Archives for posts with tag: police tactics

This is a case of a police raid. Summary judgment is granted on some counts but other counts survive. The police SWAT team is described as ninja-clad and using flash bombs.

FELICIA MARTINEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TRACEY McCORD, et al., Defendants.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, SOUTHERN DIVISION
Case No. 1:06-cv-636-WKW [wo]
2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37881

Opinion by: US District Court Judge W. Keith Watkins, decided May 8, 2008:

This case arises out of searches of two mobile homes for methamphetamine, currency, and drug paraphernalia under a Houston County, Alabama search warrant dated January 17, 2006. (Doc. # 84-3.) One of the mobile homes was occupied by Plaintiffs Felicia Martinez (“Martinez”) and her two minor children.

Juvenal is the estranged husband of Martinez.

Methamphetamine, currency, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun were seized at 81 Pitts Drive, and Juvenal Martinez was arrested.

But at the other address:

Martinez and her minor children, ages five and seven, were watching television at 7:00 p.m. when the Daleville Police Tactical Team, also known as the Special Weapons and Tactics (“SWAT”) Team, made an explosive entry into her home, located at 43 Pitts Drive, and secured the premises for the drug task force to conduct the search. (Martinez Decl. P 1; McCord Decl. at 3.) During the initial entry to the home, a “flash-bomb” or other explosive device was thrown through the window, exploding in front of one of the children watching television. (Martinez Decl. P 2.) Officers with masks, assault garb, and drawn weapons entered the mobile home by breaking down a door. (Id. P 4.) Weapons were pointed at Martinez and her minor children, and they were required to lie on the floor face-down and were not permitted to move. (Id. P 5.) Other officers, also unidentified, made a coordinated and simultaneous entry into the other mobile home located nearby [footnotes omitted]

The case here is particularly about the liability for Officers’ McCord [the commander of the Houston County narcotics unit] and Williamson;

At the time of entry into Martinez’s home, McCord was on duty watching the perimeter of the entry at 81 Pitts Drive. (Id.) At that same time, Williamson was waiting in a vehicle down the road. (Williamson Aff. P 9.) After the premises of the mobile homes were secured, Williamson entered the plaintiffs’ residence and searched the kitchen, bedroom, and the laundry room for items pursuant to the warrant, (Williamson Aff. PP 10-12), and McCord entered the residence at 81 Pitts Drive where he spent over two hours searching for evidence and interviewing the individuals found inside. (McCord Decl. at 4-5.) Methamphetamine, currency, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun were seized at 81 Pitts Drive, and Juvenal Martinez was arrested.

McCord then walked the short distance to 43 Pitts Drive. (McCord Decl. at 5.) Although McCord describes his entry of the plaintiffs’ home as merely a “quick walk through” that lasted five to ten minutes, (McCord Decl. at 5), Martinez alleges that McCord and other officers involved in the search “look[ed] in every drawer in every room of her house,” “tore the front off [her] VCR,” and “caused damage to [her] car during the search.” (Martinez Decl. P 7.) Martinez also claims McCord told her that she was going to jail. (Id. P 18.) The actions of McCord and other officers “extremely distressed” Martinez and caused her to worry “that there was something in the explosive device that caused [her children] to sleep.” (Id.)

On July 18, 2006, the plaintiffs filed this action against multiple defendants, some of whom have already been dismissed as parties. In their most recent complaint, the plaintiffs allege eleven counts against McCord and Williamson for unlawful entry, unlawful search and seizure, excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, conspiracy to violate her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, failure to prevent the violation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1986, and six state tort claims. [footnotes omitted]

The Court decides,

due to the lack of discovery, Rule 56(f) prevents the court from reaching a judgment on the motion for summary judgment at this time with respect to Williamson for three of the tort claims.

But,

Despite Rule 56(f), there are two tort claims against Williamson that fail as a matter of law, and further discovery on these claims would be pointless. Count Seven alleges the tort of assault and battery. (Third Am. Compl. PP 95-98.) The complaint states that “the defendants touched Ms. Martinez in rudeness, in anger, or in a hostile manner, by touching her person and pointing a firearm at her head.” (Id. P 95.) Despite lumping all defendants into this claim, earlier in the complaint the plaintiffs admit that Williamson was not part of the initial, violent entry of their home during which time the alleged assault occurred and firearms were drawn. (Id. PP 20-21.) The complaint states that “[f]ollowing the assault on Plaintiffs’ (sic) and their home, the Ninja-clad officers left, to be replaced by . . . Williamson and other, presently unknown, officers.” (Id.) It is clear the assault and battery claim is directed at the officers who initially entered the plaintiffs’ home and not the officers who subsequently searched the home. Because the plaintiffs acknowledge Williamson was not one of the initial officers, and they do not allege that he ever touched the plaintiffs, the assault and battery claim against him fails.

Count Nine asserts a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (i.e., outrage) against Williamson. However, in Alabama, the tort of outrage is only recognized in three areas: “(1) wrongful conduct within the context of family burials; (2) an insurance agent’s coercing an insured into settling an insurance claim; and (3) egregious sexual harassment.” Stabler v. City of Mobile, 844 So. 2d 555, 560 (Ala. 2002). None of these situations is remotely applicable to the situation at hand, and thus the plaintiffs have not alleged a viable claim of outrage. Therefore, Williamson’s summary judgment motion is due to be granted as to both Count Seven (assault and battery) and Count Nine (outrage).

Those dismisses, other claims survived, including alleged “violations of various constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: unlawful entry in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” To be decided another day (presumably by settlement negotiations).

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After his conviction for possession of burglary tools, Mark Thomas sued Nebraska Police Officers (particularly Officer Griss) for planting the evidence. Thomas was arrested for not paying his hotel bill and so theft of services from the hotel. He was arrested in the hotel lobby. Evidence obtained from a bag taken from the hotel room included:

a Pickmaster lock kit containing lock-picking equipment, a lock pick gun, toe nail clippers, a Swiss army knife, a black ninja hood, a pair of black leather gloves, and other items.

MARK C. THOMAS, Plaintiff/Appellee, v. DALE HUNGERFORD, Individually and in his official capacity as police officer for the city of Kearney, Nebraska; MICHAEL KIRKWOOD, Individually and in his official capacity as police officer for the city of Kearney, Nebraska, Defendants, JEFF GRISS, Individually and in his official capacity as police officer for the city of Kearney, Nebraska, Defendant/Appellant.
No. 93-3232
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
23 F.3d 1450

Filed – May 11, 1994

Thomas’s amended complaint as stating a cause of action against Griss on two grounds: that Griss had conducted an inventory search of Thomas’s duffel bag that was not in accordance with established procedures, and that Griss had planted the black ninja hood and the “o” ring in the duffel bag. The district court denied Griss’s motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.

Noting in footnote #1:

Although the denial of a summary judgment motion is not a final judgment, a district court’s denial of a qualified immunity claim is an immediately appealable “final decision” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

Reversing:

The order denying Griss’s summary judgment motion is reversed, and the case is remanded to the district court for entry of judgment dismissing the complaint.

Explaining about the planted evidence:

The district court also denied Griss’s motion for summary judgment on Thomas’s claim that Griss planted a black ninja hood and an “o” ring in Thomas’s duffel bag. The magistrate judge construed Thomas’s complaint to allege that because the hood and “o” ring did not appear on Ward’s inventory form, Griss must have planted the items. Griss argues that he is absolutely immune from this claim because the allegation that he planted evidence is simply an assertion that he committed perjury when he testified at Thomas’s trial about the events surrounding Thomas’s arrest. Thomas concedes that Griss would be entitled to absolute immunity on such a claim, for officers are absolutely immune from liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for damages arising out of their alleged perjurious testimony at trial. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 342, 75 L. Ed. 2d 96, 103 S. Ct. 1108 (1983). Thomas argues, however, that Griss did more than perjure himself, contending that Griss planted some of the evidence that the prosecutor used against him. Although absolute immunity may not shield Griss against such a claim, the district court should nevertheless have granted Griss’s summary judgment motion.

The inventory search was also found acceptable and not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, at least in part because the defendant himself asked to have the contents of the bag inventoried.

I think an “o” ring is a metal piece from a lock (in this case “a Kawneer-brand lock”) that can be used for breaking glass like car windows (see similarly Ninja rocks which will be mentioned in future case). But what makes a “black ninja hood” different from a mere black hood or black hood mask, this is not entirely clear to me, other than to further implicate that the defendant’s possessions are burglary tools. As if the tools themselves have intent, and this hood intended to be ninja.