Civil Liberties

St. Paul Cops Shoot Dog in Wrong-Door Raid, Force Handcuffed Kids to Sit Near the Corpse


A St. Paul, Minnesota family claims in a lawsuit that police officers who conducted a wrong-door raid on their home shot their dog, and then forced their three handcuffed children to sit near the dead pet while officers ransacked the home. The lawsuit, which names Ramsey County, the Dakota County Drug Task Force, and the DEA, and asks for $30 million in civil rights violations and punitive damages after a wrong-door raid, also claims that the officers kicked the children and deprived one of them of her diabetes medication. 

The suit also alleges that one of the lead officers with the task force "provided false information" in order to get a warrant to raid the Franco family's home. (That information being the Franco family's address, and not that of their supposedly criminal neighbor Rafael Ybarra.)

And boy, did Ybarra miss out on a horrific raid. Courthouse News reports:

But on the night of July 13, 2010, the task force broke down the Francos' doors, "negligently raided the home of plaintiffs, by raiding the wrong home and physically brutalizing all the above-named occupants of said house," the complaint states.

Even after learning that they were in the wrong house, the complaint states, the drug busters stayed in the Francos' home and kept searching it.

They "handcuffed all of the inhabitants of the plaintiffs' home except plaintiff Analese Franco who was forced, virtually naked, from her bed onto the floor at gunpoint by officers of the St. Paul Police Department SWAT team and officers of the St. Paul Police Department."

The complaint states: "Upon forcibly breaching the plaintiffs' home, defendants terrorized the plaintiffs at gun and rifle point.

"Each plaintiff was forced to the floor at gun and rifle point and handcuffed behind their backs.

"Defendants shot and killed the family dog and forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour while defendants continued to search the plaintiffs' home."

One child "was kicked in the side, handcuffed and searched at gunpoint," the family says.

Another child, a girl, "a diabetic, was handcuffed at gunpoint and prevented by officer from obtaining and taking her medication, thus induced a diabetic episode as a result of low-blood sugar levels."

Shawn Scovill of the taskforce may have raided the wrong house, but he didn't want to let the opportunity to rifle through someone's things go to waste. So he and his team ransacked the Franco house for over an hour, and managed to find a .22 caliber pistol in the "basement bedroom of Gilbert Castillo," which the suit says they attributed to the head of the Franco household, Roberto Franco. According to the suit, Franco was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, and remains behind bars. (If anyone can weigh in on the legal loophole that might allow evidence seized during a wrong-door raid to be used in court, please fill me in. Also, are Minnesota gun laws that strict?) 

Since the DEA is named in the suit, the Francos' legal team will likely find itself going head-to-head with Obama administration lawyers, who argued a similar case earlier this year before the Ninth Circuit. Short recap of the proceedings: The DOJ sought a summary dismissal of a lawsuit filed against seven DEA agents for their rough treatment of a family of four–mother, father, two very young daughters–during a wrong-door raid conducted during the Bush administration. The Ninth Circuit, denied the DOJ's request for a summary dismissal, and drew a bright line between how adults are treated during raids, and how children are treated during raids. 

So there's reason to hope that any request of a summary dismissal of the Francos' case (by local law or federal attorneys) won't fly based simply on allegations that the children were cuffed, kicked, deprived of medicine, and made to sit near their dead pet for an hour. But I don't think suing over the wrong-door aspect will get the Franco family very far, unless they can prove the mistake on the warrant was intentional and that the officers were aware of the address error before the raid was conducted.