In 2007, DEA agents raided a home in Seeley California. They roused a man, woman, and their 14- and 11-year-old daughters. The kids were woken up to guns in their faces and masked men yelling at them to “Get down on the fucking ground.”
Whoops. Wrong house. Sorry. Bye.
Thomas and Rosalie Avina sued the DEA in the US District Court for Southern California, alleging excessive use of force, assault, and battery. The District Court threw it out, but the Alvinas appealed. The 9th District Court upheld their appeal in the case of the kids but not the parents. The case has been sent back down for further proceedings, meaning more work for the attorneys and more money spent by the Avinas. Maybe before the girls are grandparents, they’ll see some money out of this case. Note that it’s been five years since this happened.
My complaints concern accountability and are two-fold. First, I want the individual officers who thought it was okay to point guns at the head of a handcuffed child fired, and barred from ever again working in law enforcement. Rosalie Avinas yelled “Don’t hurt my babies!” as the officers approached the girls’ bedrooms. One officer testified by deposition that he thought the younger girl was 12 or 13, yet still thought it was a good idea to hold her at gunpoint after the cuffs were on. Do you really want people like that running around with guns and badges?
As to the errors made with regard to the incorrect address, I want every officer who made that mistake personally held financially responsible for the error. “It will have a chilling effect on police powers.” That’s not a bad thing. If you know you’re going to be held responsible for mistakes you make, isn’t that going to make you even more careful? Show me another line of work where you’re not held personally responsible for your mistakes.
“It was an honest mistake,” many will say. Excusing errors like this as honest mistakes doesn’t do anything to fix the error, and keep it from happening again. It doesn’t do anything to repair the Avinas door. It doesn’t help them clean up their house after the raid. It doesn’t help the eleven-year-old girl sleep better at night. And it doesn’t help people who died as a result of those mistakes.
Most importantly, it doesn’t do anything to help repair the damage these officers have to do their relationship with the community. That’s everything in today’s world. Cops have to remember that when it comes to “Us vs. Them,” that “Us” includes all the innocent people in the world, not just cops. And “Them” only includes the bad guys, not everyone who doesn’t wear a badge.