SAGINAW, MI — Last summer, police executed a no-knock search warrant on a suspected Saginaw drug house. Moments after entering, a 17-year-old inside the house allegedly drew a handgun, prompting two officers to open fire on him.
Months later, maimed and facing two felonies, the teen sat in his wheelchair with arms folded across his chest as he listened to one of the officers who shot him testify he did so upon being put in fear for his life.
The preliminary examination of now-18-year-old Rae’Quin R. Scott Jr. was held Wednesday, May 25, before Saginaw County District Judge Elian E.H. Fichtner. Scott is charged with felonious assault and felony firearm. The former charge is a four-year felony, while a conviction of the latter mandates a minimum two-year prison term, to be served consecutively with any related stint.
As her lone witness of the day, Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa J. Hoover called Saginaw Police Officer Jonathon Beyerlein to the stand. Beyerlein is a member of the multijurisdictional Saginaw Emergency Services Team (or EST), which functions like a SWAT team in that it serves high-risk search warrants and deals with barricaded gunmen, hostage rescue, and dignitary security, the officer said.
Early on the morning of Aug. 5, the EST convened with investigators from the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (or BAYANET) for a briefing on the execution of a warrant at a house at 814 S. Harrison St. During the briefing, EST members were told BAYANET had conducted multiple recent controlled purchases of drugs at the residence and that several people there had been seen with firearms, Beyerlein said.
The plan was to serve a no-knock warrant, a controversial type of warrant that does not require police to knock or announce themselves before breaching a house.
“It’s not something we take lightly,” Beyerlein said. “We don’t know if we’re walking into a potential ambush situation, if it’s a house known to have 10, 15, or more people. We’re not there to inflict harm on anybody. We’re just trying to secure the house.”
EST’s role is not to search property but to secure it for investigators, Beyerlein said. He said investigators had confirmed there were no young children, elderly people, or dogs inside the house before the warrant was to be served. He added the house had been shot at a few times prior to Aug. 5.
About 6:30 a.m., EST members breached the house, deployed a flashbang grenade into it, and announced their presence, Beyerlein said. A flashbang emits a single concussive boom and shear of bright light, its intended purpose being to delay potential ambushers’ thought processes or disorient them, the officer said.
Once the flashbang went off, EST members began entering the house, Beyerlein being the third one inside.
“I could see there was an opening, not a doorway, more of a gap in the wall … that led deeper into the residence,” Beyerlein said. “I positioned myself right next to that first officer who was facing south. As I looked east through that doorway, I could see a person laying on the ground. Their feet were toward me … kind of tucked up underneath their butt and their knees were up toward their chest. I could not see his hands; they were concealed behind his legs.”
The officer was preparing to yell commands at the person on the ground when they rose and drew a handgun from behind their thighs, he said.
“He lifted it up over the top of his thighs and then activated a weapon-mounted flashlight and pointed it directly at me and the other officer I was standing next to,” Beyerlein said.
Believing the subject was going to fire at him or his partner, Beyerlein fired five rounds from his rifle, stopping once the other man dropped the handgun. Beyerlein said he stopped back, then heard another officer fire a single shot from another angle.
The wounded person was identified as Scott.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce L. Leach, Beyerlein said he did not know if the warrant specifically mentioned Scott. He reiterated Scott had been lying on the ground when he first saw him, not on a couch, as police reports state.
While officers recovered a pistol near Scott, Beyerlein said he did not know if any rounds had been fired from it.
Asked by Leach if he was wearing a departmental-issued body camera during the raid, Beyerlein said he was.
After Beyerlein concluded his testimony, Assistant Prosecutor Hoover asked Judge Fichtner to bind Scott’s case over to Circuit Court for trial, something Leach opposed. He said the prosecution had presented him with about 10 disks of officers’ body camera footage but Beyerlein’s were not among them.
“This raises some very interesting questions about the officers that were first in that were involved with the shooting and the availability of those body cameras in order to clearly establish what happened, in what order here,” Leach said.
Fichtner granted Hoover’s request and bound Scott’s case over to the higher court.
According to police reports obtained by MLive-The Saginaw News via a Freedom of Information Act request, police in the days preceding the raid saw people at the Harrison Street house with three AR-15-style rifles and multiple handguns with extended magazines. The residence had also been the target of multiple drive-by shootings, with one on Feb. 12 seeing a 15-year-old girl inside the house suffering a gunshot wound to her back.
In addition to Scott, police detained 17-year-old Torrion T. Wilson and 16-year-old Eric M. Burrell Jr., the latter residing at the Harrison Street house. In searching the home, they found 19 grams of suspected crystal meth, 1 gram of heroin/fentanyl, an AR-15 under a bed, a Glock 9mm semi-automatic handgun in a closet, three digital scales, and ammunition of various types. They also found $896 in cash on Scott and $482 on one of the other teens, their records show.
Wilson himself suffered two gunshot wounds in separate incidents in 2021, the first occurring about 4 p.m. on March 15 at Woodbridge and Irving and the second about 2 p.m. on May 23 at or near the Harrison Street house.
The 9mm handgun police found near Scott had been reported stolen during a burglary about a week prior, police reports state.
Scott endured a lengthy hospital stay due to his wounds. Scott’s right leg was amputated, he is paralyzed from the navel down, and he had to use a colostomy bag, his mother, Jasmin Johnson, previously told MLive.
Prosecutors on Feb. 7 announced the two Saginaw police officers who shot Scott were justified in doing so and charges would not be forthcoming against them.
“Considering all the circumstances, we conclude that the actions of law enforcement personnel were justified and consistent with preservation of self and others,” stated the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office in a press release. “This office has reviewed the witness statements, video, and audio recordings of the incident, as well as other available evidence. We conclude that the use of deadly force in these circumstances was justified.”
The next day, authorities issued a warrant for Scott. Police arrested him on Feb. 16 while serving a search warrant on another suspected drug house in the 1900 block of Green Street. Scott turned 18 four days after the more recent raid.
Scott was not a resident of the Harrison Street house. Jail records list his address as the Green Street house where the Feb. 16 drug raid took place. Scott is not charged with a crime related to the search of the Green Street house.
In an unrelated case in Oakland County, the two other teens who were at the Harrison Street, Wilson and Burrell, have been charged with felony murder, armed robbery, and firearm offenses stemming from the Nov. 14 fatal shooting of Maleik Gilmore in Pontiac.
Investigators learned Gilmore had been selling drugs to the suspects and was shot as they tried to rob him, police have said. Investigators have said Burrell was the shooter.
Facing the same four charges as Burrell and Wilson is 20-year-old Demetrious A. Brox Jr., who is a half-brother of Burrell. Jennifer M. Wilson, the 39-year-old mother of Burrell and Brox, is charged with accessory after the fact to a felony. She allegedly hid the three young men after the shooting, according to The Oakland Press.
Burrell, Wilson, and Brox’s trial is slated to begin Jan. 9.
No-knock warrants have been the subject of controversy in recent years.
“Those who defend the tactic say that the majority of the raids do not lead to injuries and likely prevent violence and preserve evidence that otherwise would have been destroyed,” states an April 6 article by The Washington Post. “But critics say that the risks outweigh the benefits and are often not worth the amount of drugs recovered.”
According to The Post’s article, at least 22 people have been killed since 2015 while police served such warrants. Among those deaths are those of Amir Locke and Breonna Taylor.
Louisville police shot and killed Taylor, an ER technician, on March 13, 2020, when they entered her apartment as part of a drug investigation involving an ex-boyfriend. Though the warrant was approved at the no-knock variety, officers and prosecutors maintained police had knocked and announced themselves before entering Taylor’s apartment. Locke was killed Feb. 2 when Minneapolis police carried out a no-knock warrant while looking for others implicated in a homicide investigation.