A federal judge ruled yesterday that a Brighton couple can continue their suit against the city over the way a BPD drug unit with a no-knock warrant smashed into their apartment with a battering ram at 4:30 a.m., and kept them handcuffed and lying on the floor in front of their young children for 20 minutes until the officers realized they had the wrong apartment.
Jean and Verlande Regis, who raised the specter of a similar 1994 raid in which a minister died of a heart attack, are seeking both damages and a requirement the city take steps this never happens again.
In her ruling, US District Court Judge Indira Talwani's summarized the Regises' account of what happened in their apartment at 41 Faneuil St.:
At approximately 4:30 a.m. on November 27, 2018, approximately 10-12 officers with the Drug Control Unit of the BPD executed a "no-knock" raid of the Regis's home. Although the officers possessed a warrant to execute a raid, the warrant was issued for an adjoining apartment, not the Regis's. The officers used a battering ram to forcibly enter the Regis's home without first knocking or otherwise announcing their presence. The officers forcibly entered the Regis's home in spite of the fact that their front door was conspicuously marked with their apartment number, which differed from the apartment number listed on the warrant.
Once inside, the officers first encountered Verlande Regis after she leapt from her bed upon hearing the sound of the door being broken down. The officers pointed their weapons at Verlande Regis, pushed her to the ground, and handcuffed her. While she was laying on the floor, several officers stepped on her and injured her hand. The officers then encountered Jean Regis as he lay in bed. An officer pointed his weapon at Jean Regis, ordered him out of bed, and handcuffed him with his arms behind his back. Because the Regis's four- and five-year-old children had been sleeping inside their parents' bedroom, the children witnessed their parents being restrained and handcuffed.
The officers also encountered the Regis's 15-year-old daughter. When M attempted to open her bedroom door, she was shoved back into her room by an officer's shield. An officer also aimed his weapon at M, ordered her to the floor, and handcuffed her with her arms behind her back.
Although none of the Regis family members matched the description of the intended target set forth in the search warrant, and none of the occupants resisted during the officers' intrusion into their home, the officers kept Jean Regis, Verlande Regis, and M handcuffed and lying on the floor for approximately 20 minutes. One of the officers then told the family and the other officers that they had entered the wrong apartment.
City attorneys asked US District Court Judge Indira Talwani to dismiss the case because courts have held a city cannot be held liable for the actions of its employees and to reject their request to replace "John Does" in the complaint with names of the specific officers involved, because they would have "qualified immunity" against a suit because they were just doing their jobs and therefore their names were irrelevant.
Yeah, no, Talwani said. While a city can't be legally blamed for what its employees do, it can be held liable for "failure to train" its workers, that a city failed to provide proper training on how to deal with specific types of events, for example, "a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action."
She said the Regises provided several examples of this alleged "failure to train," and so a jury should decide the question. These included "an absence of a city policy requiring officers to check the names of individuals on a warrant with the names of individuals residing in a unit that is being raided before executing the raid" and a lack of a city policy requiring officers to double check addresses before busting down a door.
The City Defendants argue that the complaint only describes an "isolated incident" and that the City's existing policies on executing no-knock raids, which the City attaches to its opposition, show "quite the opposite of 'deliberate indifference' with regard to ensuring entries at correct addresses." ... Maybe so, but these arguments go to the merits of Plaintiff's claims that there is a direct causal link between the City's policies and the alleged violation of the Regis's family's rights and that the City was deliberately indifferent to how their failure to train its officers caused the alleged violations under the federal Constitution. They do not undermine the sufficiency of the pleadings.
Talwani said the individual officers may indeed have qualified immunity against legal action. But that's a decision for a jury to reach and the argument doesn't change whether they are named or not, so Talwani rejected the city's argument to keep the Regises from adding their specific names to the complaint.