s Evangelism Explosion. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from Indiana University and Masters degrees in Elementary Education from the University of New Mexico and in Christianity and Culture from Knox Theological Seminary.

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