They even had a film crew there to capture their daring escapade.
EVANSVILLE — Stephanie Milan, 18, was relaxing in her family’s living room Thursday watching the Food Network when a heavily armed squad of Evansville police officers arrived on the front porch.
Dressed in full protective gear, police broke the storm door of the home at 616 East Powell Ave. — the Milans’ front door was already open on the hot summer day. They also broke a front window. They tossed a flashbang stun grenade into the living room that made a deafening blast. A short distance away, a local television crew’s cameras were rolling. The police had invited the station to videotape the forced entry of the residence.
Stephanie Milan said she managed to remain calm because she knew her family hadn’t done anything wrong. Still, she was stunned and confused.
After speaking to Milan and her grandmother, Louise, police determined those inside the house had nothing to do with their investigation.
Police were executing a search warrant for computer equipment, which they said was used to make anonymous and specific online threats against police and their families on the website topix.com.
“The front door was open. It’s not like anyone was in there hiding,” said Ira Milan, Stephanie's grandfather and owner of the property for many years. “To bring a whole SWAT team seems a little excessive.”
Ira Milan said the perpetrator of the threats likely used Stephanie’s Internet service connection from an outside location, which led police to the East Powell Avenue address.
But Police Chief Billy Bolin said, “We have no way of being able to tell that,” and the concerning Internet posts “definitely come back to that address.”
“I think it was a show of force that they are not going to tolerate this,” said Ira Milan, “But what about the residents and what they have to tolerate?”
After noting he has lived there for 30 years, Milan said, “No one has ever been arrested at my house.”
Bolin said Friday that department records indicated relatives associated with the address had criminal histories.
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said Friday he spoke to Bolin about the incident and was satisfied that police were justified in forcibly entering the home.
“They had what they thought were very specific threats against police officers, their families and the communities,” Winnecke said.
He said police told him that the Milans’ storm door and window were being repaired at city expense.
Workers were at the Milan home on Friday repairing the storm door and broken window. Carpet inside the house was stained with black residue from the flashbang grenade.
Ira Milan said police offered to pay for the damage. Laptops and a cellphone belonging to Stephanie Milan — a May graduate of Signature School who will attend the University of Southern Indiana this fall and major in radiology — were seized in the raid and remained in police possession on Friday.
Bolin said the SWAT team used its standard “knock and announce” procedure of knocking on the wall and repeating the words “police search warrant” three times before entering.
The police chief said the procedure doesn’t require officers to wait for a response.
“It’s designed to distract,” he said.
The decision to use force
Police used what they called a law enforcement threat matrix to determine the proper response to information in the posts. One post mentioned explosives, and another specifically named Bolin and referenced the area where he lives. But no other officers’ names or addresses were identified.
Sgt. Jason Cullum, a police department spokesman, said one person had posted that he possessed explosives, and that “Evansville is going to feel the pain.” That threat, Cullum said, played a major role in dictating the police response.
Cullum said the conversation at topix.com which concerned officers began under a blog headline.
“It said, ‘EPD leak: Officers’ addresses given out,’ or something along those lines. There were some generalized comments about people not liking the police, and that didn’t really concern us,” Cullum said, but then the threats became more specific and suggested officers’ families could be at risk.
Time stamps on the postings indicated that they were made Wednesday evening. Cullum defended the department’s action.
“We brought them out and talked to them,” Cullum said of the Milans. “They were released at the scene. Investigators felt they were not involved in the posting.
“This is a little more difficult that a traditional crime scene, because we’re dealing with the Internet. They definitely weren’t expecting (a SWAT team at the door). The reason we did that is the threats were specific enough, and the potential for danger was there.
“This is a big deal to us,” Cullum said. “This may be just somebody who was online just talking stupid. What I would suggest to anybody who visits websites like that is that their comments can be taken literally.”
The search warrant
Police were executing a search warrant approved by a judge. Such warrants are routinely filed in the Vanderburgh County Clerks Office, but officials in the clerks office said Friday afternoon they had no record of a warrant served on that address.
When asked by the Courier & Press for access to the document that allowed them to force entry to the home, Bolin refused. He said it might contain information that would compromise their investigation. However, he said the document didn’t contain names of any suspects.
“We have an idea in our mind who it is, but we don’t have evidence yet,” Bolin said.
Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann also refused to release the warrant.
The Courier & Press filed Freedom of Information requests Friday afternoon seeking the document from the police department, clerk’s office and prosecutor’s office.
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