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Botched Drug Bust Sends Investigator to Court, By Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service


 When law enforcement execute a search warrant on a residence, officers can use the “knock and announce” rule. Police knock on the door, announce their  intent to enter, and wait a “reasonable time” for the resident to open the door. Obviously, this approach has its drawbacks. Officers’ announcement of their presence before entering the residence can cause possible destruction of evidence and/or endanger the officers or others.

Law enforcement has another option – the “no knock” rule, which is just what it sounds like. Officers can obtain a search warrant to enter without knocking and announcing their presence or intentions before entering the residence. To obtain a no-knock warrant, the officers need to prove to the judge issuing the warrant that the officers are not disregarding reliable information indicating that this type of use of force is inappropriate. When procedures are properly followed, the involved officers have qualified immunity if the homeowner later sues for damages or excessive use of force under the Fourth Amendment.

When issuing a no-knock warrant, the police kick in or knock down the door to enter the residence. Regardless of the method, the door is often completely knocked off its hinges. In this Second Circuit case, the effect was even more dramatic. Around 6 a.m., Ms. McColley, a mother, and her young daughter woke to the sounds of the police knocking down the front door and the explosion of a flash bang grenade. -CCE

An immunity defense is premature for the drug investigator who led a turbulent raid on the apartment of a family with no criminal history, the 2nd Circuit ruled.

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Michael Riley, an investigator for the Rensselaer County Drug & Gang Task Force, obtained the warrant days earlier based on the word of a confidential informant.

Though the CI claimed to have bought crack-cocaine from a man named Sport at the apartment, Riley conducted a background check on the property that revealed McColley as the tenant with her spotless record and young child.

He applied for the no-knock warrant anyway without mentioning the background check, the two-judge majority found.

‘The search of McColley’s home did not uncover any money, weapons, drugs, drug-related paraphernalia, or any evidence of criminality of any kind,’ Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote for the court. ‘The ERT took only a National Grid electric and gas bill and a registration bill for Hudson Valley Community College as fruits of the search.’

Accused of violating McColley’s Fourth Amendment rights, Rensaleer and Riley claimed qualified immunity, but U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn denied them summary judgment.