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In this Oct. 28, 2015 file photo a Monroe County sheriff's deputy walks down the driveway hours after Ricky Keeton was shot at this property.

The Daily Journal published a special investigative series looking at the shooting death of a Monroe County man that was the result of a law enforcement serving a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night.

Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies served the warrant on Ricky Keeton at his residence at approximately 1 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2015. Before the deputies rammed the door to enter, Keeton had heard sounds through his trailer wall and woke his girlfriend. According to his girlfriend — who was not injured — Keeton feared they were about to be robbed.

Authorities shot Keeton when he appeared at the door carrying a gun, which turned out to be a pellet pistol. The shooting was deemed justified, given that Keeton had a gun and reportedly raised and possibly fired it. In most any situation, a suspect raising a firearm at law enforcement would be grounds for use of lethal force.

But the family believes this situation is different, which is why they have filed a federal lawsuit against Monroe County law enforcement. The family believes authorities acted in an irresponsible manner that caused Keeton to take acceptable means to protect himself.

And that issue is at the heart of the use of no-knock warrants.

Unlike regular search or arrest warrants, no-knock warrants allow law enforcement to forcibly enter a residence or business without even announcing themselves.

THE SERIES

Ricky Keeton shooting in Monroe County raises questions about no-knock warrants
Widespread use of no-knock search warrants in Monroe County raises constitutional questions
Misconduct allegations surround Eric Sloan, former deputy sheriff involved in Ricky Keeton shooting

The rationale for such warrants is often to protect evidence so that it cannot be destroyed or to prevent suspects from fleeing. And there are certainly legitimate situations in which such warrants are, well, warranted.

However, no-knock warrants are clearly abused. For instance, what was the need for a no-knock warrant on a trailer with limited points of exit and where deputies had gained access to the sewer lines to capture any evidence that was disposed of that way?

These kinds of warrants often put the lives of law enforcement in great danger. Entering a residence in such a forceful manner raises the likelihood of occupants firing back in what they believe to be self-defense. After all, we live in an area where firearms are kept close by for personal protection. It is a safe bet that if someone breaks into the majority of homes in rural Northeast Mississippi in the middle of the night, an awakened homeowner will greet them with the business end of a gun.

Law enforcement who serve these warrants are justified in shooting such suspects. But what happens when the weapon turns out not to be a pellet gun? Or — even worse — what happens when law enforcement has accidentally entered the wrong residence or were acting on faulty intelligence? This has happened in Mississippi and across the country.

The state needs to address the use of no-knock warrants, outlining when such warrants can be used. And the scope should be narrow — protecting both law enforcement and citizens. As it stands today, no-knock warrants are handed out like candy, leading to rampant overuse and abuse across Mississippi.

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