4 years, 9 months ago
At 7 a.m. on January 20, 2007, DEA agents battered down the door to Thomas and Rosalie Avina’s mobile home in Seeley, California, in search of suspected drug trafficker Louis Alvarez. Thomas Avina met the agents in his living room and told them they were making a mistake. Shouting “Don’t you fucking move,” the agents forced Thomas Avina to the floor at gunpoint, and handcuffed him and his wife, who had been lying on a couch in the living room. As the officers made their way to the back of the house, where the Avina’s 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were sleeping, Rosalie Avina screamed, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”
The agents entered the 14-year-old girl’s room first, shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl, who was lying on her bed, rolled onto the floor, where the agents handcuffed her. Next they went to the 11-year-old’s room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl’s eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, “frozen in fear.” So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.
Moments later the two daughters were carried into the living room and placed next to their parents on the floor while DEA agents ransacked their home. After 30 minutes, the agents removed the children’s handcuffs. After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house—the product of a sloppy license plate transcription—and left.
In 2008, the Avinas—mom, dad, and both daughters—filed a federal suit against the DEA for excessive use of force, assault, and battery in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. That court ruled in favor of the DEA, and the Avinas appealed. Last week, the family got justice.
The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Avinas – at least, somewhat. But the wording is troubling. It indicates that the courts, after all of faulty, failed, mistaken and even deadly SWAT raids, still don’t get it.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Avinas, a rational trier of fact could find that agents engaged in “extreme or outrageous” conduct when the agents: (1) pointed their guns at the head of eleven-year-old B.S.A. “like they were going to shoot [her]” while B.S.A. was lying on the floor in handcuffs; (2) forced eleven-year-old B.S.A. and fourteen-year-old B.F.A. to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs; (3) left B.S.A. and B.F.A. in handcuffs for half an hour; and (4) yelled at eleven-year-old B.S.A. and fourteen-year-old B.F.A. to “[g]et down on the f[uck]ing ground.” See Tekle, 511 F.3d at 856 (holding that officers were not entitled to summary judgment on claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress …
There. That’s all you need to read. Emotional distress. That’s it. No mention or understanding that these officers brandished their weapons at someone, and engaged in muzzle flagging a little girl. No understanding of the fact that, just as in the case of poor Mr. Eurie Stamps, sympathetic muscle reflexes can lead to inadvertent discharges and kill people.
More people will have to perish at the hands of hot-shot “tacti-cool” SWAT officers discharging their weapons before the public outcry is heard loudly enough to do anything about the militarization of police tactics in America. The Ninth Circuit, while in the initial stages sympathy with the victims, doesn’t get it. It’s about the danger of such tactics, not the emotional distress. At least, one is a primary concern, while the other should be secondary.
Prior: SWAT Raids category