SWAT teams beware: Innocent victims can sue. That’s the ruling of the U.S. Second Court of Appeals in New York, issued in a case of a homeowner whose constitutional rights were infringed by a police raid that resulted in the killing of a man.
Ronald Terebesi said Connecticut SWAT members forced their way into his home in 2008, looking for a drug suspect. Police had a warrant and while they were only seeking for “a small amount of drugs meant only for personal use,” they used stun grenades and shot Mr. Terebesi’s friend a half dozen times — ultimately killing him, court filings indicated, Mediaite reported. Mr. Terebesi sued, claiming the police used excessive force, especially since there were no guns in the home.
Mr. Terebesi won his lower court case, but police appealed, claiming immunity. Now the appeals court found that Mr. Terebesi at least has the right to sue. The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, has previously ruled that government officials can’t be sued for civil damages, unless their conduct violates the constitutional rights of individuals.
The appeals court ruled: “The plaintiffs presented evidence indicating that all of the defendants understood that the warrant was for a small amount of drugs meant only for personal use. The basis for the officers’ entry, in other words, was related to an offense that was neither grave nor violent,” Mediaite reported.
Mr. Terebesi’s attorney says the ruling will prove monumental at a time when the militarization of police is a hot topic.
“[The court] set up the parameters that define the extent to which qualified immunity can be asserted by police in SWAT cases,” he said, the news outlet reported.