DUBLIN, Ga. — Teresa Hooks was terrified. In the darkness outside her rural house, six or eight armed men in black hoods were rushing her home.
She yelled to her sleeping husband, David. Just two days earlier, they had been burglarized, with the thief or thieves taking guns and an SUV. Now the burglars were back, she thought.
Responding to her screams, David stumbled from the bedroom, shotgun in hand. Confused, he looked like he wanted to grab his pants. But before he could, the back door crashed in.
Hooks rushed around his wife to see what was up. He then died in a hail of bullets.
“Initially, I thought that I was going to die,” Teresa Hooks told Macon TV station WMAZ last fall. “I thought a gang had broke in, and up until I heard the radios — the dispatch radios, I had no idea.”
It was no gang. It was the Laurens County Sheriff’s Department. The agents were staging a commando-style raid in search of drugs that were not there.
David Hooks, a 59-year-old businessman and grandfather, had four bullet wounds, including two his lawyer says most likely came when he was lying face down on the floor — the floor of his own home, where no drugs were found despite a long search.
Mrs. Hooks said she was handcuffed for two hours and watched her husband lying on a stretcher while cops refused to tell her anything.
The intruders came there looking for drugs because of a man named Rodney Garrett. He had been apprehended earlier in the day and told authorities that the 20 grams of meth he possessed came from Hooks’ SUV — the same vehicle he had stolen from them, that is.
Welcome to the front lines of the drug war in Georgia. The assault on the home off Hwy 319 last September is one of several such epic screw-ups by ambitious and aggressive units looking for illegal drugs. The Hooks fiasco occurred just three months after an officer in North Georgia threw a flash grenade into a playpen during a drug raid, seriously burning a baby.
Early on, Laurens County Sheriff Bill Harrell released a statement saying deputies were executing a “knock and announce” search warrant and Hooks was killed when he “demonstrated aggression toward the deputies.” The department had no comment this week.
A grand jury declined to bring charges in the baby case. On Thursday, a grand jury in Laurens County will hear evidence to help reconcile what should be done there. It can’t indict anyone but can recommend that the special prosecutor pursue criminal charges against officers.
On Monday, about 40 people gathered at the Laurens County courthouse in 100-degree heat to demand justice, which in their minds means indicting the agent who took a dirtbag’s word and then hurriedly moved to raid a citizen’s home.
Teresa Hooks still lives in the home her husband built and died in. The memory is still raw, she said Monday after the rally. But she’s insistent and determined and isn’t going to leave. “This is my home,” she said. It may have been the same thought David had as he was being shot to death.
“It was uncalled for, unjustified; everyone realizes that,” said Teresa, who has been called to testify to the grand jury. “I want criminal charges pressed against those responsible. I’m not sure they will, but this is a start.”
The rally was held on the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta, the old English feudal document that has under-girded judicial principles since. The rally brought about discussions of things like basic civil rights — for instance, the right of being able to go to bed in your own home without being shot to hell by government agents.
The event brought together former cops, lawyers, black civil rights workers, white legal activists and grieving family members.
“It’s a white man killed by police, but it’s still civil rights,” said Charles Sumblin, an Atlanta-area man representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Sumblin was dressed in the kind of red shirt and denim overalls made famous by the late Hosea Williams. “This case is going to turn the tide,” he said. “It’ll bring the white community into the circle, too.”
Standing nearby was Sam Moore, a former Republican state rep from Cherokee County who made a name for himself fighting Obamacare and promoting loitering laws and a bill to get rid of “no-knock” warrants. He said opponents dubbed the latter “a cop-killer bill.”
Moore said he drove to Middle Georgia because the killing of David Hooks made him angry. “He’s the kind of person people aspire to be in America, and the government comes in unprovoked to search for evidence and kills him. People usually assume people in these kinds of cases are guilty. And here’s a case where he isn’t.”
There was lots of talk about what demonstrators called the overuse of no-knock warrants, which allow police to kick in a door unannounced. Authorities argue such action is needed to protect police and to keep suspects from flushing their stash down their commode.
Sure, kicking in doors unannounced would tend to give them the drop on bad guys. Or whoever is in the house.
The Laurens County team did not have a “no-knock” warrant, but it appears they acted like they had one. They executed the warrant within an hour of getting it and smashed the back door almost immediately.
Mitchell Shook, the family’s lawyer, said the agent who got the search warrant convinced the magistrate to sign it by using information he didn’t believe to be true. Shook says he has listened to a tape on which the agent says so.
“We have an issue with the war on drugs and its complete failure,” Shook said. “This is a by-product. There’s been an awful lot of benefit for law enforcement to make raids because of the seizure laws.”
Under state law, police agencies get to seize and keep stuff owned by supposed drug dealers. Raids can be a form of policing for profit.
So why did Laurens County deputies act on the word of a thief caught with a stash of meth? Why did they believe him when he said it was in the truck he stole? Was he an acquaintance of David Hooks? A former co-worker? A neighbor?
No, said Shook, it was sheer blind, cruel luck. His statement was: “I was walking past the driveway and it looked like a good place to steal something.”
That was the probable cause the law acted upon.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.