Interviewing the people in Tracy
Ingle’s life — his sisters, his foster brother, his friends — you hear
one line often enough that it soon becomes a refrain: Tracy is no angel.
Though all express their love and
admiration for him — a kind man; a man who can fix anything, they say —
they tend to tell you the bad things about him first. A recovering
alcoholic, Ingle had a couple of DWIs several years back. When the Arkansas Times
spoke to him, he was on house arrest for a 5-year-old failure-to-appear
warrant. A car accident in Maryland in 2002 left him with degenerative
disk disease in his back and what his sisters said is an addiction to
pain killers — though all of his pills are legally prescribed. Up until
Christmas 2007, he had several roommates, many of whom had had recent
run-ins with the law. Last year, he agreed to fix a stereo in a
friend’s Mustang — a car that turned out to be hot — and got arrested
for receiving stolen merchandise. That case still hasn’t shaken out.
No matter what Ingle or those he gave a
temporary home to may have done, however, it’s hard to imagine he
deserved what he got Jan. 7. That night, the North Little Rock SWAT
team stormed Ingle’s house on a high-risk, “no-knock” search warrant.
By the time all was said and done, Ingle had been shot five times —
including one bullet that pulverized his femur and left his leg
dangling from his body, connected only by a bloody mess of meat, skin
According to an evidence list left at
Ingle’s house after the shooting, no suspected drugs or drug residue
were recovered from the residence — only a digital scale, a notebook
and a few plastic baggies, all of which Ingle’s family members have
identified as part of the junk they had collectively stored at the
It might seem strange, then, that Ingle
currently stands accused of several serious felonies — including two
counts of aggravated assault. While the North Little Rock police insist
they got a dangerous criminal off the streets, Ingle and his family say
the charges are all about appearances — and covering the police.
Tracy Ingle’s biggest problem, those who know him say, is that he just can’t say no.
For five years now, Ingle has lived in
a rambling, hand-me-down house on East 21st Street in North Little
Rock. The place used to belong to his sister’s godfather — has at one
time or another been home to nearly all his kin. In recent years,
however, as the neighborhood took a rough turn and family moved away,
the house became storage and catch-all for Ingle’s entire clan, the
upstairs full of boxes, baby clothes, knick-knacks and Tracy’s
prodigious collection of ham radio gear. A former stonemason who worked
federal contracts in D.C. before he hurt his back, Ingle led a
hand-to-mouth existence even before he was shot, repairing electronics
and doing odd jobs for money.
As someone who knows what it is to be
down and out, he’s always been an easy touch, his family says, for
those looking to crash at his place long term. They say Ingle would
take in nearly anyone with a hard luck story; a situation that even he
admits led to a lot of shady characters hanging around the house.
Before Christmas, before he put most of them out, there were five
full-time roommates living in the house, including a cousin who had
recently gotten out of jail after serving time for making meth.
As it happened, Ingle was home alone on
the night of Jan. 7, when his life went from bad to worse. Earlier that
evening, he’d had an argument with his sometime girlfriend, Sandra
Melby. She’d gone to her friend’s house in Greenbrier for the night.
Around dusk, the night coming on cold, Ingle went back to his bedroom —
a small 10-by-10 room at the rear of the house — and lay down on the
bed to watch television. With the bedroom light still on, he dozed off
in the big cannonball post bed that faced the window.
At around the same time, things were in
synchronized motion at the North Little Rock Police Department. Acting
on a warrant signed almost three weeks before — Dec. 21, 2007 — by
North Little Rock Judge Randy Morley, the NLR SWAT team was gearing up
and getting ready to roll on one of the most dangerous things in their
job description: a no-knock warrant.
Conceived during the Nixon
administration, the no-knock warrant — and the use of militarized
Special Weapons and Tactics teams to execute them — came of age during
the drug wars of the 1980s. The rationale behind no-knocks and using
SWAT to serve them was simple: As the criminals became more savvy and
well-armed, serving drug warrants demanded the element of surprise, and
a more well-armed show of force.
Given that it’s a case that has yet to
be prosecuted, it should be noted that the North Little Rock Police
Department says it is limited in what it can say about Ingle’s case at
this point. There are obvious questions. In the warrant obtained to
search the house at 400 E. 21st St., a copy of which was obtained by
the Arkansas Times, police say they believe the house in
question contained “crack cocaine.” That description has been carefully
scribbled out, with “methamphetamine” written in above and initialed by
Judge Randy Morley. According to an affidavit signed by NLRPD narcotics
investigator Mickey Schuetzle, narcotics had been sold from the
residence. In that document, Schuetzle doesn’t elaborate on who sold
him the narcotics, what was sold, or when.
It’s a fast drive from the North Little
Rock Police Department on Main Street to Ingle’s house, situated on a
dead end of East 21st Street, just a few blocks away. The SWAT wagon
was there by 7:40 p.m. The movements of the officers once they left
the truck had been planned out long beforehand. One team went to the
front door on the north side with a battering ram while others took up
positions along the perimeter of the house — including two officers
outside Ingle’s chest-high bedroom window on the west side.
As you might expect, there are differences in account of what happened in the explosive next 10 seconds or so.
A place that cherishes both its
guns and the sanctity of a man’s home, Arkansas is one of many states
that has enshrined some version of the Defense of Premises Doctrine in
its laws. It is, simply put, the right to defend your home without fear
of prosecution, up to and including killing an intruder who has made
It’s an idea that is dangerously at
odds with the concept of no-knock search warrants, says Radley Balko,
senior editor of Reason magazine. A former fellow at the Cato
Institute, a Washington, D.C., libertarian think tank, Balko did some
of the early research into the use of no-knock warrants and militarized
police units. Over and over again, Balko said, he sees cases where a
SWAT team breaches a house, the homeowner exercises his right to defend
his home, and either an officer or the homeowner is killed or injured.
The only difference is that when it’s a cop who gets shot, the private
citizen nearly always winds up in jail.
“The dichotomy is very striking,” Balko
said. “Here you have these violent, confrontational raids where the
police are breaking into someone’s home… You can understand how the
officers might make a mistake. But the person on the receiving end of
things — woken up in the middle of the night, usually by flash-bang
grenades which are designed to confuse people — if they make a mistake,
then they’re held accountable and are usually charged pretty severely.”
Balko said that the rise of the SWAT
team has largely been in response to the fear that inner city drug
dealers and other criminals have amassed hordes of automatic weaponry
to use on police (by contrast, he said, the National Institute of
Justice has found that the overwhelming majority of gun crimes were
committed using small-caliber, easily concealed handguns). Originally
conceived in huge, high-crime cities like Los Angeles, tactical teams
have since spread to almost every police department that can afford
one, and have often been accompanied by a corresponding militarized
mentality — one that can trickle down even to the rank-and-file
officers on the street.
It’s easy to see why. Highly trained
and armed to the teeth, often given the most dangerous assignments,
being a SWAT officer is about as close to being Batman as most cops are
ever going to get: decked out in ninja black, identities hidden from
evildoers, with a utility belt full of the latest tactical gadgets.
Even so, Balko said, many older police officers he knows are suspicious
of the new breed of gung-ho cops who gravitate toward SWAT — and the
us-versus-them mentality an overly militarized police force can create.
“We’re giving these cops military
equipment,” Balko said. “We’re giving them military training in
military tactics, and then we send them out and tell them they’re
fighting a war on drugs. It shouldn’t surprise us at all when they
start to treat public streets like a battlefield and private citizens
like enemy combatants.”
While Balko said there are legitimate
uses for SWAT teams — hostage situations, armed and violent suspects
and the like — those moments are few and far between, even in cities
much larger than North Little Rock. Because tactical teams are
expensive to train and equip, that has led many police departments to
put them on search warrant duty rather than see them sit idle for years
at a time. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do, Balko said, both for
cops and suspects.
“When you’re sending SWAT teams in
after low-level drug users, you’re creating violence,” he said. “You’re
creating a confrontation where there wasn’t one before.”
No matter what neighborhood you
live in, no matter what your rap sheet looks like, try to imagine it:
Coming awake in your house, in the middle of the night, to the sound of
someone breaking in. What would your first reaction be?
“The only thing I heard was breaking glass,” Tracy Ingle said.
Asleep in his bed when the window
directly opposite came crashing in, Ingle’s first instinct was to reach
for the pistol he kept by his bedside — a cheap Lorcin automatic.
Having never been convicted of a felony, it was perfectly legal for him
to have the gun; perfectly legal for him to use it to defend his home
against intruders. He had bought it a few years before, he said,
because of how bad the neighborhood had gotten. His house had been
broken into in the past. A few months before, at a store only a few
blocks away on Main Street, a robbery had turned into a shootout, and
two people had been killed. Even so, Ingle couldn’t have shot anyone
with the gun even if he’d wanted to. Years before, someone had pounded
the wrong clip into the gun and jammed something inside. Ingle and his
foster brother, Eric Nelson, say it couldn’t even chamber a round, much
A second after he sat up, Ingle said,
the room “kind of filled up with light,” and he could see the officers
outside the window, in their black helmets and body armor. “I could see
that they weren’t robbers, so I threw the gun down,” Ingle said. “A
second later, I heard one of the police officers say, ‘He’s got a
fucking gun’… I could hear him turning in the leaves, and as soon as he
turned, he turned around and started shooting.”
This is where Ingle’s story and that of
the two officers involved diverge. The officers, identified only as
“Victim 1” and “Victim 2” in a NLRPD investigation report concerning
the shooting, both told investigators that Ingle was sitting up and bed
and pointing the gun in their faces when they raked away the sheet
covering the window, giving them no choice but to open fire. Ingle,
meanwhile, says that the gun was already on the floor, and he was in
the process of raising his hands when the shooting started.
Whatever the case, the first shot that
hit Tracy Ingle was devastating — most likely a high-velocity .223
round, given the damage it inflicted. The bullet entered Ingle’s leg
just above the left kneecap and blew his thigh apart. Surgeons would
later replace a large chunk of Ingle’s femur with a stainless steel
He knew he had been shot, Ingle said,
and his first instinct was to try to get off the bed — away from the
window, at least, where the two officers were now pouring fire into the
room. As Ingle tried, he got tangled up in the blankets and his ruined
leg folded under him, the shattered bone grating inside. He fell to the
floor in agony. As he fell, the officers outside the window kept
shooting, hitting him four more times — arm, calf, hip and chest. The
round that hit him in the chest is still there, too close to his heart
to be removed. Days later, Ingle’s brother, Eric, would dig four more
bullets out of a space heater that was only a foot from where Ingle’s
head lay, and spackle up nine bullet holes in the wall over Tracy’s
bed. Some of those rounds had gone completely through and into the
bathroom on the other side of the wall, two of them blowing ragged
holes through both sides of a plywood shelf.
Finally, the shooting stopped.
“After that,” Ingle said, “all the
police rushed in, and were standing over me and calling me Michael.
They kept calling me Michael or Mike, and I wouldn’t answer them. One
of them asked me why I wouldn’t answer them, and I said, ‘My name’s not
Mike.’ I don’t remember much after that except them taking me out of
the house to an ambulance.”
Brandy Hoover is Tracy Ingle’s sister.
She happens to be a surgical nurse at Baptist Health Hospital in North
Little Rock, where her brother was taken after the shooting. Like most
of her family, Hoover learned about the shooting from the nightly news.
She and Ingle had had a falling out some weeks before the shooting,
over what she calls the untrustworthy people he was involved with.
After the shooting, however, she visited her brother’s hospital room
any time she could.
As someone who deals every day with
stringent patient confidentiality laws including HIPAA — the Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, under which a
person can be fined and even imprisoned for releasing details of a
patient’s medical records — Hoover said she was shocked when, after her
brother was released from the hospital after a week and a half in ICU,
he was picked up by detectives from the North Little Rock Police
Department — along with all his paperwork, instructions and medication
“When he was discharged, he was
discharged to them because they were right there,” Hoover said. “I
found out later that they had been calling up there every day finding
out his status — which is a huge HIPAA violation. They knew before I
knew. They were waiting on him.”
Still wearing hospital scrubs and in a
wheelchair, Ingle was taken to North Little Rock Police Department,
where he said he was questioned for around six hours, without his pain
medication. During the questioning, he says he was never told that he
was under arrest, or even that he was suspected of anything.
“The fella that was talking to me said
that he was Internal Affairs,” Ingle said. “He gave me the impression
that he was trying to learn about the shooting and everything that had
happened. When he was done, he told me that they were going to put me
in jail and he would give it to the prosecutor or whoever, and they
would decide what the charges were going to be.”
For his part, North Little Rock Police
Chief Danny Bradley said that he has investigated concerns by Ingle’s
family that he was denied his medication or otherwise mistreated while
“I have not been able to determine that
any of them are substantiated,” Bradley said, noting that at one time,
Ingle’s sister Tiffney Forrester was claiming that there had been
federal marshals at the hospital the night of the shooting. “There were
no federal officers at the hospital,” Bradley said. “I’m satisfied that
he was treated in a legal and civil manner and was not mistreated at
After questioning, Ingle was taken to
the Pulaski County Jail, where he would stay for the next four days. At
the hospital, nurses had told him that his bandages needed to be
changed and his wounds cleaned out with antibiotic wash every four to
six hours in order to avoid infection.
“The whole time I was there, they only
changed them twice,” he said. “They just locked me in a room and left
me.” Ingle said his pain medication and antibiotics were never given to
him — when he was released, he was told the prescriptions had been
lost. He later told Forrester that the only medical treatment he
received the whole time he was in the jail was having his bandages
changed twice and an admonishment to not go into the showers because
“he’d probably get gangrene.”
Infection soon set up in all his
wounds. Charged with operating a drug premises, possession of drug
paraphernalia (a digital scale and plastic baggies that belonged to his
sister, both Ingle and Forrester say — the baggies leftovers from
Forrester’s jewelry-making hobby, the scale a freebie from the animal
testing lab where she once worked), and two counts of aggravated
assault, for making the officers who shot him fear for their lives,
Ingle was brought before a judge whose name he doesn’t recall for a
bond hearing on Sunday. According to Ingle, the judge told him that
because he’d had a shootout with police, he was setting his bond at
$250,000. Ingle’s family, who had been putting together money for
Ingle’s bail in anticipation of his bond hearing, was crushed.
“My immediate reaction was nausea,”
Brandy Hoover said. “Who on earth can come up with that kind of money?
Even at 10 percent [for a bail bond], people aren’t walking around with
that kind of money. It was insane… All I can remember thinking is,
they’ve got him, and we’re never going to get him back.”
Eventually, however, the family was
able to cut a deal with a local bail bondsman. Between them, they
scraped together $5,000 cash and the deed to some property, sold
Ingle’s Jeep, and finally got him out of jail.
While his wounds have closed,
the months since the shooting have been hard on Ingle and his whole
family. Ingle’s mother suffered a heart attack while trying to come in
from Pittsburgh to see him. He has struggled with depression and
constant pain, and has lost weight because he can’t bring himself to
eat. For weeks, Ingle’s brother, Eric, stopped by every day and
knocked. Though he knew Ingle had to be inside because of the tracking
bracelet, Ingle just stopped answering for awhile.
After over a month of trying through his sisters and brother, the Arkansas Times finally
got Ingle to talk about the shooting, the man who came to the door was
famine-thin and hollow-eyed — even skinnier now than when we last saw
him at court, stooped and hobbling on a pair of crutches.
It’s not that he didn’t want to talk to
us, he apologized. There was just a period of time there when he didn’t
want to talk to anybody.
“It’s just like being in jail,” he
said. “It’s just a different jail cell, I guess. When I was first out
of the hospital, I couldn’t get up and leave anywhere, hardly. Now, I
As he told his family, Ingle still
insists that he threw the gun down the moment he saw that the intruders
were police — and before the shooting started. Even so, he said a
person reaching for a weapon in a situation like that shouldn‘t give
police the automatic right to shoot.
“I don’t feel like I did anything
wrong,” Ingle said. “You have the right to protect your house. I didn’t
know who they were. To me, it looks like the only reason the charges
were brought was to cover their own ass.”
Like many of his family members, Ingle said that he’s sure that if
the North Little Rock Police Department wants to see him convicted on
the charges he’s accused of, he’ll likely be convicted. Still, Ingle
said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the two police officers for
“They were just here doing their job,”
he said. “It’s a tough job to have to go to somebody’s house and have
to come through a window or break down a door. You never know what’s in
there. But I feel like, if I had time to think about throwing the gun
down, they had time to think about whether or not to shoot me.”