Militarization of Police

Court to Police: No Immunity Just Because You're Cops

Botched raid resulted in a $3.5 million settlement.


Gonzalo Guizan
Family photo

On a Sunday afternoon in 2008, a tactical police team raided the Easton, Connecticut house of Ronald Terebesi searching for a small amount of personal drugs. While by day's end the police discovered drug paraphernalia and 0.02 ounces of a substance believed to be crack cocaine, an officer also killed Terebesi's unarmed guest, Gonzalo Guizan (pictured), by discharging his Glock sidearm six times until the weapon finally jammed.

Guizan's estate and Terebesi filed civil suits against the officers in the raid, although the estate later settled out of court for $3.5 million. The tactical team—called SWERT for Southwest Regional Emergency Response Team—was composed of police officers from six different towns. The defendants, all of whom either planned or participated in the raid, requested summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the district court for the most part denied (the court agreed police had lawfully acquired the search warrant and dismissed failure-to-train claims against the town chiefs). The defendants appealed.

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District affirmed most of the lower court's denial of summary judgment and remanded the case.

To refresh your memory—I know, all these police shootings blur together—Easton is an upscale town on Connecticut's Gold Coast, population 7,500, rural and wooded with almost no commercial development (you have to drive to a neighboring town to buy a gallon of milk). There had been a number of incidents at Terebesi's house prior to the raid: a 911 call from a lady friend of Terebesi's resulted in police finding him passed out on the couch with a loaded gun and glass pipes; someone blasted a shotgun through the windows of his house (at least one man, an associate of an exotic dancer who claimed Terebesi raped her, was later charged). Neighbors complained of noise and traffic. On the morning of May 18, 2008, another exotic dancer named Chandra Pankov (described as "extremely thin, her teeth heavily decayed and her eyes glassy and dilated, according to the police report"), told police she felt a responsibility to inform on people doing drugs, and said she witnessed Guizan smoke some mysterious substance at Terebesi's house. Based on this, Easton police chief John Solomon activated the SWERT team to serve a search warrant.

SWERT officers devised a plan wherein a team of three (the "rake-and-break" squad) would break a rear window of the house and deploy two DefTech 25 flashbangs while a separate front-entry team would perform a "dynamic entry:" the officers would knock on the front door, identify themselves, batter down the door if necessary, deploy another flashbang, enter the house, and restrain anyone they found. Minority opinions among the team that alternative methods could be employed for serving the warrant went ignored. Beyond "Terebesi's perhaps unusually intense ardor for his pet bird," the Appeals Court noted that police had no reason to believe Terebesi was violent, and regardless police did not seek a "no-knock" warrant, with several officers explicitly saying they believed the knock-and-announce rule was in effect.

Here's a video of the raid. You don't see much except trees—the important part is the audio. The window breaks at 1:06 and by 1:20, the bullets have stopped and Guizan is either dead or dying.

From the Appeals Court's decision (PDF):

The defendants assert that Officer Gregg Lee checked to see whether the door was locked, knocked on the door and announced the officers' presence, and then waited several seconds for the occupants to respond before Officer Todd Edwards breached the door. …  But the plaintiffs pointed out that only 7.194 seconds elapsed between the detonation of the second stun grenade, which was thrown from the rear of the house, and the detonation of the third stun grenade, which would have been thrown by the front?entry team after breaching the door. … Because a stun grenade takes 1.5 seconds to detonate, the plaintiffs argued, the front entry team had only 5.694 seconds to open the screen door, check to see whether Terebesi's door was locked, knock, announce, wait for a response, breach the door, look inside the room, and then throw a stun grenade.

Michael Sweeney, the lead officer into the house and the man who shot Guizan, said he felt something strike his shoes and believed he was being fired upon and returned fire. It has been suggested that what Sweeney actually felt was the explosion of the third flashbang—and that in any event, throwing a grenade in front of your own officers is perhaps contrary to their interests.

The Appeals Court affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment on every point save one: that because "there is no clearly established right in this Circuit to be free from the deployment of a tactical team in general," Solomon was within his rights to activate the SWERT team in the first place (the town of Easton, probably upon reviewing their insurance premiums after the settlement with Guizan's estate, appears to have disagreed: Solomon's contract was not renewed and he was shown the door). But on every other count the court tilted in Terebesi's favor, noting that the use of stun grenades, being pinned by the officers' shields, the poor planning and approval of the raid, and even the failure of officers to intervene to stop it are constitutional grounds for a trial.

Read the full decision here.

NEXT: Jacob Sullum on the Promiscuous Use of SWAT Teams in a Literalized War on Drugs

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  1. Michael Sweeney, the lead officer into the house and the man who shot Guizan, said he felt something strike his shoes and believed he was being fired upon and returned fire.

    Panic fire.

    1. Panic fire.

      Civilian cops, so it goes without saying.

    2. I don't ever recall being fired upon and there being some sort of ambiguity about it. It's pretty obvious, really. The loud noise and musical zing of a bit of metal that only misspelled your name by a letter or two is a glaring tip-off. You'd think that a brave hero that goes to war every day would be a little more in touch with the finer points. So odd.

      1. He's never been to war, and is anything but brave if 'something touching his boot' makes him panic fire.

        1. Your ability to detect sarcasm needs some work.

          1. My Model 82 Sarcasm Detector needs new parts. Problem is, the voltage is too high for parts from newer models, and it's incompatable with parts from older models, so it's hard to repair.

      2. Yes. DwT is correct. When someone starts shooting at you there is no mistaking it, no question in your mind. Lee is full of shit.

    3. First off I am NO Glock fan (Sig all the way), BUT, to get a Glock 9mm to jam from simply firing tells me three things:
      A. The weapon has probably not been maintained.
      B. The ammo may be substandard (not likely given how much they purchase and from whom).
      C. This dude was mashing that trigger in a shitless scared spray. I wonder if there is urine and feces on the floor where the officer was standing.

      1. A. Correct
        B. Also correct
        C. Undoubtedly. Most likely.

        You get an Ordnance Corps crest for 100% spot on analysis.

        1. *Salutes the Swissy*

          *pins crest to chest sans shirt*

          What I really want is the Troll Slayer Cross.

      2. Correct, and also, D: limp-wristing. Every little bit (and I mean he only had a little bit) of weapons training he'd ever had was lost in his panic.

        You're completely wrong about Glocks, though. Glock perfection.

        1. You're completely wrong about Glocks, though. Glock perfection.

          Glocks are ok, but I am a fan of the FNP-45. Wife likes the HK-45 Compact.

          1. You and yours have expensive (but good) tastes in guns. I love .45s.

            1. Fairly new here.
              Delighted--combination witty libertarian repartee AND gun talk?
              Count me in, please.

              And, hat-tip to the 45 USP. My tiny-wristed 110lb wife is quite deadly with it.

              I, too, favor Glock: Combat Tupperware.

        2. Glocks are like those wooden cutout guns with the rubber bands that shoot spitballs...I would show you a picture and it would be funny but this is Reason not 4chan.

          1. but this is Reason not 4chan.


        3. Yes, limp-wristing while pissing pants is what I thought also.

          On the other hand Warty, you are wrong about Glocks. Just so wrong.

      3. My first reaction on reading this article was "how the fuck did they get a Glock to jam after 6 rounds?"

        1. All I could think is "how much donut debris did Officer Panic Fire have in that pistol???"

          1. Most cops get powder burns from eating hot doughnuts.

        2. He never cleaned it once after training, and he probably limp-wristed it like a ballerina on muscle relaxers.

      4. Not to mention that he should have been trained in how to tap-rack-bang clear that malfunction. What a clown.

        1. Yes but: Officer Safety Says, die!
          Infuriating that one might be at the mercy of one of these clowns one day.

          Note to self--install burglar bars.

      5. Glock Fan Boy all the way.

        I do...however...own a Sig Sauer Mosquito to train people (mainly women with weaker wrists).

        Sorry...I mean I did own a Sig Sauer. I don't own any guns anymore. I lost them all in a tragic and convenient boating accident.

        1. I lost them all in a tragic and convenient boating accident.

          On the ocean. Over the deepest trench. Above a geothermal vent. That leads to another dimension.

          1. Very Pacific Rim of you.

      6. Limp-wrist, limp-dick, limp-brain.

        It takes a lot to FTF a glocknade.

  2. If there is a SWAT team or other group of officers whose actions result in an out of court settlement exceeding a certain monetary amount, they should all lose their jobs and be placed on a Federal Watch List of people who are never allowed to serve in Law Enforcement again.

    1. That thresdhold should be $1.

      The officer can opt to contribute towards the payment of the settlement out of pocket to avoid the no-hire list. But the existence of the settlement should be grounds for termination and a matter of public record regardless of how much comes out of the officer's own pocket.

      1. Better yet, force the municipality to put a lein on any and all property of an officer which caused them to have to pay out. They can forfeit the misbehaving officers' assets to fund the settlement(s).

        1. Better yet, force the municipality to put a lein on any and all property of an officer which caused them to have to pay out. They can forfeit the misbehaving officers' assets to fund the settlement(s).

          I like the way you think UnCivilServant. Nice nom de blog.

  3. he felt something strike his shoes

    Urine, more likely than not.

    1. Definitely not his dick

    2. Damn you P Brooks! Get out of my head!

  4. I think requiring liability insurance for LEOs would not be an impossible battle to fight. I'm almost as sick of taxpayers getting the bill for their bullshit as I am about the thuggery itself.

    1. And I would self immolate in protest, if my Swiss masters decided to underwrite GL policies for police departments.

      1. And I would self immolate in protest, if my Swiss masters decided to underwrite GL policies for police departments.

        Why, I think the premiums should be quite high. Especially if the cops or the unions had to pay them, it would be nice that taxpayers would get a break.

        1. If anyone has to pay the premiums, it should be the individual cops as part of their vetting to be permitted to serve. That way they get a direct feedback and incentive not be be a destructive dick.

          1. They'll get higher salaries as a result.

            In any case the cost will be pushed off on the taxpayer. 🙁

            1. So how, exactly, is this NOT going to end up costing the taxpayer?

        2. I am in Risk Management, and my first thought is "you cannot get enough premium" - you would have to set it up as a front, the cops would have to have departments band together to reinsure above that, set up a captive, something other than a traditional policy arrangement.

          Look at Chicago PD - they have had to settle $500M in the past decade. The city had an entire bond issue just to refill the coffers because of police misconduct.

          1. $500 million / 12,000 employees / 120 months = $350/mo

            I'm pretty sure cops are paid more than $350/mo, and I'm also pretty sure they'd feel the bite of that pretty well (no new car for you!).

            Of course, they'd get a $500/mo raise to go with it, so it's all a pipe dream anyway.

  5. I think requiring liability insurance for LEOs would not be an impossible battle to fight.

    It might be a good start, but I assume the next round of bargaining would hinge on the municipality picking up the tab for each individual cop's premiums.

    Because, you know, fairness. And professionalism.

  6. So can these individual officers be sued and held criminally and financially accountable by a court now?

    You know, like how a Common Law legal system of a Free Country should operate.

    1. This was my question, it looked to me like the cops have perfect immunity, the only person without immunity is the tax payer who must pay the settlement.

      If the cops don't lose their job, are not tried criminally, are not tried in civil court personally, then how exactly are they liable for anything?

      Payment by guilty conscience? Ha, ha, ha, OMG, I'm chocking on my own laughter or crying, I can't tell which.


    1. My exact and only thoughts.

  8. Well of course the kangaroo courts are going to side with the police. Did anyone expect otherwise?

    1. This upgraded Anonbot gives me the creeps.

  9. The war on drugs is clearly the biggest clusterfuck in US civil history. Every branch of civilian government is involved, and every branch of civilian government bears responsibility.

    Certainly the pigs are directly involved, and deserve a huge share of the blame. However, it is facile to put the blame on a gang of guys who have been thoroughly indoctrinated by the state and intentionally selected based upon their unquestioning willingness to obey orders. These guy are just soldiers in the war on drugs.

    Certainly the state's attorneys, with their incentives to rack up easy convictions, are directly involved, and deserve a huge share of the blame as well. But these are the junior officers of the war on drugs, and are predictably responding to the incentives created by the war on drugs.

    The blame for the atrocities of a literal war does not usually fall on the enlisted men and junior officers, but upon the generals and the politicians.

    1. It is the judiciary that does not get its fair share of blame in the war on drugs. Judges are supposed to be the adults in the room. An individual judge signed the warrant to authorize this assault. Yet this judge is seldom named and shamed for his responsibility in the murder -- and yes it is murder -- of Ronald Terebesi.

      If judges were to bear their fair share of the blame for such atrocities, it is possible that at least some would become a less of a rubber stamp in issuing warrants. Publicizing the name and track history of judges connected with such murders might help.

      1. The analogy of the government organization to a criminal organization is apt, with it's layers of participants, from street thugs to crime bosses. We tend to focus on the JBTs, but DA's, Judges, Bureaucrats, Drug War Positive Electorate, and Elected Officials all share culpability and have blood on their hands.

      2. an officer also killed Terebesi's unarmed guest, Gonzalo Guizan

        Terebesi wasn't the one who was murdered, it was his unarmed house guest.

        1. Otherwise known as "Police Violence Victim #2,546,198".

      3. Judges are nothing but the most odorous turd to float to the top of the legal cesspool.

        They are typically pure psychopathic parasites, nothing with a brain nor conscience could constantly steal and do nothing but evil in return like they do.

  10. The city had an entire bond issue just to refill the coffers because of police misconduct.

    What's the coupon rate on Police Misconduct Bonds?

  11. Michael Sweeney, the lead officer into the house and the man who shot Guizan, said he felt something strike his shoes and believed he was being fired upon and returned fire.

    I suspect that what he felt striking his shoes was more likely his own urine stream running down his pants leg and hitting his shoe. Seriously, WTF?

  12. If the court has declared that immunity is not on the table then the estate could go after the individuals involved. Up to a civil wrongful death claim. The stopper would be if the settlement terminated such opportunity.

    What concerns me is how this was warranted out. Issued out as anything other than a no knock raid but pretty much executed as such. 5 seconds from announcment to discharge of weapons reinforces that idea. Two seconds or less to announce to breach is beyond the pale. If I am upstairs when they announce their presence it can take me twice that long just to get to the door. So if this is SOP for the police there is no distinction between a no knock order and one without. And judges are fooling themselves if they think there is distinction in actual practice.

    "This is your house without a no knock order." Graphic of a house being invaded.
    "This is your house WITH a no knock order." Graphic of a house being invaded.
    "See the difference?"

    Would make a great PSA.

    1. Oh, so you think your white privilege that enables you to have a home that takes more than 2 seconds to reach the front door should be the standard. You elitist bastard. Get a doorman or a good booby trap.

  13. The "Warrior Police" should be held personally responsible for the damages & penalties and forced to pay out of their own pockets. The taxpayers of Easton should not have to fork over a dime.

  14. The way the story reads to me is that the plan and actual raid occurred was for the back window to be broken and two flashbangs to be thrown before the police at the front even knocked. Is that correct or did i just read that into it.

    1. You're right. The flashbangs going off was their version of knocking politely.

  15. Some more stellar police work by the boys in blue here:

    A guy armed with an Airsoft tries to hold up a Wendy's (those things can put an eye out you know). The police show up with a video crew from the show "Cops." In their subsequent panic they somehow managed to fire only 30 rounds, killing both the perp and a sound tech from the video crew. Fortunately no eyes were put out and all the Blue Knights went home safely that night. High-fives all around.

    1. When feral pigs are involved, anything with a heartbeat is in mortal danger.

  16. The family should arrange for a personal life changing karma visit for the entire chain of command from the drooling desk clerk to the psychopathic feral pig in charge.

    Until traitors pay for their treason they will continue forever.

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