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Police Dodge Claims of Death Threats to Kids

(CN) - A family cannot sue Camden, N.J., over a SWAT team that allegedly threatened to kill children at gunpoint while searching their home for hours, a federal judge ruled.

In a 2012 complaint, Ella Baker describes how two police officers showed up at her home shortly before 11 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2010.

The officers were searching for Anthony Fontanez, whom Baker's daughter Tawana had dated and who was the father of her children.

According to the complaint, police told Baker Fontanez had warrants for aggravated assault, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery, and possession of weapons, and was a prime suspect in an incident in which a house was shot into with high-powered rifle.

Baker was not home at the time, but she gave police permission to entered her home after a telephone conversation with another daughter, Shawana Baker, the complaint says.

The police then proceeded to search the home, but they did not find Fontanez.

Later that month, the U.S. Marshals Task Force requested the assistance of a SWAT team to serve an arrest warrant for Fontanez at Baker's home.

Baker testified that after she answered a knock at her door, the SWAT team - with guns drawn - ordered her onto her porch, and she obeyed, but did not consent to a search of her home.

SWAT team members nonetheless searched Baker's home while she stayed on her porch for 45 minutes, and then let her enter, but searched for another hour and 15 minutes, she testified.

Benjamin Frye, who also lived in the home, testified that after the officers entered, they went upstairs, pushed him to the floor, zip-tied his hands behind his back, and kept him on the floor for over an hour.

Baker's daughter and nephew, Tattyana and Rayion Baker, then 12 and 9, testified that officers threatened to shoot Rayion if he did not stay still, pointing a gun to his head.

The SWAT team then took Frye, Tattyana, and Rayion downstairs, freed Frye from the zip ties, and let Rayion and Tattyana go to school, the family said.

But the police say the search lasted no more than three to 10 minutes.

The federal government, the city of Camden and its police chief were later added as defendants to the action in Camden.

The family claims the search has given them nightmares and nervousness around police.

On Aug. 28, 2014, the last remaining defendants in the case, the city and Camden Police Chief John Scott Thompson, moved for summary judgment and to bar the plaintiffs' expert report.

Chief U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle granted the motion Jan. 28, finding that the negligence claim against Camden is barred under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.

"It is undisputed in the instant case that plaintiffs have offered no evidence of permanent injury," Simandle wrote. "Moreover, there is no evidence in the record indicating that plaintiffs sought any medical treatment for their emotional and/or psychological injuries, much less amassed medical treatment expenses exceeding $3,600."

The judge also tossed the plaintiffs' conspiracy claim, finding "no evidence of any agreement between any of the defendants, including members of the Camden Police Department and the U.S. Marshals, for anything but coordination and support during the execution of a lawful arrest warrant."

The court rejected the plaintiffs' expert report by Mark Weber alleging failure to train.

"Because plaintiffs did not identify the officers involved, Weber could not and did not verify whether each officer received certain training," Simandle wrote.

The judge later added: "As to Weber's opinion that the City of Camden failed to establish written protocols concerning the treatment of children during searches, Weber conceded that he is unaware of any organization that has called for such written protocols. Indeed, Weber's opinion in this regard is based on 'look[ing] around' and having 'talked to some people' who 'couldn't find anything.' Although Weber opined in his report that rampant call-outs in the Camden Police Department prevented the SWAT team from conducting proper training, Weber lacked any information linking the officers involved in the search of the Baker residence to frequent absences or call-outs."

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