by Micah Lee, Alice Speri, The Intercept:
SHORTLY AFTER Chelsea Manning posted what appeared to be two suicidal tweets on May 27, police broke into her home with their weapons drawn as if conducting a raid, in what is known as a “wellness” or “welfare check” on a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst turned whistleblower and U.S. Senate candidate, was not at home, but video obtained by The Intercept shows officers pointing their guns as they searched her empty apartment.
The footage, captured by a security camera, shows an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department in Bethesda, Maryland, knocking on Manning’s door. When no one responds, the officer pops the lock, and three officers enter the home with their guns drawn, while a fourth points a Taser. The Intercept is publishing this video with Manning’s permission.
“This is what a police state looks like,” Manning said. “Guns drawn during a ‘wellness’ check.”
Welfare checks like this, usually prompted by calls placed to 911 by concerned friends or family, too often end with police harming — or even killing — the person they were dispatched to check on.
Manning was out of the country at the time of the incident, said Janus Cassandra, a close friend who was on the phone with her that night. “If Chelsea had been home when these cops arrived with guns drawn, she would be dead.”
Reached for comment, Montgomery County Police Captain Paul Starks at first questioned the authenticity of the footage. “Could someone send you a video that is inaccurate?” he asked, before changing course to, “How do you know nobody was home?”
Starks ultimately admitted that police conducted the check at Manning’s home after receiving calls from “concerned parties” who had seen her tweets. He said officers looked up her address and used a master key to get into the building, and that when they realized she wasn’t there they tried to locate her by using her phone. Starks did not reply to follow-up questions about how they attempted to track her phone.
“They responded to the address to check her welfare,” Starks said. “Once inside the residence they realized that the residence did not match the photo that was posted on Twitter. … We tried to determine where she may be by attempting to use her phone but the phone was powered off and they weren’t able to leave a message.”
Starks said that the decision to draw weapons “depends on the officer” who “makes the decision based on circumstances that are affecting that officer in that specific situation.” He added that the department has a dedicated crisis intervention unit, and that all officers in the department receive 40 hours of training in “dealing with people who may be having emotional episodes or issues,” but he failed to indicate whether the department sets guidelines on how to conduct welfare checks.
“They don’t know what kind of circumstances they are entering when they enter a home,” Starks said, increasingly flustered. “The fact that a weapon is drawn doesn’t mean that they are going to shoot it.”
“Do you know what was going on in that apartment that night? No. Not until you open the door and go in… We respond to hundreds of thousands of calls each year. Many of them are not what is phoned in.”