(CN) – Two families can pursue excessive-force claims against the 14 Contra Costa deputies who raided their home in search of a teen suspected of murdering the wife of prominent attorney Daniel Horowitz in 2005, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Deputies raided the Lafayette, Calif., home of the Curiel and McClure-Sikkema families in 2005, as detectives searched for Scott Dyleski, then 16, who they believed murdered Horowitz’s wife, Pamela Vitale.
Dyleski and his mother lived with the families.
Dyleski had stolen credit card information to buy hydroponics equipment for growing marijuana. The equipment was to be shipped to Vitale’s home. In reports following her murder, detectives said Vitale may have confronted Dyleski, prompting him to attack her.
Both families filed lawsuits against the county and its deputies, claiming the warrantless, unannounced entry, the deputies’ use of excessive force and the families’ 13-hour detention and questioning violated their constitutional rights.
The district court ruled that the deputies were justified in entering the house unannounced and without a warrant, and that the family members’ Fourth Amendment rights were not violated because they had agreed to answer the detectives’ questions.
The deputies were also granted immunity on the claims of excessive force.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit said the warrantless raid violated the families’ Fourth Amendment rights, but granted the deputies immunity, saying “the violation may not have been clear to the officers.” The deputies purportedly believed that Dyleski would run if tipped off by another resident.
But the San Francisco-based panel revived the excessive force claim, ruling that “a reasonable jury could find that the force used was not reasonable.”
“Without having obtained a search warrant, the deputies, dressed in dark raid gear, burst into the Curiels’ home to look for Scott Dyleski and evidence of the murder of Vitale,” the ruling states.
“They entered the house, unannounced, with their guns drawn, and pointed their guns at occupants, including children, while giving commands to get down on the floor.”
The ruling continues: “Not only did the deputies train their guns on the occupants, they threatened deadly harm if the individuals failed to comply with their commands. The threats were laced with vulgar profanity.”
The circuit concluded that the “intensity of the deputies’ actions and their threats of harm while pointing guns caused considerable fear among occupants.”
Dyleski was convicted in 2006 of murdering Vitale and was sentenced to life is prison without parole.