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.