SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge kept alive some claims that Sonoma County is liable for a man's death, allegedly caused by police officers who overreacted to a domestic dispute.
On May 16, 2014, Glenn Swindell and his wife Sarah got into an argument while driving home from a "work function." When the couple arrived at their home, Glen and the couple's two children went inside the house, but Sarah remained outside in the car.
Glenn and Sarah continued the argument through the house's locked front door, and Sarah ultimately called 911 "for assistance getting her children."
Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies arrived and Glenn released the children, but refused to let the officers inside his home. Glenn's family says the officers were angry that Swindell would not let them inside, lied to other officers about statements he had made on Facebook about law enforcement, and made it known that he was the lawful owner of two firearms.
They also lied to obtain a warrant to get inside the house, stating in part that Swindell had committed battery, had imprisoned Sarah, had barricaded himself inside, cut off communications with them and that he used his firearms in committing a felony, according to Swindell's family.
The deputies threatened to take Sarah's children away from her when she asked them to "de-escalate" the situation, and instead escalated it by calling in the SWAT team - which used a military assault vehicle, concussion bombs and chemical agents to break down the home's garage door and enter the house.
At one point a SWAT supervisor yelled, "Why don't you just kill the fucker!" according to a 33-page complaint filed in Federal Court in San Francisco.
The SWAT team then allegedly pumped gas into the attic where a terrified Swindell had taken refuge and eventually shot himself.
Sarah Swindell and the Estate of Glenn Swindell sued the Sonoma County and 10 unnamed defendants in February 2015, submitting a first amended complaint in June with 11 claims including unreasonable search and seizure, due process, freedom of speech and expression, right to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution, assault and battery, wrongful death and municipal liability for unconstitutional customs and practices.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on July 15, arguing the Swindells failed to state a claim for several causes of action.
They argue, in part, that the family'sclaim for municipal liability, which includes violations of Glenn Swindell's First, Second, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, does not state facts showing a violation of Swindell's Second or Fourteenth Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti agreed.
"The first amended complaint alleges that sheriff deputies knew that Glenn lawfully owned firearms and assumes, in conclusory fashion, that the alleged unlawful search and seizure must have been, in part, retaliation for owning firearms," he said in a 20-page order. "Plaintiffs' conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a claim based on a violation of the Second Amendment. Moreover, plaintiffs do not allege facts showing an interference with Glenn's right to possess a gun. To the contrary, the first amended complaint states that Glenn kept multiple guns in his home."
Conti noted that the defendants do not challenge the plaintiffs' claim for relief as to the First and Fourth Amendment violations, and therefore did not dismiss them. He also gave the family an opportunity to make their case again.
The judge dismissed with prejudice the family's claims for interference with familial integrity and dismissed the wrongful death claim with leave to amend.
And while the county argued the family's civil rights claim should be dismissed because it "fails to show threats, coercion or intimidation independent from the underlying claims of unlawful search and seizure," Conti succinctly rejected that assertion based on the plaintiffs' allegation that the defendants used "excessive force in addition to an unlawful search and seizure, including that defendants used a military assault vehicle, concussion bombs and chemical agents to enter Glenn Swindell's home and that they unnecessarily pumped gas into the attic which ultimately led Glenn to take his own life."
Conti gave the family 30 days to file a second amended complaint.
Sonoma County is a largely rural area north of San Francisco, and the largest producer of wine in California's famed wine country that also includes Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.