Cop Who Led Strike Team Into Wrong House During Drug Raid Granted Immunity By Eleventh Circuit

from the no-precedent-set-so-cops-are-free-to-do-this-same-thing-again dept

In February 2018, 24 armed officers from the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force engaged in the raid of a McDonough, Georgia house. Led by Captain David Cody, the officers deployed flash-bang grenades and forced their way through the door of the house at 303 English Road. Inside, they found only Onree Davis, the 78-year-old owner of the house.

Unfortunately for Davis, who was sitting innocently and non-drug-dealerly in his own home watching the news when it was raided, the task force was supposed to be raiding 305 English Road. But officers on the scene felt the house at the correct address (the same one they’d been investigating and surveilling on-and-off for two years) was “uninhabitable” and decided to try their luck at the house up the street.

Even more unfortunately for Davis, the courts have decided every officer involved in the wrong house raid is protected by qualified immunity. The latest blow to common sense and professional decency comes courtesy of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which says the last officer whose immunity was still in question (Captain David Cody) is no longer in question. (via Reason)

The lower court granted Cody immunity for leading the raid to the wrong address, despite the houses having different paint colors, different items in their yards, and different numbers of their houses. The Eleventh Circuit affirms [PDF] all of this, even though Capt. Cody admitted he failed to apprise himself of all the pertinent facts before leading a task force on a violent raid.

Capt. Cody testified that he reviewed the search warrant to make sure it was signed, confirmed it authorized no-knock entry, and confirmed the address matched the address used in the PowerPoint presentation, but admitted that he did not read it “all the way through.”

Not that Capt. Cody was especially careless. The footnote attached to this paragraph makes it clear SWAT team participants are generally more concerned about topping off on bullets and grenades than eyeballing the paperwork that grants them permission to temporarily bypass Fourth Amendment protections.

For the first time in Norris’s reply brief, he argues that whether Capt. Cody read the search warrant is a disputed fact based on Agent Hicks’s testimony that he did not recall any other officers asking to look at the search warrant during the briefing.

I guess this lack of preparedness makes it easier for officers to claim they had to “react” to “rapidly-changing situations” after they’ve violated some rights. After all, if you can’t be bothered to appraise yourself of the specifics of the situation you’ll soon be facing, you’re bound to be surprised or confused and almost certainly “fear for your safety” when you’re right in the thick of it.

A N Y W A Y…

Back to the case.

So, the unprepared Capt. Cody led an unprepared task force into the house of the especially unprepared 78-year-old Onree Davis. But the court says this is fine and worthy of immunity because Cody’s task force moved fast and broke stuff, making it more difficult to prevent themselves from acting in error.

Capt. Cody and the other officers involved carefully planned a high-risk raid at what was thought to be a dangerous target house but made a mistake when faced with an unexpected circumstance—the residence not matching the description given. The team was especially limited in their ability to respond to this unexpected circumstance because they had “announced” their presence with flash grenades, it was unsafe to communicate via radio, and they were forced to make a split second decision.

The most charitable reading is that the Eleventh Circuit thinks it’s unfair to ask cops to think on their feet when conducting raids that could result in injuries or death. Once a raid is underway, the only way out of it is through it, even if “through” means breaking down the door of the wrong house and pointing guns at a person suspected of nothing.

My uncharitable reading is that this encourages officers to immediately make as much noise as they can when conducting raids because once the “presence” is “announced,” they’re clear to do whatever they want until they feel the scene is “secure.” Cause enough chaos and it will be tough to prove an officer knew better than to do whatever unconstitutional thing they did because what reasonable person could think clearly with all of this [gestures at flashes/bangs] going on.

Capt. Cody armed himself with ignorance and explosives and that’s enough for the court to give him permission to duck out of this lawsuit.

While the mistaken raid of Norris’s home was no doubt traumatic, given the significant factual differences between Capt. Cody’s actions in the raid and our prior precedent, we agree with the district court that Norris failed to meet his burden to show that Capt. Cody violated clearly established law.

That’s how it ends for the man who suffered this violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. All twenty-four officers who participated have been granted immunity and are free to go. And with no declaration that this sort of thing violates rights, officers in this circuit are free to make these same mistakes again without worrying about being held accountable.

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Comments on “Cop Who Led Strike Team Into Wrong House During Drug Raid Granted Immunity By Eleventh Circuit”

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Pixelation says:

So, cops can enter any house somewhere in the vicinity of a house with a warrant, regardless of whether it looks anything like the house in the warrant and that’s perfectly ok? Brilliant! There’s a building in Washington DC, the people storming it had the wrong address…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'No precedent applies and we're not creating any'

While the mistaken raid of Norris’s home was no doubt traumatic, given the significant factual differences between Capt. Cody’s actions in the raid and our prior precedent, we agree with the district court that Norris failed to meet his burden to show that Capt. Cody violated clearly established law.

Strange, you’d think there would be some sort of law against breaking into a house on illegal grounds that they might have violated, some sort of already in place right that might address unlawful entry into a house based upon at best gross negligence if not indifferent malice, but I guess since there isn’t there was no possible way for any of the highly armed and one would hope trained officers on the scene to understand that super-complex idea.

Yet again a court treats police as the dumbest people on the planet, outright encouraging them to know as little as possible not only about the law but the tasks they are given, something I’m sure will be of great help protecting the public and ensuring public trust towards the police and courts.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Upstream (profile) says:

Re: 'No precedent applies and we're not creating any'

‘. . . and we’re not creating any’

This should be clear and convincing evidence of willful and malicious intent to further entrench and expand a violent, authoritarian police state, at least to anyone who is not part of that effort.

ECA (profile) says:

let see.

The person giving a presentation about who/what/when/where/HOW, Isnt asked for the documents so that the Person in charge can KNOW these things.
The person in charge, desides the address, by going down the street, and picking the house that looks LIVABLE(?) that is Next to the one thats been WATCHED for 2 years.
So Who was listening TO THE PRESENTATION?? WHO was writing notes or getting a COPY OF THE DOCUMENTATION??

Anyone with a C+ in school, knows all these answers and more.
If the cops dont have to Use the laws we have, WHY SHOULD WE?

TKnarr (profile) says:

One wonders what’s going to happen one of these days in a state with a "stand your ground" law when someone notices armed intruders (the SWAT team) on a doorcam and proceeds to deal with said intruders as the law allows for. Sure they have body armor, but .30-caliber rounds from a hunting rifle will penetrate that easily and single-slug deer-hunting rounds from a shotgun won’t even need to penetrate.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

There’s no clearly established law against breaking into houses you have no lawful right to be in? I guess I’ll be going to do some burglaries now. If anyone has some flashbangs let me know. I’d like to have them on hand to throw at any babies or senior citizens who may be present. Do I have to throw multiple grenades or will just one be enough to ensure I’m not charged?

mechtheist (profile) says:

armed with ignorance and explosives

You could call this a head-scratcher but you’d need something like a backhoe to do the scratching. It’s FFS raised to the FFS power. I simply cannot grasp how anyone could possibly think like this. Even if I was utterly biased for law enforcement, I could not bring my self to even try to make such a preposterous claim, I would be too mortified at myself. The really really awful thing is how common this kind of crap is.

Anonymous Coward says:

I understand the need to give police some leeway to not be perfect and make some mistakes, however the balance has shifted way too far such that any mistake is without consequences for the police.

Any damages caused by this sort of mistake needs to be reimbursed to the wronged party. Police officers and departments need to have some accountability to those they serve. Being an officer shouldn’t be a blanket license to do whatever you want and disregard basic due diligence

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re:

These things happen with such regularity that "mistake" is a completely inaccurate description. When cops do not read warrants and do not verify locations, tips, informant information, etc, or deliberately falsify any of those things, they are not making "mistakes." They are essentially planning to commit crimes, and then actively and intentionally committing those crimes, all because they know there is near zero chance they will be held accountable in any meaningful way.

Anonymous Coward says:

If police can’t be bothered to read a warrant and check the exact address then no innocent person is safe
Swat teams need to more careful as they carry grenades and weapons that ordinary police do not use
What happens when they go to a condo building where every door is identical apart from door nos

Annonymouse says:

Re: Re:

Oh it has happened.
Wrong room.
Wrong hotel.
Automatic weapons fire through the door.
Kills two carpet layers with multiple gunshot wounds.
Terrifies a newlywed couple who slept on. The bullets passed through the wall and top of the headboard.

Montreal Quebec, a city in the province that thinks its a sovereign state until the bills show up.

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