Veteran’s Unlawful-Search Suit Tossed in D.C.

     (CN) – A veteran has no claims against Washington, D.C., police for searching his home, taking a grenade and several guns, leaving the door open, and letting his fish die, a federal judge ruled.
     Matthew Corrigan, a former D.C. resident and an Army reservist, phoned the National Suicide Hotline – though he believed he was calling the military’s emotional-support hotline – on the night of Feb. 2, 2010, because “he was depressed and had not slept for several days,” according to court records.
     In response to questioning, Corrigan told a hotline employee that he was a veteran and owned firearms, but did not indicate that he planned to harm anyone or kill himself, he claims. Corrigan turned off his phone, took prescribed sleeping pills and fell asleep, according to his lawsuit.
     Unbeknownst to Corrigan, the employee called 911 and reported an attempted suicide. Metropolitan police officers were sent to Corrigan’s apartment around 11 p.m., where they reported a strong odor of natural gas, so they had the service cut off.
     The reservist says he awoke at about 4 a.m. on Feb. 3, hearing his name being called over a bullhorn, and saw about eight cops in the back yard and 20 in the front, lit up by floodlights.
     When he came outside at about 4:50 a.m. and locked his apartment, he refused to give the key to an officer, who said he did not “have time to play this constitutional bullshit. We’re going to break down your door. You’re going to have to pay for a new door,” according to Corrigan’s deposition testimony.
     Officers then entered and reportedly found a military smoke grenade and whistler device. Corrigan claims police took him to a Veterans Affairs hospital, where he admitted himself for three days because weapons being pointed at him triggered “PTSD hyper-vigilance.”
     A mental health clinic then determined Corrigan was not at risk of suicide, court records show. He was charged on Feb. 8, 2010 with three counts of possession of an unregistered firearm and seven counts of unlawful possession of ammunition and jailed until Feb. 19, according to his complaint.
     Upon returning home 16 days after his release, Corrigan says he found that officers had left his front door unlocked and the electric stove on, had cut open every bag and dumped every container, broken locked boxes, and taken his three firearms and plenty ammunition.
     Plus, Corrigan’s tropical fish, held in a 150-gallon aquarium, were dead, according to his lawsuit.
     The criminal charges against him were dropped after the D.C. Superior Court found that police unlawfully searched his home. Corrigan sued D.C. and 25 unnamed defendants in Federal Court on Feb. 1, 2012 for violation of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
     Washington, D.C. and all but three individual defendants were dismissed during two years of legal proceedings. The remaining defendants – Lt. Robert Glover, Sgt. Kevin Pope and officer Mark Leone – filed motions for summary judgment on Corrigan’s Fourth Amendment claim.
     The court denied their motions on March 6, 2015, but decided to reconsider under federal civil procedure rules.
     U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell granted the motions on Tuesday, finding that most of the issues disputed by the parties are irrelevant to determining a Fourth Amendment violation.
     “Under the community caretaking, exigent circumstances, and emergency aid doctrines, Lt. Glover’s orders to the [Emergency Response Team] and [Explosive Ordnance Division] Unit to enter without a warrant and search the plaintiff’s apartment for people, threats, and hazardous materials were objectively reasonable and, therefore, did not violate the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights,” Howell wrote. “Lt. Glover is, consequently, entitled to qualified immunity. Since the searches were reasonable, and Sgt. Pope and [officer] Leone merely participated in the searches…these two individual defendants are similarly entitled to qualified immunity.”
     The court relied on recent rulings that released civil rights claims against police based on qualified immunity, such as San Francisco v. Sheehan and Taylor v. Barkes.
     “Under these circumstances, and under the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant and probable cause requirements recognized by the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit, and the D.C. Court of Appeals, the plaintiff did not suffer a constitutional violation when the police entered his home solely to determine whether any people, threats, or hazardous materials were inside,” Howell wrote.
     The parties did not immediately return requests for comment from Courthouse News.

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