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.