A court has ruled that a cop who led an illegal no-knock raid against a 78-year-old grandfather cannot be sued
No knock raid : The police raid, according to John Oliver, was “almost cartoonishly foolish.”
In February 2018, more than two dozen officers executed a no-knock warrant at the house of a dangerous drug dealer in McDonough, Georgia.
Officers went in with weapons drawn, smashing the door in with a battering ram and throwing a flash grenade inside.
They immediately subdued the home’s lone occupant, forcing him down on the ground.
But it wasn’t their man; the cops had gone to the wrong residence.
Officers had just handcuffed Onree Norris, a 78-year-old grandpa with heart problems at the time.
Norris was simply watching TV in his bedroom at the time when he heard a “thunderous sound”: All three doors to his house had just been knocked down by members of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team.
Norris was approached by multiple officers “wearing military style armour pointing assault guns at him” who threw him to the ground as he entered his hallway.
Norris had never been in issue with the law until that day when police knocked down the doors of his residence by mistake.
Norris, on the other hand, was effectively punished for the police’s mistakes because his next-door neighbour turned out to be a drug dealer.
Norris first sued many officers as well as Capt. David Cody, who oversaw the Henry SRT and exerted “overall tactical control” for the no-knock search, calling the raid a “blatant constitutional violation.”
However, qualified immunity quickly covered the other cops, leaving the captain as the single defendant.
Capt. Cody “did not check to make sure Henry SRT members were heading to the correct address or otherwise perform any precautionary procedures to guarantee the search warrant was properly executed,” according to a complaint filed by Norris.
Despite the fact that the captain reviewed the search warrant, he stated that he didn’t read it “all the way through” and that he doesn’t generally study the property’s description before to a raid.
The suspect’s home at 305 English Road, for example, had “off white siding” and “a black roof,” according to the no-knock warrant.
Norris’ house at 303 English Road, on the other hand, is yellow with a grey roof and has been his home for more than half a century.
Despite the obvious variations, footage from eight different body cameras showed the officers all strolling past the proper house and towards Norris’ residence.
Even when cops raided Norris’ house, Capt. Cody subsequently testified that he was “not positive” this second residence was their goal and that he simply thought his subordinates “had evidence that justified their proceeding to the second structure.”
“These actions were not compatible with a reasonable effort to establish and identify the place sought to be searched,” Norris argued.
However, his civil rights complaint was dismissed last month by the Eleventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals, which determined that the captain was entitled to qualified immunity.
The court observed that qualified immunity protects “all but the clearly incompetent or those who deliberately break the law,” citing a 2019 judgement in which the Eleventh Circuit upheld qualified immunity for a deputy who mistakenly shot a 10-year-old while shooting for the family’s dog.
Norris could only win if he could show that “Capt. Cody’s actions during the raid—not instructing his crew to cease coming towards Norris’s home and then following his team into Norris’s home—violated the statute plainly established” in previous rulings.
The team was “especially limited in their ability to respond” because they had “‘announced’ their presence with flash grenades,” the court noted, and “our precedent allows some latitude for such ‘honest mistakes…made by officers in the dangerous and difficult process of making arrests and executing search warrants.’”
Despite the fact that “the incorrect raid of Norris’ home was no doubt distressing,” the Eleventh Circuit found that “Norris failed to meet his burden to show that Capt. Cody violated plainly established law.”
However, the Eleventh Circuit denied qualified immunity to a police officer accused of “unlawfully seizing and detaining [the residents] at gunpoint” after he “entered their home by mistake; he was supposed to execute a search warrant two doors down.” The officer had violated “clearly established constitutional rights” by failing “to engage in reasonable steps to prevent erroneously executing the search warrant,” according to the court.
Unfortunately for Norris, the 2016 decision was not published, so it isn’t technically binding, and the Eleventh Circuit “looks only to binding precedent to identify clearly established law.”
The judgement against Norris is likewise unpublished, which means that it is still not “clearly established” in the Eleventh Circuit that searching the wrong residence at gunpoint is unlawful.
Both sides’ attorneys did not reply to calls for comment.