Washington Law Center has recently fought legal battles throughout the Washington Courts, including at the Washington Supreme Court, before the…
Can police be liable for negligently executing a search warrant?
The short answer is yes. The Washington State Supreme Court made clear in Mancini v. City of Tacoma “that police owe a duty to exercise reasonable care when executing a search warrant.”
In 2011, an informant alerted Tacoma police to the presence of drugs in unit B1 of a local apartment. Because there were four identical buildings within the complex, the police drove the informant around to determine which one was correct. The informant identified what he thought to be the correct building based on the fact that the drug dealer’s vehicle was parked in front. The police took the informant’s word at face value without verifying its accuracy. A judge issued a warrant to search the unit.
Eight Tacoma police officers arrived at the unit to execute the warrant. The officers knocked at the door and, after waiting 20 to 30 seconds, broke in with guns drawn. According to the investigating officer, it was immediately apparent the police had entered the wrong unit. Nevertheless, Ms. Mancini was pushed to the floor, cuffed, taken outside barefoot and questioned. Ms. Mancini was understandably terrified and humiliated.
Proving Liability For Negligently Executing A Search Warrant in Court
Ms. Mancini filed a lawsuit against Tacoma, its police department and the chief of police for assault and battery, negligence, false imprisonment and invasion of privacy. Ms. Mancini’s case was originally dismissed at the trial court level and reinstated by the Court of Appeals. A jury ultimately agreed with Ms. Mancini that the City was negligent. The City appealed.
On appeal, the City argued Ms. Mancini’s case should have been dismissed because she was making a claim for negligent investigation – a claim our Court of Appeals has repeatedly denied. However, the Washington Supreme Court determined Ms. Mancini’s claim was one of negligent execution of a warrant – a claim the Court held is proper.
In so holding, the Court highlighted specific facts the jury could have considered: the police holding Ms. Mancini at gunpoint, forcing her to the ground, handcuffing her and taking her outside barefoot in a nightgown; and keeping her handcuffed despite knowing immediately they had the wrong unit. Or, according to the Court, the jury could have found the police breached the door unreasonably quickly, or unreasonably continued to search the unit.
Summarizing The Court’s Decision
Simply put, the police must exercise reasonable care when executing a search warrant. A failure to do so can make them liable for monetary damages. If you are the victim of a negligently executed search warrant, we encourage you to call our attorneys for a free consultation.
How Can Washington Law Center Help?
We work for you. We will always give you our best opinion but will follow your direction on which way you chose to proceed with your case. Please call the experienced attorneys at Washington Law Center for a free case review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ashton Dennis is a litigation and trial attorney at Washington Law Center focused on representing individuals and families who have suffered a serious personal injury or wrongful death. He was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by the National Trial Lawyers of Washington State and one of the “Premier 100” trial attorneys by the American Academy of Trial Lawyers in Washington. Click here to learn more about Ashton.