- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A SWAT team broke into the wrong duplex apartment and forced a couple and four young children into the snow in below-freezing temperatures, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday against the city.

Tabatha Werkmeister and Grinage Wilson say the city should have done more to ensure the SWAT team was entering the correct apartment before ordering them and Werkmeister’s children - then 15 months to 8 years - to walk barefoot outside on a 20-degree day in January 2014.

“When they first busted in, when I first heard all the commotion, I wondered, ‘Was there a fire and they’re trying to get us out?’” Werkmeister told The Associated Press. “I had no idea what was going on. I was really scared.”

The exterior door leading to the stairs to their upstairs apartment in the subdivided house is located next to an exterior door for the downstairs portion - presumably the intended target.

Werkmeister told the AP that an officer gave her a phone number to call about getting her door fixed, then blamed her for the mistake because there wasn’t an address number outside their door.

City police and Law Department officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Werkmeister’s attorney, Margaret Coleman, said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, resulted from two problems with the city’s SWAT team.

“One is that they’re using the SWAT team much too frequently. In 2013, they used this paramilitary force more than 250 times against civilians,” Coleman told the AP. “The second (problem) is, when you’re going to use the kind of overwhelming force that’s designed to terrorize and overwhelm people, you have to make sure you’re using it against the right people.”

Werkmeister said police asked whether she knew a man named Marlo - the presumed target of the raid. Werkmeister told police she didn’t know him but believed he lived in the downstairs unit, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit contends police rousted Werkmeister’s family from bed at 6 a.m. and put them in the back of an unheated truck. Police brought them a blanket from their home about 20 minutes later, and they had to walk barefoot through the snow about 20 minutes after that when police let them return home, according to the lawsuit.

Werkmeister said her children are now wary and timid around police, though the lawsuit notes that their grandmother is a lieutenant on the city police department.

“By doing stuff like this, they’re creating a generation of kids that are afraid of police officers, which is what we don’t want,” Coleman said.

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