Guns raid

Guns seized in raid. (Courtesy Prince George's County Police/Twitter / July 27, 2012)

Maryland police regularly send heavily armed tactical officers to raid houses searching for criminal suspects or evidence. Sometimes the operations turn deadly, as in a recent case in Reisterstown when a Baltimore County officer shot a man who police said attacked him with a sword.

One of the first questions The Baltimore Sun asks after such an encounter is whether officers had a “no-knock” warrant, which would have allowed them to enter without having to announce themselves, even briefly, before going through the door. But in this case, police have refused to provide that information, arguing it is part of the warrant and under court seal.

Police departments in the region vary widely in how they handle the disclosure of information contained in warrants. Some of the facts they can contain are often already public — the date a raid took place, or a suspect’s name, for instance. Many times, they also offer specific details about continuing investigations, which is a major reason they are generally under seal.

In the case of the raid last week on the home of Neil Prescott, a Crofton man who police said made threats against people in his workplace, the search warrant was unsealed even though no charges have been filed against him.

Prescott was taken in for an emergency psychiatric evaluation and is now hospitalized. Though police would not identify him at a news conference about the raid, that information was readily available at the Prince George’s County courthouse.

Police agencies that worked on the case could not provide an explanation Saturday for how the warrant was made public. A judge makes the final decision about whether to unseal a warrant, often at the request of one of the parties in a case. The warrant makes no reference to whether officers were required to knock; police reported that Prescott cooperated.

The question about a no-knock warrants is important in cases in which a person is injured or killed, because the answer can provide some detail about the encounter between an occupant and the police. In the Baltimore County raid, the man who was killed was not the subject of the police investigation.

Police say no-knock warrants are necessary when dealing with high-risk subjects or those who might flee. In the Reisterstown incident, police were searching for suspects in an attempted murder who had been charged with carrying concealed weapons; two were arrested at the house.

A Baltimore County police spokeswoman said police repeatedly identified themselves as officers once inside the home and that their uniforms also identified them. Howard County police, the lead agency on the case, would not say whether a no-knock warrant was used.

Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said in an email that the department consulted with prosecutors, who “advised that any no-knock provision would be considered part of the warrant” and therefore would be under court seal.