COLUMBIA — When Columbia Police SWAT officers kicked in Jonathan Whitworth's door, they didn't find what they were looking for but drew a worldwide audience.
Acting on an 8-day-old warrant on Feb. 11, at least eight officers raided Whitworth's home at 1501 Kinloch Court in southwest Columbia on the suspicion that he was dealing a significant amount of marijuana. But police only found a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. The tip on Whitworth came from an informant who the police chief said apparently wasn't consulted before the raid was carried out.
Another problem: During the raid, officers fatally shot Whitworth's pit bull and wounded a Welsh corgi before arresting Whitworth, whose wife and 7-year-old were also home.
Now, as the department nears the end of its internal investigation of the matter, it is facing widening ripples of consequences of a story that has gone viral
. A video of the raid had received almost 295,000 views on YouTube as of 8 p.m. Thursday as Whitworth's attorney said his client was contemplating legal action against the department.
"We're reviewing everything right now, and we're keeping every possibility open," Jeff Hilbrenner said. He said Whitworth had not yet filed a formal complaint with the Police Department, and Whitworth's family had been put in an awkward position.
"They know that it’s come to the attention of people all over America," Hilbrenner said. "They’ve been contacted by people they don’t know offering support from all over the country. They don’t want that to be how they’re known. They would prefer to go on living their life as a young couple with a young son."
The attention has been much grimmer for the Police Department. On Thursday afternoon, Chief Ken Burton held a news conference with Mayor Bob McDavid at Columbia City Hall to combat what he repeatedly called the Internet's mixing of "fact with fiction."
"We're getting death threats from literally all over the world," Burton said, declining to release the names of the officers involved.
Burton sought to put an end to rumors that the pit bull was in a cage when the officers shot it. He also said the corgi had been shot in the paw by accident because it was next to the pit bull when the larger dog attacked the officers coming in the front door. The pit bull ran away and again threatened officers, who shot it, Burton said.
In the video, "you hear that dog (the corgi) screaming, and that isn't pleasant to listen to," Burton said.
As for Whitworth — who pleaded guilty on April 20 to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of drug paraphernalia and was fined $300 — Burton said a federal drug conviction and a history of combative arrests prompted the use of heavy police force. Burton regretted the department waited so long to execute the warrant.
"I don’t think we should have run it eight days later," Burton said. "We should have run it that day. We simply didn’t do it. So we own that, and we’re very sorry it turned out the way it did. None of those officers wanted to hurt that dog — or any dog, as a matter of fact — but it was an unfortunate situation.”
As McDavid stood next to him, Burton said he had changed department policy to conduct raids immediately after a search warrant is obtained. Burton said the department moved slowly in Whitworth's case because the SWAT team is made up of part-time members who hold other jobs within the department.