7/22/2010 - Posted by:
Spinella & Associates
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Fighting For Victims of Drug War Home Invasions by Police

It is beyond argument that the Fourth Amendment has been subjected to a slow and continuous erosion over the last several decades. Once a proud cornerstone of individual liberty little remains with one significant exception: the right to be free of unconstitutional search and seizure in the family homestead. Unfortunately, even this last stronghold has been subjected to a powerful bombardment in the guise of the so-called “War on Drugs.” This largely politically driven campaign has resulted in the investment of billions of dollars of public funds on a futile campaign to extinguish the victimless crime of solitary drug use by way of massive imprisonment, for the most part focused on a class of indigent minorities. A victimless activity, the consequence of social despair and medical pathology, has been made criminal resulting in the incarceration of millions of people. The result has been the creation of an American Gulag. I will leave the underlying motives for this social strategy to others. From my lowly perspective I only have this to tell - police departments across the land have been bulked up with billions of dollars worth of forfeitures and anti-terrorist funding that has created a class of police warriors dressed up in real life Desert Storm armor looking for crime in every suburban by-way. The result is a war on suburban America, with no middle class Mom and Pop and Buddy and Sis safe in their suburban homestead. This is a category of case best set-forth in an investigatory novel. Suffice it to say that as private attorneys we have been asked to review and prosecute hundreds of cases involving suburban families who have been subjected to home invasions by police authorities who have entered their homes, often without warrant or probable cause, and subsequently subjected the inhabitants to unjustifiable acts of brutality. Equally disturbing, many of these invasions have been preceded by invasions of privacy that would make any totalitarian government proud. If you live in suburban America and think that your garbage is safe from police officers roaming your street in vans in the dead of night you are wrong; if you think the electric lines leading to your home are safe from police officers or proxies examining your electricity flow you are wrong; if you think you are safe from law enforcement officials examining your home from the ground or car to obtain your heat or energy imprint you are wrong. And once inside your home, with or without probable cause, you or your family are not secure from physical harm. The following is offered only as one illustrative example of the numerous cases involving police home invasions either handled or reviewed by our office. It is a case involving the following usual elements in this category: a suburban police force funded by the “war on drugs”; a secretive regional task force comprised of select officers chosen from area police department; and a mandate to bring drug-use arrests by means of tactics that push the envelope of constitutional validity involving wholesale invasion of the sphere of protected, private conduct, the inventory of private curbside garbage being a single illustrative example. . II. Case Description This is a 1997 case that is illustrative of numerous similar cases previous to this date and subsequent, continuing to the present (for reasons of confidentiality the client, a successful businessman and suburban homeowner with a thriving family will be described as the “Plaintiff.”) At around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of February 13, 1997, at least eight members of a certain Municipal Narcotics Task Force comprised on members of several area police departments stormed the plaintiff’s home to execute a search warrant looking for suspected drug use by one of the plaintiff’s teenaged sons. The search warrant in this case was based on the alleged statements of an uncorroborated source, along with marijuana seeds and related items allegedly seized without warrant from the Plaintiff’s garbage situated on his property, during garbage sweeps conducted in the early hours of the morning on January 26, 1997 and February 2, 1997. The Plaintiff and his wife had been asleep upstairs. Their sons, then ages 18 and 11, were also asleep upstairs along with their 17 year old son who was asleep downstairs. Two members of this task force charged upstairs to the plaintiff’s bathroom, where the plaintiff was cleaning his dentures, preparing to join his wife, who had let the officers in downstairs. While one of the officers watched, the other one lunged at the plaintiff, slamming him against the sink, forcefully yanking his right arm down behind his back causing him to drop toward the floor, and, after he groaned in pain, up toward his neck. He then proceeded to handcuff the plaintiff, with assistance from a second officer, who had observed the entire incident. As a result of these actions the Plaintiff received severe and permanent injuries to his upper right arm and neck area. The Plaintiff (who had prior right shoulder surgery) complained repeatedly that he was injured, initially and throughout the search. He was subsequently escorted down the stairs to the family room, along with his sons, and kept handcuffed in the living room for up to three hours, while writhing in pain in front of his wife and his three children. During the occupation of their house, the Plaintiff’s family were ordered not to speak. Their youngest son, then age 17, who was ill with mononucleosis and sleeping in the basement in his deceased brother’s former room, apart from the rest of the family, was awoken at gunpoint. He was also handcuffed, after being shoved to the floor, and then left to sit, petrified, with the other family members, in nothing but his underwear, while handcuffed, for approximately forty minutes (at which time he was provided with a blanket) as the house was ransacked. No charges were ever brought against the Plaintiff who was ridiculed and refused medical attention throughout the affair. Our office took depositions of all the individual officers and their sergeant, each of whom denied any memory of the actual handcuffing of the Plaintiff while also claiming, incongruously, that whomever did it was not at fault. Suit was brought under the Federal Civil Rights Statutes claiming the search itself lacked probable cause for two essential reasons. First, there was a supposed informant who was not registered, and whose reliability was never verified, as required. Second, trash sweeps were performed of trash located entirely on the Plaintiff’s property. As such, the trash was not abandoned and could not therefore be legally searched. In addition, the Plaintiff was arrested since he was handcuffed and thereby held against his will although he never resisted or presented a threat to anyone. Moreover, the arrest was effectuated without probable cause, especially within the context of a Gestapo like three hour long search of the Plaintiff’s residence where he was never a target. It was clearly unlawful. Moreover, subsequent to the incident, several of the named defendant police officers continued to harass all three of the Plaintiff’s children by threatening to arrest them and intimidating them on numerous occasions. The plaintiff suffered enormous physical harm. He complained from the onset of a searing radiating pain traveling from his neck into his right upper extremity; ultimately his injuries proved to be severe, disabling, and life altering. Specifically, his injuries and their sequalae, as per his physician’s reports, included: Progressive biceps tear and related atrophy of the biceps, in his right upper arm, eventually resulting in the total “dropping” of the biceps muscle and continued repetitive cramping and “knotting up” of the right biceps muscle; partial tearing of the rotator cuff in his right shoulder; loss of the long head of the biceps and displacement of the biceps tendon in his right upper arm requiring attempted “tenodesis” or reconnecting of the tendon, which was unsuccessful; traction (pulling) injury to the brachial plexus (lower cervical nerves) of the right extremity; permanent cervical spine injury; serious compromise of the radial nerve in the triceps areas of his upper right arm; atrophy of the right triceps muscle; constant and severe burning and radiating neck and shoulder pain; repeated and prolonged sleeplessness, stress, anxiety and depression; nocturnal paresthesias of the right shoulder, elbow, arm and wrist, leading to waking up repeatedly at night, even to this day; seriously diminished fine motor movements and dexterity in his right extremity including limited ability to write and handle small tools and objects; and, profound right elbow and arm weakness due to the triceps and disk problems, thereby making it difficult to lift things or raise his arm above horizontal. The Plaintiff underwent two surgeries. First, an arthroscopic subacromial decompression surgery on August 15, 1997. During that surgery, additional injuries were discovered including a biceps tendon tear, which was at least 50% of the tendon interarticular. The biceps tendon was initially frayed but not torn; that it was like a “rope over a rock” which progressively worsened and eventually tore over time; that the reported action of the police officers of yanking the Plaintiff’s right arm back forcefully was entirely consistent with the injury to his upper right arm; that he was certain that such trauma caused the injury, which did not exist in previous x-rays taken after the prior shoulder surgery. The doctor confirmed a partial tearing of the supra-spinatus and infra-spinatus rotator cuff. The Plaintiffs’ biceps was caused to permanently “hang” from his upper arm, in a fashion sometimes referred to by the use of the colloquial term “Popeye’s Disease” . The Plaintiff was 54 years of age when it happened, had owned a successful automobile dealership and mechanical and body repair shop for approximately twenty-five years, at which he worked night and day, six or seven days per week. He was actively involved in operating his business on a day-to-day basis, which involved much hands on physical labor including diagnosing damage to automobiles and a good deal of heavy lifting, physical work and writing, in addition to years of acquired expertise. In fact, he thrived in such an interactive environment, as he had his entire work life. The Plaintiff soon discovered he was unable to perform even the most basic physical activities for the first time in his life. Consequently, he was forced to sell his business assets (instead of relocating it to the suburbs as was his previous plan) and obtain employment as a car salesman. It cannot be emphasized enough the profound and enduring impact this unlawful police invasion had on him, and on his entire family. The Plaintiff spent his life as a devoted, hard-working law abiding citizen who prided himself in supporting his family, and who respected the police. Extensive effort was made to substantiate the Plaintiff’s claim by reliance on multiple expert witnesses and extensive depositions and other discovery. Ultimately the claim was resolved prior to jury verdict. The terms and conditions of disposition are confidential. The essential point is that no amount can adequately compensate government trespass on individual liberty when it rises to the level of this case; that of a criminal invasion of military proportion violating the sanctity of the home.
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