Family of Man Killed in ATF Raid Accuses Agents of 'Reckless and Incompetent' Conduct

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

When Bryan Malinowski was shot and killed during an ATF raid on his Little Rock home last month, his family was quick to question the circumstances that led to his death. Why did the agency burst through the door of his home around dawn instead of serving the search warrant at the home while he was at work at his job as the executive director of the Little Rock airport? Did Malinowski, who was armed when he was shot and killed, believe that intruders were breaking into his home? Did law enforcement announce themselves, or was he shot in a no-knock raid? 


Bud Cummins, the family's attorney, has released two videos captured by doorbell cameras on the morning of the raid that, far from answering those questions, raise even more issues about how the search warrant was executed. 

In both videos, you can see agents donning full tactical gear and holding rifles in a ready position.

New information provided by Cummins reveals that Malinowski's wife was also home at the time of the raid.

"At this stage there is no publicly available evidence showing whether agents knocked on the door or announced their presence, adequately identifying themselves. Bryan’s wife Maer only heard loud banging immediately followed by the crash of the front door being forced open," Cummins told KATV in a written statement.

Video from Malinowski's doorbell camera could be crucial in determining whether the agents announced their presence, but the short snipped released by Cummings stops before the door is breached. What it does show, however, is an agent covering up the camera with a piece of tape. 

I suppose there could be a logical reason for covering up the camera only to verbally announce your presence a moment later, but I can't really think of one off-hand. And without any way of being able to see who was at his doorstep, it would have been reasonable for Malinowski to believe he was about to become the victim of a home invasion, especially if there
was no announcement that the agents were law enforcement there to serve a search warrant.  

Arkansas State Police investigators said Malinowski exchanged gunfire with the agents as they served the search warrant. Agents returned fire.

Malinowski was hit in the head and transported to the hospital where he later died.

An ATF agent was also shot during the encounter but is expected to make a full recovery.

"We do not know who shot first but it appears that Bryan shot approximately three times at a decidedly low angle, probably at the feet of the intruders who were roughly 30 feet away," Cummins claimed.

When I spoke to retired ATF assistant director Peter Forcelli about the raid on the Malinowski home, he was also a little troubled by the facts that have emerged to date; questioning why it was necessary to mount a full-scale raid on his home early in the morning when he could have been taken into custody off-site. 

"Here's a guy who worked in an airport, which is a pretty sterile environment," Forcelli told me. While Forcelli says there might have been a reason why the raid was staged the way it was, he believes it wasn't the only way for the operation to take place. 

"They could have had a local police officer stop him on the way to work, walk up on the car, 'hey we have a warrant, we need to go back to the house and search it.' They could have gone to his employer, again the airport is a very sterile environment, approached him there [with a warrant."


Forcelli says he's also curious why the agents didn't use a tactic called "Surround and Call Out", where agents will knock on the door, back off, call out the occupants of the home, and then execute the warrant. That sounds like it would generally be safer for everyone involved, so why wasn't this strategy deployed when executing a warrant against a guy accused of the non-violent crime of selling firearms without a license? 

Malinowski's family would like to know that too. The family's attorney says his loved ones believe, "the already known facts amply demonstrate ATF’s tactics on March 19 were reckless and incompetent, and completely unnecessary," and it's hard to disagree based on what has come out to date. 

The Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division is the agency investigating the incident, so the ATF won't be able to keep this in-house. Once that investigation is complete it will be up to the local prosecuting attorney to proceed with any charges. Based on what Cummings has said so far, I expect we'll see a civil suit filed regardless of what the prosecutor decides. Honestly though, I'd really like to see ATF Director Steve Dettelbach hauled up to Capitol Hill to answer some questions about the raid on Bryan Malinowski's home, including "are these tactics going to be routinely used against other gun owners the agency suspects are engaged in the business of selling firearms without a license?" 


Remember, that's a term the agency wants to define so broadly that you wouldn't even have to complete a single sale in order to break the law. Tens of millions of gun owners could be considered a criminal under the ATF's proposed rule, and Congress should demand to know if he plans on sending out squads of armed agents to bust down the doors of any gun owner who's offered a gun from their private collection for sale once the rule is finalized. I doubt we'd get a straight answer but that doesn't mean the question isn't worth asking.

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