Georgia Cops Ask Panel for Immunity in Fatal Home Raid

ATLANTA (CN) — Attorneys representing three Georgia police officers asked the 11th Circuit on Wednesday to shield them from liability in a wrongful-death case filed by the widow of a man shot and killed during the execution of a search warrant at his home.

The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta, home of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

Teresa Hooks brought the wrongful death complaint against Laurens County sheriff’s deputies Christopher Brewer and Steve Vertin and former Sheriff William Harrell after police broke into her home and shot her husband, David Hooks, shot four times.

She claimed that Brewer lied on the search warrant application.

During the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 2014, an alleged meth addict named Rodney Garrett burglarized the Hooks’ rural Dublin, Georgia, property, according to court records.

Garrett reportedly stole the couple’s Lincoln Aviator and seven guns and then went to his mother’s home to hide from police. David Hooks reported the burglary later that day.

Garrett was discovered by police, arrested and charged with burglary on Sept. 24. According to the district court’s ruling, Garrett told police that he found approximately 20 grams of methamphetamine and a set of scales inside another vehicle on Hooks’ property. Garrett allegedly said he took the scales and placed the drugs inside a locked metal case in the stolen Aviator.

According to Hooks’ September 2016 complaint, Garrett’s uncorroborated statements prompted police to obtain a search warrant for the couple’s home. The warrant was executed before midnight on Sept. 24.

Hooks claims in her complaint that the officers broke down the door to her home, entered and “began indiscriminately firing their weapons through the floor, walls, and ceiling of the home.” She claims more than 23 shots were fired inside the home.

David Hooks, who was naked and holding a shotgun by his side when the officers entered, was struck by three bullets and shot once while he was lying on the ground, the complaint alleges.

According to the ruling, Hooks never raised or fired his shotgun. He died from his injuries. No drugs or meth paraphernalia were found inside the home.

In his January 2018 ruling denying the officers’ motions for summary judgment on Hooks’ complaint, Senior U.S. District Judge Dudley Bowen ruled that there are “genuine disputes of material fact regarding the existence of probable cause to seek the warrant.”

Bowen found that the affidavit provided by Brewer in support of the search warrant contained numerous “falsities and material omissions.”

“A reasonable factfinder could easily conclude that…Defendant Brewer: (a) embellished, distorted, or otherwise supplied false inculpatory facts; and (b) disregarded, ignored, or otherwise omitted material exculpatory facts,” Bowen wrote.

The ruling continued, “[I]n the absence of the alleged falsities and in consideration of the material omissions, Defendants Brewer and Harrell had only the uncorroborated word of a known liar and car thief to put methamphetamine and other evidence of drug activity in the home of David Hooks. No reasonable officer in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge could have believed probable cause existed to support the search warrant.”

In response to Bowen’s ruling, the officers filed a notice of interlocutory appeal claiming they are entitled to a review of the district court’s determination denying them qualified immunity from Hooks’ complaint. Bowen granted the officers’ motion for a stay in the case until after the 11th Circuit makes its decision.

Attorney Timothy Buckley III of Buckley Christopher, arguing on behalf of the officers, asked a three-judge 11th Circuit panel Wednesday to reverse the district court’s decision.

“The court engaged in a fanciful manipulation of the facts. Despite the unfortunate result brought about by Hooks himself, every step taken [by the officers] was under reasonable probable cause,” Buckley said.

“There were a number of things in the warrant application which were incorrect or incorrectly omitted. Do you think the district court got the facts wrong, or those facts just don’t matter?” U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan asked.

“The facts were adequately disclosed,” Buckley responded, adding that the district court engaged in a “semantically oppressive reading” of the warrant application.

But Hooks’ attorney George Spears urged the panel to uphold the district court’s ruling, arguing that Brewer made “material misrepresentations” in his affidavit.

“There was no arguable probable cause. The officers did not conduct a reasonable investigation,” Spears said.

Jordan was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judges Britt Grant and Eugene Siler, Jr., sitting by designation from the Sixth Circuit. The panel did not indicate when it will reach a decision in the case.

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