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Smith v. City of Jacksonville

May 15, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Moody United States District Judge


Pending is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket # 30). Plaintiffs have responded and Defendants have filed a reply. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' motion is denied.


On March 2, 2005, a "no-knock" search warrant was issued for the property located at 104 Overland Trail. The warrant was issued after surveillance was conducted on 104 Overland Trail by Detectives Kimberly Lett and Amanda Chapman. The Smith residence, 108 Overland Trail, is located two (2) houses down from 104 Overland Trail. Both 104 and 108 Overland Trail are green houses. However, the houses are different in that there is a carport on the front left side of 108 and there is no carport on the front of 104; there is a large bay window on the left front of 104 and no bay window on 108; there is a large tree in the front yard of 104 and no tree in the yard of 108, and there is a side-oriented peak in the roof on the right side of 104 and no peak in the roof of 108.

After the search warrant was issued, the entry team of the Jacksonville Police Department gathered for a briefing on March 3, 2005, wherein members of the entry team were shown pictures of 104 Overland Trail and each team member was assigned their role in the entry of the residence. During the briefing, Officers Robert Slash, Chris Erickson, Seth Corben, Jerry Keefer, Charles Hughes and John Alberson were assigned the task of breaching the house. The entry team was told they would be transported to Overland Trail, but would stop at the left side of 106 Overland Trail, in order to avoid being detected by a surveillance camera affixed by the front door of the target house. The purpose of the entry team is to assist in breaching and securing houses and their occupants which are the subject of search warrants. After the briefing on March 3, 2005, Sergeant Brett Hibbs, Detective Chapman, Officers Robert Slash, Chris Erickson, Seth Corben, Jerry Keefer and Charles Hughes loaded into a van and proceeded to 104 Overland Trail to execute the search warrant. Officers Alberson and Regina Boyd and canine Dan were also in the van. Sergeant Nusser was not in the van, but followed in a detective's vehicle. Detective Melissa Williams and Jim Burnett also followed in separate vehicles. Sergeant Hibbs drove the van to a "staging area" in the near vicinity of 104 Overland Trail where the procedure for the entry was reviewed one last time. Sgt. Hibbs had not previously viewed in person the home subject to the search warrant, a step not required by City policy at the time. After leaving the staging area, Sergeant Hibbs received various radio communications from Detective Lett, who was conducting surveillance from an unmarked vehicle on Overland Trail.

Defendants assert that Sergeant Hibbs received a radio communication in which Detective Lett stated that two (2) males walked up to 104 Overland Trail from a few houses down. As a result of this communication, Defendants claim that Sgt. Hibbs decided to stop in front of the target house instead of a few houses down, as originally planned. Defendants contend that Sgt. Hibbs proceeded down Overland Trail and saw two males matching Detective Lett's description standing outside 108 Overland Trail. Upon seeing these individuals, Sgt Hibbs believed they were standing in front of the target house, stopped the van in front of 108 Overland Trail and informed the entry team that the van was stopped in front of the target house.

Plaintiffs deny that the alleged communication from Detective Lett identifying two individuals in front of the target house occurred. In fact, Plaintiffs presented evidence that before Sgt. Hibbs stopped the van in front of 108 Overland Trail, there were two transmissions from Detective Lett, the first stating that there were 5 or 6 persons at "the house" and the second that there were 2 gentlemen standing "two houses down." Further, Plaintiffs argue that in her written statement, Officer Regina Boyd who was in the truck, stated that "as the vehicle stopped Detective Chapman was yelling "wrong house, wrong house."

The entry team exited the van in front of 108 Overland Trail. Sgt. Hibbs and Nusser detained the two males, Brian Smith and his friend, Todd Conley, standing in front of 108 Overland Trail by having them get down on the ground and handcuffing the individuals. Plaintiffs contend that the Defendants pointed guns at these two men at close range.

Officers Robert Slash, Chris Erickson, Seth Corben and Jerry Keefer went to the carport on the left side of 108 Overland Trail, used a ram to breach the carport door and entered the home. While approaching 108 Overland, Chapman, Alberson and Hughes noticed that they were at the wrong house. They called out to their fellow team members that they were at the wrong house, then ran to 104 Overland Trail to assist other detectives who had arrived at the target house. After Sgt. Hibbs detained Conley and Brian Smith, he immediately followed the other four officers into the Smith residence through the carport door.

The only occupant of the Smith house was Martha Smith, who was told by the officers to get down on the floor. The officers were in full swat gear and pointed weapons at Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith replied "You're in the wrong house. You can't tell me to get on the floor. This is my home. You're invading my privacy. Do not touch me. I have medical problems. I'm under a doctor's care." Because Ms. Smith did not get down on the ground, Officer Keefer took hold of her arm and took her to the ground. Keefer stated that he pushed Smith to the floor with his right foot on the left side of her back. The officers searched the remainder of the rooms of the house. Defendant Erickson broke into one room when they found it to be locked.

After the time at which the officers who entered 108 Overland Trail recognized it was the wrong house, an officer, at Brian Smith's request, allowed Ms. China Newman to enter the Smith residence to check on Martha Smith. She observed Ms. Smith to be in handcuffs, hysterical, and suffering from an asthma attack. Ms. Smith remained handcuffed for a time after the error was known because no officer in the house had a key for the handcuffs. While Ms. Newman was in the house, Martha Smith spoke on the telephone to her son Shawn Smith and pleaded with him to come home.

When the handcuffs were removed from Ms. Smith, two officers and Ms. Newman assisted Ms. Smith outside. She reached a point a few feet in front of the carport. She observed her son Shawn in handcuffs and because hysterical. Ms. Smith then collapsed. An ambulance arrived and took her to Rebsamen Medical Center in Jacksonville where she was seen in the emergency room. She was released that night.

After Hibbs entered the Smith's home, Defendant Nusser continued to detain Brian Smith and Conley in handcuffs. Even after the officers determined that they had entered the wrong home, they kept the two men in handcuffs but allowed them off the ground, secured their ID's and requested warrant checks on them. Over Brian Smith's protest, Nusser required them to walk to the front yard of 104 Overland Trail where they were lined up with about five other people in handcuffs. While in handcuffs at number 104, Brian saw his mother collapse in the driveway of their residence. His mother was gone by the time he returned to his yard.

After receiving the telephone call from his mother, Shawn Smith returned home. Upon turning onto Overland Trail, Shawn observed police cars and saw his brother, Brian, in front of number 104 in handcuffs. Shawn questioned his brother about what was going on and an officer told Shawn "hey, if you don't go on, I'm going to arrest you." Shawn drove his car to the front of his home, parked in the driveway, and began to walk up the driveway. In response to Officer Charles Hughes question, "where are you going, " Shawn responded "I live here." Officer Hughes had recognized that the residence at 108 Overland Trail was not the subject of the warrant approximately 16 minutes before Shawn arrived. Nevertheless, Hughes asked for Shawn's ID and Shawn responded "I don't have to show you anything, because I stay here." Officer Hughes approached Shawn and Shawn then ...

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