Woman Sues After Police Destroy Her Home During 10-Hour Standoff With The Family Dog

from the we're-unfamiliar-with-this-home-entry-device-you-call-a-'key' dept

When the only thing standing between law enforcement and a suspect they’re seeking is a person’s home, well… the home’s got to go.

As seen previously here at Techdirt, police officers pretty much razed a residence to the ground searching for a shoplifting suspect. In another case, law enforcement spent nineteen hours engaged in a tense standoff with an empty residence before deciding to send in a battering ram.

Another standoff — currently the center of a federal lawsuit — stands somewhere in between these two cases. The house wasn’t completely empty or completely destroyed. But that still doesn’t make the Caldwell (ID) police look any more heroic… or any less destructive.

The lawsuit’s [PDF] opening paragraph lays it all out.

On August 11, 2014, after registering her child for first grade, Ms. West returned to her home to find multiple City of Caldwell police officers in her yard searching for a Fabian Salinas. Wanting to cooperate, and uncertain whether Salinas was in her house, Ms. West gave the police a key to her house and gave them permission to use it to enter her house to arrest him. During a ten hour long standoff, police repeatedly exceeded the authority Ms. West had given them, breaking windows, crashing through ceilings, and riddling the home with holes from shooting canisters of tear gas destroying most of Ms. West and her children’s personal belongings. The only occupant of the house was Ms. West’s dog. Ms. West’s home remained uninhabitable for two months.

Here’s one photo of the home, taken by officers and provided to the Idaho Statesman in response to a public records request. (More photos can be found at the link.)

If you’d like to see some pictures of the standoff with the family pet that include the Caldwell Police’s impressive armored personnel carrier (presumably able to withstand even the nastiest of dog bites), those can be found here.

According to Courthouse News Service’s interview with Shariz West’s lawyer, the documentation he’s viewed gives no explanation why it took a small army of SWAT officers 10 hours to discover the suspect wasn’t in the home.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I’ve read the police reports and debriefing, and it’s my recollection that someone heard a deadbolt activate, which was impossible, and saw the curtains move, which is possible because there was a pit bull in the house at the time. Basically, they had a standoff with a dog.”

And that some remedial attic-traversing training might be in order.

Fisher said some of the damage to the house was caused when an officer slipped off a truss while crawling in the attic and fell through the ceiling.

So, when given a key and consent from the occupant, officers instead chose to grab an armored vehicle and go through several windows and the attic. Even if they believed the suspect might be dangerous, there has to be some middle ground between full-scale assault and simply unlocking the door and stepping inside.

This happened back in 2014 but there’s been no coverage of the Caldwell cops’ 10-hour, one-dog standoff until now. Thomas Johnson of Fault Lines suggests that might have something to do with the local paper of record.

If you’re wondering why it took a couple of years for this event to make news outside of Idaho, it’s because the local paper apparently only checks court records or their exclusive police source, resulting in some very incomplete reporting. Why bother getting out there and talking to the homeowner or neighbors when you can sit on your chunk?

The “coverage” Johnson points to opens with some severe law enforcement spin:

A man who escaped a police standoff last August in Caldwell, only to be captured in Meridian about a week later, pleaded guilty in 3rd District Court to felony eluding and felony rioting.

That’s a pretty generous depiction of what actually happened. From all appearances, the suspect was never in the home during the 10-hour standoff. And when someone’s not actually where you think they are, it’s a huge stretch to refer to their non-presence as an “escape.” If that’s the spin the PD’s using, they can just claim any person with an outstanding warrant not found at Shariz West’s home on that long day in August 2014 also “escaped” the same standoff.

In any event, the city and PD are now facing a lawsuit. The police did give her a three-week stay in a hotel. Too bad it took more than two months for her to be able to return to her residence. This raid on a house containing nothing more than a dog is the natural side effect of police militarization, which encourages law enforcement to escalate in questionable situations, rather than use more measured tactics to ensure occupants aren’t deprived of a place to live simply because a suspect might be hiding somewhere behind closed doors.

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Comments on “Woman Sues After Police Destroy Her Home During 10-Hour Standoff With The Family Dog”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You’re trying to inject logic into a well-established idiom like “dog eat dog”. The idiom may not make literal sense (few idioms do), but that’s what it is nonetheless.

The history of this idiom is particularly interesting and explains your observation of its biological inaccuracy:

Canis caninam non est is an old Latin proverb that translates to dog will not eat dog. The modern version, seen first in the 1930’s, is a play on the old one, suggesting that society had turned so vicious, that dog is now capable of eating dog.


That One Guy (profile) says:

Motivation for restraint

I imagine you could drastically reduce how trigger happy cops like this are if you tied damages to the police budget. Bust up a house to the tune of $25,000 in a ‘tense stand-off’? Say goodbye to $25,000 from the department budget, plus housing costs for however long it takes to fix the house to the point the owner can move back in.

Importantly the payment would not be tied to a lawsuit, or even prohibit one if the homeowner decides to file, it would be mandatory, and based upon an estimate provided by a third party with no links to the police or city.

Maybe if they actually had to pay out of their own pockets they’d think before breaking out their toys.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Motivation for restraint

Someone else suggested mandatory jail time in addition to mandatory pay-out for these kinds of damages.

I agree with both suggestions, and offer yet a third:

Mandatory unpaid community service, minimum 40 hrs/wk performing repairs, clean-up, and performing general labor assisting the paid people performing the repairs on the house until the work is done. Then the mandatory jail time kicks in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Motivation for restraint

Assign civilian review boards in local police districts the responsibility for deciding issues of qualified immunity with authority to recommend prosecution. Have grand jury sessions become fully adversarial. Then, just apply existing laws with full recognizance that cops aren’t by default due special treatment.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Arlo Guthrie said it best...

… but I bet he never saw this coming. They get all that nice military equipment, they gotta use it!

“And they was using up all kinds of
cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer’s station.
They was taking plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints, and
they took twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles
and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each
one was to be used as evidence against us.”

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

"Nobody Helps the Police"

60 Minutes did a piece about how the community (mostly minority) refuse to help the police. Some famous rap star admitted he wouldn’t call the cops even when he had a serial killer living next door. The police never take responsibility for their actions. They’ve made us the enemy and many have reciprocated. They may be able to convince a grand jury that they acted appropriately. Every time they murder someone, use a battering ram and tear gas someone’s dog a few more people stop answering the door when the cops arrive to ask questions. Maybe they can ask the grand jury.

LAquaker says:

Re: "Nobody Helps the Police"

dozens of local women were dragged away and murdered, for 14 years the LAPD did not CARE till Margaret made enough trouble for the Mayor (on left) and the new Chief Beck(at mike) who had replaced Bratton. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTDXClISINU
Margaret rented my front bedroom, as an office, for 15 years.
CALL police? hell no. Jeremy Marks’ parents home was ripped apart after he took pictures of LAPD school police. We were in the court on this one: http://www.laweekly.com/news/jeremy-marks-attempted-lynching-case-2168269

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: "Here, have another chance to lie to me and tell me why you were in the right."

Do you really think the police are going to be eager to admit that they had a ‘stand-off’ with an almost empty house for hours, busting up the place in the process because they were too incompetent, too cowardly or both to simply use the key the homeowner provided to check the house?

They already tried to spin it as though the person they were after was in the building and ‘escaped’, why would you waste time giving them another chance to lie again?

GEMont (profile) says:

GI Joe Cop Raid - Screwing the Pooch

This raid on a house containing nothing more than a dog is the natural side effect of police militarization…

And this kind of stupidity will continue to escalate, as long as the cops themselves face no repercussions whatsoever, as is always the case.

After all, no matter how much the law suits cost the city, its the tax payers who will be footing the bills for all of the destroyed property (and eventually someone’s life), when the Dreadstone Cops get their macho all stiff and engorged, donning all that brand new Manly Military assault wear.

The utter lack of consequences for the actions of these idiot cops, will guarantee that this process continues unchecked and escalates every year, as more and more bad cops realize they are immune to prosecution, regardless of how despicable their deeds, and go out to appease their GI Joe Fantasies at public expense.

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