SWAT Teams inserted into Family Court dramas

Image via Wikipedia entry on SWAT. (CC 2.0 license)

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2017 — The recent news that a SWAT team was likely misused against Sandra Grazzini-Rucki is part of a pattern of wider pattern of SWAT team misuse in the especially notorious custody/divorce cases that CDN has covered:

Sandra Grazzini-Rucki

As CDN reported last week, a Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) visited Sandra Grazzini-Rucki on October 19, 2015, on what the U.S. Marshals Service said was a fugitive warrant. But the warrant was sealed, making that claim impossible.

The U.S. Marshals entered the Florida timeshare where Grazzini-Rucki was staying after a flight during which she served as a flight attendant.

The SWAT Team initially encountered her male colleague who was watching television in the living room while Grazzini-Rucki slept in the bedroom. Her male colleague was thrown to the ground on his stomach, with several shotguns pointed to the back of his neck. He was then handcuffed with his hands behind his back and placed on the couch.

Grazzini-Rucki was awoken to the same shotguns pointed to her head, dragged out of bed, handcuffed with her hands behind her back, and placed on the same couch where both were then interrogated.

“Where are the guns? where are the girls?” the Marshals asked repeatedly.

After a great deal of confusion, Grazzini-Rucki was transported to the Osceola County Prison and charged with gun-running, kidnapping, and child trafficking.

Due to the seriousness of the charges involved, Grazzini-Rucki was housed with Victoria Rios. Rios, who was 17 at the time of her alleged crime, was charged, along with three other individuals, in the robbery/murder of Eric Roopnarine, who was allegedly lured by Rios with the promise of sex, only to be killed and robbed on July 13, 2013. (Rios had a mistrial in July 2016 and still faces another trial.)*

Grazzini-Rucki stayed in a cell with Rios for almost two weeks before being driven in a private prison bus from Florida to Minnesota, handcuffed, shackled and put in her own cell nearly the whole way.

Neil Shelton

On April 24, 2013, Neil Shelton was visited by the SWAT team of his local police department in North Carolina after he allegedly sent a “terroristic letter” to his ex-wife, her attorney, the judge in his divorce, and others.

“Sarah Stevens (his ex-wife’s divorce attorney) will be dead by Friday,” The letter ominously read.

Eight SWAT team members driving a Hummer and accompanied by two detectives and three deputies executed the arrest warrant for Shelton after Stevens shared the purported letter with local authorities.

Shelton was housed in the local jail and charged with making terroristic threats against government officials He was given a $75,000 bond — unusually high for a Class I felony — and placed in a cell with a murder suspect. Ironically, that suspect was accused of killing Shelton’s best friend, Don Griffin, during a robbery.

Every time he made an appearance, Shelton, like Grazzini-Rucki, was shackled and handcuffed.

The charges were dismissed nearly a year later, days after the terms of his divorce, giving everything including sole custody of their two children, to his ex-wife.

Edward “Ted” Taupier

On August 29, 2014, seventy-five members of the Connecticut State Police SWAT team visited Edward “Ted” Taupier.

Taupier was arrested after an inflammatory email directed to his family court judge, Elizabeth Bozzuto — which Taupier sent to other aggrieved litigants of the Connecticut family court system — was leaked to the judge and shared with authorities.

Of Bozzuto’s residence, Taupier wrote in the email: “245 yrds between her master bedroom and a cemetery that provides cover and concealment.” The email went on to say “They can steal my kids from my cold dead bleeding cordite filled fists … as my 60 round mag falls to the floor and im dying as I change out to the next 30 rd.”

But the email was part of a chain that discussed all sorts of issues, until Jennifer Verraneault shared it first with Linda Allard of the Hartford Legal Aid Society.

That email was then shared with more than six other people before Judge Bozzuto received a screen shot, triggering an investigation which led to the SWAT team takedown.

“It took sixteen Seal team members (Seal Team Six which conducted the raid on UBL) to kill Usama Bin Laden and they used seventy-five police to arrest me,” noted Taupier.

Though it was made clear that the email was meant to be private, the trial judge, David Gold — Taupier had asked for a bench trial — still found him guilty and sentenced him to eighteen months.

Taupier was allowed to remain free while the case was appealed. But he has been on an ankle monitor since his arrest in 2014 and is not allowed to leave his house.

Chris Mackney

On July 30, 2013, at around 8AM, members of the SWAT team showed up at Chris Mackney’s apartment in Dallas, where he had only moved a couple of months prior.

By this point, Mackney had already been jailed three times on civil matters — he was released from his last incarceration in the spring 2013 — related to the divorce. But this time, he was being charged with attempted extortion.

Shortly after being released in the spring 2013, he moved to Dallas and began working at a real estate company making approximately $50,000/year.

He was contacted by his ex-wife’s divorce attorneys, Kyle Bartol and Jim Cottrell, who demanded his child support payment. That child support — nearly $3,000 per month — was originally set based on an income far greater than he currently had.

Mackney initially asked for the child support to be reduced and then threatened to go to the media if it wasn’t. His emailed threat was taken to the local district attorney, Elizabeth Kohut, who had Mackney charged with attempted extortion.

Mackney was extracted on July 31, 2013 by the local SWAT team, flown back to Virginia on Con-Air, and then housed in a Virginia jail because his bond was far more than he had available.

He was found not guilty on October 23, 2013, but killed himself on December 29, 2013. Mackney was facing a subsequent hearing on January 22, 2014, on a new civil charge where he faced the prospect of going to jail again.

“Fine me, maybe put me in jail,” Mackney said in a text message to a friend days before his suicide. “I won’t be there.”

Shelton’s, Taupier’s and Mackney’s, SWAT team takedowns are explored in more detail in this reporter’s book “Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce.”

*An earlier, related article erroneously reported that Rios had recently been moved from death row.

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