Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Court Revives Claim Over Warrantless Police Entry
But Panel Says Shooting of Dog Did Not Violate ‘Familial Association’ Right
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Members and friends of a Las Vegas family are entitled to a trial on their claims that police violated their Fourth Amendment rights by entering the family home without a warrant, holding three teenage plaintiffs at gunpoint, and shooting and killing the family dog, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The panel overturned rulings by a district judge in favor of the defendants. The plaintiffs, the court said, established a prima facie case that the officers lacked probable cause to enter the home of Jesus Rodriguez Sandoval and family, based on suspicion that the house was being burglarized.
Nor, the court said, did the evidence establish a right to qualified immunity.
The ruling was not a complete victory for the plaintiffs, however, as the panel held that the dog, a pit bull named Hazel, was not a family member in the legal sense, precluding the claim that his killing breached a right of “familial association” inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The judges also held that the Metropolitan Police Department could not be held liable because there was no showing that any constitutional violation was the result of a department policy.
The case stems from a 2009 raid that police said was precipitated by a 911 call from a neighbor. The tipster said there had been a number of home burglaries in the area and claimed to have seen two 18-to-20-year-old white males jumping fences and looking through windows.
Police Sgt. Jay Roberts, according to his deposition testimony, came to the house and saw three Hispanic males—Sandoval’s son, Henry Rodriguez, then 18; Jordhy Leal, then 16; and David Madueno, then 15—playing video games, watching TV and listening to music.
According to the plaintiffs’ testimony, Roberts did not ask the boys who they were or what they were doing there. Instead, he pointed his gun through a bedroom window, and gave conflicting commands, including to turn the music down.
When one of the boys tried to do just that, he testified, Roberts threatened to shoot him.
While Roberts was holding the boys at gunpoint, Officer Michael Dunn entered the house. He testified that a change in the tone of Roberts’ voice convinced him he needed backup.
Roberts then ordered the boys out of the bedroom, they testified, refusing to allow Henry to put the dog away. When the dog slipped in front of two of the boys as they exited the bedroom, David later testified, Dunn shot the dog in the face, just inches from the boys, then handcuffed the other boys while Henry held the dog as she bled to death.
When Henry asked an officer to call the animal hospital, the officer said, “if you don’t shut the f—- up, I’m going to let your dog die right there,” according to testimony.
Sandoval and his 12-year-old daughter said they arrived home to find the boys on his front lawn. Henry was covered in blood, but when Sandoval moved toward him, police grabbed the father and handcuffed him.
The officers allegedly treated Sandoval roughly despite his warning that he had recently had major back surgery.
They eventually left the scene without charging anyone with a crime.
U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones dismissed the claims, but the appellate panel reversed, saying that the testimony did not establish probable cause or any other exception to the warrant requirement.
Judge M. Margaret McKeown, writing for the court, said the tip did not give officers the right to enter the home without a warrant, given that there were no signs of a burglary and house was occupied by three minor Hispanics, not two young white adults as referred to by the tipster.
“The officers gathered no information to suggest that the boys were on the premises illegally,” the judge said. “Indeed, neither the physical signs at the scene nor the boys’ behavior - sitting on a bed, watching television, listening to music, and playing video games-was consistent with a burglary in progress. In fact, the officers observed open doors and open windows which they described as consistent with residential use. The officers had no basis, either at the moment they breached the curtilage or at the moment Dunn entered the house, to conclude that the boys had violated any laws.”
There is also considerable evidence that the officers used undue force, the panel concluded.
“Taken in the light most favorable to the Sandovals, the evidence reflects that the boys complied with the officers’ commands at all times; that the officers detained Henry despite what they concede was his full compliance outside the house and despite their knowledge that he had committed no crime; and that, by the time Sandoval returned home, the officers knew or had come to assume that Henry lived in the home and that none of the boys had been in the house illegally.”
The case is Sandoval v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, 12-15654.
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