SWAT

Lawsuit Over Insanely Excessive Connecticut Drug Raid Can Proceed

The Supreme Court declines to hear an appeal by cops who claim they can't be held responsible.

|

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.

Advertisement

NEXT: Obama Takes 'Full Responsibility' for Killing Innocent Hostages with Drones, Which Doesn't Mean It Will Stop

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hey, at least they didn’t blow up any toddlers.

  2. That’s because there weren’t any toddlers there. If there had been, they would have blown the fuck out of them.

    1. Phrasing!

      1. She knows what she said.

  3. During a deposition, the Connecticut Post notes, Sweeney wondered, “Why didn’t we just knock on the door?

    I wonder this every time I read about some stupid-ass mall ninjas who geared up for world war 3 when they were going to serve a warrant for pot possession or fucking delinquent alimony.

    We have enabled these fucking idiots. We cannot stuff Frankenstein’s monster back into Pandora’s box!!

    1. Because what good is having a SWAT team and all that cool tactical gear if they don’t get to use it?

      1. I suggest disbanding all SWAT teams. If the local police can’t handle a situation call in the national guard.

        1. I agree with disbanding (almost) all SWAT teams, but not with calling in the national guard. They aren’t trained for the sorts of situations in which there is a legitimate use for a SWAT team (this presumes, of course, that the actual SWAT teams themselves are properly so trained, but let’s assume that for the moment). Legitimate needs for SWAT teams are rare (active hostage situations being the primary one), so we have far more such teams in this country than is justified. There should probably be only one or two per state, to be called in only when authorized by the governor. No city, not even the largest, should have its own; the temptation for abuse or simple misuse is too great.

          1. Blame FEDGOV, offering all kinds of “homeland security” money but only for “new” stuff, which ended up, often times, being the formation of a SWAT team, when there hadn’t been the need for one previously.
            Then a feeling they had to use them.
            Post 9/11 FEDGOV wanted to look like they were doing something about terrorism but didn’t want local agencies to simply update what they already had, leading to either creating novel ways for local authorities to spend on things they had never felt the need to spend on, before, or lying about what the money was used for.

    2. Sure we can. I suggest using in indirect devices to burn the monster to the point that it’s ashes can be easily put into a box. Or a coffee can. Or an urn.

  4. It is stunning that we continually hear of these sort of drug war abuses and yet it goes on and on. It almost seems the public has zero empathy for anyone associated with drugs, as if they somehow deserve their fate. Drug users are among the few remaining acceptable targets of discrimination.

    Fuck these narcs and all their supporters.

    1. Calm down, Gene. They’re simply demonstrating that drugs can *ruin your life*.

      1. Yes, I’m sure the guy they murdered counts as a “drug death”.

        1. *And* a “stripper death”!

          1. And a gun related fatality!

      2. sure thing….. but not by diresct results, it seems, in this case. Interestng side note: nowhere in this article is there a word about the “success” of the bust-in. Did the dirty coppers find any real illegal substance in the raid? Like the raid on Jose Guere?a’s home in New Mexico. He was murdered as he tried to defend his wife and children from what appeared to him a violent home invasion. Seems the SWATters had the wrong address……. this whole anonymous complaint/over the top response be lazy steroid-enhanced big goon cops needs to end. Hitler’s SS were not so dangerous to the innocents as today’s cops are.

    2. It is stunning

      The flashbang ordinance certainly is.

  5. “But they continued to fight Terebesi’s lawsuit, arguing that the officers 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.”

    Soooo…I guess the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments hadn’t been “clearly established” back in 2008.

    1. Wholly eviscerated by 2008.

      I expect the state to win this one 5-4 or 6-3.

    2. They’re no longer clearly established. I’m not sure the 4th exists.

      1. Touche’.

    3. Who even knows what those things say anymore. They were written in, like, Shakespearean English by a bunch of old white men who didn’t know about modern hazards to police like glass pipes and Doberman pincers and toddlers and cell phone cameras.

      1. *pinscher

        Swype…

      2. And the guys who wrote it talked like fags !

        1. And owned slaves!

  6. It added that “we do not think a reasonable officer would think that it was constitutional to use these devices in routine searches.”

    Um…I think the appeals court might be wrong about that one.

    1. NEW PROFESSIONALISM NICOLE.

    2. He said “reasonable” officer.

      You know, the unicorn of the law enforcement community.

    3. Well, first you have to find a reasonable officer.

      I am sure that many police officers would find the use of such things in a routine search unreasonable and excessive. They probably haven’t given the constitutionality of it much thought, though.

      Trashing your house or vehicle when they execute a search warrant seems to be acceptable to courts. So it seems like it would be hard to draw a firm line about what level of destruction is constitutionally prohibited.

    4. They’re not wrong.

      Any reasonable officer would think it was wrong to use those devices in routine searches. The problem was that those two were very busy and couldn’t be reached to confirm this.

    5. trouble is for them that there doesn’t seem to have been a “reasonable officer” in that raiding party.

  7. I had almost forgotten about this one.

    That is just insane. Even if they had seen the guy moving 100 lbs of cocaine into his house, it would be insane, but they don’t seem to have suspected anything more than a personal stash.

    And “something in a glass pipe”? Without more than that to go on, why would you assume it’s crack?

    1. Uh, because that way they could dress up and play warrior cop? Seriously, I think we all vastly underestimate the juvenile and venal nature of most of the people who become cops. I don’t think there are generally any voices of reason when it comes to the shit they do, because why would there be? Since there are no consequences, there is no incentive to go “hey, is doing this really a good idea?” But there are tons of incentives for “let’s go blow our way into this nobody’s house, it’ll be fun! Maybe we get to shoot a dog or a Mexican, or even a person!”

      1. It’s basically just cosplay. Only the dead dogs and burned babies are real.

        1. They’re not even real to the killers. Unless by “real”, you mean a means to a paid vacation and an excuse to get early retirement some time down the road when another nearby department wants them to come and work, enabling them to double-dip on the poor, unsuspecting taxpayer.

        2. Nothing is real to sociopaths except themselves.

          1. Look, I’m not the only one who isn’t sure if we’re in a computer simulation, okay?

              1. Great movie.

            1. I have a friend who has a theory that there are only 20 real people in the world. Everyone else is a hologram. This is how the logic works: go to any public place and try and touch more than 20 people to verify their physicality.

            2. No, if we were living in a computer simulation pi would either end or repeat.

              1. Plus, I doubt a computer could simulate Epi’s smell.

              2. No, if we were living in a computer simulation pi would either end or repeat.

                Hmm. I have to think about that. Is it necessarily true? It seems like it would still be possible to construct the proof that pi is irrational in a simulation even if the aproximation of pi used in the simulation is rational. It would just have to be a very close approximation that is non-repeating for longer than what we have calculated so for. But it’s not obvious.

                If anyone knows of a rigorous treatment of this question, I’d be interested. I’m trying to spend more time thinking about math and physics and less on politics and current events.

                1. Hmm. I have to think about that. Is it necessarily true?

                  It is possible to represent pi as the sum of a series whose terms can be procedurally generated with finite code and to compute the partial sums to arbitrary precision. So, no.

                  I think it’s a joke or a cultural reference that I don’t get.

      2. Well, the thing is that this is not the usual way to do things. Most searches for personal amounts of drugs do just involve knocking on doors.

        You are probably right about why this happened in this case. There is no other explanation. By why this case? Just bad luck (for the victims), I guess.

    2. And “something in a glass pipe”? Without more than that to go on, why would you assume it’s crack?

      Because you’re only using that as a pretense to go out and destroy a house for kicks. When you don’t really care about the law and are merely in it for the lulz, any pretense will do.

      1. Oh right. Because crack turns people into unstoppable killing machines.

        1. I thought that was the T-virus.

          1. You send in STARS not SWAT for that.

          2. No, no. The Rage Virus.

            1. I thought those were zombies at first.

              But everybody worth a fuck knows fast-moving zombies are a myth.

  8. I hope the plaintiffs prevail, I just wish it were for 100 million. That might get some actual attention.

    I vaguely remember the start of “no-knock” and “explosive-entry” warrants. The premise was the ticking bomb or the kidnapper holding a knife to a child’s throat. It has, predictably I guess, run amok.

    Serious question: Does anyone know of any rules governing the use of dynamic entry? I imagine that individual departments might have their own policies, but I mean on a state or federal level. Other than the trump card of officer safety, which seems to hold the lives of LEOs in much higher regard than those they are supposed to “serve and protect”.

    1. We should have learned our lessons from the Branch Davidian raid. They could have simply arrested him on the many trips he took to town but we had to protect the children by burning them.

      There are about .0000001% of cases where they need SWAT team dynamic entries. Most of the justification now is to stop someone from flushing a quarter ounce of dope. They would lose their evidence and the justification to seize their house and all valuables.

      1. The lessons from the Branch Davidian raid are clear: those who bitterly cling to guns and religion get lit up by the Feds.

    2. The premise was the ticking bomb or the kidnapper holding a knife to a child’s throat.

      I thought the premise was to startle their victims so they couldn’t flush or destroy drug evidence…

    3. It’s been awhile but if I remember my crim pro, no-knock raids are legally frowned upon and there might even be case law that says they are presumptively unconstitutional. The problem is that the “destruction of evidence” exception swallows the entire rule. Someone who works crim or con law would know better than I though.

      1. It’s hard to think of an actual crime (as in malum in se) in which a no knock raid would be necessary in order to prevent the destruction of evidence.

    4. The relevant case is Hudson v. Michigan. Here’s a story from 2006 when it was decided.

      1. Ugh, SFed? http://usatoday30.usatoday.com…..king_x.htm

        1. Just looked in one of my old hornbooks. Check out this quote from Scalia: “…the social costs of applying the exclusionary rule to knock-and-announce violations are considerable; the incentive to such violations is minimal to begin with, and the extant deterrences against them are substantial – incomparably greater than the factors deterring warrantless entries when Mapp was decided.”

          The “incentive to such violations is minimal,” huh? I guess “I want to put on my ninja suit and murder some poor bastard because I fucking can” doesn’t amount to incentive in 5 justices’ minds.

          1. Hey, this is where the phrase “new professionalism” was coined, after all.

      2. Thanks, Nikki. Oh, Christ, that’s right. That’s when they said, “well, it may be unconstitutional but WE’RE NOT GOING TO APPLY THE EXCLUSIONARY RULE.”

        1. That would just be mean!

          1. It’s true. No evidence likes to be “othered.”

        2. You know, I think I’d trade the exclusionary rule for criminal charges (that are vigorously prosecuted) for violating constitutional rights. Or both would be good.

    5. Does anyone know of any rules governing the use of dynamic entry?

      Rules don’t matter if the cops face no punishment for breaking them.

    6. The premise was the ticking bomb or the kidnapper holding a knife to a child’s throat. It has, predictably I guess, run amok.

      See what a fallacy that “slippery slope” argument is?

  9. … which was based on a tip from a stripper who said she had seen Terebesi and Guizan smoking “something” with glass pipes…

    How the fuck does hearsay constitute probable cause for a search?

    1. Because there’s always a judge or magistrate out there willing to sign a warrant, any warrant, just to get on the good side of the police.

    2. Well, hearsay would be if someone else told the stripper about seeing the guys smoke something. But the larger point is valid. It would be nice if Reason could name the Judge who signed off on the warrant. Maybe even get a copy of the warrant application. Are those public record or sealed for “safety”?

      1. It’s actually technically still hearsay unless the CI is providing an affidavit/sworn statement directly to the judge. A CI telling a cop that they saw something and then the cop swearing to the fact that the CI told them that they saw something still doesn’t amount to any real witness testimony as the basis of a warrant.

        1. It depends on the situation, but often statements made to police officers are considered an exception to the hearsay rule. Again, it’s a heck of a lot more complicated than that, but just saying.

  10. “a stripper who said she had seen Terebesi and Guizan smoking “something” with glass pipes”

    Is that *really* all a police department needs for justification to go all Zero Dark Thirty on some dude’s home?

    I mean, for real = no, “suspected of dealing”, or “record of violence”, or “connection with gangs” or anything? just “they were smoking something”?

    fucking christ

    1. Calm down, G. The stripper was probably a close personal friend of the judge who issued the warrant.

      1. “I can personally attest to this woman’s…uh, character.”

      2. Or had some possession charges hanging over her head.

    2. A very disturbing aspect indeed.

  11. I have a really cool cobalt blue glass pipe that my son gave me one year as a birthday present. I only use it for tobacco though (Yeah I’m a chick that smokes a pipe). Stories like this make me think about throwing it away even though I really love it.

    1. Don’t let them spoil it for you. It’s just one of a million things that they could use to fuck you over. They could just as well decide that a cigarette is a joint or a cellphone is a gun or that you were driving a car in a menacing way.

      1. I haven’t driven in a menacing way since I bought the new car.

  12. The thing about these kinds of raids is that the public is perfectly aware of how dangerous they are to the victims and their property. After all, why else does the public get outraged over the prank called “swatting”, where you send the local goon squad to someone’s address on a false report?

    The sad truth about this is that most Americans are okay with this happening to the wrong kind of people, in this case people who allegedly do drugs. It’s sickening, but true. If you do drugs, most Americans have zero problem with thugs breaking into your home and murdering you, your loved ones or your pets.

    I fear it’ll take decades, an entire generation, to get over this irrational aversion to drugs and reflexive worship of cops.

  13. 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.”

    Amazing.

  14. The pictures for the below AP stories were right adjacent to one another, inviting an obvious, if unfortunate comparison =

    Clinton running as a woman, but in subtle ways

    Maloney back as boxing promoter after sex change

  15. Oh. look- SOME FUCKING RETARD PUT AN AUTOPLAY VIDEO ON THE MAIN PAGE, and it’s annoying the shit out of me.

  16. NoScript is your friend.

  17. My best friend’s mother-in-law makes $85 /hour on the internet . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay was $16453 just working on the internet for a few hours.
    Visit this website ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  18. Exactly. I remember when my neighbor was arrested for selling drugs. The neighbors were kinda trashy and loud, so no-one in the neighborhood liked them. About twenty cops surrounded the street with shotguns. They didn’t raid the house – just a knock on the door, and the guy came out peacefully – but his wife and two young kids watched the whole thing. I taped part of it, complete with an officer making crude gestures at me and sarcastically yelling out that I was a “real hero”.

    I’m pretty sure my neighbors were glad to see the dad gone. I remember reading the local crime map, which allows comments, and how anonymous commenters JUST KNEW! there were drugs being dealt there (they were right). The kids may not have a dad for a few years, but at least the noise has died down.

    1. Pretend this went below Grand Moff Serious Man’s comment @1:23.

    2. I happened to drive past a house that was being raided once on my way home, pretty close to where I live (In a town that has 3 cops including the chief). It was some dumb-ass kids who were selling heroin and pills, I think. There were 2 officers there executing the warrant while the residents stood around looking scared. No shotguns, no pistols drawn, no closing down the street.

      Small town living is good sometimes.

  19. How could any armed raid over benign substances not be insanely excessive?

    1. Hell, any drug raid of any kind is insanely excessive if you ask me. This one is so egregious that it is insanely excessive even in the context where it is assumed that criminal laws against possessing certain substances are an OK idea.

  20. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find out which cop told the stripper to make the report.

  21. What is especially gratifying about this decision is that it allows the suits against the individual officers to proceed. Far too many of them believe they have absolute immunity, whatever they do, and even if they transgress the penalty will be paid by their employer (the town) rather than themselves personally. If they can be made to understand that they are incurring actual personal risk perhaps they will be a little more circumspect in their actions.

    Before agreeing to any settlement (which will surely be offered) the plaintiff in this (and similar) cases should insist that there be personal consequences for the individual officers. This should include monetary damages (they should be ruined financially), but also termination of their employment for cause, to prevent them from being hired by some other police force. Such people do not belong on any police force, anywhere.

  22. sure, the Controlled SUbstances Act needs to be taken down, but even considering it WAS the law at the time, these flashmob rowdies were way over the top of anything justifiable in the serving of a simple search warrant. Then ther’e’s the other side issue of some anonymous :person” making a complaint… with insufficient evidence to back it up… that “something” was going on. Some folks smoke tobacco and herbs (other than marijuana) in glass pipes. THIS practice needs to end as well. If someone is not willing to identify himself and testify in court they should not be allowed to file sucvh a report. How many have been killed or seriously injuerd by “swatting”? At the least, LE need to do some in depth investigation before busting in with their Big Boy Toys.

  23. The courts so far involved in this matter are to be complimented.

    As for the following question from one of the officers, the Connecticut Post notes, Sweeney wondered, “Why didn’t we just knock on the door?” Indeed, why didn’t they?? There used to be seen printed on the doors of police cruisers the following motto. “To Protect and Serve”. What happened to the idea of the police Protecting and Serving? Protecting and Serving seem ideas from the ancient past. Why, strikes me as a most cogent question. Anyone got an equally cogent answer, or something even close thereto?

  24. The town’s will get what they deserve for having fruitcakes work for them. It’s my hope the cops all get what they deserve too! Hanging off the side of a military surplus vehicle with M4’s around their neck? “It almost looked like the Russian army rolled into town. It was overkill.” Terebesi- I hope you hang these idiots by their balls! For the sake of Gonzalo!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.