BATF and the Night of Terror
by Bob Lesmeister
From American Firearms Industry, September 1993
"What are you doing in my house? Get out of my house!"
This is what Janice Hart screamed as she witnessed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (BATF) literally tearing her home apart. What had Janice Hart done to have her house destroyed? NOTHING. BATF had the wrong house and the wrong suspect. In what has become the rule instead of the exception, BATF agents blatantly and knowingly violated Hart's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Amendment rights. In addition, agents once again forcefully abused children in the "pursuit of their duties."
As related by Margie Boule in the Washington OREGONIAN, in the evening of February 5th Janet [sic] Hart had just returned home to her house outside of Portland, Oregon, from the grocery store with her two young daughters when she noticed law enforcement agents swarming in and out of her home. Little did she realize that they had literally torn the inside of her house apart in the search for guns that didn't exist. When she stormed up to the side door (it had been torn off its hinges and then nailed back on) demanding an answer a BATF agent yanked her inside telling her she was going to jail. In typical BATF fashion, Hart was not informed of the charges against her, she was not read her rights, nor was she allowed to see after her children.
The children were terrified. Both daughters heard the BATF agent say Mrs. Hart was headed for jail and they became horrified. As Hart's daughter told THE OREGONIAN, "I was crying. They (BATF agents) say, 'Shut up and get back in the car.' So, I put up my knee like to get out, and he shut the door on my knee." BATF may call this act of child abuse an "accident" or something that happened in "the heat of confrontation" but the truth is, agents have been engaging in this sort of behavior since the inception of the BATF as a bureau. The most blatant case being the storming of the Branch Davidian compound with automatic weapons, knowing full well that children would be caught in the crossfire. Another incident was the case of Del and Melisa Knudson. During a raid on the Knudson home (no illegal firearms were found), Mrs. Knudson was hand-cuffed and forced to leave her 21-month old daughter unattended in a bathtub. Luckily, the baby didn't drown. Evidently, the agents were not concerned with the baby's welfare nor that of the parents.
As the daughters were being held outside the home, Hart was forced inside. In what must have seemed like a scene from a Gestapo raid in Nazi Germany, Janice Hart witnessed the destruction of her personal property by the "secret police." As she related to THE OREGONIAN, "I'm screaming, 'Oh my God, what are you doing to my house?' They told me to shut up. They said I could talk later. And they kept saying, 'You're going to prison, Janice.' The whole house was totally destroyed."
BATF agents in the kitchen were throwing plates and dishes on the floor. In the bedroom agents were ripping clothes off hangers and dumping them on the floor. Dresser drawers were overturned and strewn all about. Hart's life was terrorized, her children were abused, her house destroyed, and her personal belongings ravaged. During the Gestapo-style raid, while Mrs. Hart was in custody, BATF agents did not bother to insure that Hart was indeed the subject of their warrant. They simply didn't bother to check. And what's worse, when it was obvious the had the wrong person, they continued to terrorize Hart and her family.
In a complete violation of Hart's civil and constitutional rights, BATF agents herded her into the basement of the house and interrogated her. Like a scene from some cheap detective move, agents gave her the "third degree."
"There's about eight of them down there," she told the OREGONIAN, "and they're asking my over and over my name, my Social Security number, my birthdate. On and on, over and over. And I'm saying, 'What did I do?'"
Hart was forced to answer questions for over an hour before she was read her rights and then agents refused to allow her to call an attorney, both serious violations of Hart's Constitutional rights knowingly violated by BATF. George Kim, main investigator, should have known better. The person cited in the warrant was Janice Marie Harrell, who had used "Hart" as an alias, but that's where the similarity ends. The Janice the BATF was in search of had a scar on her face. Janice Hart did not. Harrell was a street woman, while Hart was a working-class homeowner with two children. Hart's eyes were a different color than Harrell's, her hair was different and she was heavier than the real suspect. There was nothing in Hart's background or physical appearance that matched Janice Marie Harrell.
"They pulled up my sleeves, looking for scars," said Hart. Of course, they weren't there. "I say, 'How do I remove scars? Scars don't disappear.' That's when he (Kim) started getting this expression on his face like 'I think I messed up.' But of course, they don't admit that to you."
So, when it's obvious that Agent Kim and his bumbling agents have the wrong person, do they release Hart? No, they arrest her. They read Hart her rights and take her to the Portland slammer. It was at the Portland police station when things finally turned around. The Portland police, professional and conscientious, treated Hart as a person, without intimidation and threats. Immediately upon being fingerprinted, they released her because it was obvious that Kim and his Keystone Cops had arrested the wrong person. It took Portland police 30 seconds to recognize that Janice Hart was not Janice Harrell and they released her, while Kim and his agents were standing nearby scratching their heads.
OREGONIAN reporter, Margie Boule recounted Hart's story for local Portland BATF resident agent in charge, Pete McLouth and he basically said that his agents did indeed pick up the wrong person. He couldn't deny it because Harrell was picked up shortly after the terrorist raid on Hart's home. That's about all he said, however, because McLouth took the standard BATF line of "I can't talk about it because it's an ongoing investigation."
The search warrants used by the BATF in the Hart case were much like the ones used in the Branch Davidian case. Someone, with hearsay knowledge, tipped BATF off. There was no evidence that Janice Hart was Janice Harrell and absolutely no evidence or even the slightest indication that Hart was illegally dealing firearms.
The raid was conducted simply because of one person's gossip. Even though Janice Hart no longer faces criminal charges, she is still feeling the harassment of BATF. She now suffers both sleep and eating disorders. She and her older daughter visit a psychiatrist to deal with the stress and her 4-year-old daughter has had related problems in school. Added to that, Hart's neighbors are no longer the friendly sort. To them, Hart is still a criminal subject of a police raid.
What is evident once again from this raid is the fact that BATF agents did not feel that violent behavior, destruction of property, violation of rights and child abuse would be challenged. It shows once again that silence from the top, read that to mean BATF Director Stephen Higgins' office, is taken as a green light to commit atrocities in the name of the law. Director Higgins is well aware that violations are being committed on a daily basis by his agents, yet he has done nothing and continues to do nothing about it. He once again has proved himself to be an ineffectual and incompetent law enforcement officer. Over the past year it has been shown that sexual harrassment and intimidation even within the ranks of the BATF has gone unabated and violent terrorist raids on innocent citizens continue at an alarming rate. This continues because the Director allows it. One word or one directive from Higgins could prevent future Constitutional and civil rights violations by BATF agents, but so far, he denies there is a problem. Unless citizens get involved and pressure the White House to appoint a professional person with integrity and respect for the Bill of Rights to head BATF, the abuses will continue.
Tom Cloyd, writing an editorial to THE OREGONIAN in response to the raid, sums it up best. "But the horror and violence go even beyond this, for child abuse was apparently involved in this case. Three children, ages 12, 9 and 4 were in the car when Hart arrived home to find it being trashed by federal agents. The children had to watch this act of incomprehensible violence and the 12-year-old was physically abused when and agent closed a door on her leg to keep her from getting out of the car. I hope others will join with me in demanding that federal law enforcement agents of all sorts be briefed on the Bill of Rights, be held accountable to the public for their actions and be prosecuted when they take our society's legitimate and law-driven pursuit of justice into their own hands."
Unfortunately, it seems that Director Higgins is unconcerned with the Bill
of Rights as he permits his agents to violate the law time and again without
censure or reprimand. I try hard not to draw parallels to the Gestapo of the
1930's and 40's and Stalin's ruthless NKVD, but breaking down of doors, the
destruction of property, illegal interrogations etc. of innocent people by BATF
are so close to "secret police" tactics that they could be right out
of the KGB manual. Russia's first secret police was formed by Ivan the Terrible
in 1565 and they were every bit as cruel as their descendants in the Cheka and
the KGB. French biographer and historian Henri Troyat describes some of Ivan's
secret police tactics: "Husbands were tortured in front of wives, mothers
in front of children." I'm sure 12-year-old Nina Hart and 4-year-old Randi
Hart know the feeling.
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