"They Searched My House Without A Warrant"

Saturday, September 10 2011 @ 02:57 PM EDT

Contributed by: Don Winner

Miniel Orlando Santos was in the bathroom when his wife Virginia Gonzalez called from the door for him to get dressed, because the police were raiding their house. He put on the first thing he found, shorts and a t-shirt, then went to ask about the problem that had formed at the entrance of his home. Upon leaving his house, he counted 25 police officers from the Directorate of Police Information (DIP) in his yard, who surrounded his property. "Who is the most senior police officer," asked Orlando. An investigating officer identified himself as the ranking officer, and said he had a search warrant, but he refused to give his name. Orlando asked for an explanation about the display of police force, enough to catch the attention of his neighbors. He also demanded that they show him the order signed by a judge.

When the police officers said they would show him the order once the search was complete, then Orlando, who is a retired captain of the Institutional Protection Service (SPI), gave in, opened the door, and let them into his home. It was 8:30 am when four policemen entered his house, located in the La Reina development of Vacamonte in Arraiján, while the rest of the officers retreated to the yard. The residence of three bedrooms and two bathrooms was thoroughly searched, with the exception of his laptop computer, which they did not touch. Orlando was restless and insisted on seeing the search warrant. While the police searched through the mattresses, drawers and the two cars parked in the garage, Orlando tried to dial his phone to call his lawyer, but the police officer, who minutes later had refused to identify himself, prohibited him from making the cellular telephone call.

Article 26 of the Constitution states that the domicile or residence is inviolable. No one can enter it without the consent of its owner, except by written order of the competent authorities. The article added that public servants can practice, after identification, home visits or inspections. Orlando accompanied the agents to every corner of the house where they rummaged. He did not exchange a word with them, except for insisting on knowing whether there was a search warrant.

They Arrested Him - At 11:00 in the morning and after an arduous search to no avail, the police informed Orlando that they would withdraw because they had not found anything. Orlando then again asked to see the search warrant. Police arrested him when he continued to insist on seeing the search warrant. Orlando was taken to the DIP in Ancon, where they held him for four hours. He was not questioned, nor was he charged with any wrongdoing. He sat at the police station in front of the television killing time. At 4:00 pm they told him he could leave, without explaining why his house had been raided. The only answer he received was that the protocols were being met.

A National Police spokesman said the search met all requirements. The source said the revision of Orlando's home was a security and monitoring action. Regarding the search warrant, the police spokesperson said the DIP agents gave him a copy of the search warrant. In fact, the spokesman added that in the complaint filed by Orlando before the Office of Professional Responsibility (DRP) (Internal Affairs), he said they showed him the order. El Siglo had access to the complaint, but nowhere in Orlando's statement does he say they showed him the search warrant.

Rubén Elías Rodríguez, a former president of the Bar Association of Panama, said that unless the police officers are chasing a criminal or there is a crime being committed, the police officers cannot search private property without the permission of a competent authority (judge). (Siglo)

Editor's Comment: How many times have the police on television shows asked the home owner "mind if we have a look around?" In Panama, if the police actually do have a search warrant, they can bust in the doors and search your house, whether you want them to or not. They can cut locks and break things, if necessary, to gain access. However if you are inside of your home and the cops are outside, you do not have to open the door and allow them access, unless and until you are given a copy of (not just shown) a search warrant. Keep the door closed, and make all of the cellular telephone calls to lawyers you want. If the police are outside of the door, leave them there. They will knock and bang on the door, and they will try every trick in the book to get you to do what this guy did - grant consent and give them access. Of course, he says he gave them access only when the "mystery man" police officer who refused to identity himself, promised to give him a copy of the order. The cop lied (gasp). If you find yourself in this situation, take photos through the windows with your cell phone and send them to people, anyone, just to get them off site, because they might eventually seize your phone. Make lots of telephone calls, and see if you can get the press there before you open the door. If they don't bust the door down, that's because they don't actually have a search warrant. Just sit at your dining room table, make a ham sandwich, open a cold adult beverage, and listen to them knock and bitch and complain and threaten and moan and wail and shriek. I have accompanied prosecutors from the Public Ministry on several raids. I even translated for the prosecutor during the execution of the search warrant on Mike Smith's house in Bocas del Toro on the Saturday before William Dathan Holbert was captured in Nicaragua - there was a task force actively searching for "Wild Bill" and they thought be might be hiding there. In any case, that search was documented from one end to the other, and copies were provided to the homeowner whose house was being searched. In this case, it certainly does not look legitimate. Anyway, know your rights, and don't be afraid to just sit there, behind your locked front door.

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