Challenge to DC Police Searches Can Proceed

     (CN) – Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department must defend its allegedly lopsided record of shoddy search warrants in a lawsuit by a disabled man who claims they “ransacked” his apartment, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
     Jerome Davis, who works at the Fresh Cut Barber Shop, says that he was at work a little more than a year ago when a neighbor told him police knocked his door off the hinges and rushed into his apartment at a senior center close to Capitol Hill.
     The Oct. 10, 2104, raid followed the arrest another man who tried to throw police off their scent after being arrested on suspicion of possessing 4.1 grams of drugs.
     Nearly a year after the incident, Davis sued the city and the officers over his ordeal and what he calls a “pattern or practice” of bad searches.
     His lawyers at the advocacy group Equal Justice Under the Law say that Washington police do not find drugs in almost 66 percent of their cases.
     When excluding marijuana, the number of fruitless searches jumps up to nearly 87 percent, they say.
     U.S. District Judge James Boasberg allowed the case to proceed on Thursday.
     “It is not surprising that when certain drug dealers are arrested on the street, police officers may seek search warrants for their homes in order to locate additional evidence or contraband,” the 19-page ruling began.
     Boasberg notes that the Davis case puts an “unfortunate twist” on this old tale, but the allegations of the case delve beyond a “geographic snafu.”
     “Instead, it targets bigger game,” he said.
     Davis claims the reason so many Washington police searches turn up empty is that officers justify search warrants based on their “training and experience.”
     His attorneys slammed these “woefully insufficient grounds” as “sweeping generalizations about a large and diverse set of individuals.”
     While Boasberg allowed these claims to proceed to discovery, he warned that establishing liability will be “no walk in the park.”
     “For example, if the sample size of search warrants examined was not sufficiently large to produce a statistically significant result or if the statistics include arrests for drug possession as well as for possession with intent to distribute or distribution, their value could be substantially diminished,” the 19-page opinion said.
     Boasberg added that warrants that found no drugs could also theoretically have recovered razor blades, cutting agents or packaging relevant to an investigation.
     “Ultimately, his success against the city will hinge on whether the trends plaintiff’s complaint alleges – in substantial part, through statistics – are borne out by the evidence he produces,” he concluded.
     The D.C. Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation.
     Davis’s attorney Katherine Hubbard also declined to comment on the case.

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