Lawsuit filed after police “pepperball” shooting of homeowner and his dog

July 8, 2013

According to Courthouse News Service on July 5, 2013, a lawsuit was filed by Anthony Mitchell and his parents Michael and Linda Mitchell last week.

The family is going forward with the suit against the City of Henderson, its Police Chief Jutta Chambers, Officers Garret Poiner, Ronald Feola, Ramona Walls, Angela Walker, and Christopher Worley, and City of North Las Vegas and its Police Chief Joseph Chronister, in Federal Court.

In a nutshell, this is the story of a family who refused to allow police to use their homes in an effort to gain a tactical advantage against the occupant of a neighboring house.

This may be the first time that Third Amendment violation will go to federal court. This amendment prohibits quartering soldiers in citizens’ homes in times of peace without the consent of the owner.

The lawsuit states:

“On the morning of July 10th, 2011, officers from the Henderson Police Department responded to a domestic violence call at a neighbor’s residence. At 10:45 a.m. defendant Officer Christopher Worley (HPD) contacted plaintiff Anthony Mitchell via his telephone. Worley told plaintiff that police needed to occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house.

Anthony Mitchell told the officer that he did not want to become involved and that he did not want police to enter his residence. Although Worley continued to insist that plaintiff should leave his residence, plaintiff clearly explained that he did not intend to leave his home or to allow police to occupy his home. Worley then ended the phone call.

Defendant Officer David Cawthorn outlined the defendants’ plan in his official report: ‘It was determined to move to 367 Evening Side and attempt to contact Mitchell. If Mitchell answered the door he would be asked to leave.

If he refused to leave he would be arrested for Obstructing a Police Officer. If Mitchell refused to answer the door, force entry would be made and Mitchell would be arrested.'”

After speaking to Anthony on the phone, Henderson police officers showed up at the residence, where they banged on the door and shouted demands to be let inside. Anthony immediately got on the phone and called his mother Linda Mitchell. While he was on the phone, Officer Rockwell, along with other officers, used a metal ram to break down the door.

Anthony was standing in the middle of the room talking with his mother on the phone when he was allegedly ordered to simultaneously “put the phone down” and “crawl toward the officers.”

He was referred to as an “asshole” by the officers and became too terrified to move. Anthony lay curled up in the fetal position, covering his hands and face. It was at this time that Officer David Cawthorns, as well as other officers, decided it best to fire pepper ball rounds at him as he lay defenseless on the floor. Anthony was hit by at least three pepper ball rounds, causing him severe pain.

They also decided to pepper ball Anthony’s dog, who was cowering in the corner of the home when police broke through the front door.

Anthony Mitchell was charged with obstructing an officer. Anthony’s father, Michael Mitchell, was being arrested down the street when he tried to leave a police command center to which he was lured to under false pretenses in an effort to leave his home.

Police also wanted to take over Michael’s home for the case they were working, as the two families lived close to each other on the same street. The report of what happened after Michael tried to leave the police command center states.

The lawsuit states:

“Plaintiff Michael Mitchell then left HPD command center and walked down Mauve Street toward the exit of the neighborhood. After walking for less than five minutes, an HPD car pulled up next to him. He was told that his wife, Linda Mitchell, had ‘left the house’ and would meet him at the HPD command center.

Michael Mitchell then walked back up Mauve Street to the HPD command center. He called his son, James Mitchell, to pick him up at the HPD command center.

When plaintiff Michael Mitchell attempted to leave the HPD command center to meet James, he was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a marked police car. Officers had no reasonable grounds to detain plaintiff Michael Mitchell, nor probable cause to suspect him of committing any crime.”

Anthony’s mother Linda didn’t fare any better when dealing with the police. The Courthouse News Service explains what happened to Linda Mitchell

“Plaintiff Linda Mitchell complied and opened the door to her home. When she told officers that they could not enter her home without a warrant, the officers ignored her. One officer, defendant Doe 1, seized her by the arm, and other officers entered her home without permission.

Defendant Doe 1 then forcibly pulled plaintiff Linda Mitchell out of her house. “Another unidentified officer, defendant Doe 2, then seized plaintiff Linda Mitchell’s purse and began rummaging through it, without permission, consent, or a warrant.

Defendant Doe 1 then escorted Linda Mitchell at a brisk pace through her yard and up the hill toward the ‘Command Post’ while maintaining a firm grip on her upper arm. Plaintiff Linda Mitchell is physically frail and had difficulty breathing due to the heat and the swift pace. However, Doe 1 ignored her pleas to be released or to at least slow down, and refused to provide any explanation for why she was being treated in such a manner.

In the meantime, the officers searched and occupied plaintiffs Michael Mitchell and Linda Mitchell’s house. When plaintiff Linda Mitchell returned to her home, the cabinets and closet doors throughout the house had been left open and their contents moved about.

Water had been consumed from their water dispenser. Even the refrigerator door had been left ajar and mustard and mayonnaise had been left on their kitchen floor.”

The Mitchells are now seeking punitive damages for violations of the third, fourth and 14th Amendments, assault and battery, conspiracy, defamation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, negligence and emotional distress.

They are represented by Benjamin C. Durham, with Cofer, Geller & Durham, in Las Vegas.

I guess we should all be glad the dog wasn’t shot and killed in this incident. Still, it does show just how far police will go, and how they will no longer take “no” as an answer.

Please take the time to read the entire Courthouse News Service article. It goes into much greater detail than this article had space to be told.




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