A Virginia attorney says police destroyed her unlocked front door and ransacked her house based on a bogus search warrant, all as an act of retaliation.
In a civil rights lawsuit filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Roanoke resident Cathy Reynolds alleges several officers in the Roanoke City Police Department obtained a search warrant on false information, despite her giving consent to a search, and then tore her house apart while a huge crowd watched.
"I was humiliated," Reynolds says. "I was embarrassed, hurt. I felt like I was treated like a common criminal. I'm still wrapping my head around it right now, to be honest, still trying to sort through why it happened, and I don't know if I have words for it all to this day."
Three days prior to the raid, Reynolds' stepson was acquitted of murder charges. Reynolds represented her stepson in the case. The lawsuit says the acquittal "sparked outrage in the Roanoke law enforcement community."
On September 29, 2019, several officers from the Roanoke City Police Department showed up at Reynolds' front door looking for Ozmeik Clements, who had an arrest warrant for an unrelated murder.
Reynolds says she told them Clements wasn't there, and had never heard of him. She says she eventually gave the officers consent to search her house, but instead, they left. According to the lawsuit, Reynolds "specifically informed officers that her front door was unlocked and would remain unlocked should they desire to enter her home to look for Clements."
About two hours later, a mix of local police and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents arrived, cordoned off the street, and brought in a SWAT team and armored vehicle.
According to a search warrant issued at 6 p.m. that evening, an ATF agent had called a Roanoke police officer to tell him that a confidential informant had seen Clements hanging out with Reynolds' stepson at her house several times over the past few days.
Reynolds' lawsuit alleges the phone call and tip were fabricated. The officer "knew that no tip had been received from a confidential informant, but provided this information in his affidavit for the purpose of misleading the magistrate in order to secure a search warrant of Ms. Reynolds' home."
By this time, a large crowd, including local news outlets, had gathered to watch. Police then used an entry tool attached to the front of the armored vehicle to rip the unlocked screen door of Reynolds' house out of its frame.
The lawsuit dryly notes that SWAT officers then entered her home "by turning the doorknob of the storm door which remained on Ms. Reynolds' home, still unlocked, and pushing the door open in the manner a door is designed to operate."
Reynolds says officers then went room to room through her house, emptying drawers and dressers.
"My daughter has an armoire in her room, and they opened that and took all the clothes out of it and left them on the floor," Reynolds says. "The house was undergoing renovation prior to all of this going on, so we still had some of the installation in one of the closets in my kitchen. They ripped all of that stuff out, left it on the floor."
The lawsuit says police flipped mattresses and poured open cans of soda onto the floor.
No sign of Clements, though. Reynolds says the police left without an apology.
As for Reynolds, she says she had trouble finding a contractor to repair the damage to her house, and on top of that, her homeowners insurance wouldn't cover it, leaving her to foot the bill for the mess.
Reynolds' suit seeks damages for violating her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as her First Amendment rights, exercised in the defense of her stepson, and 14th Amendment rights against discrimination based on race.
Reason has reported for years on destructive, dangerous police raids based on sloppy search warrants. The Chicago Police Department drew national condemnation last year after body camera footage was released showing police handcuffing and humiliating a naked woman during a wrong-door raid.
Another federal civil rights lawsuit filed last August alleges Chicago police ransacked a woman's house and held a grandmother and 4-year-old at gunpoint based on a sloppy search warrant.
The city of Roanoke did not immediately respond to a request for comment.