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


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SWAT Issues

     Monthly Law Journal Article: Civil Liability for SWAT Operations, 2007 (7) AELE Mo. L.J. 101.
     Monthly Law Journal Article: Long v. Honolulu Police Sharpshooter Decision, 2008 (5) AELE Mo. L.J. 501.

     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.).
     A police detective sought and obtained search warrants for the homes of several gang members, based on information that the gang was involved in a drive-by shooting and had a practice of storing the weapons from such shootings at the residences of members not involved in an incident. The affidavit for one of the warrants, however, failed to disclose that the gang member living there had been in custody continuously since a time prior to the shooting taking place. A jury could reasonably conclude that the detective knew about this fact from reading the member's rap sheet and recklessly or deliberately failed to disclose it when applying for the warrant. The detective could be liable for the search. Additionally, even "if we were to conclude that cause existed for a search, there would still be no basis for authorizing night-time service. A nighttime incursion by a SWAT force is a far more serious occurrence than an ordinary daytime intrusion . . . and therefore requires higher justification beyond mere probable cause to search." Bravo v. City of Santa Maria, #09-55898, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 24383 (9th Cir.).
     A federal appeals court held that a police SWAT team sniper acted in an objectively reasonable manner in shooting and killing an armed suspect, and that neither the officer nor the city was liable for the death. The officer, according to the court, heard the suspect threaten to shoot police, saw him carrying a rifle, and had knowledge that he had previously shot at a car full of people, wounding two of them. Additionally, fellow officers had radioed that the suspect was shooting at them and yelling threats. Under these circumstances, the officer reasonably believed that the suspect posed an immediate danger, justifying the use of deadly force. The court further ruled that a decision that was made to wait for a light armored vehicle for safety reasons before entering the property where the suspect was did not constitute deliberate indifference, even accepting the argument that the delay may have contributed to the decedent's death. Long v. City and County of Honolulu, No. 05-16567, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 29530 (9th Cir. 2007).
     Police officers, including S.W.A.T team members, were entitled to qualified immunity for surrounding the home of a man who had fired shots into the air and ground nearby, entering the home forcibly without a warrant, and using pepper gas and a flashbang in an attempt to flush him out. Assuming that the use of a second flashbang, which burned down the house, was excessive, it still did not violate any "clearly established right." Factual disputes about whether the suspect was still armed and was threatening officers at the time they shot and killed him, however, barred qualified immunity for the officers on a claim that the use of deadly force was excessive. Estate of Bing v. City of Whitehall, No. 05-3889, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 19287 (6th Cir.). [2006 LR Sep]
     Police chief and SWAT team leader were entitled to qualified immunity on claims for supervisory liability in case where SWAT officer entering residence shot and killed a man inside the home within two seconds, and the plaintiffs claimed that the decedent was unarmed. Nothing showed that they made a deliberate choice to inadequately train or supervise the officer, which caused the alleged deprivation of the decedent's rights. Estate of Davis v. City of North Richland Hills, No. 04-10036, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 5893 (5th Cir.) [2005 LR Jun]
     Police officers' shooting and killing of homeless mentally ill man sitting in a car was not excessive force when they acted after he raised a gun and did not know, until later, that the weapon was a BB gun. Under the circumstances, it was reasonable for them to believe that their lives were at risk. Court also rules that the officers did not engage in disability discrimination when they called on a SWAT team to extract the man from his car after the shooting, causing a delay in medical treatment. The officers could reasonably do this to ensure the safety of themselves and others at the scene. Ali v. City of Louisville, No. Civ. A. 3:03CV-427, 395 F. Supp. 2d 527 (W.D. Ky. 2005). [N/R]
     Federal appeals panel rejects a gender discrimination suit by a vice sergeant who failed the fitness test when her job was combined with the SWAT unit into a special enforcement unit. Male vice officers had to pass the same test. Stahl v. Bd. of Cmsnrs. of Unif. Govt. Wyandotte Co./Kansas City, KS, #03-3068, 101 Fed. Appx. 316, 2004 U.S. App. Lexis 11476 (10th Cir. Unpub. 2004), affirming 244 F.Supp.2d 1181 (D. Kan. 2003). [2004 FP Oct]
     Occupants of a home mistakenly identified in a search warrant and subjected to a no-knock search by members of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team presented an arguable issue as to whether the city's policies or lack of policies concerning the issuance of no-knock search warrants caused a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. Because of the "hyper-intrusive" nature of such searches, the court comments, the government should show more than the standard requirement of probable cause to obtain such a warrant. At the same time, the court rejected the argument that the city was required to demand that the officer in charge of an investigation personally provide visual verification of the address in a search warrant, finding that a policy of allowing such verification by other officers was reasonable. Solis v. City of Columbus, No. 2:02-CV-788, 319 F. Supp. 2d 797 (S.D. Ohio 2004).[N/R]
     Sheriff and SWAT team members were not entitled to qualified immunity for death of man shot and killed in his home after he resisted being taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation. If plaintiff's factual allegations were true, and decedent was in the process of surrendering when he was shot and killed, use of deadly force against him was clearly excessive. Warrantless entry into the home when the man had "not committed" any crimes and there was no immediate need to subdue him was "reckless" and an excessive use of force. Federman v. County of Kern, No. 01-16691, 2003 U.S. App. Lexis 7180 (9th Cir.). [2003 LR Jun]
    Family of former police officer and Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder, who died in the woods near his home after fleeing there in response to activation of SWAT-like team around his residence after officers saw a "red light" coming from a window in the home, presented sufficient evidence to create a jury question as to whether activation of SWAT team and its tactics created a foreseeable danger to the decedent in a manner shocking to the conscience. Estate of Smith v. Marasco, #02-1437, 2003 U.S. App. Lexis 1432 (3rd Cir. 2003). [2003 LR Mar]
     Bar owner held liable for $4.5 million to injuries off-duty officer suffered from attack by patron when he went there to celebrate his graduation from SWAT team training. Zelaya v. U.S. Euro Micro Ventures, No. 00-32681(6), Miami-Dade County, Fla., Circuit Court, Feb. 26, 2002, reported in The National Law Journal, p. B4, May 13, 2002. [2002 LR Aug]
     344:121 $3.5 million settlement in shooting death of man who grabbed an unloaded rifle when members of a SWAT team entered his home while executing a search warrant. Heard v. Board of County Commissioners of Miami County, No. 00-2173-JWL, U.S. Dist. Ct. (D. Kan.), reported in The National Law Journal, p. A6 (May 14, 2001), and in 44 ATLA Law Rptr. No. 5, p. 170 (June 2001).
     329:70 Miami reaches $2.5 million settlement in death of 72-year-old man in his bedroom during SWAT team raid on his apartment in which 122 shots were fired; officers asserted that decedent fired two shots at them after they properly knocked and announced they were executing search warrant; plaintiffs asserted that gun and drugs were "planted" by officers to "coverup" misconduct, and that officers did not properly announce their identity as police. Brown v. City of Miami, U.S. Dist. Ct. Miami, Fla., reported in The National Law Journal, p. A10 (March 27, 2000).
     315:42 Widow of SWAT officer shot and killed by fellow officer during raid could sue shooting officer and city for violation of federal civil rights; federal appeals court rejects argument that case was about a "safe workplace"; shooting officer not entitled to qualified immunity. Jensen v. City of Oxnard, #97-55936, 145 F.3d 1078, 1998 U.S. App. Lexis 10589 (9th Cir.); cert. den. 1998 U.S. Lexis 7596.
     Woman LAPD officer, excluded from the SWAT unit, wins $2.3 mill. for discrimination and harassment. Damianakes v. City of L.A., L.A.Co.Super.Ct. #BC101094, 109 (45) L.A.D.J. V&S 4, 34 (1664) G.E.R.R. (BNA) 671, 39 (9) ATLA Law Rptr. 357 (1996). [1996 FP 126]
     237:136 Wisconsin Supreme court rules that county and sheriff discharged duty, under state law, to provide appropriate medical care and treatment to detainee by having him examined by nurse when he complained of possible appendix problem, despite fact that nurse recommended no immediate treatment at that time and that surgical removal of appendix became necessary a day later after detainee's release. Swatek v. Co. of Dane, 531 N.W.2d 45 (Wis. 1995).
     Firefighter awarded $179,000 in damages for false imprisonment based on police SWAT team's simulated "terrorist takeover" of fire station designed to test and drill firefighters' response to such incidents; firefighter was not informed that it was a drill and suffered medical expenses, lost time from work, and mental pain and suffering. Schultes v. Village of Addison, No. 89 C-7710, U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill., reported in Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, P. 20 (March 1, 1993).
     County and sheriff not liable for death of courthouse hostage based on sheriff's alleged order that city SWAT and hostage negotiation teams leave; his replacement of them with county personnel not trained for SWAT or hostage negotiation duties did not violate any constitutional rights of hostage; no constitutional duty to have a SWAT team or trained hostage negotiators Salas v. Carpenter, 980 F.2d 299 (5th Cir. 1992).
     Deployment of SWAT team and shooting of mentally ill woman to get her to submit to involuntary treatment was not an "unreasonable seizure" in light of the fact that she had threatened to shoot officers and swung a butcher knife at one officer Williams v. Richmond County, Ga, 804 F.Supp. 1561 (S.D.Ga 1992).
     Officer's use of SWAT team and searching furniture and behind wall coverings while executing search warrant for business records upon radio station was not unreasonable; plaintiff showed no unconstitutional policy by city; prosecutor who participated in search was absolutely immune Pachaly v. City of Lynchburg, 897 F.2d 723 (4th Cir. 1990).
     Woman police officer, rejected for SWAT unit because of her sex, settles claim against city. Offer of back pay differential is accepted; her personnel file also corrected. [Patricia] Foust v. City of Oshkosh, Wis. Div. of Equal Rights (June, 1990).


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