How much firepower does it take to arrest a fat German computer nerd?
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom was arrested in January, although “arrested” is a bit of an understatement. The New Zealand authorities came at him with the full monty, dropping its elite, heavily-armed Special Tactics Group in by air while officers of the Armed Offenders Squad went in on ground. There were even FBI agents lurking somewhere off in the background.
Speaking at a hearing yesterday, Dotcom claimed that helicopter noises aren’t particularly unusual in his social circle, but once he realized it was an attack he triggered the alarm system and made his way to a hidden panic room. Somewhere along the line he realized it was a police raid, but chose to wait in the panic room anyway, with the door open, to avoid startling anyone and putting himself at risk of being shot. Even so, and despite knowing of the existence of the room, it took police 13 minutes to find him, and when they finally did they weren’t particularly gentle in apprehending him. Dotcom claimed he was punched in the face and kicked to the floor, and that one officer stood on his hand once he was down.
The news report says it “all seems slightly American” and suggests that’s due at least in part to the presence of the FBI, which was also involved in the planning of the raid. Yet despite the overwhelming show of force, officers involved weren’t actually suited up in full tactical gear. “We wanted to match the threat level, in this case a low threat,” one of them admitted to Dotcom’s lawyers. “We made a conscious decision not to wear full tactical kit. It wasn’t appropriate under these circumstances.”
With the case against Dotcom rather badly frayed – the search warrant that led to the raid in the first place has since been declared invalid – his lawyers are now focusing on the raid itself, and why the police used such heavy-handed tactics to bring him in. It’s not fair to criticize police officers for taking steps to protect themselves in threatening situations, but in a situation that they readily acknowledge was not threatening, why go charging in on an operation even they say was “over the top?” Dotcom dismissed claims that it was done to prevent the destruction of evidence; the FBI had already seized Megaupload’s servers prior to the raid, he said, so he couldn’t have tampered with it even if he’d wanted to.