Imagine you are the mother and/or father of two daughters, 14 and 11. You live in a trailer. You are not rich, but you do the best you can for your kids. You keep a roof over their heads, and try to keep them from going hungry, and keep them out of trouble.
Now imagine the following occurs:
On the morning of January 20, 2007, Plaintiffs Thomas and Rosalie Avina and their daughters were asleep in their mobile home. At approximately 7:00 a.m., DEA Agents approached the front door of the home. The agents banged loudly on the front door and yelled “police.” They waited briefly and then used a battering ram to break through the front door. The agents then entered the Avinas’ home with their guns drawn. Upon entering the Avina home, the agents first encountered Thomas and Rosalie Avina. Thomas was standing in an area between the living room and his bedroom, and Rosalie was lying on a couch in the living room. One of the agents approached Thomas and told Thomas to “get down on the [fuck]ing ground.” Thomas told the agent that he was “making a mistake.” After hearing Thomas’s response, another agent “forcefully pushed” Thomas to the ground, pointed his gun at Thomas’s face, and told Thomas, “Don’t you [fuck]ing move.” Both Thomas and Rosalie were placed in handcuffs. When Rosalie noticed agents approach the rooms of her daughters, Rosalie screamed at the agents, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”
You then watch these men with guns charge into your 14-year old daughter’s bedroom, scream at her to “get down on the fucking ground” and they handcuff her. They then proceed to do the same to your 11-year old, who at first disobeys the cops because she’s fucking terrified:
At the time of the search, eleven-year-old B.S.A. was asleep in her room. Agents entered B.S.A.’s room with their guns drawn. The agents yelled at B.S.A. to “[g]et down on the f[uck]ing ground.” B.S.A. initially refused to get down on the ground because she was “frozen in fear.” The agents then pulled eleven-year-old B.S.A. to the ground and handcuffed her. After the agents handcuffed B.S.A., the agents pointed their guns at eleven-year-old B.S.A.’s head “like they were going to shoot [her].” The agents then picked up B.S.A. and moved her to B.F.A.’s room.
And now the big finish:
Sometime later, agents moved B.S.A. and B.F.A. into the living room, with their hands still cuffed behind their backs. At this point, eleven-year-old B.S.A. began to cry because she could not find her father. At some point, B.S.A. noticed her father lying on the floor. According to B.S.A., the agents unhandcuffed her about thirty minutes after they first entered her bedroom.
The agents searched the Avina home for approximately two hours. At approximately 9:00 a.m., agents left the Avina home.
But wait! There’s a punchline to the whole ordeal. It’s hilarious, really:
On January 19, 2007, DEA Agents obtained a search warrant for the mobile home located at 1601 Drew Road, space #14, in Seeley, California. At the time the warrant was issued, DEA Agents believed that a vehicle belonging to suspected drug trafficker Luis Alvarez was registered at the Avina residence. After executing the search warrant on January 20, 2007, the agents discovered they had inadvertently written down a license number of a vehicle belonging to Thomas Avina instead of a vehicle belonging to Luis Alvarez.
Yet another example of Scalia’s “New Professionalism” in action.
If someone hits you with their vehicle while you’re crossing the street, they are liable, whether directly or through their insurance company, for paying your medical bills. If during your stay in the hospital afterwards, a doctor makes a mistake and writes the wrong number on a prescription for pain medication, and you get hurt as a result of their mistake, they are sued for medical malpractice. If during settlement negotiations, your lawyer screws up and writes the wrong number in a settlement agreement, they are liable to you for legal malpractice.
But if a DEA agent storms into the wrong house, pushes you on the ground, points guns at your children, and traumatizes your family by invading the sanctity of your home in the most violent way possible, you have all your work ahead of your to hold them accountable. Even if they admit they screwed up. Even if they admit they had the wrong house. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the police made a horrible mistake. It doesn’t matter that you are undeniably a victim. It doesn’t matter that you got roughed up, or that your children were forced to grow up early after having assault rifles pointed at their face, and being man-handled at a young age by heavily armed and armored Drug Enforcement Agents.
No. All that matters is we get these drugs off the streets.
Because we need to protect our children. From the drugs.
This case, in its own way, was a small victory. The Ninth Circuit reversed the federal district court’s order granting the DEA’s motion for summary judgment, in which the district court judge found that the force used against the children in this case was constitutionally “reasonable.” But the Ninth Circuit did not rule in favor of the Avinas. They simply said that they have a right to have their day in court.
That’s what it takes to get justice when law enforcement officials make a mistake. Only after paying what likely amounted to thousands of dollars in legal fees required to investigate, research, pay expert witnesses, curate evidence, and develop a trial strategy that will convince a panel of jurors that innocent people deserve to be compensated when law enforcement officials raid the wrong house, rough up innocent people, and point guns at your 14 and 11-year old daughters’s heads. You’ve got to fight your ass off for every inch of ground you get in court. And even if you manage to get through the courthouse doors, you’ve still got all your work ahead of you at trial.
It shouldn’t be this hard. But it usually is. That’s what we’re up against. And given the current make-up of the Supreme Court, it’s not likely to get better anytime soon.