War on Drugs?
In 1972, 15 federal Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (D.A.L.E.) officers arrived with a search warrant for Dorothy and Gene King’s home on Emerson Avenue in St. Louis City. A few grams of heroin were found hidden in the basement drain and behind an air conditioner. Gene King and three other men were arrested and later convicted for possession with intent to sell narcotics.
Dorothy King returned home late that evening from her job as a nurse at Homer G. Phillips hospital. And found smashed TVs, milk poured out, frozen meat on the floor, paintings slashed, a bathroom sink ripped off the wall, and all the furnishings in the fully finished basement destroyed—over $18,000 worth of damage.
Led by federal narcotics officers, the raid on the King home also included several St. Louis City officers assigned to the drug taskforce. When asked about the destruction, the head of narcotics for St. Louis Metropolitan Police stated that such action was not their department’s policy and when searching, locations should not be left in disarray. Yet Mrs. King’s home was left well beyond “disarray.”
Dorothy King v. Harker
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri helped Mrs. King sue for damages, alleging officers maliciously went beyond the scope of the warrant. Although she lost her case, Dorothy King v. Harker established that citizens have the right to sue federal drug enforcement agents for damages.
No action was taken against the officers for this excessive destruction of property, although some of the federal officers were suspended (with pay) after they raided homes in southern Illinois without a warrant.
The local CBS television station remarked on this abuse of power by federal officers, comparing it to that of recently impeached President Nixon. “This arrogance has been exposed; we can only hope it will be crushed,” the editorial concluded. However, even the briefest look at the history of police violence shows it will take more than exposure and hope to change how law enforcement treat people, especially African Americans.
Sally Bixby Defty, “Destruction in Drug Raid Charged.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 15, 1972, 1A
Curt Mathews, “Casualties of the War on Drugs.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 19, 1973, 3C
Sally Bixby Defty,”$18,395 Sought in Suit for Drug Raid Damage.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 5, 1972, 30A
ACLU-MO @ 100
This post is part of a series in recognition of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s centennial year (1920-2020). Read more stories at: https://library.wustl.edu/tag/ACLU-MO@100/