HENDERSON, NV — Police forcibly commandeered homes from two innocent families because they wanted to use the properties to surveil a neighbor. After their plan was denied by phone request, police conspired and executed a plan to break into the homes and arrest the innocent homeowners, a lawsuit reveals.
The incident took place on July 10th, 2011. The Henderson Police Department (HPD) was issued a complaint about suspected domestic violence at 363 Eveningside Avenue. Police decided that they wanted use two neighboring houses to observe the suspect. In conjunction with the North Las Vegas Police Department (NLVPD), HPD officers devised a plan to commandeer the homes of two adjacent neighbors: Anthony Mitchell at 367 Eveningside Avenue; and Anthony Mitchell’s parents, Michael and Linda Mitchell, at 362 Eveningside Avenue. None of the Mitchells were involved in the suspected crime.
A lawsuit states: “At 10:45 a.m. defendant Officer Christopher Worley (HPD) contacted plaintiff Anthony Mitchell via his telephone. Worley told plaintiff that police needed to occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house. Anthony Mitchell told the officer that he did not want to become involved and that he did not want police to enter his residence. Although Worley continued to insist that plaintiff should leave his residence, plaintiff clearly explained that he did not intend to leave his home or to allow police to occupy his home. Worley then ended the phone call.”
Without permission, officers Christopher Worley (HPD), David Cawthorn (NLVPD), and Sgt. Michael Waller (NLVPD) allegedly plotted to take over the homes by force.
Officer Cawthorn’s official report described the plan: “It was determined to move to 367 Evening Side and attempt to contact Mitchell. If Mitchell answered the door he would be asked to leave. If he refused to leave he would be arrested for Obstructing a Police Officer. If Mitchell refused to answer the door, force entry would be made and Mitchell would be arrested.”
Police proceeded with their plan, breaching Anthony Mitchell’s front door with a battering ram. “The officers aimed their weapons at Anthony Mitchell and shouted obscenities at him and ordered him to lie down on the floor,” the complaint stated. Mitchell’s account stated that NLVPD Officer Snyder gave him conflicting orders to both shut off his phone and to “crawl,” and that Snyder called him an “asshole.”
“Although plaintiff Anthony Mitchell was lying motionless on the ground and posed no threat, officers, including Officer David Cawthorn, then fired multiple ‘pepperball’ rounds at plaintiff as he lay defenseless on the floor of his living room. Anthony Mitchell was struck at least three times by shots fired from close range, injuring him and causing him severe pain.”
Officers then arrested him for obstructing a police officer, searched the house and moved furniture without his permission and set up a place in his home for a lookout, Mitchell says in the complaint.
Anthony Mitchell alleged that police also hurt his pet dog for no reason whatsoever: “Plaintiff Anthony Mitchell’s pet, a female dog named ‘Sam,’ was cowering in the corner when officers smashed through the front door. Although the terrified animal posed no threat to officers, they gratuitously shot it with one or more pepperball rounds. The panicked animal howled in fear and pain and fled from the residence. Sam was subsequently left trapped outside in a fenced alcove without access to water, food, or shelter from the sun for much of the day, while temperatures outside soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Then the police turned their attention to the second home, owned by Anthony Mitchell’s parents on the same street. Police lied and lured out Michael Mitchell, the father, requesting his help to negotiate the surrender of his neighbor. In actuality he was taken to a HPD command center and not permitted to leave. When he tried to walk off, he was arrested and charged with Obstructing a Police Officer.
With Anthony and Michael Mitchell detained, police commandeered the second home, still occupied by Linda Mitchell. When she told officers that they could not enter her home without a warrant, the officers detained her, dragging her off through the desert heat to a “command post”, despite her frail condition and pleas to stop. Police then rummaged through her home, her belongings, her purse, even leaving the refrigerator ajar.
Anthony and Michael Mitchell were booked and locked in jail for obstructing an officer. They were jailed for at least nine hours before they bailed out, they stated in the complaint. They claim the police filed the baseless criminal charges “to provide cover for defendants’ wrongful actions, to frustrate and impede plaintiffs’ ability to seek relief for those actions, and to further intimidate and retaliate against plaintiffs.”
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A lawsuit was filed against HPD and NLVPD on behalf of Anthony, Michael, and Linda Mitchell, alleging violations of their First Amendment, Third Amendment, and Fourth Amendment rights.
The Third Amendment challenge was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon in February, 2014. He rejected the claim that the actions of the police were tantamount to the quartering of soldiers. Instances of sustained Third Amendment violations are sparse in U.S. case law.
“The Third Amendment was passed in response to several quartering acts imposed on the American colonists by Parliament; these acts functioned as a pseudo-tax to support the British military,” Judge Gordon wrote. “I hold that a municipal police officer is not a soldier for purposes of the Third Amendment… This squares with the purpose of the Third Amendment because this was not a military intrusion into a private home, and thus the intrusion is more effectively protected by the Fourth Amendment.”
The Mitchells will be allowed to proceed with their case based on their claims of suffering unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as having their freedom of speech suppressed when police reacted harshly to being photographed and being shown a hand gesture.
“The defendants [the police] do not dispute that their alleged conduct in pointing firearms at the plaintiffs [the Mitchells] and entering their homes without a warrant would chill a person of ordinary firmness from ceasing to engage in protected activity,” Judge Gordon wrote.
The charges against Phillip White, Jr., the man at the center of the standoff, were dismissed a few months after the incident, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.
None of the officers were fired, subjected to official discipline, or even inquiry, the lawsuit states.
North Las Vegas Police Department (North Las Vegas, Nevada)
Phone: (702) 633-9111