Skip to comments.Fourth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity for Botched SWAT Raid
Posted on 03/23/2011 11:33:29 AM PDT by The Magical Mischief Tour
It wasnt a drug raid. But the details are fun. From the opinion:
On May 31, 2007, Sam Bellotte printed some photographs from a memory card at a self-service station in a Winchester, Virginia Wal-Mart. When he went to pay for the prints, a clerk insisted on inspecting the photos. Mr. Bellotte admitted that some contained nudity and surrendered them, then made other purchases and left the store.
The Wal-Mart employees charged with discarding the photos noticed one depicting male genitalia seemingly next to a childs face. Concerned that the photograph was child pornography, the employees notified the Frederick County police. An investigation of the surveillance camera footage and credit card receipts showed that Mr. Bellotte, a resident of Jefferson County, West Virginia, had printed the photo in question. A Frederick County police officer placed the photo in a file container and notified the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department, which then took responsibility for the investigation. After reviewing the file, verifying Mr. Bellottes address, and learning that both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte held concealed carry permits, Detective Tracy Edwards sought a search warrant for the Bellotte residence. Around 9:00 that evening, the magistrate reviewed the application and signed the warrant.
In order to execute the warrant, Detective Edwards sought and received approval from the ranking Jefferson County law enforcement officer for the assistance of the Jefferson County Special Operations Team (SORT Team). The SORT Team leaders decided that their involvement was justified due to the possibility of a violent reaction from Mr. Bellotte and the concealed carry permits held by both Mr. and Mrs. Bellotte. After the three SORT squads were assembled and briefed, they arrived at the Bellotte residence around 10:15 p.m.
The three squads took positions around the house, wearing tactical vests and helmets and armed with flashlight-equipped.45 caliber Sig Sauer pistols and hooligan pry bars for a possible forced entry. Then, the Bellottes claim, the SORT squads opened the unlocked front and rear doors without knocking or announcing their presence. They immediately executed a dynamic entrya technique that the SORT Team had recently been trained inby which all squads simultaneously rushed into the home from multiple entry points. After the SORT squads were inside the house, they repeatedly identified themselves as law enforcement officers executing a search warrant.
The first member of the family to encounter the SORT Team was E.B., the Bellottes teenage son. When the officers found him upstairs walking out of his bedroom and talking on a cell phone, they subdued and handcuffed him. E.B. asserts that the officers also poked a gun at the back of his head. In another bedroom, the team found C.B., the Bellottes young daughter, and led her downstairs unhandcuffed.
When the SORT Team came to the parents bedroom, Tametta Bellotte raced out of bed and ran screaming toward the closet. When she reached for a gun bag, the officers forced her to the ground and handcuffed her. Later, when the house was secured, the SORT Team allowed Mrs. Bellotte to get fully dressed under the supervision of a female officer. The search of the Bellotte residence concluded shortly before midnight.
Sam Bellotte was actually on a hunting trip at the time. When he learned of the raid on his family, the same man police thought was so dangerous that they had to send a SWAT team to his home late at night walked into the police station, explained the situation, and provided documentation that the person depicted in the photo was a 35-year-old Filipino woman.
A couple other points here. First, I still wonder why gun rights groups like the NRA arent more disturbed by the ubiquitous use of SWAT teams. Here, the fact that the Bellottes were legal, registered gun owners was used as justification for the violent, volatile entry into their home. It isnt the first time this has happened. Youd think thats something that might concern Second Amendment acitivists.
Second, the police were right. Tametta Bellotte did immediately go for her gun when the SWAT team entered. But not because shes a cop-killing, child pornographizing criminal. As it turns out, she was innocent. She went for her gun because she thought her life is in danger.
That said, its good to see the Fourth Circuit decline qualified immunity here. And it would be nice to see federal courts allow more liability for botched raids.
Here is the full legal opinion: http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=In%20FCO%2020110111068.xml&docbase=CSLWAR3-2007-CURR
Needs repeating for the law-and-order-at-any-cost crowd here...
BJ from bar girl = Home invasion + holding gun to his son’s head?
$10 million. Or maybe cut the PD’s budget in 1/2, and slide 1/2 of it his way.
Hey...this has to STOP.
Well, there's Mr. Bellotte's mistake right there. "Self service" means self...service. Wal*Mart has no control over what you print, so they then have no accountability for not controlling it. It is in turn none of their friggin business. Mr. Bellotte should have told the clerk to stick his nose in a different unmentionable place.
I hope they end up having to rename Jefferson County after the family.
The misuse of SWAT teams must stop.
That's prolly gonna require some explanation to the missus.
Why is it that these raids always occur at night? Why is that a tactic? Why not raid the house when nobody is at home, the judge is at his bench, the chief of police is on duty, the kids are at school, and mom is grocery shopping?
Overtime I suppose?
That shouldn't be enough to keep the homeowner from being able to ventilate them with full legal impunity, until they can explain why home invaders would never be able to do the same thing.
Plus, if only the safety of a potentially innocent homeowner OR the safety of the LEO can be guaranteed, that of the homeowner has to come first. Why should the onus be on the householder to guess correctly whether the invaders are his employees or more unofficial home invaders?
The homeowner is a taxpayer, the LEO's are tax CONSUMERS; the homeowner is on his own private property, the LEO's are not; the homeowner doesn't get to select the time and circumstances of the confrontation, the LEO's do.
Click the link to be added to the "Whoops. Sorry, citizen. We thought you were someone else" PING list.
Final word is that the Walmart Clerk can exercise life or death decisions on it's customers. Be nice to them!
You’re probably right. Eeeeewwwwwwww.
A point that I've made many times, but to the law-and-order-at-any-cost crowd here it don;t matter, the cops can do no wrong and your job is to simply submit.
Submit or die, and that’s not in the family dog’s playbook.
Only if you submit. Why the heck did the guy feel obligated to discuss what pictures he had printed at a SELF-SERVICE kiosk with some pimply faced drone with a smock and a God complex? "FOAD" would have been the appropriate response.
If you see something, say something, was spawned with Walmart.
It sounds like walmart has a surveillance capability that lets clerks see the photos you are downloading. Anyone know?
Dovetails nicely with with my motto “Mind your own fuggin business or lay in a supply of orthopedic shirts and drool cups.”
It wouldn't surprise me in the least. I heard the other day that high-end copiers have hard drives with duplicates of every image they've ever copied.
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