Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Has The Henderson Nevada Police Gone Insane?

Police officer breaking in a door (© Photofusion/Rex Features)Before getting into this story, allow me to tell you about a few officers who I still call my friends.

About 35 years ago, I worked with many police departments in the San Francisco Bay Area while I was in the security field.

I knew officers back then who would take a child-molester or someone selling drugs to children, and talk to them off the record and bend the law - maybe even use physically persuasion - to get them and other scum to leave town and seek green pastures elsewhere.

It didn't bother me if those low-lives were sent to Oakland or San Francisco where drug dealers and pedophiles and pimps fit in better with those perspective cesspools.

Those were social criminals, and I really didn't care how social criminals - scum who were determined on bringing their brand of filth to a city - were treated by the police or over zealous security. 

As wrong as it might have been legally, back then there was always a very well defined line that wasn't crossed.

The line dealt with "civilians," those folks who were not criminals and not law enforcement.

Law abiding citizens simply weren't treated in the same manner as were the scum.  After all, they were the ones the officers swore an oath "to protect and serve."

The Henderson Nevada Police Department crossed the line a few years ago, and now there is a lawsuit taking them to task over their improper actions.  

A Nevada family is suing the city of Henderson, Nevada, for violating their Third Amendment rights — the Constitutional prohibition against quartering soldiers in a private home during peacetime without the owner’s consent.

The Mitchell family says that’s essentially what happened when Henderson police allegedly arrested them for refusing to let officers use their homes for a “tactical advantage” in a domestic violence investigation into a neighbor, according to an official complaint.

Please understand, we're not talking about a police standoff with armed fugitives. Instead, we're talking a police department that wants a better view to gather evidence in a domestic violence investigation.

One situation would be an emergency, what they were doing wasn't an emergency!

Police officers contacted Anthony Mitchell on July 10, 2011, with a request to use his house as a lookout while investigating his neighbor.

When Mitchell told police that he did not wish to be involved, the complaint alleges, police decided they would use the residence anyway.

Imagine that! The police essentially said screw you, we're using your home in this routine investigation whether the homeowner likes it or not.

According to Courthouse News Service, the police department decided that if Mitchell refused to leave or open the door, officers would force their way in and arrest him.

Mitchell claims this is exactly what happened.

First officers “smashed open” Mitchell’s door with a “metal ram” after he did not
immediately open it himself.

The complaint states: "The officers banged forcefully on the door and loudly commanded Anthony Mitchell to open the door to his residence.

"Surprised and perturbed, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell immediately called his mother (plaintiff Linda Mitchell) on the phone, exclaiming to her that the police were beating on his front door.

"Seconds later, officers, including Officer Rockwell, smashed open plaintiff Anthony Mitchell's front door with a metal ram as plaintiff stood in his living room.

"As plaintiff Anthony Mitchell stood in shock, the officers aimed their weapons at Anthony Mitchell and shouted obscenities at him and ordered him to lie down on the floor.

"Fearing for his life, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell dropped his phone and prostrated himself onto the floor of his living room, covering his face and hands.

"Addressing plaintiff as 'asshole', officers, including Officer Snyder, shouted conflicting orders at Anthony Mitchell, commanding him to both shut off his phone, which was on the floor in front of his head, and simultaneously commanding him to 'crawl' toward the officers.

"Confused and terrified, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell remained curled on the floor of his living room, with his hands over his face, and made no movement.

"Although plaintiff Anthony Mitchell was lying motionless on the ground and posed no threat, officers, including Officer David Cawthorn, then fired multiple 'pepperball' rounds at plaintiff as he lay defenseless on the floor of his living room. Anthony Mitchell was struck at least three times by shots fired from close range, injuring him and causing him severe pain." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Officers then arrested him for obstructing a police officer, searched the house and moved furniture without his permission and set up a place in his home for a lookout," Mitchell says in the complaint.

He says they also hurt his pet dog for no reason whatsoever:

"Plaintiff Anthony Mitchell's pet, a female dog named 'Sam,' was cowering in the corner when officers smashed through the front door. Although the terrified animal posed no threat to officers, they gratuitously shot it with one or more pepperball rounds. The panicked animal howled in fear and pain and fled from the residence. Sam was subsequently left trapped outside in a fenced alcove without access to water, food, or shelter from the sun for much of the day, while temperatures outside soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit."

Police took Anthony and Michael Mitchell to jail and booked them for obstructing an officer.

They were jailed for at least nine hours before they bailed out, they say in the complaint. All criminals charged were dismissed with prejudice.

They claim the defendants filed the baseless criminal charges "to provide cover for defendants' wrongful actions, to frustrate and impede plaintiffs' ability to seek relief for those actions, and to further intimidate and retaliate against plaintiffs."

None of the officers were ever subjected to official discipline or even inquiry, the complaint states.

Understand that he then "curled on the floor of his living room, with his hands over his face," as the police shot Mitchell and his dog — which the family claims did not attack the officers — several times with "pepperball" rounds.

Pepperball is a projectile containing chemical irritant pepper spray, which is released upon impact.

Afterward, Mitchell was arrested for “obstructing a police officer.”

The ordeal didn’t end there.

Anthony Mitchell’s parents, Michael and Linda, were also neighbors to the home where police officers suspected domestic violence, so the police wanted to use their home as well.

Michael Mitchell was invited to a local police command center to assist “in negotiating the surrender of the neighboring suspect.”

But upon arriving at the commander center, the elder Mitchell was informed that the negotiations wouldn’t be taking place, the complaint says.

Yes, it was all a lie! And when Michael Mitchell decided to leave, he was also arrested.

The elder Mitchell’s wife was not arrested, but she was roughly escorted from her home while other officers entered the house without permission, the complaint alleges.

The family claims that when she was allowed to return, “the cabinets and closet doors throughout the house had been left open and their contents moved about…

Even the refrigerator door had been left ajar, and mustard and mayonnaise had been left on their kitchen floor.”

The charges against both the father and the son were dismissed.

Third Amendment lawsuits are rare.

The case Engblom v. Carey is the only major court decision concerning the amendment.

It resulted from a lawsuit filed by striking New York corrections officers who were evicted from employee housing to make room for National Guardsmen who were performing their functions during the strike.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the corrections officers in 1982.

For the Mitchell family, it didn’t end at Anthony Mitchell’s house in suburban Las Vegas, the complaint continues.

Believe it or not, as completely insane as it sounds, that same day, the officers also took over the home of Mitchell’s parents, Linda and Michael Mitchell, who live in the same neighborhood and are named as plaintiffs.

Now the focus is on whether the Mitchell's Third Amendment strategy can work, considering the courts would have to consider the "police officers as soldiers."

The Third Amendment states: "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

"I’m confident the Mitchells have a good case," said Frank Cofer, a partner in the firm Cofer, Geller & Durham LLC representing the plaintiffs.

Cofer told FoxNews.com that what struck him about the case was the officers’ "use of military-style tactics."

"And after entering the houses, they drank water, ate food, enjoyed the air conditioning," he said. "That struck me as quartering."

The suit alleges that, at the parents' house, police lured Michael Mitchell from his home to a nearby "command center" by saying they needed him to get the neighbor involved in the domestic violence case to surrender.

When officers began to backpedal, Mitchell eventually attempted to leave, which resulted in him being handcuffed and eventually charged with obstructing an officer.

Police then returned to Mitchells' house where they allegedly yanked wife Linda from the premises after she refused to let them in without a warrant

She was not arrested, and police have dropped all charges against the family.

However, the Mitchells are still suing for an undisclosed sum, saying their rights as citizens were violated under the Third Amendment -- as well as the Fourth and 14th amendments -- and that the incident resulted in physical injury, malicious destruction of property and "extreme emotional distress."

Anthony and Michael also had to pay a bond to secure their release, the suit alleges.

John Yoo, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s law school, wasn't so sure about the family's argument.

He said the Mitchells may have claims under other federal and state laws "but their chances are very, very low on the Third Amendment."

Professor Yoo, a visiting scholar for the American Enterprise Institute and former Justice Department official, told FoxNews.com in their report of what took place that the most difficult challenge for the Mitchells is that there were no "soldiers" in their house, before the court gets into the question of whether "quartering" occurred.

"Local police on law enforcement missions are not soldiers," he said.

But he asserts,  "Nevada should compensate the Mitchells’ for the temporary use of their home and for any damages caused in the operation."

Others see this as an important case regarding Constitutional Law since police departments which have been traditionally "para-military organizations" have of late become more and more abusive of their police powers.

And yes, military of sorts in dress, equipment, weapons, tactics, and overall conduct.

From bloused boots to military style so-called tactical fatigues, while not of a caliber of the United States Marine Corps, more and more police departments are indeed attempting to adopt the persona of wannabe soldiers.

And no, before you write, I don't know why a policeman or woman would want to look like a soldier instead of wanting to look like a cop?

Yes, the days of policemen looking like a policemen are gone in many places.

Anthony Mitchell and his parents Michael and Linda Mitchell are suing the City of Henderson, its Police Chief Jutta Chambers, Officers Garret Poiner, Ronald Feola, Ramona Walls, Angela Walker, and Christopher Worley, and City of North Las Vegas and its Police Chief Joseph Chronister, in Federal Court.

The suit also alleges both police departments "developed and maintained policies and/or customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the Constitutional rights of United States citizens, which caused the violations of the plaintiffs’ rights."

I have always supported Police Departments. I've always had a lot of respect for good cops.

But wrong is wrong, and the Henderson Police Department in Nevada is made up of some officers who have very questionable ethics.

When you hear someone say that you're exaggerating what the police are capable of doing when it comes to bending the law to fit their purposes, use as an example the Henderson Nevada Police.

Ask them if they heard of the Mitchell family who were forced from their home without warrant during a non-emergency situation, were handcuffed and arrested, restrained and humiliated, who had their home -- their home -- violated by strangers who knew very well that what they were doing was wrong.

And there's the other part of this story, maybe the bigger part of this story, it has to do with our trust in the law enforcement around us.

We trust them to know the difference between right and wrong and not cross that line.

The line they crossed was treating law abiding citizens in the same manner they would criminals and scum.

They broke the trust of those who those officers swore an oath to "protect and serve."

I believe Money Magazine ranked the city of Henderson in Nevada as number 66 of the top 100 Best Places to Live - America's Best Small Cities in 2012.

They praised the city of 263,300, when they wrote:

"For a city in the desert, Henderson takes parks very seriously: the town is connected by 65 miles of trails, and its award-winning parks and recreation department is working toward a goal of having a neighborhood park within a half mile of all city residents. Henderson's budget dipped in the downturn, but no services were cut thanks to a rainy-day fund and sustainability efforts that save $2 million a year. With affordable homes and no state income tax, the town is popular with young families and retirees alike. --E.R."

They left out an out of hand police department!

Imagine if Anthony Mitchell had put up more resistance and fought back to protest what was taking place or to protect his home from the armed forced eviction by those overzealous officers?

He's actually very fortunate that he didn't.

Would the City of Henderson, the City Police Department, its Police Chief, the 5 unprofessional officers involved, or the North Las Vegas Police Department, have gave a damn if they used deadly force and killed Anthony Mitchell in the process of him defending his home or his wife or parents?

Instead of shooting him with pepperballs, would those running the city have cared if he had somehow died in the process of restraining him?

In my opinion, I don't think they would have cared.

Story by Tom Correa

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