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18 Years in Prison
Tracy's family has created a supportive web site:
Must-Read: NLR Cops See Vindication; from Arkansas Times Blog, 4/15/09
April 15, 2009 -- Associated Press (US)
Jury Convicts After No-Knock Police Search
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A Pulaski County jury has found Tracy Lee Ingle of North Little Rock guilty of felony assault charge after he pointed a pistol at officers entering his home with a no-knock warrant.
Ingle's lawyer, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, argued in circuit court today that Ingle's actions were reasonable because he was only defending his home against intruders he believed to be robbers. According to testimony in court, Ingle was in bed when he heard a bedroom window break, grabbed a handgun, and pointed it at the window.
The officers who broke the window and entered the bedroom testified today. They said the raid was planned because an informant had told police of buying methamphetamine from someone in the house. Both officers said they identified themselves as police and fired rifles at Ingle when they saw him sitting up in bed with a handgun pointed at them. The bullets injured Ingle, who was hospitalized for 10 days.
Jurors also convicted Ingle of maintaining a drug house, as well as possessing drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and fined $18,000.
May 7, 2008 -- Reason Magazine (US)
Tracy Ingle: Another Drug War Outrage
By Radley Balko
(Original Article with commentary: http://reason.com/blog/show/126284.html -- To read more about Tracy Ingle, and to donate to his mounting legal and medical expenses, visit www.justicefortracy.com )
About a month ago I got a call from a reporter for the Arkansas Times inquiring about my research into paramilitary drug raids. He'd been reporting on a raid in North Little Rock involving a 40-year-old man named Tracy Ingle. When he told me the story over the phone, I was floored, even given all the abuses and mistakes I've reported and read about over the last few years. What makes the case especially egregious is not that the police may have gotten the wrong home, that they shot a man, or that they were covering it up or going silent. We've seen all that before. What's mind-blowing about this one is that they've continued abusing the poor guy, even after it should have been clear for some time now that they made a mistake.
From the outset, it should be noted that Tracy Ingle has had some trouble with the law in the past, though nothing violent, and nothing drug-related. He has had a couple of DWI's, and a citation for failing to appear in court. He apparently also agreed to do some repair work on a friend's car that later turned out to be stolen.
That said, what's happened to him over the last few months is pretty outrageous.
Here's the Arkansas Times piece, which I'd encourage you to read in full. And here's a follow-up interview with North Little Rock Police Chief Danny Bradley about SWAT tactics.
I've since spoken again to the reporter and to Tracy Ingle's sister, Tiffney Forrester, who herself is a former sheriff's deputy. I've also had a chance to review the warrants and return sheets (pdf).
The North Little Rock Police Department wouldn't discuss the case with me.
Here's a quick rundown:
* On January 7, 2008 a paramilitary police unit in North Little Rock, Arkansas conducted a drug raid on Tracy Ingle's home. Ingle says he had fallen asleep for several hours, and was asleep when the raid happened. He awoke when the police took a battering ram to his door. Another team of officers approached form the outside of the house, and shattered the window to his bedroom.
* When he awoke, Ingle says he thought his home was being invaded by armed robbers. He reached for a broken gun, a pretty clear indication that he had no intention of killing anyone, but rather was trying to scare away the intruders. When he grabbed the gun, an officer inside the house fired his weapon. The bullet hit Ingle just above the knee, shattered his thigh bone, and nearly severed his lower leg. When the outside officers heard the shot, they opened up on Ingle, hitting him four more times. According to Ingle's sister, one bullet still rests just above Ingle's heart, and can't be removed.
* Ingle was taken to the hospital, and spent a week-and-a-half in intensive care. He was then removed from intensive care -- still in his hospital pajamas -- and taken to the North Little Rock police department, where he was questioned for five hours. He was not told he was suspected of a crime, and his family wasn't allowed to speak with him. After the interrogation, he was arrested and transferred to the county jail.
* Ingle spent the next four days in jail. He says he was never given his pain medication or his antibiotics. Though hospital nurses told him to change his bandages and clean his wounds every 4-6 hours, Ingle told the Arkansas Times that jail officials changed them only twice in four days. Ingle's wounds became infected during the time he was in jail.
* Police found no illegal drugs in Ingle's home. They did find a scale, which Ingle's sister tells me was an extra she was given when she worked at a medical testing facility. She used it in her jewelry-making hobby. They also found a bunch of small plastic bags. Again, Ingle's sister says these were part of her business. "I was leaving the country for a while, and I stored a lot of my stuff at his house," she told me. "The scale and bags were mine, and are both common things to have for anyone who makes jewelry." Police also found the broken gun and a broken police scanner.
* From those items, the police charged Ingle with running a drug enterprise. They also charged him with assault, for pointing his broken gun at the police officers who had just barged into his home. The judge set Ingle's bail at $250,000, explaining that it had to be set high because Ingle had engaged in a shootout with police -- never mind that Ingle didn't fire a shot. Ingle was able to sell his car to pay a bail bondsman. But with no car, his injuries render him basically immobile. He had to walk two miles on crutches and an infected leg to his hearing last week.
* The police obtained a no-knock warrant for Ingle's home about three weeks prior to the raid. The warrant itself (pdf) reads like boilerplate, with no specific references to Ingle (other than his address), or why he specifically posed a risk to police safety, or of disposing of drugs before coming to answer the door. It mentions no controlled buys. It doesn't even mention an informant. In fact, someone scratched out "crack cocaine" and hand-wrote in "methamphetamine" on the type-written warrant, suggesting a cut, plug, and paste job. The Supreme Court has ruled that police must show case-specific evidence of exigent circumstances in order to be issued a no-knock warrant. The mere fact that it's a drug case isn't enough. The warrant for Ingle's home contains no such specific information.
Many times, information specific to the investigation is contained in the affidavit the investigating officer files for the search warrant, not in the warrant itself. Forrester says she has called the North Little Rock Police Department more than 20 times in an effort to obtain a copy of the affidavits. She says they at first refused to return her phone calls. When she was finally able to speak with a lieutenant, he became angry when she told him she had contacted the media. She then says he told her to "dream on" when she asked for copies of the affidavits.
* According to Forrester, Ingle's neighbor had a direct line of sight into the bedroom, and saw the entire raid. His account initially matched Ingle's. But that changed. "We have a witness, a next door neighbor that saw the entire incident," Forrester told me. "He came forward on his own to give a statement to the family. Police never questioned him until a month or so after the shooting, at my insistence. They kept this neighbor in his home, and questioned him for at least four hours, refusing to let the man's wife come home, of for other people to see him. When the police finished intimidating the man, they told him specifically that 'he did not see what he thought he saw.' The neighbor is now afraid to talk to the media." I have not yet been able to speak with the neighbor.
* Ingle's family was able to put up $1,000 to retain an attorney, but can't afford the extra $6,000 the attorney has asked to represent Ingle. Ingle is therefore still looking for representation. He has no health insurance, and no money to pay for medication, or to continue treatment of his injuries.
* Last week, after the Arkansas Times article appeared, the judge in the case issued a gag order, preventing Ingle and any future attorney he may have from talking to the media about what happened to him. This is puzzling. Before today there had been exactly two articles about this case -- not exactly a media circus. It's hard to understand why a gag order was necessary. It's only real purpose is to prevent more people from learning about what's increasingly looking like a railroading. And it's only effect is to lend more support to the possibility that it is, in fact, a cover-up and railroading.
As noted, the police aren't talking. And the prosecutor is now bound by the gag order. Perhaps there's some piece of information damning to Ingle I'm not yet aware of -- though it's hard to imagine what that might be.
Barring that, what's happening to Tracy Ingle is pretty outrageous.
April 24, 2008 Arkansas Times (US)
Shot In The Dark
In January, Tracy Ingle Was Shot Five Times By An NLR SWAT Team. He Says They'd Rather Send Him To Jail Than Admit They Were Wrong
By David Koon
Interviewing the people in Tracy Ingle's life -- his sisters, his foster brother, his friends -- you hear one line often enough that it soon becomes a refrain: Tracy is no angel.
Though all express their love and admiration for him -- a kind man; a man who can fix anything, they say -- they tend to tell you the bad things about him first. A recovering alcoholic, Ingle had a couple of DWIs several years back. When the Arkansas Times spoke to him, he was on house arrest for a 5-year-old failure-to-appear warrant. A car accident in Maryland in 2002 left him with degenerative disk disease in his back and what his sisters said is an addiction to pain killers -- though all of his pills are legally prescribed. Up until Christmas 2007, he had several roommates, many of whom had had recent run-ins with the law. Last year, he agreed to fix a stereo in a friend's Mustang -- a car that turned out to be hot -- and got arrested for receiving stolen merchandise. That case still hasn't shaken out.
No matter what Ingle or those he gave a temporary home to may have done, however, it's hard to imagine he deserved what he got Jan. 7. That night, the North Little Rock SWAT team stormed Ingle's house on a high-risk, "no-knock" search warrant. By the time all was said and done, Ingle had been shot five times -- including one bullet that pulverized his femur and left his leg dangling from his body, connected only by a bloody mess of meat, skin and tendon.
According to an evidence list left at Ingle's house after the shooting, no suspected drugs or drug residue were recovered from the residence -- only a digital scale, a notebook and a few plastic baggies, all of which Ingle's family members have identified as part of the junk they had collectively stored at the house.
It might seem strange, then, that Ingle currently stands accused of several serious felonies -- including two counts of aggravated assault. While the North Little Rock police insist they got a dangerous criminal off the streets, Ingle and his family say the charges are all about appearances -- and covering the police.
Tracy Ingle's biggest problem, those who know him say, is that he just can't say no.
For five years now, Ingle has lived in a rambling, hand-me-down house in North Little Rock. The place used to belong to his sister's godfather -- has at one time or another been home to nearly all his kin. In recent years, however, as the neighborhood took a rough turn and family moved away, the house became storage and catch-all for Ingle's entire clan, the upstairs full of boxes, baby clothes, knick-knacks and Tracy's prodigious collection of ham radio gear. A former stonemason who worked federal contracts in D.C. before he hurt his back, Ingle led a hand-to-mouth existence even before he was shot, repairing electronics and doing odd jobs for money.
As someone who knows what it is to be down and out, he's always been an easy touch, his family says, for those looking to crash at his place long term. They say Ingle would take in nearly anyone with a hard luck story; a situation that even he admits led to a lot of shady characters hanging around the house. Before Christmas, before he put most of them out, there were five full-time roommates living in the house, including a cousin who had recently gotten out of jail after serving time for making meth.
As it happened, Ingle was home alone on the night of Jan. 7, when his life went from bad to worse. Earlier that evening, he'd had an argument with his sometime girlfriend, Sandra Melby. She'd gone to her friend's house in Greenbrier for the night. Around dusk, the night coming on cold, Ingle went back to his bedroom -- a small 10-by-10 room at the rear of the house -- and lay down on the bed to watch television. With the bedroom light still on, he dozed off in the big cannonball post bed that faced the window.
At around the same time, things were in synchronized motion at the North Little Rock Police Department. Acting on a warrant signed almost three weeks before -- Dec. 21, 2007 -- by North Little Rock Judge Randy Morley, the NLR SWAT team was gearing up and getting ready to roll on one of the most dangerous things in their job description: a no-knock warrant.
Conceived during the Nixon administration, the no-knock warrant -- and the use of militarized Special Weapons and Tactics teams to execute them -- came of age during the drug wars of the 1980s. The rationale behind no-knocks and using SWAT to serve them was simple: As the criminals became more savvy and well-armed, serving drug warrants demanded the element of surprise, and a more well-armed show of force.
Given that it's a case that has yet to be prosecuted, it should be noted that the North Little Rock Police Department says it is limited in what it can say about Ingle's case at this point. There are obvious questions. In the warrant obtained to search the house, a copy of which was obtained by the Arkansas Times, police say they believe the house in question contained "crack cocaine." That description has been carefully scribbled out, with "methamphetamine" written in above and initialed by Judge Randy Morley. According to an affidavit signed by NLRPD narcotics investigator Mickey Schuetzle, narcotics had been sold from the residence. In that document, Schuetzle doesn't elaborate on who sold him the narcotics, what was sold, or when.
It's a fast drive from the North Little Rock Police Department on Main Street to Ingle's house, situated on a dead end street, just a few blocks away. The SWAT wagon was there by 7:40 p.m. The movements of the officers once they left the truck had been planned out long beforehand. One team went to the front door on the north side with a battering ram while others took up positions along the perimeter of the house -- including two officers outside Ingle's chest-high bedroom window on the west side.
As you might expect, there are differences in account of what happened in the explosive next 10 seconds or so.
A place that cherishes both its guns and the sanctity of a man's home, Arkansas is one of many states that has enshrined some version of the Defense of Premises Doctrine in its laws. It is, simply put, the right to defend your home without fear of prosecution, up to and including killing an intruder who has made forcible entry.
It's an idea that is dangerously at odds with the concept of no-knock search warrants, says Radley Balko, senior editor of Reason magazine. A former fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., libertarian think tank, Balko did some of the early research into the use of no-knock warrants and militarized police units. Over and over again, Balko said, he sees cases where a SWAT team breaches a house, the homeowner exercises his right to defend his home, and either an officer or the homeowner is killed or injured. The only difference is that when it's a cop who gets shot, the private citizen nearly always winds up in jail.
"The dichotomy is very striking," Balko said. "Here you have these violent, confrontational raids where the police are breaking into someone's home You can understand how the officers might make a mistake. But the person on the receiving end of things -- woken up in the middle of the night, usually by flash-bang grenades which are designed to confuse people -- if they make a mistake, then they're held accountable and are usually charged pretty severely."
Balko said that the rise of the SWAT team has largely been in response to the fear that inner city drug dealers and other criminals have amassed hordes of automatic weaponry to use on police (by contrast, he said, the National Institute of Justice has found that the overwhelming majority of gun crimes were committed using small-caliber, easily concealed handguns). Originally conceived in huge, high-crime cities like Los Angeles, tactical teams have since spread to almost every police department that can afford one, and have often been accompanied by a corresponding militarized mentality -- one that can trickle down even to the rank-and-file officers on the street.
It's easy to see why. Highly trained and armed to the teeth, often given the most dangerous assignments, being a SWAT officer is about as close to being Batman as most cops are ever going to get: decked out in ninja black, identities hidden from evildoers, with a utility belt full of the latest tactical gadgets. Even so, Balko said, many older police officers he knows are suspicious of the new breed of gung-ho cops who gravitate toward SWAT -- and the us-versus-them mentality an overly militarized police force can create.
"We're giving these cops military equipment," Balko said. "We're giving them military training in military tactics, and then we send them out and tell them they're fighting a war on drugs. It shouldn't surprise us at all when they start to treat public streets like a battlefield and private citizens like enemy combatants."
While Balko said there are legitimate uses for SWAT teams -- hostage situations, armed and violent suspects and the like -- those moments are few and far between, even in cities much larger than North Little Rock. Because tactical teams are expensive to train and equip, that has led many police departments to put them on search warrant duty rather than see them sit idle for years at a time. That's exactly the wrong thing to do, Balko said, both for cops and suspects.
"When you're sending SWAT teams in after low-level drug users, you're creating violence," he said. "You're creating a confrontation where there wasn't one before."
No matter what neighborhood you live in, no matter what your rap sheet looks like, try to imagine it: Coming awake in your house, in the middle of the night, to the sound of someone breaking in. What would your first reaction be?
"The only thing I heard was breaking glass," Tracy Ingle said.
Asleep in his bed when the window directly opposite came crashing in, Ingle's first instinct was to reach for the pistol he kept by his bedside -- a cheap Lorcin automatic. Having never been convicted of a felony, it was perfectly legal for him to have the gun; perfectly legal for him to use it to defend his home against intruders. He had bought it a few years before, he said, because of how bad the neighborhood had gotten. His house had been broken into in the past. A few months before, at a store only a few blocks away on Main Street, a robbery had turned into a shootout, and two people had been killed. Even so, Ingle couldn't have shot anyone with the gun even if he'd wanted to. Years before, someone had pounded the wrong clip into the gun and jammed something inside. Ingle and his foster brother, Eric Nelson, say it couldn't even chamber a round, much less fire.
A second after he sat up, Ingle said, the room "kind of filled up with light," and he could see the officers outside the window, in their black helmets and body armor. "I could see that they weren't robbers, so I threw the gun down," Ingle said. "A second later, I heard one of the police officers say, 'He's got a fucking gun' I could hear him turning in the leaves, and as soon as he turned, he turned around and started shooting."
This is where Ingle's story and that of the two officers involved diverge. The officers, identified only as "Victim 1" and "Victim 2" in a NLRPD investigation report concerning the shooting, both told investigators that Ingle was sitting up and bed and pointing the gun in their faces when they raked away the sheet covering the window, giving them no choice but to open fire. Ingle, meanwhile, says that the gun was already on the floor, and he was in the process of raising his hands when the shooting started.
Whatever the case, the first shot that hit Tracy Ingle was devastating -- most likely a high-velocity .223 round, given the damage it inflicted. The bullet entered Ingle's leg just above the left kneecap and blew his thigh apart. Surgeons would later replace a large chunk of Ingle's femur with a stainless steel rod.
He knew he had been shot, Ingle said, and his first instinct was to try to get off the bed -- away from the window, at least, where the two officers were now pouring fire into the room. As Ingle tried, he got tangled up in the blankets and his ruined leg folded under him, the shattered bone grating inside. He fell to the floor in agony. As he fell, the officers outside the window kept shooting, hitting him four more times -- arm, calf, hip and chest. The round that hit him in the chest is still there, too close to his heart to be removed. Days later, Ingle's brother, Eric, would dig four more bullets out of a space heater that was only a foot from where Ingle's head lay, and spackle up nine bullet holes in the wall over Tracy's bed. Some of those rounds had gone completely through and into the bathroom on the other side of the wall, two of them blowing ragged holes through both sides of a plywood shelf.
Finally, the shooting stopped.
"After that," Ingle said, "all the police rushed in, and were standing over me and calling me Michael. They kept calling me Michael or Mike, and I wouldn't answer them. One of them asked me why I wouldn't answer them, and I said, 'My name's not Mike.' I don't remember much after that except them taking me out of the house to an ambulance."
Brandy Hoover is Tracy Ingle's sister. She happens to be a surgical nurse at Baptist Health Hospital in North Little Rock, where her brother was taken after the shooting. Like most of her family, Hoover learned about the shooting from the nightly news. She and Ingle had had a falling out some weeks before the shooting, over what she calls the untrustworthy people he was involved with. After the shooting, however, she visited her brother's hospital room any time she could.
As someone who deals every day with stringent patient confidentiality laws including HIPAA -- the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, under which a person can be fined and even imprisoned for releasing details of a patient's medical records -- Hoover said she was shocked when, after her brother was released from the hospital after a week and a half in ICU, he was picked up by detectives from the North Little Rock Police Department -- along with all his paperwork, instructions and medication prescriptions.
"When he was discharged, he was discharged to them because they were right there," Hoover said. "I found out later that they had been calling up there every day finding out his status -- which is a huge HIPAA violation. They knew before I knew. They were waiting on him."
Still wearing hospital scrubs and in a wheelchair, Ingle was taken to North Little Rock Police Department, where he said he was questioned for around six hours, without his pain medication. During the questioning, he says he was never told that he was under arrest, or even that he was suspected of anything.
"The fella that was talking to me said that he was Internal Affairs," Ingle said. "He gave me the impression that he was trying to learn about the shooting and everything that had happened. When he was done, he told me that they were going to put me in jail and he would give it to the prosecutor or whoever, and they would decide what the charges were going to be."
For his part, North Little Rock Police Chief Danny Bradley said that he has investigated concerns by Ingle's family that he was denied his medication or otherwise mistreated while being questioned.
"I have not been able to determine that any of them are substantiated," Bradley said, noting that at one time, Ingle's sister Tiffney Forrester was claiming that there had been federal marshals at the hospital the night of the shooting. "There were no federal officers at the hospital," Bradley said. "I'm satisfied that he was treated in a legal and civil manner and was not mistreated at all."
After questioning, Ingle was taken to the Pulaski County Jail, where he would stay for the next four days. At the hospital, nurses had told him that his bandages needed to be changed and his wounds cleaned out with antibiotic wash every four to six hours in order to avoid infection.
"The whole time I was there, they only changed them twice," he said. "They just locked me in a room and left me." Ingle said his pain medication and antibiotics were never given to him -- when he was released, he was told the prescriptions had been lost. He later told Forrester that the only medical treatment he received the whole time he was in the jail was having his bandages changed twice and an admonishment to not go into the showers because "he'd probably get gangrene."
Infection soon set up in all his wounds. Charged with operating a drug premises, possession of drug paraphernalia (a digital scale and plastic baggies that belonged to his sister, both Ingle and Forrester say -- the baggies leftovers from Forrester's jewelry-making hobby, the scale a freebie from the animal testing lab where she once worked), and two counts of aggravated assault, for making the officers who shot him fear for their lives, Ingle was brought before a judge whose name he doesn't recall for a bond hearing on Sunday. According to Ingle, the judge told him that because he'd had a shootout with police, he was setting his bond at $250,000. Ingle's family, who had been putting together money for Ingle's bail in anticipation of his bond hearing, was crushed.
"My immediate reaction was nausea," Brandy Hoover said. "Who on earth can come up with that kind of money? Even at 10 percent [for a bail bond], people aren't walking around with that kind of money. It was insane All I can remember thinking is, they've got him, and we're never going to get him back."
Eventually, however, the family was able to cut a deal with a local bail bondsman. Between them, they scraped together $5,000 cash and the deed to some property, sold Ingle's Jeep, and finally got him out of jail.
While his wounds have closed, the months since the shooting have been hard on Ingle and his whole family. Ingle's mother suffered a heart attack while trying to come in from Pittsburgh to see him. He has struggled with depression and constant pain, and has lost weight because he can't bring himself to eat. For weeks, Ingle's brother, Eric, stopped by every day and knocked. Though he knew Ingle had to be inside because of the tracking bracelet, Ingle just stopped answering for awhile.
After over a month of trying through his sisters and brother, the Arkansas Times finally got Ingle to talk about the shooting, the man who came to the door was famine-thin and hollow-eyed -- even skinnier now than when we last saw him at court, stooped and hobbling on a pair of crutches.
It's not that he didn't want to talk to us, he apologized. There was just a period of time there when he didn't want to talk to anybody.
"It's just like being in jail," he said. "It's just a different jail cell, I guess. When I was first out of the hospital, I couldn't get up and leave anywhere, hardly. Now, I can't leave."
As he told his family, Ingle still insists that he threw the gun down the moment he saw that the intruders were police -- and before the shooting started. Even so, he said a person reaching for a weapon in a situation like that shouldn't give police the automatic right to shoot.
"I don't feel like I did anything wrong," Ingle said. "You have the right to protect your house. I didn't know who they were. To me, it looks like the only reason the charges were brought was to cover their own ass."
Like many of his family members, Ingle said that he's sure that if the North Little Rock Police Department wants to see him convicted on the charges he's accused of, he'll likely be convicted. Still, Ingle said he doesn't hold a grudge against the two police officers for shooting him.
"They were just here doing their job," he said. "It's a tough job to have to go to somebody's house and have to come through a window or break down a door. You never know what's in there. But I feel like, if I had time to think about throwing the gun down, they had time to think about whether or not to shoot me."
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