Bellevue family sues FBI over 'terrifying' raid
The lasting impact of the raid on Gary Adams' home became clear in a comment from his 3-year-old granddaughter during a recent trip to the pharmacy.
"She said, 'Granddad. Police. Hide,' " Adams, 57, of Bellevue recalled Wednesday while discussing the federal lawsuit he filed against the officers who burst into his home March 3.
Led by FBI Special Agent Karen Springmeyer, about a dozen officers used a battering ram to enter Adams' rented Orchard Street home in a search for Sondra Hunter, then 35. But Hunter hadn't lived at that address for almost two years, while Adams and his family had been living there for more than a year, according to the lawsuit filed by Adams and 10 other family members.
The family crowded into a Downtown conference room with their lawyer, Timothy O'Brien, to discuss the case.
An FBI spokeswoman referred all calls to the U.S. Attorney's Office, where a spokeswoman declined to comment.
The lawsuit says that officers knew, or should have known, that Hunter no longer lived there. By executing an arrest warrant at a residence that wasn't Hunter's, they violated the family's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, and their Fifth Amendment right to due process, the lawsuit says.
The officers were part of a local, state and federal task force rounding up more than three dozen people suspected of being members of the Manchester Original Gangsters street gang. Hunter was still at large at the end of the sweep, and court records show that she was living in Long Beach, Calif., at the time. She returned to Pittsburgh when she heard she was wanted by the police.
She is charged with conspiracy and heroin trafficking and is free on a $25,000 unsecured bond.
Adams said he knew Hunter's family from when they lived in Manchester, but there was no other connection between them and no reason for police to believe that Hunter lived in the house.
Other than citations for traffic violations and scalping tickets without a permit, Adams has been a law-abiding citizen.
The incident destroyed his confidence in the police and his ability to sleep through the night, he said.
"They had guns on my wife, my babies. I'd like to know how they would feel -- the people in my house -- if that happened to them," he said.
Denise Adams, 58, said seeing the red dots from the officers' targeting lasers crawl across her children's faces also has cost her faith in law enforcement.
"I don't want to, but this was terrifying," she sobbed.
Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said arrest warrants don't give police carte blanche to enter any building because they think a suspect is inside. Instead, such warrants only authorize police to go to the person's residence.
Police usually enjoy "qualified immunity" from lawsuits even when they make mistakes, as long as they were carrying out their duties responsibly, he said. Entering a residence without probable cause, however, would strip the immunity away from those officers.
University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris said the family faces several obstacles in winning. In particular, he thought it would be tough for them to overcome the officer's qualified immunity because the Supreme Court has repeatedly raised the bar for suing police officers.
"Not only do they have to make a mistake, it has to have been particularly egregious," for them to lose immunity, he said. "They have to be violating a law that was absolutely crystal clear, and they have to have known it."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Big plays cost Steelers defense in 43-19 preseason loss at Bills
- Rossi: Beleaguered Steelers need MVP from Big Ben
- Happ’s strong start, Ramirez’s homer pace Pirates past Rockies
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin mum on Bryant suspension
- Patience serves as virtue amid pitching prospect Glasnow’s quest for majors
- Pitt star running back Conner remains grounded despite success
- Pennsylvania welfare employees targeted in crackdown
- University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute marks 30 years with eye toward future
- QB Vick hits ground running in debut
- Strong-armed outfielder Garcia growing into all-around threat
- College football preview: Big Ten