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Miss. State Drug Bureau Chief Says Time is Normally Given Before Door is Forced

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- State Narcotics Bureau chief Frank Melton says that under normal circumstances his agents allow at least a couple of minutes for someone to answer their door before a forced entry is made to serve a warrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that after knocking, police don't have to wait longer than 20 seconds before breaking into the home of a drug suspect.

The unanimous ruling came in a case involving a man who said he needed more time to get from the shower to the door.

LaShawn Banks emerged soapy and naked to find masked, heavily armed officers searching for drugs in his Las Vegas apartment in 1998. His case gave the court its first opportunity to say how long police must wait before breaking into a home to serve a warrant.

The Supreme Court didn't set a specific standard but said the brief delay in the Banks case was long enough. Any more time would give drug suspects an opportunity to flush evidence down the toilet.

"Unless we are going into a situation where we know firearms are involved -- that individuals in the house are armed -- normally we will give them in excess of two minutes," Melton said Wednesday.

"You have to assume that that amount of time is needed if a person isn't dressed, is in the rear of the house or didn't hear us," Melton said. "You have to give them an opportunity to answer."

"But when we announce ourselves as being state police, we don't want someone to go get a firearm or ... to begin to flush drugs down the commode," he said. "We have had that happen to us quite a bit."

One way to get around the flushing of drugs is to cut off the residence's water supply from the outside before the knock is made, he said.

But in some cases, forcing the door immediately is the only option.

Melton said he agents recently served a murder warrant at the Jackson residence of Terrell Donelson, an alleged member of the Wood Street gang, and, after knocking, Donelson's girlfriend started to open the door.

"It was a glass door and in full view, Terrell came down some stairs and told her, `don't open the damn door.' Then he ran up the stairs. At that point, we took the door down because we didn't know what he was going up to get. We had to assume it might be a weapon."

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