Bad Cop Blotter

The Police Can Legally Kick You out of Your Home

By Lucy Steigerwald


A SWAT training session. Photo via Flickr user Joe 13

Police officers are accused of violating the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments all the time, but even the most ardent civil libertarians tend to forget that the Third Amendment exists. So it’s surprising that a lawsuit filed by a family in Henderson, Nevada, last week alleges that police broke into their two houses back in July 2011 in violation of their constitutional rights not to be forced to quarter soldiers in their homes.

Anthony Mitchell claims he refused SWAT officers’ request to use his home in order to observe a domestic abuse standoff, but the cops forced their way inside his house anyway, pepper-spraying him and his dog. The lawsuit further alleges that Anthony’s parents, Michael and Linda, were treated roughly and forced from their home. Michael and Anthony were arrested for obstructing justice (these charges were later dismissed), and the family is suing the officers involved and the department in Las Vegas on various charges, including violations of their Third, Fourth, and 14th Amendment rights.

Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy law blog says that odds are the lawsuit doesn’t have much of a shot on Third Amendment grounds, since no matter how militarized cops have become, they’re not “officially” soldiers. (Not that the Founding Fathers had any concept of modern policing when they wrote that.) But considering how almost completely the legal system has ignored the Third Amendment—even in relevant cases—it may be interesting to watch what happens to this lawsuit. In a semijust world, it might spark a discussion about how (and if) cops differ from soldiers, and force some higher-court judge to make a ruling about how the constitution applies to militarized police. This probably won’t happen. Unless the war on drugs ends and the behavior of cops, prosecutors, judges, and politicians changes for good, police departments will continue to occupy that sweet spot where they have the technology and mindset of soldiers in war zones, and very few restrictions on where they’re allowed to patrol.

On to the rest of the bad cops of the week:

- Another week, another example of cops killing a dog for no reason. A video from June 30 shows Hawthorne, California, police arresting 52-year-old Leon Rosby for obstructing their robbery investigation—Rosby had been filming the officers, who claimed he refused to turn down his car stereo—then killing Rosby’s Rottweiler, Max, after the dog jumped out of the car and approached the cops. The video is brutal, and the reaction to it was so heated, both in the community and online, that Rosby has requested that people stop sending death threats to the Hawthorne police department. (The officers involved have been taken off the streets for now.)

- There’s a lot of evidence to suggest police departments around the country need training to deal with dogs without shooting them. Meanwhile, cops are animal lovers when it comes to their own pets—note how an Indiana State Police dog killed on duty is being officially mourned this week as a beloved companion and a law-enforcement officer.

- St. Louis, Missouri, cop Rory Bruce was caught on video punching a handcuffed 16-year-old in the face back in February 2012 and fired from the force and charged with assault. So far so good, but last week Bruce was acquitted of all charges after the judge hearing his case refused to allow the footage as evidence, and reportedly didn’t even watch it. Bruce and the police officers’ union now say the former cop should get his job back.

- On Wednesday, a Massachusetts state police SWAT team fatally shot a 23-year-old man while serving a warrant for “alleged sales of oxycodone and Percocet.” Corey Navarette supposedly “confronted” police with his weapon, so one or more of them opened fire. Authorities were aware that Navarette was armed, but still choose to send a SWAT team to his door at 5 AM. A woman also named in the warrant suffered minor injuries.

Two Brazoria County, Texas, women filed a federal lawsuit against Texas state troopers who pulled them over for speeding and, after claiming to smell marijuana, gave them body-cavity searches. Nothing was found on the women’s persons, though a little weed was in the car. Officer Jennie Bui, who performed the search, allegedly without changing gloves, has been fired and the male officer who was present was suspended. (Yes, this is a different Texas-State-Troopers-perform-side-of-the-road-cavity-search lawsuit than the one we mentioned last week, though the cases are practically identical.)

- A Beckley, West Virginia, police seatbelt checkpoint lead to no seatbelt citations—but cops arrested five people and found enough marijuana, crack cocaine, and cash to no doubt make it worth their while.

- This week, almost 3 million people watched college student Chris Kalbaugh’s YouTube video of his Fourth of July confrontation with members of Tennessee's Rutherford County Sheriff's Department at a DUI checkpoint. In the (edited and editorializing) video, a deputy identified as A. J. Ross yells at Kalbaugh when he opens his window only a few inches, then asks if he’s being detained. The video—according to Kalbaugh’s interpretation—also shows the K-9 officer encouraging a false drug positive from his dog in order to make the search of his vehicle legal. The footage ends after cops find the camera during their search and turn it face-down.

- In Richmond County, Georgia, 28-year-old Matthew Haley claims that sheriff’s deputies arrested him for filming on a public street and refusing to provide his ID on June 2. On July 5, when Atlanta news channel WRDW took Haley out to film the sheriff’s office, deputies came out to again question Haley and to express some overwrought paranoia about terrorists who film public buildings.

- On Thursday, cops in Las Vegas locked down a whole neighborhood after reports of someone firing shots into the air. One arrest was made—and seven people were taken into custody—but no weapon was found.

- It’s understandable that reports of a suicidal woman with a gun would draw police to the scene, as it did in Odessa, Texas, on Saturday, but a SWAT team outside your door has got to be one of the least soothing things for the mentally distressed to see.

- Our Good Cop of the Week award goes to San Francisco police officer Matt Lobre, who saved an elderly woman from a house fire. This simple story is so wholesome and heartening, we may have to check if Lobre is really a 21st-century cop. That's some Frank Capra shit right there. 

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag

Previously: We’ll Need to See Some ID, Officer

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