Last night at the Davis Police Accountability Commission (DPAC) meeting, Michael Gennaco briefly summarized and discussed his first semi-annual report. One of the cases that he summarized came to them in an unusual manner – a claim filed with the city requesting reimbursement for almost $10,000 worth of damage to the floors of their home.
The case was unusual to begin with. An operation was undertaken in order to execute a warrant seeking a murder suspect, “based on information provided to Davis PD by an out-of-state police department. As a result of the out-of-state investigation, it was learned that spyware had been installed on a cellphone that was believed to be in the suspect’s possession. Using GPS information obtained from the spyware, the originating agency retrieved coordinates which, when placed into Google maps, indicated a Davis residence as the current location of the cell phone.”
However, that information would prove to be rather faulty.
The Davis police used that information, took it to a judge, and obtained a warrant to search the residence.
Around 20 officers were used in the warrant operation, but the search revealed no sign of the murder suspect. Nor was any evidence found that he had ever been at the residence in Davis.
The murder suspect was arrested the next day around 70 miles from Davis.
The resident was home alone at the time – about 1 am – and awakened by emergency lights.
According to the auditor’s report, “The resident initially believed an accident had occurred outside his residence. As he went to the front door, he received orders from officers to exit his residence with his arms raised. He exited the front door in his underclothes. He was briefly handcuffed, placed in the back of a police vehicle, and questioned about whether others were inside.”
He said that the officers were “initially gruff” and “told him that it would be ‘on him’ if things went south.”
However, the auditor notes once the officers began to realize that the murder suspect was not in the home, “they became more cordial and eventually retrieved a wrap and additional clothing for him.”
Still, he was outside of the home for several hours and the officers conducted a search of the home.
The auditor notes that damage to the floor occurred as the result of the use of “flash bangs” and “it is not disputed that the officers deployed flash bangs during the operation.”
The auditor writes: “While the police ‘after action’ report indicated that there had been ‘no damage’ to the home, photographs submitted by the residents with the claim clearly indicate singing of the floors in at least three locations as an apparent result of the devices that had been used.”
The city initially declined the claim.
“After receiving the letter, the residents contacted the Independent Police Auditor about the property damage incurred by them. While recognizing that Davis PD had a legal right to search their house after obtaining the search warrant, they believed that it was unfair for them to have to shoulder the entire financial burden of an incident in which they were completely innocent parties,” the report notes.
The report adds: “They also noted the anxiety, inconvenience, and embarrassment suffered by the male resident as a result of being pulled out of his house at gunpoint and held for several hours during the search.”
The auditor concludes that the Davis PD had “a legal right a legal right to execute the search and arrest warrant it had appropriately obtained.” He further noted, “In attempting to apprehend the suspect in a serious crime, the Department relied on investigative information provided by another agency.”
He adds, “That information had also been vetted by the District Attorney’s Office and authorized by the reviewing judge prior to the search operation. Moreover, because of the dangerousness of the suspect being sought, Davis PD needed to conduct a significant operation in order to safely execute the warrant. As a result, it was both appropriate and reasonable to order the male resident out of his home at gunpoint, briefly handcuff him for officer safety purposes, and keep him out of the residence until the search for the suspect was completed.”
Mr. Gennacco points out that the city could clearly defend a denial of the claim but argued that a “balancing of the broader equities in this case suggested a different result.”
He said, “Most obviously, this is because the residents were being asked to absorb the consequences of an operation that was flawed at the most basic level: namely, the assumption about the suspect’s presence.”
During his comments to the DPAC, he noted there should have been a more aggressive after-action. “What went wrong here?” he said. “Can we rely on GPS?”
He noted later that, in fact, the kidnapping case also turned on faulty GPS data. Here they used it to invade the home – albeit legally – of a law-abiding and innocent resident, causing trauma and humiliation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting