AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


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Assault and Battery: Flash-Bang Devices

     Monthly Law Journal Article: Civil Liability for Use of Distraction Devices, Part 1, 2015 (1) AELE Mo. L. J. 101.
     Monthly Law Journal Article: Civil Liability for Use of Distraction Devices, Part 2, 2015 (2) AELE Mo. L. J. 101.

     An informant told police that a man was engaged in selling crack cocaine from his apartment and answered his door with a handgun in hand. A SWAT team executed a “High Risk Warrant Services” form. Their plan for the raid called for a "dynamic entry" by 20 officers to secure the premises within 30 seconds and authorized the use of flashbang grenades. At the time of the raid, the man's mother was visiting and another of her sons was present along with the suspect's girlfriend. The officers breached the door with a battering ram, and one of them saw the suspect's mother move towards the door. Another officer looked through the doorway, saw no one, and tossed a flashbang inside. The blast severely injured the mother's leg. The raid found narcotics and a handgun. A federal appeals court upheld a jury verdict for the defendants on the mother's excessive force claim as supported by the evidence. A jury statement that “While we agree that this was a horrible instance ... the errors made by the Chicago Police Department as a whole cannot fall on the shoulders of these two defendants” was consistent with the verdict. Flournoy v. City of Chicago, #14-3776, 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 13343 (7th Cir.).
     Police learned of Internet threats against them coming from an IP address located at the home of a 68-year-old African-American woman and her two daughters. The Internet wifi network there was unsecured. Before searching the woman's home, officers observed, two doors away, a man who had previously been convicted of intimidating an officer. Two of the officers believed that he was the likeliest source of the threats. Some officers, however, mistakenly believed that another man made the threats, but surveillance revealed no male present at the woman's house. Despite this, an 11-man all white SWAT team in body armor, accompanied by a news crew, knocked on the door of the house and, without waiting for a response, broke open the door and a window, tossing in two "flash-bang" grenades. The officers then rushed into the house, conducted a search that found no evidence of any crime, and handcuffed the women, leading them outside. The male neighbor was subsequently convicted of using the woman's network to make the threats. A federal appeals court upheld the denial of summary judgment to the defendant officers in an excessive force lawsuit. The court found that the officers acted unreasonably and "precipitately" by using the flash-bangs in the house without a "minimally responsible" investigation of the threats. Milan v. Bolin, #15-1207, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 13387 (7th Cir.).
     A man sought under a warrant engaged in a six-hour stalemate at his house with officers seeking to arrest him. He was armed with a semi-automatic handgun. When he walked into his yard carrying water and a cup, an emergency response team activated a flash bang device to distract him and to try to prevent him from again retreating inside the house. The officers said that he turned and tried to draw his gun and they then shot him multiple times. He claimed that he did not reach for his gun until after the device went off and shots were already fired. He later pled guilty to resisting the officers with a deadly weapon. A federal appeals court held that his excessive force claim was barred because his version of events would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction. Under the facts needed to support the conviction, the officers acted reasonably, and the conviction had not been set aside. Helman v. Duhaime, #12-3428, 2014 U.S. App. Lexis 2302 (7th Cir.).
     Officers were not entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit over their shooting and killing of a man. They deployed tear gas into his apartment in an attempt to extricate him from the unit where he had isolated himself threatening to commit suicide. After he still refused to come out, the officers used additional tear gas and flash bang grenades to enter the apartment, setting fire to the exterior room before throwing the flash bang grenades into the darkened bedroom inches from his head and rendering him blind and deaf before shooting him to death. The appeals court ruled that it could be found that the excessive use of tear gas and flash-bang grenades in this manner against a "non-threatening, non-violent, non-resisting individual" violated clearly established rights. Estate of Escobedo v. Bender, #08-2365, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 7016 (7th Cir.).
     Throwing a "flash-bang" device "blind" into an apartment which officers believed might have one armed robbery suspect and up to eight other people sleeping there who were not involved in the robbery was an excessive use of force when it was done without a warning or the consideration of alternatives, federal appeals court rules. Officers were entitled to qualified immunity from liability, however, as the law on the subject was not clearly established at the time. Boyd v. Benton County, #02-35776, 374 F.3d 773 (9th Cir. 2004). [2004 LR Oct]

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