Knocking on the wrong door can be embarrassing, but when the police knock on the wrong door, embarrassment does not adequately describe the reaction of the people who live in the house. When a sheriff’s office SWAT team executed a no-knock warrant on the wrong house in Labadieville in 2013, the result was an award of $90,000 in damages to the family whose home was wrongly entered. The award was recently affirmed by a Louisiana appellate court.
The state police obtained a search warrant in connection with the investigation of drug crimes that entitled it to enter a home without knocking or otherwise alerting the occupants. The warrant was signed by a judge and contained the address of the house that police intended to search. Unfortunately, the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s SWAT team executed the warrant using a verbal description of the target residence as “the second house on the right,” which was the wrong house. After police forced their way into the home, they hand-cuffed the two adults and four children. The father testified that he was afraid that burglars had entered his home and that he thought they intended to murder him, his wife and his children. The raid was halted when one of the officers recognized the father as a personal acquaintance and realized that police had entered the wrong house.
The family sued the Sheriff’s Office and the State Patrol. When the case was tried before a district court judge without a jury, the court awarded the family damages of $90,000. The Sheriff’s Office appealed the ruling, but it was recently affirmed by a panel of the state appellate court in Baton Rouge.
This case demonstrates once again that police make mistakes in executing warrants and taking people into custody. Such mistakes can often lead to a judgment of acquittal when the defendant is represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to use police errors to exclude damaging testimony.
Source: The Advocate, “Decision upheld: Louisiana family awarded $90K after SWAT ‘no-knock’ raid conducted at wrong house,” Joe Gyan, Jr., Dec. 27, 2017