St. Louis County Pays Woman $750,000 After Cops Perform A No-Knock Raid, Kill Her Dog... All Over Unpaid Utility Bills

from the thin-blue-gas-flame dept

Here's where we are in the development of the American police state: no-knock raids over code violations.

Angela Zorich says she remembers the April day in 2014 like it was yesterday.

“I saw them and they're just pouring in, they're covered head to toe, they got helmets, they're like military style," said Zorich.

Her life forever changed after she says the St. Louis County Police Department’s SWAT team came with a no-knock warrant for an unpaid gas bill.

"Why is this cop able to call in a SWAT team because I didn't have gas service at my house?" said Zorich.

The taxpayers of St. Louis County are now out $750,000 because the local boys thought the best way to address a "problem property" complaint was to talk themselves into feeling reasonably afraid and head in guns blazing.

The officers knew Zorich possessed at least one pit bull. But this alone wasn't enough to justify the no-knock raid. Nor the murder of the dog. Officers claimed the dog charged them, necessitating the killing of the family pet. But testimony during the trial exposed this for the lie it was. The dog was shot in the back, six feet away from the nearest officer who, let's remember, was wearing tactical gear.

That wasn't the only lie. The St. Louis County Police also apparently misled the judge about the level of danger they might be facing.

[Attorney Jerome J.] Dobson says the lead officer fabricated a story to a judge and fellow SWAT members, leading them to believe Zorich’s sons were highly violent, to get the no-knock warrant issued.

Dobson says that warrant was executed just two hours after it was signed.

"No evidence was going to be destroyed, you're not going to flush the gas meter down the toilet," said Dobson.

From the details of the case, it appears the St. Louis County Police may not have even have had judicial permission to serve a no-knock warrant. The SWAT team had a warrant but it was the SWAT team leader who arbitrarily decided the team could bypass the Constitutional niceties of knock-and-announce. All this to serve an administrative warrant -- not a criminal warrant -- to search for evidence of violations of County ordinances.

Upon obtaining the Warrant, Rinck contacted Pfanstiel, a Tactical Operations Unit ("TAC") supervisor, and requested he execute the Warrant. Approximately one hour after obtaining the Warrant, Rink met Pfanstiel and other TAC officers at a park close to Plaintiff's house. Rinck informed the TAC officers that residents of Plaintiff's home had histories of violent behavior, including numerous assaults and one armed robbery, and that someone inside Plaintiff's house had slammed the door and shouted "fuck you" at him several days earlier. Rinck also told the officers about the many complaints the police department received about Plaintiff's dogs, including a report that her pit bull attacked another dog. Rinck did not mention the telephone conversation that he and Plaintiff had the previous day.

Because Fumagalli was the "team leader" and Zavorka was the "point person," they reviewed the Warrant and drove by Plaintiff's property with Rinck in preparation for execution of the Warrant. Fumagalli created a plan for execution of the Warrant. Pfanstiel approved Fumagalli's plan and decided the TAC team would perform a no-knock entry.

That's not how that's supposed to work. No-knock warrants need to be issued by judges who can view the sworn statements justifying this kind of entry. This decision was made after the warrant -- a regular warrant -- had already been obtained. And this decision was unilateral -- subject zero impartial review.

And that's why the county is now paying Zorich for killing her dog during this raid over an unpaid gas bill. This case was headed to trial and the County has decided taxpayers should pay for the violations committed by their public servants, rather than let these public servants be held individually responsible for their terrible decisions and actions.

In support of his position that deployment of a TAC team to execute the Warrant was justified because there was an immediate threat to officer safety, Rinck cites Holland. There, the Tenth Circuit held that the decision to deploy a SWAT team to execute search and misdemeanor arrest warrants at a 60-acre compound was reasonable because the owner and several other residents had histories of violence, officers suspected there would be firearms present, and the SWAT team's "goal was to effect the arrest and search warrant quickly, without injury, and to preserve evidence." 268 F.3d at 1190-91.

The instant case is inapposite. The SWAT team in Holland was deployed to arrest a criminal suspect and seize evidence of an assault. Here, the TAC officers' intended to gain entry and secure Plaintiff's house to enable Rinck and the housing inspectors to inspect Plaintiff's property for housing code violations, none of which were characterized as emergent. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Rinck determined, in the absence of any exigency and without allowing Plaintiff a reasonable opportunity to consent to an inspection, that it would be appropriate for the TAC unit to execute the Warrant within hours of obtaining it. Based on these facts, a reasonable jury could find that Rinck's conduct deprived Plaintiff of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

I'm sure most of us believe everyone should pay their bills. But do we believe it hard enough to send 10 armed officers through the front door of someone who isn't keeping their gas bill current? I doubt that. And I doubt any jury would either.

Filed Under: no-knock, police, st. louis


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:11pm

    that's why they're called pigs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:27pm

    There are just too many examples of cops shooting family dogs, whether or not the dogs are actually being aggressive towards or even barking at the cops, to conclude other than that cops like to shoot dogs. It's a form of extrajudicial punishment against civilians that cops aren't usually held accountable for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:45pm

      Re:

      And then there are examples of cops trying to shoot the family dog, twice missing, and instead hitting a 10 year old child blowing his knee apart.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 5 Aug 2019 @ 11:35pm

      Re:

      Dogs generally react to aggression towards the family without considering their own safety. Thus they are likely to interfere with massively armed bullying of incompetent actors and make them look bad. Shooting them early makes the situation easier to handle for simpletons and counts as property damage rather than murder.

      It's a lot less likely to get an indictment than shooting some recalcitrant human family member, while still getting the message across that one is dealing with heavily armed incompetent cowards and should watch one's step if one wants to survive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 6 Aug 2019 @ 12:45am

        Re: Re:

        massively armed bullying of incompetent actors

        Massively armed bullying from incompetent actors, of course. Sorry for being confusing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 9:13am

      Re:

      Isn't killing pets one of the first signs of a serial killer? Hmm - that actually makes sense here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2019 @ 11:59am

      Re:

      This is why the UK has raised the punishment for cruelty to animals to a MINIMUM of 5 years in prison, whether or not that cruelty or murder was by the police.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    christenson, 5 Aug 2019 @ 9:46pm

    Whatever happened to...

    Just cutting of the gas when the bill isn't paid???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:08pm

    SWAT team responses to civil offenses?

    Somewhere out there, a copyright advocate is wetting his pants in fantasy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:43pm

    Well, not quite everyone...

    I'm sure most of us believe everyone should pay their bills. But do we believe it hard enough to send 10 armed officers through the front door of someone who isn't keeping their gas bill current? I doubt that. And I doubt any jury would either.

    Unless that $750,000 is coming straight from the department's budget and the pensions of every single badge wearing scumbag involved this is yet another case where at least one person(the judge) doesn't believe everyone should pay their bills.

    Ah the joys of being a cop, where someone else always foots the bill and 'personal responsibility' as a concept(at least as it applies to those with badges) gets thrown out the window from the get-go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:49pm

    Light the badge bunny signal!

    Now calling Mason and/or brt to the blue copsucker courtesy phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 11:34pm

    St Louis CITY vs St Louis COUNTY

    The county police dept acted despicably, and not really unexpectedly!

    But the article incorrectly refers to it as "the St Louis PD" a couple times. It's really important here to know that the CITY of St Louis is NOT part of the COUNTY of St Louis. They don't overlap - the city is essentially its own county.

    The County is predominantly white, conservative, suburban.
    The City is racially mixed, liberal, urban.

    Techdirt, I love reading your articles. Could you correct your references to "the St Louis PD"? Thanks

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2019 @ 3:20pm

      Re: St Louis CITY vs St Louis COUNTY

      St Louis pd has just as much propensity to act just as st louis county acted.. if they haven't yet, maybe they are taking notes. They should be, just like every dept in the country should be. Just because these people got off lightly, don't count on it next time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 11:45pm

    You will respect my authoritah!

    The gas had been off since 2014 which, I suppose, means St. Louis has one of those stupid ordinances such that a house is not suitable for occupancy if it doesn't use the mandatory gas.

    Be that as it may, code violation was clearly an excuse. The real reason they got SWAT'ed is because they didn't show proper respect for officer Rinck's authoritah.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2019 @ 9:22am

      Re: You will respect my authoritah!

      Yeah, there has to be more to this story. Unpaid bills go into collections, not into the SWAT to-do list. There must be more to this story that we're not hearing because there's no way an unpaid utility bill on its own would trigger SWAT intervention. I mean, these days LEO == Asshole but this story jumps from step 1 to step 9 without talking about steps 2-8.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 5 Aug 2019 @ 11:46pm

    One of these days, I'd like to see a story about one of these no-knock raids ending in the fatal shooting of all cops involved.

    There's the case with Jordan Fricke, but he was convicted of first-degree murder after shooting at a gang of cops trying to smash down his door.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2019 @ 12:26am

    "someone inside Plaintiff's house had slammed the door and shouted "fuck you" at him several days earlier."

    Ah the real reason emerges. Butthurt-of-cop

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 6 Aug 2019 @ 12:57am

      Re:

      And it's just the taxpayer getting fucked, not the cop who lied to the judge in order to get a warrant, and lied to the SWAT team in order to get revenge for getting yelled at. And there will be no retribution to the SWAT leader who decided not to need a no-knock warrant for no-knock entry either.

      The county makes sure that there is no deterrent to state-paid actors confusing the police department with an organised crime syndicate. Well, except that usually this amount of stupidity makes one ineligible for participating in an organised crime syndicate without the backup of the taxpayer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Oninoshiko (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 1:19pm

        Re: Re:

        In fairness, the cop didn't lie to the judge. The judge just issued an administrative warrant, which is fairly reasonable.

        The problem arose when the cop decided to enforce it with a no-knock entry, which is COMPLETELY unreasonable, and not permitted by the warrant.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2019 @ 3:25pm

        Re: Re:

        It cost taxpayers a trillion dollars and more than 5000 young American troops when George Bush went after Sadaam Hussein for threatening to KILL HIS DADDY.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 5:30am

      'You say 'fuck you'. I say 'open fire'. I win.'

      Well of course, can't let the peons think that they are even remotely equal to the police, or can show disrespect(which is to say anything less than grovelling submission) without consequences after all.

      Really, the plaintiff should feel lucky that the punishment was only the execution of their dog rather than a bullet or two(dozen) sent their way, a fact I'm sure the sterling paragons of justice in uniform will be quite happy to make clear after the plaintiff had the utter audacity to bring them to court over such a trifling matter as the police going out of their way to teach them manners and their proper place in society.

      What I could but wish was sarcasm aside(as I suspect it's close if not dead-on to the motivations in play), unless the thugs in uniform are personally on the hook for some or all of the fine I'd say that they came ahead here. They made clear that if you talk back to them they will punish you for it and get away with it, such that others are going to be much more likely to treat them as the dangerous crooks they are, with fearful submission lest they be the next example of what insulting the cops gets you.

      As I keep saying, 'stupid criminals go to jail. Smart criminals get a badge.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2019 @ 2:42pm

        Re: 'You say 'fuck you'. I say 'open fire'. I win.'

        The plaintiff should feel lucky that it was only the dog?

        That is the problem with desensitizing the public by these common episodes with law enforcement in modern times.. we get comments like this.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 2:47am

    "... and shouted "fuck you" at him several days earlier."

    And there's the real reason all of this happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mechtheist (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 4:50am

    New SWAT uniforms

    These incidences lead me to suggest a more appropriate uniform for teams that collectively act with such bravery and professionalism would be pink tutus. Great optics...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 6:48am

    What bothers me is, when do cops or sheriffs go on site to deliver a past due notice? They don't even do that when you don't pay your property taxes. They put a lien on the house and don't even need police, there is civil court for civil issues in which this is. When I call the police about my neighbor breaking my lawn mower and refusing to fix it, they will tell me straight out, they do NOT deal with civil matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2019 @ 8:14am

    ACAB

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 8:58am

    Again...

    Every day it seems, I have to repeat: NEVER TRUST A LEO. There are no "good ones", they all cover for each other. And taxpayers pay for their mistakes. Government needs to stop covering for them, take lawsuit settlements and awards out of their pensions, out of their unions. Hit the ones who are at fault, not the taxpayers!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    R,ogs/, 6 Aug 2019 @ 11:25am

    re: ...For the WIN!

    Google Saint Louis County MN, and gang stalking, and Deb Matheny for a complete ROGS BINGO.

    You really cannot make this shit up; American policing under the Idraelified ATAP threat creation matrix is just that batshit crazy.

    (Matheny herself is a piece of work, but still....)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Philly Bob, 6 Aug 2019 @ 12:06pm

    $750,000 Huh?
    Well, she can pay her gas bill now...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 12:25pm

    I hate saying this stuff..

    For all the crap happening in this nation..
    Why arnt the City/State SUING THOSE RESPONSIBLE..
    ya ya ya,,Contracts and unions..

    Anyone ever hear of Tape?? on the door with the notice?? then take a picture to PROVE you did it...

    All thuis started cause the door was slammed in his face..?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2019 @ 2:11pm

    EVERY ONE OF THE COPS ACTED WITH HIS OR HER HEAD UP THEIR ASS. IT Should have cost everyone their job, their right to own firearms and the county 10 times what they have to pay with no possibility for appeal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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