Police Commandeer Homes, Get Sued
LAS VEGAS (CN) - Henderson police arrested a family for refusing to let officers use their homes as lookouts for a domestic violence investigation of their neighbors, the family claims in court.
Anthony Mitchell and his parents Michael and Linda Mitchell sued the City of Henderson, its Police Chief Jutta Chambers, Officers Garret Poiner, Ronald Feola, Ramona Walls, Angela Walker, and Christopher Worley, and City of North Las Vegas and its Police Chief Joseph Chronister, in Federal Court.
Henderson, pop. 257,000, is a suburb of Las Vegas.
The Mitchell family's claim includes Third Amendment violations, a rare claim in the United States. The Third Amendment prohibits quartering soldiers in citizens' homes in times of peace without the consent of the owner.
"On the morning of July 10th, 2011, officers from the Henderson Police Department responded to a domestic violence call at a neighbor's residence," the Mitchells say in the complaint.
It continues: "At 10:45 a.m. defendant Officer Christopher Worley (HPD) contacted plaintiff Anthony Mitchell via his telephone. Worley told plaintiff that police needed to occupy his home in order to gain a 'tactical advantage' against the occupant of the neighboring house. Anthony Mitchell told the officer that he did not want to become involved and that he did not want police to enter his residence. Although Worley continued to insist that plaintiff should leave his residence, plaintiff clearly explained that he did not intend to leave his home or to allow police to occupy his home. Worley then ended the phone call.
Mitchell claims that defendant officers, including Cawthorn and Worley and Sgt. Michael Waller then "conspired among themselves to force Anthony Mitchell out of his residence and to occupy his home for their own use." (Waller is identified as a defendant in the body of the complaint, but not in the heading of it.)
The complaint continues: "Defendant Officer David Cawthorn outlined the defendants' plan in his official report: 'It was determined to move to 367 Evening Side and attempt to contact Mitchell. If Mitchell answered the door he would be asked to leave. If he refused to leave he would be arrested for Obstructing a Police Officer. If Mitchell refused to answer the door, force entry would be made and Mitchell would be arrested.'"
At a few minutes before noon, at least five defendant officers "arrayed themselves in front of plaintiff Anthony Mitchell's house and prepared to execute their plan," the complaint states.
It continues: "The officers banged forcefully on the door and loudly commanded Anthony Mitchell to open the door to his residence.
"Surprised and perturbed, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell immediately called his mother (plaintiff Linda Mitchell) on the phone, exclaiming to her that the police were beating on his front door.
"Seconds later, officers, including Officer Rockwell, smashed open plaintiff Anthony Mitchell's front door with a metal ram as plaintiff stood in his living room.
"As plaintiff Anthony Mitchell stood in shock, the officers aimed their weapons at Anthony Mitchell and shouted obscenities at him and ordered him to lie down on the floor.
"Fearing for his life, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell dropped his phone and prostrated himself onto the floor of his living room, covering his face and hands.
"Addressing plaintiff as 'asshole', officers, including Officer Snyder, shouted conflicting orders at Anthony Mitchell, commanding him to both shut off his phone, which was on the floor in front of his head, and simultaneously commanding him to 'crawl' toward the officers.
"Confused and terrified, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell remained curled on the floor of his living room, with his hands over his face, and made no movement.
"Although plaintiff Anthony Mitchell was lying motionless on the ground and posed no threat, officers, including Officer David Cawthorn, then fired multiple 'pepperball' rounds at plaintiff as he lay defenseless on the floor of his living room. Anthony Mitchell was struck at least three times by shots fired from close range, injuring him and causing him severe pain." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Officers then arrested him for obstructing a police officer, searched the house and moved furniture without his permission and set up a place in his home for a lookout, Mitchell says in the complaint.
He says they also hurt his pet dog for no reason whatsoever: "Plaintiff Anthony Mitchell's pet, a female dog named 'Sam,' was cowering in the corner when officers smashed through the front door. Although the terrified animal posed no threat to officers, they gratuitously shot it with one or more pepperball rounds. The panicked animal howled in fear and pain and fled from the residence. Sam was subsequently left trapped outside in a fenced alcove without access to water, food, or shelter from the sun for much of the day, while temperatures outside soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit."
Anthony and his parents live in separate houses, close to one another on the same street. He claims that police treated his parents the same way.
"Meanwhile, starting at approximately 10:45 a.m., police officers entered the back yard of plaintiffs Michael Mitchell and Linda Mitchell's residence at 362 Eveningside Avenue. The officers asked plaintiff Michael Mitchell if he would be willing to vacate his residence and accompany them to their 'command center' under the guise that the officers wanted Michael Mitchell's assistance in negotiating the surrender of the neighboring suspect at 363 Eveningside Avenue. Plaintiff Michael Mitchell reluctantly agreed to follow the officers from his back yard to the HPD command center, which was approximately one quarter mile away," the complaint states.
"When plaintiff Michael Mitchell arrived at the HPD command center, he was informed that the suspect was 'not taking any calls' and that plaintiff Michael Mitchell would not be permitted to call the suspect neighbor from his own phone. At that time, Mr. Mitchell realized that the request to accompany officers to the HPD command center was a tactic to remove him from his house. He waited approximately ten minutes at the HPD command center and was told he could not return to his home.
"Plaintiff Michael Mitchell then left HPD command center and walked down Mauve Street toward the exit of the neighborhood. After walking for less than five minutes, an HPD car pulled up next to him. He was told that his wife, Linda Mitchell, had 'left the house' and would meet him at the HPD command center. Michael Mitchell then walked back up Mauve Street to the HPD command center. He called his son, James Mitchell, to pick him up at the HPD command center. When plaintiff Michael Mitchell attempted to leave the HPD command center to meet James, he was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a marked police car.
"Officers had no reasonable grounds to detain plaintiff Michael Mitchell, nor probable
cause to suspect him of committing any crime.
"At approximately 1:45 p.m., a group of officers entered the backyard of plaintiffs Michael Mitchell and Linda Mitchell's residence at 362 Eveningside Avenue. They banged on the back door of the house and demanded that plaintiff Linda Mitchell open the door.
"Plaintiff Linda Mitchell complied and opened the door to her home. When she told officers that they could not enter her home without a warrant, the officers ignored her. One officer, defendant Doe 1, seized her by the arm, and other officers entered her home without permission.
"Defendant Doe 1 then forcibly pulled plaintiff Linda Mitchell out of her house.
"Another unidentified officer, defendant Doe 2, then seized plaintiff Linda Mitchell's purse and began rummaging through it, without permission, consent, or a warrant.
"Defendant Doe 1 then escorted Linda Mitchell at a brisk pace through her yard and
up the hill toward the 'Command Post' while maintaining a firm grip on her upper arm. Plaintiff Linda Mitchell is physically frail and had difficulty breathing due to the heat and the swift pace. However, Doe 1 ignored her pleas to be released or to at least slow down, and refused to provide any explanation for why she was being treated in such a manner.
"In the meantime, the officers searched and occupied plaintiffs Michael Mitchell and
Linda Mitchell's house. When plaintiff Linda Mitchell returned to her home, the cabinets and closet doors throughout the house had been left open and their contents moved about. Water had been consumed from their water dispenser. Even the refrigerator door had been left ajar and mustard and mayonnaise had been left on their kitchen floor."
Police took Anthony and Michael Mitchell to jail and booked them for obstructing an officer. They were jailed for at least nine hours before they bailed out, they say in the complaint. All criminals charged were dismissed with prejudice. They claim the defendants filed the baseless criminal charges "to provide cover for defendants' wrongful actions, to frustrate and impede plaintiffs' ability to seek relief for those actions, and to further intimidate and retaliate against plaintiffs."
None of the officers were ever subjected to official discipline or even inquiry, the complaint states.
The Mitchells seek punitive damages for violations of the third, fourth and 14th Amendments, assault and battery, conspiracy, defamation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, negligence and emotional distress.
They are represented by Benjamin C. Durham, with Cofer, Geller & Durham, in Las Vegas.