Who knew: The Department of Education has guns, issues its own warrants, and breaks down doors rather than knocking in cases of potential financial aid fraud, embezzlement and bribery.

Let me say that again.  They broke down the door to investigate a case of student aid fraud.  Because, you know, those types of criminals are renowned for flushing the paperwork down the toilet.

They did all this at 6am at the home where the accused no longer lived and hadn’t for some time.  They felt it necessary to handcuff the one adult (the estranged husband of the accused) and put him (in his boxers), along with three pre-teen children, into the back of a police car for hours while they searched the house.

I can not think of a single good reason for this behavior.  Even if she still lived there, these types of crimes NEVER call for breaking down doors, frightening small children, or handcuffing people in their underwear.  Apparently the DoE can’t either, since they issued a very generic statement saying that they assessed the risk to the officers, public and occupants, but say nothing about why the risk in this case justified the same behavior usually used with meth labs and chop shops.  The homeowner had no criminal record and wasn’t the person under investigation, so how this type of approach could have been protecting anyone is beyond me.

As a general matter of civil liberties I have a real problem with the way this warrant was handled.  I don’t expect law enforcement to be perfect – sometimes they will execute warrants against properties where the person no longer lives.  And assuming they can show probable cause, they have every right under the warrant to search for any documents the accused left behind.  BUT, what they don’t have the right to do is to break down doors, traumatize children, handcuff and lock people into a car for hours, or otherwise detain a person who is not under investigation,  just because they live at the address being searched.

Additionally, I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that the Department of Education has a law enforcement branch, particularly an armed one and one large enough to execute this search warrant with only minimal presence (and no involvement) of local law enforcement.  Obviously someone needs to investigate crimes involving aid fraud and such, but they need be neither armed nor leading raids themselves.  They should be partnered with the FBI or local law enforcement who have a better sense of appropriate levels of force.

If local law enforcement had executed a warrant this way they would have been tarred and feathered for excessive use of force and unlawful detainment.  The fact that these were DoE agents executing the warrant leads me to two conclusions:  First, that they are inexperienced or watch too much TV if they think the level of force used was appropriate.  Second, that law enforcement authority has been granted far beyond the scope appropriate.  When the department of education has guns, we are one step too close to a totalitarian society for my comfort.