Judge: DEU agents often didn't announce themselves while executing search warrants

A U.S. magistrate judge said in a document filed Monday that local DEU agents had a "widespread and persistent" policy of not knocking, announcing or waiting a reasonable time before executing search warrants, which is required by the Fourth Amendment.

The report is connected to a 2015 lawsuit, filed by Julian Ray Betton, who was shot nine times in 2015 during a drug raid, leaving him a paraplegic. Testimonies from drug agents affiliated with the 2015 case were included in the document.

Betton alleges David Belue and the City of Myrtle Beach violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights during the execution of a search warrant.

The 45-page document filed Monday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West said the DEU had a "widespread and persistent policy of executing search warrants without knocking and announcing and waiting reasonable time before entering a private residence."

The report said Betton heard no one announce their presence, but did hear the door being kicked in or rammed open. At that point, Betton allegedly reached for a gun in his waistband, and when he regained consciousness, he was in the hospital, records said.

Conflicting testimonies from agents Chad Guess, Frank Waddell, Dean Bishop and David Belue state, "Police! Search warrant" was yelled during the forced entry.

But, the document said, a review of the video footage reveals the agents' statements were false. After reviewing the footage, former Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall said, "The agents approaching the door are not announcing. In fact, it appears that their mouths are not moving as agent Belue opens the screen door and agent Guess simultaneously rams the door."

The Fourth Amendment requires officers to knock, announce and wait a reasonable period of time before entering when executing a search warrant.

DEU Commander Bill Knowles said that the DEU's manual of standard operating procedures omitted the requirement and instructions to knock, announce and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering when executing a search warrant.

In testimony, a neighbor said officers immediately went to Betton's porch and bashed his door, none of them announcing they were police, and no one knocked or waited for Betton to come to the door, records state.

The officers faced no charges after the incident.

Belue said he "distinctly remembered" Betton firing his gun. He argued that he didn't use actual force until he believed he saw Betton pointing a gun at him, the document said.

A S.C. Law Enforcement Division analysis of the ballistics of Betton's gun show the claim is false and Betton fired no shots.

Guess, a case agent for the investigation, was responsible for getting and executing the search warrant at Betton's home, records show. He's listed as a defendant in the case. Guess lined up a confidential informant, who provided information that served as the basis for the search warrant, the files show.

The informant went to Betton's apartment twice, making purchases of seven and eight grams of marijuana. Guess gave the informant $100 before each of the sales, the document said.

Guess said he found through the informant that Betton had two guns, had installed video cameras at the front door and may have had an outstanding warrant for his arrest in another state.

Betton settled his civil suit earlier this year with some of the defendants for $2.75 million, his attorneys said. The defendants that settled did not admit liability in the case, but chose to settle to avoid possible higher costs from a trial, his attorneys said in March.

The March settlement won't cover the full cost of Betton's medical expenses, said Allison Argoe, one of Betton's attorneys. The shooting left him paralyzed and with other long-term health issues. Jonny McCoy, also one of Betton's attorneys, said earlier this year they believe Betton's past and future medical costs will be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Hannah Strong: 843-444-1765, @HannahLStrong

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