The federal government says it shouldn't have to disclose the reasons behind an ATF raid on the home of a Faulkner County resident, according to the U.S. attorney's response to a motion filed last week by the Democrat-Gazette.
[U.S.] Government Insists on Keeping
Reasons for Wilson Raid Secret
by Cathy Frye
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2001-02-28
The pre-dawn, surprise raid by federal agents and area lawmen left 60-year-old Carl Wilson dead and two officers injured.
Thus far, only the search warrant and a list of what was seized have been made public. Everything else pertaining to the case remains sealed in federal court.
On Feb. 15, the Democrat-Gazette filed a motion asking U.S. Magistrate J. Thomas Ray to make all of the documents public.
In a response filed Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Michael Johnson argues that unsealing the case would compromise confidential information related to the investigation.
It also would make public the names of witnesses, and those people might then be subjected to "intimidation, tampering and public inquiries," the response states.
Attorney Jess Askew, who is representing the Democrat-Gazette, replied:
"A man was killed in his bedroom by federal agents, and the press wants to know why they were there. The First Amendment guarantees this access, unless compelling interests require otherwise. Here, there is no on-going investigation of Mr. Wilson to protect, and we see no reason why the First Amendment should not prevail."
The judge's ruling on the issue is pending.
Wilson, who had lived in his rural Mayflower home for the last 18 years, was killed in a shootout with a SWAT team that was trying to serve a "no-knock" search warrant before dawn on Jan. 12.
A no-knock warrant gives police permission to enter someone's home without announcing who they are.
During the 6:30 a.m. raid, which quickly disintegrated into a gunbattle between Wilson and authorities, two officers were injured. One hit his head while diving to avoid bullets. The other was hit in the arm by shrapnel.
Wilson, who was shot at least five times, died in his bedroom.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was looking for a .30-.30-caliber Winchester rifle, according to the warrant. Wilson's widow, Tammy, says her husband had owned the gun for as long as she could remember. The couple were together for 23 years.
Seized from the Wilson home were the Winchester, seven other guns and ammunition, a bong, a pipe, scales, a plastic bag containing a fourth of a gram of "white powder," a large Ziploc bag containing smaller bags of marijuana, a pill bottle of marijuana seeds and burned marijuana cigarettes, according to the ATF's inventory list.
Also taken was a "paper note," which Tammy Wilson says was tacked to the closet where Wilson kept his guns. It read: "If you open this door, the whole house will blow up. Try me — Wilson."
The probable-cause affidavit, which was presented to a judge before the search warrant was granted, would explain why the government wanted the hunting rifle. This document also would offer insight into why ATF agents felt a no-knock raid was necessary.
In its motion, the Democrat-Gazette states: "A civilian was killed and two law enforcement officers were injured during the execution of this search warrant. The public is entitled to know the circumstances and manner in which state and federal law enforcement officials carried out their public duties."
But federal prosecutors argue that unsealing the documents related to the investigation of Wilson won't explain how the raid transpired.
"These sealed documents were created prior to the execution of the warrant," the government's response states. "The manner in which officers obtained the warrant is clear without review of sealed documents."
Tammy Wilson vehemently disagrees.
"They say it doesn't matter why he was wanted, that this doesn't have anything to do with the fact that a shootout occurred? Well, it might not make a difference to them, but it makes a big difference to me."
As for the government's argument that names of witnesses would be revealed if the case is unsealed, Tammy Wilson said, "Well, too damn bad. Let the witnesses come out."
Authorities say they cannot comment on the investigation or the raid until a state police inquiry into the shootout is finished.
That inquiry is ongoing, Special Agent Scott Wall said Tuesday, adding that state police are awaiting reports from the medical examiner. "I would hope they would have already been in by now, but [state Crime Laboratory workers] are backed up."
Once the investigation is finished, the results will be turned over to Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney H. G. Foster, who will then decide whether to press charges, close the case or ask police to investigate further.
Once the case is closed, it becomes public record.
Tammy Wilson is hoping to find some answers within those documents, she says.
"I don't have any vendetta. I don't have a bad heart. I just want to know the truth."
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