Yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by cops who oversaw or carried out what the Connecticut Post calls "the most blatant example of excessive force by police in the state": the deadly 2008 raid on the Easton home of Ronald Terebesi. The decision allows Terebesi to proceed with a $5 million lawsuit against the officers and supervisors responsible for the raid.
On a Sunday afternoon in May 2008, police departments in five towns sent 21 officers to Terebesi's house, where they broke windows, tossed in flashbang grenades, knocked down the door, and killed Terebesi's friend, Gonzalo Guizan. The two unarmed men were watching TV at the time of the raid, which was based on a tip from a stripper who said she had seen Terebesi and Guizan smoking "something" with glass pipes. The cops were looking for the pipes and Terebesi's personal stash of crack cocaine. During the raid Monroe police officer Michael Sweeney shot Guizan six times.
In 2013 the five towns settled a lawsuit by Guizan's family, agreeing to pay $3.5 million. But they continued to fight Terebesi's lawsuit, arguing that the officers, who were sued "individually and in their official capacities," were protected by qualified immunity because their alleged actions did not violate any statutory or constitutional rights that were clearly established at the time of the raid. Last year, as Ed Krayewski and Jackson Kuhl noted at the time, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit rejected that claim. By declining to hear an appeal, the Supreme Court leaves that decision in place, allowing the case to continue.
As the appeals court noted, Terebesi does not simply claim that the raid was botched. Rather, he "alleges that the raid as planned, even if it had gone perfectly and not ended in Guizan?s death, constituted an unreasonable use of force against his person and his home." Regarding the gratuitous use of flashbang grenades, the court observed that "Fourth Amendment principles governing police use of force apply with 'obvious clarity'…to the unreasonable deployment of an explosive device in the home." It added that "we do not think a reasonable officer would think that it was constitutional to use these devices in routine searches." Based on the facts alleged by Terebesi, the court said, "all of the stun grenade defendants knew or should have understood that the search warrant was for a personal?use quantity of drugs and that there was no reason to believe that Terebesi posed a risk of violence or resistance."
As for Sweeney's shooting of Guizan, the 2nd Circuit said, "any reasonable officer must understand that his decision to fire a gun during the execution of a search warrant is subject to Fourth Amendment scrutiny, regardless of whether he hits anyone." The court said Terebesi's claim that police violated the "knock and announce" rule, which applies in the absence of "exigent circumstances," likewise raises a legitimate, fact-dependent Fourth Amendment issue. During a deposition, the Connecticut Post notes, Sweeney wondered, "Why didn't we just knock on the door?"
That is the sort of question a jury will be addressing, unless the towns responsible for this outrageous paramilitary assault decide to cough up some more money. Either way, taxpayers will once again foot the bill for drug warriors' recklessness.