The jury also found that two officers who deployed a flashbang in the home’s master bedroom did so in a potentially unsafe manner, but did not award damages for the action. In the jury’s verdict, the city of Powell, Police Chief Tim Feathers and …
For several weeks now, the Powell Police Department has been on trial.
Last week, that trial came to an end in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming in Cheyenne, with a verdict that held officers liable for one action that violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights during a raid in search of drugs. The jury awarded the plaintiff $30,001, much less than the $590,000 she sought in the civil suit.
The jury also found that two officers who deployed a flashbang in the home’s master bedroom did so in a potentially unsafe manner, but did not award damages for the action. In the jury’s verdict, the city of Powell, Police Chief Tim Feathers and nine of 11 officers were cleared for their roles in the search.
In effect, the jury found little fault with the raid itself, but awarded a judgment to the plaintiff for one act during the raid, which was characterized as using the plaintiff as a “human shield” to enter the basement of the home. The officers insist that the plaintiff went ahead of them into the basement voluntarily, and not under duress, and at least one juror did not fully support the plaintiff’s claim. That juror told a Tribune reporter he didn’t believe the plaintiff deserved any compensation at all.
There are those in the community who will condemn the police for using SWAT-style tactics in a raid that found only two marijuana plants and resulted in only minor charges. Comments to the effect that the whole department should be fired have been posted on the Tribune’s website.
Others will defend the raid on the grounds that the police were acting on information indicating a much bigger drug operation by well-armed and mentally unstable individuals. The plaintiff was clearly violating the law, they would argue, and there were multiple firearms scattered through the house. Those facts justify the search methods applied by the officers in the raid.
In the middle are those who sympathize with one side, but believe the other side has a point.
Police officers walk a delicate line in situations such as this one. They are sworn to enforce the law, and, like it or not, growing marijuana violates that law. In addition, we are living in a time of extreme anti-government sentiment, and police are the most visible agents of government. Throw in the gun issue, and you realize the officers had reason to be concerned enough to take decisive, even overwhelming action, in raiding the home.
The jury’s verdict recognizes that the officers did have legitimate concerns that justified the way they conducted the raid, but violated the plaintiff’s rights by forcing her to precede officers into an uncleared area.
Police officers, being human beings, make mistakes. They are trained in protecting people’s rights, but under the pressure of actually carrying out their duties, there will be times when they stray over the line. The jury’s verdict was that they did step over the line in this one action.
It is important that we don’t exaggerate this single incident, however. On a day-to-day basis, our officers do a good job, and we believe most Powell residents appreciate it.
The trial is over now, and we believe it should be put behind us. If discipline is required, the department can handle it, and none of the officers need to be fired.
We also believe people should obey the law as the best way to avoid encounters with the police.