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SWAT teams raiding private poker games in the US

Disturbing news has been reported by Salon journalist Radley Balko of excessive force being employed by US SWAT teams against private poker games, ostensibly in search of underage drinking and other offences.

His article relates a 2006 Virginia case where a detective pretended to befriend an optometrist who was involved in football betting. The optometrist, Sal Culosi, was subsequently shot and killed during a SWAT team raid of his house where a poker game was taking place.According to Balko, his last words, uttered to the cop he thought was his friend, “Dude, what are you doing?”

Although Fairfax County, which authorised the raid, eventually reached a $2 million settlement with the Culosi family, that’s just one of several cases related in the article. Eight years earlier, Balko reports, another SWAT team raid involving suspected gambling in Virginia Beach had claimed the life of a security guard.

His last words were: “Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book.”

According to Balko, this excessive use of force has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of Texas Hold ‘Em poker in the country in the 2000s, which resulted in fans hosting tournaments at private clubs, bars, and residences. US law enforcement have reacted with extreme force.

Balko presents examples in which police did not receive search warrants for raids, but took liquor license officials under the guise of checking license issues. His central point is compelling:

“The Fourth Amendment requires that searches be ‘reasonable’. If using a SWAT team to make sure a bar isn’t serving nineteen-year-olds is a reasonable use of force, it’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t be.”

For more information, check the Salon piece here.

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