Before Hallandale Beach executed a deadly SWAT raid that took the life of Howard Bowe, an unarmed 34-year-old father of three, the search warrant had to be signed by a judge. In Bowe's case, the warrant was signed by Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who was once married to a suspected drug dealer.
In May 2014, the Hallandale Beach Police Department obtained a SWAT warrant to raid Bowe's home because they suspected him of being a small-time drug dealer. But when Officer Michael McKenzie walked through the busted-down back door, he almost immediately shot Bowe, who was unarmed in his own kitchen, twice in the stomach. Police reports never say Bowe did anything to threaten McKenzie and as Bowe was dying in the hospital, Hallandale cops charged him with “resisting arrest without violence.” Bowe never got his day in court, and those charges are now disposed. He has been dead for one year.
Using a SWAT team to raid the house of a small-time drug dealer seems excessive to many critics of the practice. Still, judges seem to require little evidence before they sign one. And in the case of Bowe, the only evidence police gave Scherer was a report about a confidential informant allegedly making a buy from him.
When New Times asked Scherer why she would sign a SWAT warrant for such a small-timer, she responded: "I just follow the law."
But Scherer knows firsthand what it's like when loved ones run afoul of the law. Her husband back in 2009 was arrested for a far larger amount of drugs than Bowe. But no SWAT teams were necessary to take him into custody, and the most serious charges were dropped.
That year, Scherer was working as a prosecutor in the State Attorney's Office, helping put away bad guys and probably drug offenders as well. But on May 21, 2009, Fort Lauderdale Police entered a warehouse and found Scherer's husband, Anthony Mercer, with one ounce of cocaine, a pound of marijuana, and several prescription pills. In the arrest report, Mercer told police he was selling a little bit to help him pay the bills and that he was living at the warehouse because he was separated from his wife.
According to the arrest report, Mercer admitted to the marijuana being his but said he didn't know anything about the cocaine – and that maybe it belong to a friend he had recently met.
That story might be a tough sell for most people, but it apparently worked for Mercer, whose father-in-law at the time happened to be Bill Scherer, the powerful Republican lobbyist. After Mercer's case was moved from Broward to Palm Beach due to the conflict-of-interest issue, he found himself in a much better spot than when he was arrested: Mercer was originally charged with seven felonies, including intent to distribute cocaine, but ended up charged with merely two misdemeanors, for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. In other words, a guy holding an ounce of blow and a pound of pot got off with the equivalent of a nickel bag and a bong.
He did lose his wife, though. The day after Mercer's arrest, Scherer filed for divorce. In 2012, at age 36, she was appointed to the 17th Judicial Circuit Court. The warrant on Bowe's house was signed twice: Once on May 6, 2014, and again on May 8, 2014. Police have not answered questions about why two warrants were signed on different days, and Scherer says she cannot discuss an open investigation.
Bowe's family, meanwhile, is still waiting for answers as to why police shot him. And they have serious issues with the warrant and how it was carried out, especially since police went through the back door.
Bowe's uncle, Johnny James, says, "You go through the front door with a search warrant. When you go through the back door, that's a death warrant."