A legislative committee could vote Monday on three proposals to end or sharply curtail the use of no-knock search warrants by Maine police.

The proposals are part of a nationwide response to the March 2020 killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was asleep in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment when drug officers executed a no-knock search warrant connected to her ex-boyfriend, but the officers ended up shooting and killing her instead.

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association support some limits, but the police group opposes an outright ban, saying that in some rare cases, announcing the police presence can endanger officers or the public. Frey, who said scrutiny of no-knock warrants is “long overdue,” said that fearing the destruction of evidence should no longer be sufficient reason to grant police the authority to enter without announcing themselves.

Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta, outside the Maine State House in Augusta on Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta, has been proposed as compromise legislation that would permit police to employ no-knock warrants, but would require every department to evaluate the same risk standards before pursuing permission to go in without announcing themselves.

“I’m hoping for a unanimous bill,” Fecteau said. “I don’t want to leave anyone out of this important discussion.”

Breonna Taylor’s name has become a rallying cry against the aggressive, militarized tactics associated with the war on drugs. The search warrant for Taylor’s home relied on outdated information that tied her ex-boyfriend to alleged drug dealing.

Some states, including Kentucky, have already responded to her death by restricting police use of the warrants, while Maine is among other states considering limits. Congress also is debating federal restrictions on the practice and a broad policing reform bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March calls for a ban on no-knock warrants.

In Maine, it’s unclear how frequently police use no-knock warrants, although police officials say they are rarely deployed and reserved for only the most dangerous situations. But there are no easily accessible statewide statistics about how often police ask and how frequently judges grant no-knock-style search warrants.

Typically when police execute a search warrant at a home or business, they are required to knock, announce themselves and provide proof of the judicial authorization for the search.

The bills before lawmakers present a range of options. The least restrictive measure, L.D. 1043, is sponsored by Rep. David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, and directs the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to set statewide policy on the use of no-knock warrants. The legislation does not suggest a ban or limit.

McCrea’s bill has the support of Frey and the Chiefs of Police Association, as well as the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which called the legislation a necessary first step.

The most restrictive bill, L.D. 1127, sponsored by Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor, would require all warrants to employ a “knock and announce” tactic and prohibit local or state police from assisting any federal agency in executing no-knock search warrants. That measure also would create a new misdemeanor crime for police or government employees who assist with or participate in executing no-knock warrants and mandate that anyone who violates it be sentenced to six months in jail. It is opposed by the chief’s group.

Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills testified on behalf of the police chiefs, and said Roeder’s legislation does not contemplate the unpredictable nature of some standoff situations. He pointed to an incident in Livermore Falls in March that involved an armed home invasion during which the intruder took three hostages.

The third bill, L.D. 1171, is sponsored by Rep. Fecteau of Augusta and was designed as compromise legislation that would only permit no-knock warrants in cases where announcing a search would pose an imminent threat of death or bodily harm. The bill also calls for the creation of a standard process to assess those threats so that each department works from the same playbook when it makes a decision about whether to seek a no-knock warrant.

“My primary concern is that we have a statewide standard that protects private people in their private homes, while protecting police officers,” Fecteau said in an interview.

Fecteau’s  bill as written also would impose a penalty for violating the law, but he said he is open to amending it to avoid “a rat’s nest” of legal inconsistencies.

Fecteau’s opposition to no-knock warrants stems in part from his experience in the U.S. Army during two tours in Iraq working in military intelligence.

“I had the job of planning many operations that involved no-knock-style raids,” Fecteau said in his testimony. “Generally speaking, in my opinion, their use belongs on the battlefield and not in our neighborhoods.”


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